How To Use Your Own Cable Box and Router To Save Money With Comcast

[This is a guest post from a friend who shares a similar sentiment toward Comcast as I do.  He wanted to stick it to them by not paying a monthly fee to lease hardware from them.  These monthly lease fees are another huge revenue stream for Comcast that he wanted to put a stop to.  Here’s how to do it.]

the-cable-guy-tbiI’ve chosen to maintain cable service largely due to the speed of the internet. Internet, in my case, is a necessity because that is how I connect with work, handle my holiday shopping, search for jobs and connect with my social network…..Facebook is a necessity, right? Satellite doesn’t have an option for internet service and the land line phone networks are nearly obsolete (in my opinion because I use VoIP and my cell phone).

Since I am “committed” to Comcast, I decided I would do everything possible to limit the amount of money I was paying to them.  I decided to challenge the status quo and re-think what I was using cable for. We all know that the cable TV business is extremely flawed. I prefer to pay for things that I actually consume. How on earth can we consume 900 channels of content that are forced upon us? We can’t. What about the time that I’m away from the house? I’m not getting any benefit of the cable when I am away. I personally want my cable programming to be based off my consumption, just like all the other bills that come to my house. I don’t pay for my water or electricity on a subscription basis. I pay for what I use. There are a growing number of people who would be perfectly happy paying for entertainment options à la carte because we are becoming used to doing just that. On-demand programming gives us that flexibility. Why can’t I order a single live football game the way that I order Big Hero 6?

As consumers demand this type of programming, you should know that the large cable companies spend an obscene amount of money from a corporate perspective lobbying to keep the cable model exactly as it is today. Of course when the lobbyist gets a hold of an already corrupt politician, they force in laws that make it difficult to get à la carte programming that we want to see. There are plenty of arguments to be had for NOT introducing à la carte programming but I’m not here to debate those. That being said, I’m using cable…….for cable, and that is it. Comcast is a service provider. They are not a hardware provider (though they love to be due to the crazy amount of money they make off of it). And this was key for the first part of the equation.

  • Buy your own hardware (cable box) – You mean I can buy my own cable box? You’re damn right you can. Let me be clear, it isn’t an easy process and might be an extreme option, but if you are like me and just want to stick it to Comcast however you can, this is a good option. They don’t make it easy though and from what I found, cable boxes aren’t really sold in a “retail” capacity. Cable boxes are intended for mass distribution THROUGH the cable providers so you can’t just go and pick one up at your local Best Buy.

Here’s how I did it.

I found a website through a few articles I read on the subject. The website is http://www.hddvrtv.com and their name is just “HD DVRs”. Check out the site and let me know if it doesn’t look sketchy to you. I was on a mission though and regardless of the fact that it isn’t a polished website, I picked an HD box and decided to put a possible stolen identification on the line. At any rate, I was pleased to see that my order was received and I got notification that my item had shipped.

photo1I chose the Motorola DCX3200 High Definition Box and I bought 2 of them ($160 each plus $35 shipping on the whole order – total was $355). Keep in mind that all of the cable boxes that this company sells are refurbished. You can expect some minor scratches but everything they ship is thoroughly tested before it leaves their facility.

What comes in the box? The cable box, power supply and remote control. (note this model doesn’t have any buttons on the front of it so I’m pretty sure I’m screwed if I lose the remote). This may not be the best option but it is working great for me for now.

What you should know:

  • You must have legit cable service. Don’t try this if you are stealing cable.
  • The cable boxes will not work right out of the box. I was hoping they would but go ahead and prepare yourself for the setup.
  • Expect 2-3 hours of dedicated time to setup the boxes. This was over 3 or 4 phone calls but each time, the Technical Support person at HD DVRs and I agreed on a time. This was largely due to Comcast screwing the pooch on adding cable cards to my account properly (see below).
  • photo2You will have to go to your local Comcast service center to pick up these things….the cable card. Cable cards are issued for free by law but the cable company can charge a “nominal fee” per month. In the state of Georgia, that fee is $1.50 per card. Better than the $9.95 Comcast charges to lease their HD cable boxes. To make it easy on yourself, just tell them that you are there to get Cable Cards for your TiVo. Don’t give more information than is necessary.
  • You will need phone support from HD DVRs technical support team. Good news is they are AWESOME!! They walked me through all troubleshooting and when we had to get Comcast on the phone, they handled the whole call with me only having to provide serial numbers and my account information.
  • You won’t be able to use Comcast features like on-demand. You get the channels live. If you buy a DVR from HD DVRs, you can record as you would on any other DVR. For my bedroom, I actually like not having a DVR. That means my wife isn’t streaming “Real Housewives of wherever” while I am trying to sleep.

