LJWorld.com weblogs Sigmund
Update October 10th 2011:
Since this blog was first published Knology purchased Sunflower Broadband. Except for a $5 increase in the monthly charges ($61.90/month) programming and policies remained virtually the same, other than the occasional changes in QAM channels.
Knology has recently begun encrypting much of their Bronze Level Clear QAM High Definition and Standard Definition digital channels. As a result much of the content that was available via Clear QAM now requires either a HD Set Top Box ($10/month) or a SD Set Top Box ($5/month) for each TV, regardless of the capability of your TV's internal tuner. Channels that were in Clear QAM but now require a Knology Set Top Box to get either Standard Definition digital and/or High Definition include: ABC Family, Discovery, ESPN, ESPN2, Green Planet, Animal Planet, AMC, Science Channel, HGTV, and the Food Network.
I should also mention that the encryption process requires more bandwidth. Knology already compresses their digital and HD signals. To make up for the loss of bandwidth from encryption they will need to further compress those channels, or others, to make up the difference. This additional compression on channels that are already compressed will likely cause more "jitter" and "pixelation" issues.
Obviously Knology Bronze Level offering is no longer a bargain, especially if you have two or more TV's. This is readily apparent if you compare what ATT's Uverse offers. Their U200 offering gives you the equivalent of the Knology Bronze Level programming PLUS some nice additions like History2, Independent Film Channel, MTV, VH1, Biography, BBC America, The Golf Channel, Fox Soccer, The Cooking Channel, The Military Channel, DIY, Fuel TV, and Speed which are not available with Knology's Bronze Level.
So is ATT's Uverse the bargain that Knology's Bronze level used to be? I think so. For $69.00/month I was able to get their U200 with High Definition, a DVR , three additional HD receivers (total of 4 TV's), free installation and a $50 gift card with a fixed 12 month contract (30 day money back guarantee). I should note that I am already a ATT Uverse Interweb subscriber and this deal was worked out over the phone with a sales associate. Your mileage may vary, but this price and package is very comparable to what is available and shown online.
The DVR alone is worth the $7.10/month increase and has space for about 65 hours of HD content. I can record from any TV (up to 4 simultaneously) and play back to any TV. ATT Uverse will come into the house on a single twisted pair and the in-home installation will use my existing RG-6 coaxial cable so there will be no need to drill any additional holes. Knology's Bronze level with similar equipment would be about $110/month, but without the additional programming.
Thanks to all those who contacted me with updates for the Unofficial "Sunflower" Clear QAM Channel Guide, but after I delete the 20 or so digital and High Definition channels Knology is now encrypting I will no longer be keeping it up to date. Simply put isn't worth the effort as Knology's equipment and offerings are no longer competitive. IPTV is the future for at least the next 12 months in the Lawrence market.
Original "QAM Qualms" post, circa August 4, 2010
Considering what you get with Sunflower's Bronze Level cable it looks like fairly good value for money. For $57.90 a month you'll get upwards of 200 television channels, around 50 High Definition (HD) channels, Sunflower On Demand, Interactive Guide, over 48 CD quality digital music channels and advanced parental controls. They will even toss in a Standard Definition (SD) digital box at "no charge." All-in-all a fair bit of kit for a modest amount of money, but there are a couple of problems.
The "free" set top box, which actually costs you a fiver every month, doesn't output HD and many of those 200 channels are duplicate or triplicate feeds (analog, digital, and HD) of identical content so the available programming is far less than the available channels. What's more, if you have more than one TV you might need to add additional set top boxes, which have various options and come with added charges. If you order just one HD-DVR and a set top box for the TV's in the living room, family room, and a couple of bedrooms, your monthly payments could top $100.
Fortunately most TV's today come with built-in NTSC (analog), ATSC (over the air digital), and QAM (cable digital) tuners, so you can watch almost all the Bronze level content without the additional clutter, higher electric bills, or added monthly fees of multiple set top boxes. Simply plug Sunflower cable directly into the TV, tune the appropriate channel, then sit back and enjoy the program. However, TV's without set top boxes won't have access to Sunflower On Demand, Interactive Guide, Pay For View programs, and a few others.
Sunflower will even help you find some HD and SD programs without using a set top box. Their somewhat official, if woefully incomplete, Channel Guide lists the QAM channel of only 'local' programs. But local channels are only a small part of the programming available so I compiled a more complete but unofficial listing of available channels using the TV's built in tuners.
The Channel Gadget allows you to filter the listing by signal type so you can match it to your TV's tuner. I use it to label just the HD channels, around 50, and don't bother with any set top boxes. Keep in mind this is based only on personal experience and is in no way officially sanctioned by Sunflower.
The Unofficial Channel Guide and Channel Gadget can also be found on the web and you can download it as a text file, Excel spreadsheet, or Adobe PDF. On occasion Sunflower changes their QAM channels and this listing will need to be updated. If you find it valuable and notice any inaccuracies or omissions contact me and I'll updated it with your corrections.
Now if you are wondering why Sunflower lists only the local QAM channels in their guide, their representatives offer a couple of explanations. The most common are "the channels change frequently" and "national broadcasters forbid publication of that information." The first is true depending on your definition of 'frequently' but the later is clearly absurd. Commercial network revenues are directly related to their ratings and advertising rates, the harder it is to find their shows the lower their profits will likely be.
Why does Sunflower have such qualms about publishing all their clear QAM channels? Why mislead Bronze level subscribers with inaccurate package comparison that tout the need for a set top box when their own Channel Guide contradicts that? Your guess is as good as mine.
So if you don't need On Demand, Interactive Guide, or Pay For View programs on every set, Sunflower's Bronze level package is a real value. Customers who have TV's with QAM tuners don't need a set top box to enjoy both local and national HD broadcasts. Order a HD-DVR for your main TV but you can use the others without the added hassle or expense of multiple set top boxes. When you consider all that Sunflower Bronze level cable offers I think it offers some real advantages over the ATT Uverse, Direct TV, and Dish Network.