Pleh

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Archive for the 'TiVo' Category

Awww Man….

Posted by pete on 5th April 2007

A few weeks ago, I went to make sure I’d be getting MLB Extra Innings package from Cox. It was one of the things I needed available when I left DirecTV. They told me that InDemand (the service that provides MLBEI to Cox) and MLB couldn’t come to an agreement and they weren’t offering MLBEI this year. Bummer.

For 2006 MLBEI subscribers, they were offering to rebate the $90 subscription price to MLB.tv. It’s a nice deal, but not as nice as MLBEI. I was annoyed, but this took some of the bitterness out. Meh.

Now today, I read that InDemand and MLB came to an agreement and they’re offering MLBEI immediately. Woot!

I waited until I got home to call Cox about it. After all, just because InDemand’s offering it now, doesn’t mean that Cox will be. I also wanted to make sure they were still honoring the rebate offer since I’ve already purchased MLB.tv. The Cox rep I talked with said that they were and, yes, they are offering MLBEI now. It’s about $160, but that’s not that big of a deal spread out over the season. Double woot! Set me up.

Wha? No cablecard support?!?! Aw man… I love baseball and love being able to catch most Yankee games, but there’s no way I’d give up my S3 TiVo. Looks like for me, it’s free MLB.tv and those games on ESPN. Pleh.

At least I’m saving $160.

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Quick Update

Posted by pete on 18th January 2007

TiVo
The Cox guy, Joe, arrived last Wednesday with three cable cards. The first worked right out of the box. The second didn’t and neither did the third. He said that that’s about typical. There are two types of cards they carry: the “old” cards and “2006″ cards. The old card have about a 1 in 3 failure rate, whereas the 2006 cards a 1 in 20. A 5% failure rate is definitely better than a 33% failure rate, but still, 5% is higher than it should be.

With three cards down and one slot still waiting to be filled, Joe did something I really appreciated. I’m not sure it was because of a strong commitment to customer service or he just didn’t want to come by again. He called around to other Cox installers in the area to see if any of them have a spare 2006 cable card. He found one out in Centreville and went out to get it. He returned about 40 minutes later with the card, popped it in, and a couple minutes later, we had a happy second tuner. I’m very happy with him doing this. He did a good bit to pull my opinion of Cox techs out of the sewer.

So now we’ve had TiVo series three loving for the past week. How have we liked it? It’s been pretty nice. Compared to the Cox DVR, it’s a wild frenzy of lovin’. My only complaint about the TiVo right now is that the front display won’t stay at the “bright” or “regular” brightness setting after you set it. It’s normal setting (“dim”?) is too low for us to really see from the couch. After calling TiVo tech support, I found out that it’s a software problem that’ll be fixed in the next software release, which should be “in a few weeks.” Annoying, but if this is the worst thing we have to say about the TiVo, we’re golden.

Bugs
A lot of the bedroom stuff (bed, night stands, lamps, etc.) is still out on the back deck, shrouded in blue tarps. I’d like to give the bedroom a test run before bringing the stuff back in, though. I figure, while uncomfortable, it’ll help reduce some variables. If I get bit more, we’ll know that the problem runs deeper than the stuff on the deck and that buying a new bed will just infest that too. I really hope that it’s an uneventful night (or at least few hours) and that this extended stay in the cold outside will be enough to finally rid us of these damn bugs.

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All Atwitter

Posted by pete on 10th January 2007

Part the first: TiVo

Our series 3 TiVo arrived yesterday. It shipped much quicker than we thought it would. After Lis sent to bed, I set it up: no need for her to see this sausage made. <beep> <boop> <bong!> Oh joy! We got our TiVo back and it’s looking sweet. I can’t wait to play with it when the cable cards are installed, which should be this evening. After we’re sure the cable cards are working, the hated Cox DVR will be banished from our house!

Part the second: Apple TV

*sigh* We’re such gadget and Apple freaks these days. While the iPhone sure looks nice, our Cingular contract isn’t up until November and it’s freaking expensive: $599 with a 2 year commitment to Cingular for the 8GB version. I’m sure we’ll get iPhones at some time, but most likely not any time soon after they’re released in June. I’ll wait for Grumpy (who, apparently, seems to have stopped blogging…) and Dave to be the first movers on this.

