The Good, The Ugly, and the Bad

userpic=rough-roadI’m back home from ACSAC, so I thought I would share with you one good (which is thanks to the ugly), and one bad.

The Good. Normally, when I come home from ACSAC, I come home with an additional present – blisters. I do a lot of walking with the conference, and I have a tendency to get blisters on my little toes with conventional shoes and socks. I’ve tried everything — moleskin, double socks, specialized shoes — nothing worked. Until now. This trip, no blisters.

What was my secret? Listening to my wife, who recommended I pick up some toe socks and get a pair of Vibram Five-Fingers. This I did — we had picked up the socks earlier, and while we were down in Escondido this summer we picked up the ugly: A pair of Trek LS Five-Fingers in Kangaroo Suede. I wore them all week with nary a comment, and more importantly, nary a blister.

I’m so impressed, I think I’m going to go out (after the first of the year) and get more socks and another pair, likely in brown. If I can find them that is (possibly here or here, but they are out of stock everywhere else, so I’m suspicious)– I’m not sure the Trek’s are made anymore; they aren’t on Vibram’s current page. I might have to do something like the V-Classic in black, the Speed XC (although I don’t like the yellow accents), or the non-lacing KSO. Alas, the biggest problem with the Vibrams are looks — they are ugly (gee, just like the Birkenstocks of old).

The Bad. We came home from the conference to find a dead DirecTivo. We have a Samsung DirecTivo SIR S4080R dating back to 2005. When we got home, it was passing through no signal; just snow. We rebooted the unit. We get the grey “Initializing…” screen, and then the “DirecTV is starting up, just a few minutes more…” and then…. nothing. It goes back to the black no signal condition. My guess is that we got a power hit that fried something (possibly the disk). We’re sending it in to Weaknees for diagnosis, but if it is gone, we lose loads of recorded programs (including everything from last week while we were away at the conference), plus the ability to record this week and likely next. In that case, we’ll contact DirecTV for a newer replacement unit. We’ll also see what we can recover from CBS Online (we might have to subscribe) and Hulu.



DirecTV: How To Turn a Usable Service Unusable [ETA: …. and Usable again.]

If you recall, a while back I wrote of problems we were having with DirecTV. The problems have continued: as of this morning, our DirecTV receiver was resetting at :28 and :58 of each hour, making it completely unusable. We’ve called DirecTV, and they are working on a technical fix… with no estimated time of application. As a SOP, they offered 3 months of Starz for 1c, and we can call for a credit once the problem is resolved. However, I’m looking at a daughter coming home who wants to watch TV, and going to a conference in a little over a week where I will be depending on the DVR to record stuff for me. Needless to say, I’m not happy. This problem isn’t just me. It’s made it to the Consumerist, there are now 26 pages of comments on the Tivo forum, and 11 pages of complaints at the DirecTV forum. However, DirecTV has not publicly said one word about this, other than a tweet that they are working on it. According to Weaknees, they are aware of it. Perhaps they don’t care and just want their customers to upgrade to new equipment–at least that is how they are acting.

[ETA @ 1:13p: DirecTV Says It Will Credit Accounts Of Customers With Rebooting Tivos] (h/t Carl K.)

[ETA @ 1:58p: Per the DirecTV forum: “The issue was due to some bad APG data and it’s has  been corrected about an hour ago.  folks may have seen one more reboot a bit ago but we believe the issue is now corrected …  fingers crossed”]

[ETA @ 6:08p: Appears to be fixed. Called for service credit. Wow. A whopping $3.]

[ETA @ 1:08p the next day: Email from DirecTV: “This is an important message from DIRECTV about your TiVo receiver. We are aware that you may have experienced a software issue that was causing your TiVo to reboot frequently. We want to assure you that we worked diligently with TiVo and resolved the issue yesterday. Due to this inconvenience we will be applying a onetime $10 discount to your account; this will appear as a credit on an upcoming bill statement. Thanks again for being a loyal DIRECTV customer. We truly appreciate your business.”]

So, what to do. Here are the options as I see it — comments on the various providers are welcome: [ETA: As the problem is fixed, I’m not switching… but the analysis is useful in case I ever think about it again.]

