Thursday, May 25, 2006

Revenge of HDTV, Part I: A New Hope

The HD-DVR died on Saturday after a day and a half of service. DISH promised the new one would arrive on Wednesday. Trouble is, I had trivia Wednesday evening, then shopping Thursday evening, and I couldn't readily skip work on Thursday because it's the day my backup happens. So I decided to take Wednesday off from work. Problem with that is UPS usually gets to our house last thing on their route, around 5pm, so I'd barely get any time to set up the new DVR anyway before trivia.

So on Tuesday we called UPS and were assured that we could get a "hold" on the package after it arrived in the early morning and pick it up ourselves. Great. Morning comes and calls to UPS lead nowhere because "the system" says it hasn't arrived yet. The UPS trucks leave by 9:00, yet at 9:30 "it still hasn't arrived, so I can't put a hold on it, sorry". They refuse to connect us to our local distribution center -- even though this is Vermont and I bet our local distribution center wouldn't mind one bit. They won't even tell us where it is. About 9:45am, my constant refreshing on the UPS track page yields fool's gold: the package was received at 6:45am, and went out for delivery at 7:45am, and this information simply hadn't made it into the system.

There was a glimmer of hope, however. A package had arrived the previous day from UPS and been delivered around 1:30pm, not the usual 5:00pm. So I sat around waiting and hoping, and sure enough, the UPS guy came by around 1pm. Ran out to meet him, chatted a little -- apparently, they've changed the routes around. Hot fruit.

I was nervous while I set up the DVR, but all went well and I had glorious HD again in short order. Was going through the tedious task of setting up a few dozen "season passes and wish lists" -- I can't help thinking in TiVo terms still -- and decided I was tired of the HD demo channel running in the corner of the guide, so I went to RaveHD so I could be not-watching Tori Amos in the corner instead.

The screen filled with barf and I heard horrible glitchy noises and then I started to get grump-o-grams about acquiring satellite signals and needing to run "Check Switch" again. For several hours I tried different channels, rebooted the DVR, checked and rechecked the cables (there's just not many ways to do them wrong!), and checking the Point Dish screen (which consistently reported strong signals and lock-on on all three satellites). Finally had to call DISH and arrange for someone to come out on Monday. For now, it works if I massage it from time to time into getting around a "can't acquire signal" or "run check switch" dialog box -- which means I can't trust that it'll record anything unattended, of course.

If I get on a channel and it's good, it stays good. But when I change channel, some channels are on one satellite and some on another, and apparently the process of moving between the satellite involves some kind of switch which seems to be working on-again-off-again. It's like it gets stuck, so one group of channels works and another group won't, and then after a while it'll succeed and the first group of channels will be the ones that don't work right.

In any case I'm almost 100% sure it's not in the DVR. Just not sure if this is just a coincidence, a second system component failing. Or maybe the old DVR while it was dying took a switch out with it by overloading it or something. Or maybe this switch was marginal all along and we just didn't see it until now because the old DVR didn't last long enough.

Meanwhile the DVR has me jumpy; every time it turns on or off, or reboots itself spontaneously without explanation, or pops up any kind of error message, I flinch. This morning it wanted me to hook up a working phone line -- which of course I already have, and it's passed the phone line test many times. It's hard to feel like I can count on this box, but maybe I'm just once bitten twice shy.

I thought I would miss TiVo's spectacularly good user interface, or its advanced multimedia-hub capabilities, or Suggestions, but what I'm missing is rock-solid reliability. I'm hoping we'll get past that bathtub curve and over the learning curve and everything will settle down.

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