In the end, after I got the cable boxes in the mail, got the working cable cards from my Comcast service center and spent some time with HD DVRs technical support team, it WORKED, it actually worked! Every channel I am subscribed to comes through perfectly. The HD channels are full HD and all the other digital channels are just as you would expect…..and I’m not paying Comcast for anything more than beaming the signal through the wire…..and that is sweet relief.

  • Buy your own hardware (modem) – it is insane to pay $10 a month to lease a crappy modem from Comcast. As an IT professional myself, I’m actually embarrassed that it took me this long to buy my own modem. Shame on me.

Here’s how I did it.

photo3I went and picked up a modem from Best Buy because I was anxious and wanted it as quickly as possible. I always recommend looking on-line first to find the best deal. You MUST get a modem that is DOCSIS 3.0 compatible for it to work with your Comcast service. I picked this one, just a plain old modem, no WiFi, no telephone (for a phone), for plain old internet. Motorola SURFboard DOCSIS 3.0

Open it up and plug it in. In my case, Comcast automatically detected it to “activate”. If it doesn’t auto-detect, you just have to go to http://www.comcast.com/activate and follow the on-screen prompts. Worst case, you’ll have to call Comcast support but I was lucky and the modem was fully functional within minutes.

For WiFi capabilities, I had a wireless router at my house already that I had used previously. That is what I used to spread the joy to the rest of the house. By doing this, it allows you to upgrade your WiFi network as technology changes. The old wireless router that I plugged in only supports up to 50mbps download speeds. Now, I think some wireless technologies go up to 500 or 600mbps but keep in mind you are limited by what Comcast speeds you get through the wire are. In my case, our Comcast service supplies me with about 100mbps download speeds. Just keep that in mind when choosing your wireless router.

Comcast Bill Before / After purchasing and activating my own hardware

  Cost per month BEFORE Cost per month AFTER Savings per month
HD Cable Box (DVR) Free (with promo contract) Free (with promo contract) $0.00
HD Cable Box $9.95 (leased cable box) $1.50 (nominal cable card fee)** $8.45
HD Cable Box $9.95 (leased cable box) $1.50 (nominal cable card fee)** $8.45
Digital converter cable box $2.99 $2.99 $0.00
Cable Modem $10.00 (leased cable modem with telephony) $0.00 $10.00
    TOTAL $26.90

**rates / fees may be different in your area

Given that my total investment in my own hardware was about $450, my return on investment will be about 17 months. For me that is worth it. Just remember, the more TVs you try to add to your service, Comcast will hit you with an additional $9.95 per month. Before you know it, you might be over $200 per month or higher on your bill. That was unacceptable to me which is the reason that I went through this process. Now I can add more TVs if I want without pushing up my recurring bill.

Posted in Cord Cutting
24 comments on “How To Use Your Own Cable Box and Router To Save Money With Comcast
  1. Stewart MacDougall says:

    Don’t you have to buy a box for each TV?

    • Lance says:

      This can be handled a couple of ways as I have done in my house. First, it is just like the cable box you get from the cable company so “yes” if you want to have a different channel playing on each TV, you need a cable box for each TV.

      In my basement, however, I chose to just run multiple HDMI cables from a single cable box. This enables each of my TVs in the basement to show the SAME programming. You can accomplish this with the use of an HDMI amplifier / splitter.

      To summarize, you absolutely need a cable box per TV if you expect people to watch different channels at the same time. Otherwise, you can take the same output from a single cable box and run to multiple TVs like my situation in the basement but this will mean the same program will be on all the TVs.

  2. Harrison says:

    Hi,

    First let me say thank you for your article!

    I have been researching /debating purchasing my own cable box vs. renting one from comcast and your article does a great job describing the issue and solution!

    In my case, the town home my wife and I just moved into comes with a comcast cable subscription. So the only charges we would incur through renting is the ~$20/mo for an HD DVR box, plus internet (we already have our own modem/router).

