Img_9811The PopCulteer
January 17, 2014

Two weeks ago I dropped Suddenlink cable and switched to Direct TV. I have promised to periodically update my readers because so many have considered doing the same.

Two weeks in, and I am still a happy camper. I retained Suddenlink for my internet service, and I’m still happy with that service (despite two brief outages and a huge mass of confusion over billing). At this point I am clearly still in the honeymoon phase with Direct TV. I’m going to try not to be evangelical about it here, but I have discovered lots of fun things and this week I will share my observations with you.

My new friend, The Genie remote

My new friend, The Genie remote

The picture just looks better. I knew that Suddenlink compressed their video signals, but I never realized how much they did until I saw the same channels on Direct TV. Standard Definition channels on Direct Tv look sharper than High Definition channels do on Suddenlink. If you add in the fact that Direct TV offers all the HBO, Showtime, Starz, TMC and Cinemax channels in HD, and it’s just a much better use of your high definition televisions.

The audio is much more consistent on Direct TV. Except for one program on one channel that seems very loud, you can go up and down the dial on Direct TV without riding your television’s volume control. With Suddenlink many channels were barely audible, while others pinned you to the wall with a sonic blast.

Direct TV gets a lot of channels that Suddenlink doesn’t offer, and they are an interesting lot.

rfd-tv_logoRFD TV is a rural-focused channel that seems like a pipeline to forty years ago. They show tons of horse-based and rodeo shows, along with farm reports and all sorts of down-home informative programs, but the real meat of the channel is the music and variety programming. They offer country, gospel, bluegrass and Americana music on several newly-produced shows, but they also air reruns of “The Porter Waggoner Show,” “Hee Haw” and “Roy Rogers.” For me, the real treat is “I love Toy Trains,” which is a half-hour, weekly tour of different toy train layouts.

images (39)El Rey Network is a brand-new channel owned and programmed by movie director, Robert Rodriguez. It’s an English-language network aimed at the 18-34 year old Hispanic demographic. So far, this month-old network mainly offers surfing, skating and extreme sports. In the coming months they will run a series based on Rodriguez’ movie, “From Dusk ‘Til Dawn,” and translated into English for the first time, AAA Wrestling from Mexico. This is where Eddie Guerrero, Rey Mysterio, Konnan and Alberto Del Rio got their start. This is a channel with a lot of potential.

pivotPivot is a social-activsim channel that took the place of Halogen when they merged with The Documentary Channel. When they did, Suddenlink dropped them. That’s a shame, because their programming is much better than Halogen’s. This weekend they debut HitRecord On TV, a variety compilation show hosted and produced by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Other programming includes “Raising McCain,” a reality show following John McCain’s daughter, Megan, and “Will,” a scripted show about William Shakespeare as a young man. The channel also carries documentaries, anime and reruns of “Farscape” and “Friday Night Lights.” Definitely a nice addition to the TV landscape.

Img_9814ShortsHD is a premium channel devoted to short films. They have broadcast rights to every Academy Award Nominated short film, and they also air selections from The National Film Board of Canada library. The channel is a healthy mix of anime series, live-action shorts, animated shorts from all over the world, documentary shorts and comedy bits. ShortsHD is also addictive. It’s what DVRs were invented for. It’s probably my favorite new channel at the moment.

AJAM-OGAl Jazeera America is a bit of a revelation. Imagine a news channel that reports news without an agenda. There are no pundits or spin doctors in sight, and the hosts look like normal people, not cartoonish Ted Baxter types on Barbie-clone “News Bunnies.” Their coverage of the water crisis here in the Charleston area was calm, collected and insightful. This is what a news channel should look like. Al Jazeera America is proof that you can do a 24-hour news channel without resorting to showbiz tricks or biased reporting.

mav-tvMAV TV is another young male-oriented channel with some decent movies and off-network reruns, along with some extreme sports, MMA and independent wrestling.

That’s just scratching the surface of the new channels available to me since the switch. I also opted for a package that includes Direct TV’s Genie system, which is a DVR with additional recievers that allow you to access any channel or recorded program on all your TVs. I can even watch the HD-only channels on my office TV, which is Standard Definition (they modulate the signals down to SD).

Keep in mind that before this, If I wanted HD channels in every room I have with a TV I would have needed to rent additional HD set-top boxes–at $12 a month–for each room.

The Genie also offers apps–onscreen boxes that can give you up-to-date weather and sports scores. I’ve also discovered that I can access YouTube and Pandora through Genie.

mzl.xdtxxgllI’ve had one power outage since I got Direct TV, and the box rebooted and recycled in about six minutes–a bit quicker than the Suddenlink Standard Definition digital set-top boxes, and much faster than the HD set-tops, which could take up to an hour to function again if they lost power.

So, two weeks into this major life change I am thoroughly convinced that I made the right move.The DVR works like a charm. I can pump the audio through my stereo system. The signal is clear and bright. Most importantly, I’m paying much less money for much more content.

The sacrifices are minor. I don’t get the local digital sub-channels, so MyZ and that country music video channel are gone. I also don’t get HD feeds for The Hub or Esquire TV (Suddenlink just began offering Esquire in HD the day I dropped their service). I have to say, it’s a fair trade-off.

As I said, I’m still in the honeymoon phase. I will write an update in a few months and we’ll see if this is indeed a match made in heaven, or if the bloom does come off of this rose.


A personal note about the water crisis. While I’ve acknowledged the ongoing saga here in PopCult, I have not dived headfirst into the story. I feel that people mainly come here for escape, so I didn’t want to beat a dead horse. I will be writing about some upcoming benefit shows, and I would like to encourage my readers to make an effort to get out and support the local businesses that were affected by this mess in the entire area.

The area took a major financial hit, and our confidence in one of our basic necessities has been shaken. It’s going to be a long time before many West Virginians feel safe drinking our own tap water.

The episode of Radio Free Charleston that I promised for Monday will be delayed one week. Melanie and I came through the water crisis and flushing process relatively unscathed, but some weaknesses in sink drains in both our houses were exposed during the flushing process and will have to be tended to this weekend.

This should just be a one-week blip. All of the other PopCult features should run as scheduled.