Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Indirect TV

(or, why in hell is it so fargin complicated to watch TV?)

There are some companies that I swear are full of corksucking bastages. I used to think that our local cable company was the epitome of that kind of organization, but I've recently come to see DirecTV as the new contender.

So here's the story: I have a TiVo that's specially designed for DirecTV service (it won't work on any other TV service). I got this device purposely -- it has all the cool features and user interface of a TiVo, but has two satellite receivers built-in so that it can be recording two programs at once while I'm watching a third previously recorded one. TiVos are also great because they run Linux internally and they're really reliable. Reliable, that is, until DirecTV got their hands on it.

At the beginning of October DirecTV automatically "upgraded" the software on my TiVo. Since the software upgrade my TiVo has been rebooting by itself every day or so - usually while I'm trying to watch something. This is the second time that DirecTV has pushed out a bad software update that has caused the unit to be so unstable as to make watching TV more of a chore than relaxing.

I called DirecTV asking them to please put back the old software version. I explained why. I did it with enough technical terminology so that they would understand that they weren't dealing with the usual customer who forgot to plug their system into the wall outlet. DirecTV's answer: My TiVo is plugged into a wall outlet that isn't working properly, and to plug it into another outlet. I explained that this wasn't the problem, but I would try it anyhow (not really, because I knew this was NOT the problem). I also added that my family was about to visit, and that if the system started failing while they were here that the next call they had from me would be to cancel my service. The id10t on the other end of the line insisted that it had to be something in my electrical service because nobody else was having such a problem. That was a total lie, because on DirecTV's own tech support forums (and other forums) there are a whole lot of people complaining about the same problem (it seems to be affecting only certain certain revision units).

So while my parents were here, the piece of shit rebooted at least twice while we were watching live TV and we missed the end of the programs.

I spent 8 hours (yes, 8) pulling apart the unit, backing-up the hard disk, and tried to get the old software version running again (it is stored on an alternate partition on the disk). Whatever was done by the new software didn't let the old software run anymore, so that was a waste of time. I did find a log file on the disk though that confirmed what I already knew: That there was a bug in the software that was causing the reboots.

So I called DirecTV again, this time as the irate customer I should have been the first time. They now admitted there was a problem, but the best they could do is replace the TiVo with one of their new DVRs (that are not TiVos). This is bad for two reasons: One is that I lose all the programming I have on the disk, the other is that their new DVRs are crappy and don't work at all like the TiVo. To make a long story short, they won't put the old software version back, they have no idea why the problem is happening, they have no idea how long it will take to fix it, and the best they could do to compensate me for my inconvenience (and embarrassment with my parents) was a $5/month discount for 3 months.

So for the first time in over 3 years, I am now thinking about going back to the cable company that so disappointed me enough to install a satellite dish on the roof of my house (knowing full well that this is now a matter of picking the lesser of two evils).

It should not be so difficult to watch TV. Is this what we've come to? It's bad enough that all the programs have that annoying crap that pops-up on the bottom or side of the screen in the middle of the show you're watching. I was thinking about getting a HDTV. Why? I don't know. So I can watch poor programming from an unreliable cable or satellite provider in high definition?

If I got rid of the cable/satellite TV I would miss things like South Park, Stargate Atlantis, and random cool stuff that I sometimes stumble on when I'm bored (thanks Tristin for that insight). It's the crack cocaine of the entertainment world.

I am so, so tired of bad service. When will it end? Do I get rid of pay-TV and try to kick the TV habit cold turkey? Do I get cable to send a message to DirecTV that they probably will never get? Do I stay with DirecTV in the hopes that they fix the problem eventually? Should I get a HDTV so I can watch whatever TV I happen to have more clearly and bigger? I just don't know anymore...

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