    I am hoping that you can clarify what the “digital converter cable box” ($2.99/mo) is. I see that you already have additional cable boxes (1 HDDVR, 2 HD).

    So what exactly is / is the purpose for the digital converter cable box?

    Is this something I would need to get from comcast in addition to my cable cards?

    • Harrison says:

      Also,

      I see on http://www.hddvrtv.com that purchase of an Motorola HD DVR comes with a “M-Card” cable card (as pictured above).

      Would we still need to pick up a cable card from Comcast in this case?

      • Lance says:

        Yes, even though it comes with a cable card, Comcast still has to give you one of theirs that is activated. I found this to be the most frustrating part of the experience as I think Comcast tries to make it as hard to do this as possible. It took 2 trips to the Comcast store for them to get this right. The support guys at hddvrtv.com will tell you exactly what to do.

        • Lance says:

          And make sure to consider the fact that your townhouse community may actually hold all the account information for Comcast. You absolutely need the account information in order to do anything at Comcast so you may want to speak with your landlord or HOA ahead of time regardless of the route you take.

    • Lance says:

      The digital converter box is just a room that I have with an old (non-HD) TV in it. Just converts the digital signal directly from the wall to an old analog coax TV. You probably won’t need this in your setup unless you have an old TV that you don’t care about getting a full digital cable experience for.

      That is cool that Comcast cable comes with your place so you won’t likely have to continuously negotiate with them when they hike rates. Even at $20/mo savings of leasing your own cable boxes, your return on investment would be about 22 months (2 boxes).

  3. Harrison says:

    Lance,

    Thanks again for providing this info and answering questions, hopefully more people see this and begin to save money!

    One last question before I purchase a DVR from hddvrtv, I have seen used HD TIVO boxes for sale at similar, lower, and higher rates on ebay. Is there a downside to going with a more modern tivo box as opposed to the motorola’s from hddvrtv?

    I have read comments about needing some sort of subscription with tivo in addition to the one with your cable company?

    Just looking for the best option!

    • Lance says:

      Good question on the TIVO boxes but unfortunately I don’t know if there is an advantage or negative of going that route since I didn’t try it. It sounds like if it requires a subscription service, it would defeat the purpose of much of the cost savings you would be looking to achieve. Remember that hddvrtv has some DVR options if you really want the recording feature.

      A few important reminders.
      1.) The boxes for hddvrtv are refurbished but they test and certify every one before shipping.
      2.) I really recommend making sure that you go to Comcast and get “activated” M-cards BEFORE you start attempting the setup on your own.
      3.) Call the technical support number for hddvrtv when you are ready to start and have some time allocated to the task. I found it took some time since it likely will require a call or two into Comcast which hddvrtv will broker.

  4. Mike says:

    Nice work! Do you know if the Xfinity TV Remote app works with this setup? I’m thinking it would because the app talks to your comcast online account, not the cable box directly. (I think) I use it all the time for changing channels or searching. It’s much easier than using the clunky, slow remote.

    • Lance says:

      Hi Mike, sorry for the delay in answering. The Xfinity TV Remote app will not work with this setup from my experience so far as the “Living Room” is the only cable box that shows up for me in the app. In my living room, I kept one of Comcast’s DVRs and that is the only one that shows up in the profile for the TV Remote App. I have a feeling it is because their boxes have the Comcast client software installed on them and my purchased boxes do not. On the boxes that I purchased myself, since they don’t have Comcast software running on them, you also can’t access on-demand features. The purchased cable boxes are purely for watching live TV and recording live TV (if you buy the DVR version).

  5. Maria says:

    I gave Comcast tv and Internet. I need a modem. Can I get the same modem you bought? I obviously have a router but I don’t know where that is from. I’m dumb when it comes to this. I just don’t want to keep leasing through Comcast. What do I do? Also I want to have tv in my sun room. Is there any wireless options through Comcast???

  6. jim says:

    the website you gave is out of stock on a few models. Looks Expensive too. another option may be to get the serial number off of an ebay advertised setup box. When I spoke to Comcast cust service today they told me the setup box must be from their stock in order to be activated. They told me they can check whether the box is ok if I call up with a serial number. Apparently Comcast has zero control over store inventory and there is no way to call individual stores. A comcast store told me to order from Comcast, but Comcast told me they cannot ship a specific model.

