Tuesday, June 10, 2008

DirecTV - good product, incompetent service

So we finally decided to move with the cheese. Every DVR we've ever owned has been a TiVo, and the last few have been so-called "DirecTiVos" - DirecTV DVRs powered by the TiVo software. But not so long ago DirecTV ended their relationship with TiVo and started making their own DVRs. They also launched new satellites to carry HD programming that were not going to be compatible with the TiVo DVRs. So we were going to face a stark choice some day - either switch to Comcast and buy real TiVos, or go with the "can't believe it's not TiVo" DirecTV DVRs.

I'd been watching the various forums for a while and finally decided that the software on their DVRs was ready enough and called them last week to get them to install the new 5 bird dish and a pair of HR20 DVRs. Well, when they came on Saturday, they said that they had HR21s, which do not have an ATSC receiver in them to receive local channels. Well, that ruined the plan, so I told the installer I didn't want them. I then called up DirecTV and spent an hour on the phone with them. Turns out that the HR21 does not have an ATSC tuner, but you can get one as an accessory add-on (the AM21). But you can't just add an AM21 to your order and have the installer bring it, you need to have an HR21 on your account first before their computers will let you buy one. Stupid. So, fine, I had them come out Monday.

The next problem is that we have two RG6 lines running to the living room. Since one of them is going to be dedicated to terrestrial signals, that means that if I want the two-tuner functionality, I will need to use the new SWM technology. When I explained that to the installer that came Monday, he said that they could not do an SWM installation except for new customers with more than 5 tuners. Grumble. So I told him to just install it with one tuner and I would do the SWM thing myself. So I've placed an order for the two AM21s and an SWM-8. The good news is that the cost of all the stuff I need to buy to make it right is about the same as the cost that I expected to pay for the new receivers and the installation (which it turns out was free).

The installer left before the software updates were complete. Of course, the receiver in the living room got stuck. My brother-in-law called DirecTV up and read them the riot act, and they said they'd send the installer back, but he never showed. I finally power-cycled the thing and that fixed it.

Now that it's all in (except for the AM21s), I have to say I'm reasonably happy with the functionality. I don't really miss TiVo's menu system. Time will tell, but I may miss the suggestions (the HR21s don't save anything you don't actually request), but it's nice to see Discovery channel programming in HD.

More later.

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