  • DirecTV. What would it take us to stay with DirecTV? Easiest would be to fix the problem! Lacking that, I would insist on: (1) provision of the new HD Tivo that does not appear to be rebooting, for free, at the same monthly Tivo rates; (2) no HD charges until we actually upgrade to HD TVs; (3) we can keep the Samsung Tivo, disconnected from the satellites, until all the programs on it are watched. Those three items would be the minimum; compensation for lost service and the unnecessary Tivo repair would be a bonus. I would also be willing to accept a loan of an HD Tivo until the problem is fixed, on the proviso that there are no charges and they have a technician come out and install it–no shipping delays.
  • Dish Network. What I primarily know about Dish network, other than that it is a competitor to DirecTV, is that they tend to have longer disputes with various channels over carriage (such as the long running dispute with AMC). In terms of packages, it looks like the America’s Top 250 package is closest to what we have now. They are offering some good deals, such as saving $30/month for 12 months, a free “Hopper” DVR, free premiums for 3 months, and free installation. The Hopper DVR is whole-home and looks to record 6 channels, but is not Tivo. The other TVs would appear to require a Joey receiver; I’m not sure if that suffices. Looking at base prices, after the discount, DISH is slightly more expensive for (250+Showtime), but by under $2.  I cannot find on the DISH website what other fees they would have: regional sports fees, monthly fees for the Hopper and Joeys, etc. Switching to DISH would also probably be the least infrastructure changes to the house — as we already have DirecTV, it would just be a new dish, possibly a new multiswitch, and some new wiring to the Hopper. It might also require them to install a network connection to the various rooms if they do not do wireless. I have emailed DISH to get specific pricing; their site made it easy to send the email.
  • Time Warner Cable. We’re primarily familiar with Time Warner Cable from use of their Roadrunner internet service. As for Cable TV, my experience goes back to the days of Theta Cable in West Los Angeles, and more recently Adelphia cable when we lived in North Hills. Translation: Bad experiences. As with the DISH website, the TWC site makes it hard to find the pricing. We would need the Choice tier. To get any pricing, you have to go to the order page (sigh). It looks like digital TV would be $39.99/mo, the whole house DVR would be $30.49, the additional outlets (HD, but we don’t really need HD) would be $20, Shotime would be $9.99… and there would be $40 for installation. It looks like the digital TV tier would include the Choice tier. There appear to be no free installation officers or other “goodies”. Given that the prices are only for 12 months, after a year, I believe we would be paying much more than DirecTV. The whole-home DVR can only record two shows at a time; it stores  up to 75 hours of HD or over 200 hours of SD programming. In terms of infrastructure, we already have cable going to the house for the Internet; some rewiring within the house would be required. I have attempted to email TWC — their site does not make it easy to do so, and the only non-chat method is a “Leave Feedback” form. The presumption appears to be you always want live interactive chat, which is something I hate. Demerits to TWC for a poor website.
  • AT&T U-Verse. Currently, our only AT&T service is home phone. We would need the U300 package, at $87/month (although we could live with U200 at $72/month). The package includes a whole-home DVR and one wireless HD-ready receiver. There would be a discount of $28/mo the first six months, and the activation fee would be waived. The package would include the movie package. It would be an addition $7 for the 2nd receiver, and they do support wireless receivers (making it easier to add TVs to rooms without wiring, a plus). Unclear what the installation fee is. Their DVR can record 4 shows at once; 233 hours SD, 67 hours HD. It is not Tivo. Again, I attempted to email them with pricing questions, but AT&T Uverse provides no email mechanisms to contact them — there is only live chat or going to their stores. Double Demerits to AT&T for a very very poor website.



An Insidious Plot – A DirecTivo Update

A quick lunchtime update on the DirecTivo situation: Just heard back from my wife, who spoke to Weaknees. They ran diagnostics on our DirecTivo Samsung DVR, and there are no disk problems, no tuner problems, and presumably no power problems. So what is causing the system to reboot? Seems they have been getting lots of calls from original DirecTivo owners complaining of these reboots. I just took a look at the DBSTalk forums, and there are lots of folks having the same problem. It is also being reported in the Tivo Community Forums and in the DirecTV forums on the DirecTV website. I just wish I had discovered this before I paid the diagnosis fee, but at least we are ending up with a larger disk, programming and such transferred, and knowledge that the tuners are good. ETA 11/15: Weaknees has also posted a blog entry on the problem (h/t Carl K.).

What is the answer to the problem? That’s harder. I’ve seen one comment that it might be a problem in the Guide Data stream. Someone else noted that there was a very similar problem about 2 years ago, starting in late September/October and lasting about a month. That time, the problem was with the software and a patch was required. Yet another person surmised that they are removing advanced EPG stream by end of year, and they could testing for that, resulting in the reboots. A number of people think it is a plot by DirecTV to force people to the new HD Tivos. In general, the notion appears to be to call DirecTV and complain, complain, complain.