    • steve gregory says:

      I bought a box on ebay and they wouldnt activate it in the Detroit Market. they told me that they own all equipment and that the seller wasnt authorized to sell it. they have register it to your account prior to activating and thats were the problem comes in because it was setup/issued to a different account. I asked them even if the original owner paid the non return fee, doesnt the original owner now own the box. Answer NOPE. I spoke to tier 2 tech support and retention and didnt get anywhere. It looks like tivo or the website above or there is website that you can use your pc as a tv server are the only options if you dont want to lease their equipment. Its a total scam. $10 mth X says 3 years= $360 for a box that cost $20 to make in china. RIP OFF.
      Serious thinking about cutting the cord and sticking with hulu,netflix, my own vudu movie collection, and OTA antenna.

      anyone know how to get out of xfinity contract, they slammed me one when i moved and regret it royally now.

  7. Philip Armour says:

    I have the top-of-the line Infinity/Comcast TV + internet package at $246.40/m with 12 months left on 2 year commitment – $246/m is NUTS. We have a 2nd business internet service in our home (extra speed needed for on-line business). Our Samsung Smart TV runs off the business internet. When I asked Comcast if we could cancel the internet portion of the TV package and run out TV subscription off the business internet they said NO, not if we still wanted DVR capability.
    So now I want to go ahead anyway, cancel the home internet and prime TV package, going down to Digital Starter package at $55/m. Can I buy my own DVR to use with my new subscription and run it off the business internet? Can I still get access to On Demand?
    My guess is I’m not asking all the right questions? Can anyone help me think thru these issues?

  8. Joy says:

    We already pay about $150.00 monthly to watch Frontier on our one television. I”m wondering if there’s a way I can purchase and add to the equipment a DVR machine, or how we can record television shows without paying them another $15.00 month just for the DVR box.

    • Edward says:

      find out if a TIVO will work on their system. Additionally bc its a cable tuners you can stiock renting the box. Prob is a TIVO is ~$350

  9. Guadalupe Lopez says:

    does this only work on Comcast or will it work for time warner/Spectrum as well

  10. Edward says:

    I’m getting such a hard time with Optimum and actually logged a complaint with the FCC from preventing me at every turn to byob. Cant buy one that was on their system bc its there’s they only rent. Then they also say no to me bringing in from hddvrtv becuase they are not “programmed” for use on the Optimum Network. I asked if I bring a SA 4250HD unit the same one you rent to me, and you give me a cable card and log in the S/N into your system it won’t work? THey say no! Am I being lied to?

    Also of note are the legal rules… Found here: https://www.fcc.gov/media/cablecard-know-your-rights “Use your own set-top box without extra charge. FCC Rule 76.1205(b)(5)(C). Your cable operator may charge you to lease a CableCARD or tuning adapter, but may not charge you an additional service fee for using your own digital-cable-ready television or set-top box.” They want to charge me $2 for a cable card and that is fine.

  11. Ed says:

    I have Charter and bought my own boxes you just have to tell the cable company you need cable cards for TiVo boxes and not your own cable box. The reason you can’t get on demand is because the box doesn’t get an IP address. But I can get pay per view.

  12. Mike Seastedt says:

    Bought a cable dvr from the guys in Denver, they were really friendly and helpful. Comcast made me drive 50 mile s to pickup a cable card. After much arguing for three days and talking to supervisors and agents they threaten to turn my service off and flat told me they didn’t care what the fcc said about owning your own cable boxes. (Even sent them a copy of the ruling). Filed a complaint with the fcc and got notice from them that Comcast had notified me and settled the issue. ( never heard from Comcast) Sent the cable box back to Denver and was refunded my money. If I was younger I would have took Comcast on.

  13. Richard Panek says:

    I have Comcast. I also have an analog TV. I did have a little black box from “them” that I input the cable in and sent it to the TV. I returned the box because i refuse to pay $5.99 plus about 10% in tax each month for the remainder of my life.(Only to increase, that is cost)

    Is there a simple box such as this available without going through the whole process and still having to “rent” a card from “them”?

    Since FCC allows us to own a box, why have the Chinese not flooded the market with it?

  14. Mike says:

    http://www.hddvrtv.com points to wix.com

    Does anyone have a different link?

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