On the other hand, I’m very interested in Apple TV. So much so, we’ve already ordered one. I’ve hooked my Macbook Pro into our home theater system before, but it’s been awkward and not a great experience. Most of that’s because of our setup, but it’s still our setup and something we have to deal with every time we want to display something from the computer on the TV. The Apple TV device should work nicely with our media and should make things very simple. It should ship in February. I’m sure I’ll be writing something about it once we get it.

Part the third: Receivers

The Apple TV (ATV) does seem to be complicating one thing though. It’s got two video output methods: HDMI (digital video and audio) and component (analog video) with either optical (digital) or RCA (analog) audio. The max resolution pushed by the ATV is 720p, which is easily reached by our TV.

The problem is, we got our home theater system in mid-2000, before any of these digital connections where anywhere near popular (and quite possibly not even commercially available). Our TV has only analog inputs, including only one component input. Our receiver has only two component inputs and two optical inputs. (Well, it’s got other, lesser-quality analog inputs too.) We currently connect the receiver’s component output to the TV’s component input. This leaves us two component video inputs and two optical audio inputs on the receiver. One component and one optical input is used by the DVR player. The other component and optical inputs are used by the Cox DVR (boo! hiss!) and, soon, the TiVo (the crowd goes wild!).

Where’s the Apple TV to go? I could downgrade one of the other devices to an S-video connection with analog audio: probably the DVR. Honestly, I doubt the video or audio quality will be noticeable, but, unfortunately, I’ll know and I know my OCD-light brain will be bothered to no end by it.

I’ve been casually looking at new receivers. The problem with this is that, in order to take full advantage of all the digital inputs, I’ll need to use a digital output and that means also replacing the TV. (Many devices won’t output signal received via a digital input to the analog output. If they do, it’s usually intentionally degraded. Just another wonderful aspect of media and electronics companies treating their honest customers like thieves.) There’s a TV I’ve been eyeing for a while, but there’s been too much spending lately and this cascade of upgrades needs to be arrested some. I think the best move right now is to deal with our current receiver and TV for a while; I’ll do my best to ignore that nagging voice.

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Quitcher Bitchin’!

Posted by pete on 6th January 2007

Order

Guess we’ve only got a couple more weeks to keep bitching about the Cox DVR. Now, let’s see if we can get the Cox cable cards to get here shortly after the TiVo.

Excuse me now while Lis and I go dance a little Happy TiVo jig…..

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He Write Good

Posted by pete on 30th December 2006

Walter Mossberg, at the Wall Street Journal wrote a good article on Lisa’s and my current dilemma. No, not the bug thing — we’re still waiting for a string of three or more sub-50 degree days. We hate our current DVR: the very terrible Scientific Atlanta 8300HD from Cox. (If I were Atlanta, I’d be insulted.) The Series 3 TiVo looks yummy, but it’s very expensive: around $700 + $13/mo subscription. Do we get a great DVR at a high price or do we settle for the rubbish we have at a much friendlier price?

Of course, we could just wait for the Cox – TiVo partnership to bear fruit. I think this is our current plan of action, but I’m not sure how long we can hold out. When the partnership was initially announced, it was slated for launch in the first half of 2007. That translates into “June 30th, 2007, around 11PM EDT.” Now, when talking with people from Cox, I’m hearing that they’ve been told, “sometime in 2007″ and we all know that that translates into, “At the New Year’s Eve party, 2007.”

Can we put up with another year of Cox DVR-based agita or will we spend too much and get the S3? If I were betting, I’d bet the latter, but we’d really like to see if we can make it to the roll-out and then make a choice.

On the plus side, I find myself watching much less TV. On the downside, it’s tough to explain to our daughter that half of the episodes of one of her current favorite shows was deleted by the DVR, because it thought it was time. (With apologies to “The Simpsons”: “I am the angel of arbitrary. The time of deletion is at hand.”)

(As a side note, this post finds me back in Ecto. I’m surprised with how much I missed it when posting from Wordpress‘ built-in entry tool.)

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Ignorance?

Posted by pete on 30th December 2006

I was talking — well, IMing — with Dave today (well, yesterday now) about his series 3 TiVo. He still loves it. He still wants to keep it around, and he still is not interested in Lis and me taking it off his hands for some ridiculous price. Hey, if he doesn’t want that $100 cash money…. we’ll take it elsewhere!

