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Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Wait a sec... Who won this?

It has been a while since my last post, I know. For the faithful few who are strangely interested in these things, I am sorry. I mentioned several posts before that I had several projects in the working. Another has finally come to completion satisfactorily.

First, a little history. Last February it was my father’s birthday. When looking for a gift for my father I try to think of something that he will enjoy, but more than that, something that he will actually use. Now, we spend plenty of time in our theatre watching movies, but short of aesthetic appeal, the theatre is complete. Next, the television takes most of his time. It is the one place you can come in the evening after a long day at work and sit down, relax, without any responsibility or thought. But that begs the question, what can I do to improve the television experience? Cable is out of the question, one for the recurring bill, and two for the lack of quality programming. Broadcast TV offers the best line-up, bar none. A new TV won’t do, since analog is going away in 2009, and digital is still far too expensive. So… what about time shifting TV? I researched TIVO, and within a week had purchased a 40-hour unit with a lifetime subscription.

Let me say, TIVO is great. Commercials are a thing of the past. Nothing irks me more than the incessant drone of people hawking their wares, things I wouldn’t buy in a million years. Plus, the ability to catch all the programming you miss at work, or late at night, or because of other obligations is great. No more VHS tapes and their sloppy interface. Life is good… or at least it was until the TIVO started having problems! About two weeks into TIVO paradise an obnoxious line appeared on every channel! I tried new cables, restarting the TIVO; I even bought an amplifier. All to no avail. I spent three evenings on the phone with TIVO technical support trying my best not to pull my hair out while they asked me idiotic questions like, “Is it plugged in?” “Is the unit powered on?” “Have you tried a different cable?,” after I explicitly had told them I had gone through the website’s troubleshooting guide, in totality. Finally after talking to three of the most stubborn and non-tech-savvy people on the planet, they transfer my call to someone with a brain. It is quickly determined that the video card in the TIVO is failing and the unit will need to be replaced. Fair enough. I arrange to have the unit shipped back (at their expense), and they will refund my money so I can purchase a new box.

After a month of waiting for the shipping label it arrives and I send the unit back. After another month they still have not credited my credit card. It takes three more calls just to get them to do it, twice they had no record of previous contact! Idiots… I don’t see how you can afford to run a business by employing the lowest common denominator, it just doesn’t compute. Anyway, I finally got my money and went to order a new TIVO. Guess what, they no longer offer life time subscriptions. TIVO, in this brief two month window, has decided to do away with life time subscriptions in favor of a monthly service charge. So, now I’m infuriated. I have no TIVO, largely because of their slowness, and I am beginning to experience withdraw symptoms. I didn’t want recurring fees, that’s why we didn’t go cable. What kind of low life gives a gift to someone that the recipient has to pay for the next year? Further, the only real service they offer is TV Guide, that’s it. The hardware is nothing special, no magic, nothing proprietary. People in the computer community call it cripple-ware, because in effect, you are paying for services that are offered free elsewhere.

I refuse to pay TIVO another dime, both for their new pricing structure and their substandard service. Enter the PVR (personal video recorder) computer. I started with an old computer I had sitting around. I purchased a new TV card for it and I was off. Immediately there were problems. The video would skip every five seconds or so. I spent hours trying to diagnose the problem. After a week of endless tests, I gave up. The computer sat for another month while I contemplated (fumed), letting my thoughts coalesce. After much thought I realized that it must be an issue of processing power. I finally bit the bullet and ordered a new motherboard and 64-bit processor, ram, the works. Not quite top of the line, but two generations newer than what I had been working with. Once the new equipment arrived I ecstatically installed all my new components. Now the video was not skipping, hooray! But wait! Now the audio was not in sync. RAR! The only possible piece still underperforming was the hard drive. It was brand new, but I got it at a bargain price. Now I know why. The old adage is apt; you get what you pay for. I put in an older, yet more reliable hard drive, and it works like a champ! I’m even using a beta copy of Windows Vista, the next generation windows environment not even commercially available (I have hook-ups).

All is well with the world. Our TIVO is back. Yes, I realize TIVO is a brand name, but it has become synonymous with any PVR system, much as Kleenex is used for any tissue. I wonder though, did my pride again bring more hurt than gain?

New motherboard, processor, and Hard Drive: $344.
New TV Card and DVD Drive: $160.
New 5.1 Dolby Surround Sound Speaker System: $216.

Spending countless hours troubleshooting and finally stroking my ego, thus not having to pay TIVO $400: priceless…


Blogger Kevin said...

So what you're telling me is that you could record a season of any TV show and send it to me on a DVD...interesting.


8/02/2006 8:46 PM  
Blogger Mike said...

Intersting indeed. I had not really considered the possibility of DVD burning. Something tells me I would need to purchase a DVD codec. Even more likely, Vista may prevent several shows from being burned. M$ has been catering a lot to the anti-piracy groups and is making media duplication much more difficult. I know HD programs will not be able to be burned, maybe not even recorded. It's ridiculous. If it is on my TV, I should have EVERY right to record it, so long as it is not being distributed or sold. I have no doubt hacks will bypass the problems in the future. There is no such thing as security.

8/03/2006 6:02 AM  

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