One person on the forums called DirecTV and got more information. They learned from DirecTV corporate that there is a software issue with the older TiVo’s and that they were waiting on enough complaints to institute a software upgrade.  As of 11/11, DirecTV was supposedly working on the software update; supposedly, if it does not work, they will replace those DVR’s with the software problem at no charge based upon what type of DVR you have (same for same). [Of course, that is useless for those with loads of saved programming and larger disks.] According to DirecTV, “If enough people with these TiVo’s complain about the reboots, a faster update will occur”

I hope DirecTV figures out the software fix. I’m annoyed enough that they forced me into a repair I didn’t need to make. I don’t want to lose the saved programs or have the upgraded disk capacity be for naught.

(ETA 11/14/12: I’ve submitted an email to DirecTV regarding this problem. Given I just paid almost $200 to repair/upgrade the Samsung, about the only offer I would accept would be a current DirecTivo, with no changes in fees (i.e., even if it is an HD Tivo, no HD fees as we don’t have an HDTV), and I would want to be able to keep the old Tivo until we watched all the programming stored on it.)


Taking Us To Our Knees

When we moved into our current house in 2005, we got a present from DirecTV: A Samsung SIR-4080R DVR. We use it a lot (and I should note that we do not have HD service nor HDTVs, nor are they in our near future). We’ve had a fan go bad and a tuner go bad, and each time Weaknees has helped up repair the DVR. Recently the DVR has started to act up again — this time is it randomly rebooting while watching TV. According to the Weaknees FAQ, this is often due to a hard drive starting to fail. Given that (a) we do not have HD nor plan for it in the near futures, and (b) all the current DVRs from DirecTV are HD-DVRs (well, they do have one standard, but it isn’t Tivo), and (c) the new HD DirecTivos cost even more than DirecTV DVrs, we’d like to stick with the current box. So….

Tomorrow my wife is going down to Weaknees in Culver City, and bringing our box in. We’ll have them do the flat fee service (which will diagnose whether another tuner is failing), and have them upgrade the hard disk so we can hold more programs. Hopefully, they will be able to move the old settings over as well. However, there is a risk we’ll lose the saved programs.

P.S. to Erin: We have burned a DVD of Steel Magnolias for you just in case. I also walked through the settings menus after the movie so we have a record of our settings.



DirecTivo: Repair or Replace

I’ve heard back more from Weaknees and DirecTV (background to story). Now to decide what to do. I’m open to opinions…

Repair Option. We take the unit to Weakness. They diagnose ($99) and repace one or both tuners ($129 to $159). We could upgrade the drive while we’re at it, which would be additional labor ($79) plus the drive ($109 to $259). So, effectively, we’re talking between $450 and $600 to repair and upgrade, but we keep a Tivo unit.

Replace Option. DirecTV has indicated we get a free service call. They called us, and indicated they no longer have replacement DirecTivo units, and cannot repair them. They would replace it with a DirecTV DVR (non-Tivo) [for free, they claim]. We would need to watch/burn stuff off the Tivo before we could replace it, meaning we would have to live with the bad tuner until then (meaning I might need to buy a season of Weeds).

Opinions? Is sticking with the Tivo worth $500? Are the DirecTV DVRs that bad?


Analyzing a DirecTivo Problem

Our DirecTivo (Samsung S4080R), which we purchased new in 2005 (fan replaced in December 2008), is having an odd problem that I’m trying to intuit out before I call for service. Here are the symptoms and observations; opinions are welcome:

  • On at least two of the premium channels (537 Sho and 533 WHAM), after perhaps an hour of watching the channel, we start getting video “blurbles” (i.e., where the picture pixelates and resynchs), and occasional “searching for satellite”.
  • This behavior has not been observed on any non-premium channel.
  • This behavior has not been observed on any of the other non-DVR DirecTV receivers in the house (one RCA, two newer SD receivers).
  • I have rebooted the box, but the behavior returns.
  • I have tightened the connectors, but the behavior returns.
  • I have not been able to observe whether the behavior is specific to a particular tuner in the box.

Given that the problem is not on all TVs, I don’t believe it is a problem with the dish itself (i.e., I don’t believe there are cracked LNBs). The multiswitch was replaced in May 2007 with a Zinwell Wide-Band 6×8 switch, but that didn’t work well with the SD TVs, and was replaced again in November 2007 with a 3×4 Multiswitch. I don’t know if just one or two outputs on a multiswitch could be bad. It could be the wiring to just that TV, but then it would affect all channels, not the premium ones. Perhaps the decryption chip, which should only come into play for premium channels, is failing due to heat.

Anyone with a knowledge of Tivos and/or electronics got any ideas? Looking at the Weaknees FAQ, it could be a defective tuner or a failing disk drive.