We were also talking about the crappiness of non-TiVo DVRs. I just can’t understand why, after having a few years now, the other companies still can’t make a decent DVR. Lis and I had a guy from Cox over yesterday. Our DVR (a Scientific Atlanta 8300 HD Explorer and, no, I’m not giving them any link loving) has been losing shows and, no, I’m not talking about the sixth show in a series we only told the DVR to keep five of. I’m talking about shows that Gracie really likes and likes to re-watch from time to time. Shows that we marked as “Save until I delete.” This guy from Cox tells us that the problem is the “Auto-delete” feature. This is the feature that will, in an attempt to save space on the DVR, delete that aforementioned sixth show or that show you had recorded two weeks ago and told the DVR to keep for a week. Apparently, according to Cox Guy, it will also delete those “Save until I delete” show that have been around, “long enough.”

(Fun side note: this is the same guy who came by here a couple months ago when the DVR started emitting a loud, annoying sound out the optical output. How did he “solve” the problem? He unplugged the optical out and plugged in the composite out. Did he also connect this to the same receiver that the optical cable was connect to? Nooooo. He connected these cables — the crappiest of all the output options — directly to the TV speaker, bypassing the multi-thousand dollar home theater system right there in front of him. Crappiest of audio out, meet the crappies speaker we have. Did he even address the real problem? Noooo. How was the problem solved? I spent some more time on the phone with Cox tech support and learned the magic power of the power cycle.)

Whaa!!?! What the hell? What part of “Save until I delete” don’t they understand?!?!

Don’t these companies who sell “competing” DVRs do any competitive research? Or if they do, have they actually studied a TiVo, not just the other crappy DVRs? I find it hard to believe the people behind these other DVRs are idiots. There has to be some other explanation. I could kind of understand when the first generation of non-TiVo DVRs came out that they’d be a bit, shall we say, underwhelming. But now? Now, I’m starting to believe it’s less ignorance and more malice. For whatever reason, our cable companies, our satellite companies, and our TV-over-Fiber companies hate us. They hate us so much that they’re running an experiment on the pain tolerance of customers. That’s gotta be it.

This post brought to you by Ctrl-B and the letter “.

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Oh, How I Miss Our TiVo

Posted by pete on 27th August 2006

Back toward the beginning of July, Lis and I got completely fed up with DirecTV. I had been thinking of switching to our local cable company (Cox) for a while as they offered a lot of HD content and just had to be more reliable than DirecTV. We had been tired of seeing our coverage slowly disappear in spring and summer as the tree in our front yard got taller. It would also quickly disappear any time a storm came along. Combine that with their crappy service and treating the DirecTiVo as a second class citizen in favor of their terrible DVR and we were ripe for the leaving.

We moved from DirecTV with the DirecTiVo to Cox Digital with the Scientific Atlanta 8300HD DVR. It was an immediate shock just how primitive the SA DVR was compared to the DirecTiVo, but I also figured that part of our negative reaction might just be because the SA is different; after a little while, we’d adjust and it wouldn’t feel so bad. Wrong. Now, almost two months out, it’s still bad and we’re longing for a TiVo.

I find it hard to fathom that others making DVRs can’t even come close to the wonderfulness of the TiVo. Do they actually test their devices with humans before foisting their inferior product on the market? The SA 8300HD’s search functionality if pathetic. You can search only by show title and show topic. You cannot search the show description and you can’t search all the schedule, only by day. There’s no concept of wishlists. The search guide and search display is only five lines, so you have to page again and again to see much of anything. You can only search by first letter, not by a string of letters.

The interface is slow and non-intuitive. If you hit the rewind or fast forward button, there’s a delay while it processes your command with no feedback that you actually pressed the button (such as the TiVo’s “boing!”). The SA 8300HD has three rewind and forward speeds, just like the TiVo, but the SA’s speeds seem to be “slightly faster than normal play,” “slightly faster than that,” and “warp speed.” There’s no sensible speed. When you go from forward or rewind by pressing play, it doesn’t jump back a little bit like the TiVo does; it’s just like a digital equivalent of a VCR. This is actually a pretty good description of the whole SA 8300HD DVR experience in general. It’s like they went out and made a digital VCR without trying to improve anything.

Speaking of forward and rewind, the SA remembers the speed it was last rewinding or fast forwarding at. The problem is, it doesn’t return to that speed the next time you hit the forward or rewind button, it returns to the next speed up or “play” if you were at the fastest speed. Why? This makes absolutely no sense. Returning to the last speed? That makes sense. One faster? No sense.

If you’re looking through your tiny five-line display of all the shows you have recorded and you find something you want to watch, don’t press the play button to — you know — play the show. You press the select button, make sure the “play this episode” option is highlighted, then press select again.

Watching HD is nice, but I think our TV has issues with switching modes and the HD channels seem to switch modes quite a bit, especially shows like Sports Center on ESPNHD. I’m not sure if it’s switching from 1080i to 1080i or that it switches from 1080i to something else (480i?), then right back to 1080i too quickly for our six-year-old TV to handle. Regardless, even mode shift seems to cause the TV to momentarily blank out, then come back with the video input channel and mode displayed prominently on the screen. I think I’d like to find a way to force the DVR to stay in 1080i all the time and ignore the mode changes (although the picture might suddenly get smaller), but I haven’t figured out how to try that.

On the good side, my SA 8300HD seems fairly stable. I’ve heard tales of non-TiVo DVRs being very unstable, but that doesn’t seem to be the case of the 8300HD at least. It also has a nice eSATA port in the back so that I can easily add more capacity of my DVR without opening it up (and voiding the warranty). Since it’s not mine, I’m kind of hesitant to mod it anyway.

The capacity of the 8300HD is a bit of a concern for me, especially when HD content is involved. Right now, during the summer rerun season, we’re hovering around 50% capacity. A lot of this is Gracie shows (which are SD format) that we continuously record. There are a few HD shows that Lis records and watches, but they usually don’t hang around long. As the new shows start coming airing this autumn (and most are available in HD), I think our DVR will start filling up quickly. I’m considering at least a 300GB eSATA drive that should roughly triple our recording capacity, but the longer I wait, 400+GB size drives are looking interesting too.

The one thing that our Cox DVR experience has taught us, though, is just how nice the TiVo experience is. All the little things that the TiVo gets right and the SA 8300HD doesn’t are really important to us: much more so than we expected. This has gotten us eagerly watching for the release of the TiVo Series Three box. It looks like we can stay with Cox Digital and their HD (via cablecards) and still have the wonderful TiVo experience.

Another intriguing development might just side-track our need for the new TiVo. Cox and TiVo have reached and agreement to put the TiVo interface on the Cox DVRs. Eventually — reportedly, the first half of 2007 — Cox will push out an update to the DVR that’ll include the TiVo interface. This would be very cool. We don’t have a problem with the SA hardware, just the interface. If the interface would be made by TiVo, I think most, if not all, of the problems we currently have with the SA 8300HD will be covered. I’m a bit bummed by the “first half of 2007″ (translate: “Middle of 2007″) release date and not sure if the 8300HD will be included in this interface upgrade, but it could save us the (probably high) cost of the TiVo 3 and alleviate my concerns about using the cablecards.

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This Remote

Posted by pete on 14th December 2005

Red Harmony 676 Remote

Sweet Remote

Blogs are a great way to avoid talking with other people. Instead, you can have online conversations in an environment where anyone can listen in. I’m most grateful to avoid having conversations with Grumpy. Even though his office is only a couple doors down the hall from mine, I can’t be bothered. Of course, that’s assuming that it’s one of the two or three days a month he’s actually at work, but that’s a tale for another day.

Yesterday, Grumpy asked Which Remote? If we were actually talking, he might have learned that just last week, I picked up a Logitech Harmony 676 remote. While it’s suggested price (and the price you can buy it at Best Buy) is around $200, it can be had at Amazon for around $120. While it is about 4x the cost of his new remote, I’d say it’s a wonderful remote.

Our AV or “home theater” system is fairly complex with parts from Sony (TV, DVD), Harmon Kardon (receiver), Hughes (DirecTivo), JVC (*cough*VCR*cough*/digital clock), and Onkyo (CD player). Each has their own remote. We have four main devices that we use: the TV, AV receiver, DVD player, and DirecTivo. Three remotes could effectively control these devices. Every-so-often, when the power flickers, we’d need to use the VCR remote to reset the digital clock. Whenever we’d have a babysitter or guests over, we’d have to give a two hour tutorial on how to watch TV or a DVD. We even wrote up a cheat sheet for them to use.

After a while, we started looking at something that could handle everything well and feel nice in the hand too. This is where the Harmony 676 comes in. It’s got that classic TiVo “peanut” shape and is nicely grippy in the hand (unlike normal TiVo remotes). It’s about 1 1/2 times bigger than the TiVo remote and flatter, but it doesn’t feel unwieldy in either my hands or Lisa’s smaller hands.

Most importantly, it controls everything and simplifies what we’d do, even on one remote. If we want to watch something on the TiVo, we press one button on the remote. It turns on the TV and receiver if they’re not already on and makes sure the TV and receiver are on the right input channels. If we want to watch something on the DVD player, press one button and everything’s set. If we didn’t have a crappy CD player, the same thing would apply to listening to CDs. (The CD player doesn’t have a standby mode, so the power has to be manually turned on or off. The remote can’t help with that.) Even unusual functionality can be accessed via the Harmony remote. While at the top, it provides buttons for meta functions (like “Watch TV”, “Watch a DVD”, etc.), you can also get into device-specific functions. At the time we set up the Harmony, our VCR clock was reset due to a recent (for large values of “recent”) power flicker. The clock hadn’t been reset up to this point because I’d have to get out the VCR remote, put batteries in it, then do the normal configuration. With the 676, I went into the device menus and found the correct functions to set the clock, all on my first try.

(There’s another Harmony — the 688 — that’s supposed to be specifically for systems with a PVR, but I don’t like how the buttons run together. I don’t know about you, but Lisa and I tend to push the buttons without looking at the remote, so it’s important for us to get some tactile feedback to determine what button our finger’s over.)

Set up is done via a web interface on the Logitech site where you configure the devices you have and the functions you want the device to do. It can be kind of tedious, especially if you’re a bit OC, like me. (I’ve heard some people say it was easy and done on their first try.) Setting up the DirecTV channels we get and which ones were our favorites was trying, although that leads to a nice little feature where the shows on your favorite channels are listed in the LCD display. Eventually, you finish configuring the device on the web interface and they push out a new firmware file to you that you use their firmware update program to reprogram the remote via USB. Tweaking the config can be a bit tedious too, but if you get stuck, their free tech support is wonderful and friendly.

Finally, if you get stuck and don’t want to continue further tweaking your configuration, the “Help” button on the remote is truly helpful and will usually walk you through fixing whatever problem there is with what you’re currently trying to do.

Overall, while I did have reservations about spending so much on a universal remote that I was unsure we’d like and use, we’re very happy with it and consider the money well spent.

UPDATE: Actually, it’s very close to the size of the TiVo remote, if not slightly smaller.


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?$?#*#$ DirecTV

Posted by pete on 16th August 2005

Well, it’s finally been announced. It’s been long expected, but DirecTV is finally dropping Tivo. For now, it’s just plans to stop marketing the Tivo service; it’ll still be available if asked for. I’m sure that in 2007, when the contract Tivo has with DirecTV expires, Tivo support will also expire.

This makes me sad, as I’ve found nothing with the quality and usability of my DirecTivo. To me, the killer feature is that you can record two raw DirecTV at the same time. There are no re-compression artifacts as you get with stand-alone (SA) Tivos, even at “best quality” settings. Plus, the raw signals are already compressed some, so not only do they look better than the “best quality” SA Tivo recordings, but they take up less space.

I have no love for DirecTV, only the DirecTivo. Cox, my local cable provider, seems to have greatly increased in quality since we moved into the area. If they were to ever produce a box similar to the DirecTivo that could record their raw signals, I’d be all over it. I’ll be interesting to see where the CableVision Tivo goes.

In the meantime, I guess I’ll start looking more seriously at other PC-based PVR solutions. Here’s what I’m looking for:

  • Dual tuners — necessary
  • Raw signal recording — big plus to have
  • Network features
  • Nice, user-friendly interface
  • Local recording of programs, but as long as I can export them to a computer, this isn’t too important.

Got any suggestions?

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You know you’re a parent when…

Posted by pete on 30th October 2004

…90% of your TiVo entries are taken up by children’s shows.

For exmple:
==========
The Wiggles
Bear in the Big Blue House
Zoboomafoo
Oobi
Oobi
Maisy
The Wiggles
Sesame Street
Bear in the Big Blue House
Zoboomafoo
Oobi
Maisy
Oobi
The Wiggles
Maisy
Sesame Street
Bear in the Big Blue House
==========

And then, finally, a show not for Thing One. It’s not just that there’s a lot of her shows constantly being recorded (there are), but that — and this has happend plenty of times before — as soon as we delete a show, that’s the exact episode she wants to watch. So instead of doing the compassionate thing for our TiVo and deleting shows after she watches them, we just keep the list full of her shows, just in case she wants to watch the Maisy episode with the train or the Wiggles with Captain Feathersword doing brain surgery. Because of this, the drive on the TiVo is constantly full or close to it. The average lifespan now of shows not marked “Save until I delete” is about two days.

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