About that DirecTV HD DVR…

I’ve been a reasonably happy DirecTV customer for the past two years. I got a high-definition DirecTiVo box in July 2005 and it’s worked reasonably well since then (with one noteworthy exception around the beginning of this year).

Unfortunately, that all changed for me a little over a month ago. DirecTV is about to offer a slew of new HD channels, all of them in MPEG4 format. The TiVo-made boxes won’t be able to tune in those channels, forcing DirecTV customers (like me) to switch to the newer, non-TiVo HD DVR boxes.

I made the switch in August. Big mistake.

To put it charitably, the DirecTV HD-DVR is crap. Oh, it has a few nice features and an interface that is reasonably intuitive. But it simply isn’t reliable. I’m on my second box now, and here are some of the symptoms I’ve seen:

  • At least three times a week, with no warning, the box decides to stop responding to all input. It continues to record in the background, but it won’t allow you to use the menus until you restart the system. So, you sit down after dinner, with the box actively recording a program that’s on right now and decide to watch something previously recorded and … you can’t. You can’t rewind the current recording or pause whatever’s playing live. If you press the Pause button, nothing happens. If you choose an item from your playlist, you get only a black screen. The solution is to restart the machine, interrupting the current recording.
  • Speaking of restarts… It takes eight minutes to reboot the DirecTV HD DVR (I’ve had lots of opportunities to time it).
  • Sometimes the HD DVR decides that you only need to watch a few minutes of a program you’ve asked it to record. For instance, the machine decided for me that this week’s episode of Rescue Me was just boring after the first 13 minutes, so that’s when it stopped recording.
  • Sometimes it just decides to stop working altogether. Last night, I switched on my home theater system and was greeted with … a black screen. The Record light was on the DirecTV box (it was supposed to be halfway through a recording of Countdown), but the power light was off, and pushing the power button on the remote or the box itself had no effect. After pulling the power plug to force a restart (eight minutes to reboot, remember), I was back in business. Unfortunately, that first half hour wasn’t there for me to watch.

In short, all the flaws I read about earlier this year appear to still be present in the current shipping models. A helpful DirecTV support tech said the first problem (DVR refuses to respond to input and has to be restarted) is a “known issue” that will be fixed in a future software update.

I can’t wait. Or, more to the point, I won’t wait for DirecTV to get its act together, which is why I have an appointment with the cable company to come out and add CableCARDs to a new Dell XPS 410 with a pair of digital cable tuners.

I’ve been using Media Center 2005 as a backup DVR for nearly two years, and it’s been rock-solid reliable. I’ve had Vista Media Center in the living room for nearly two months (with over-the-air HD) and it’s been equally solid. So I guess I should thank DirecTV for finally forcing me to take the plunge.

Microsoft has finally taken the wraps off its v2 extenders (I might even get to see them next week in Redmond), and I’m told they’ll be for sale this holiday season. Finally!

Meanwhile, if anyone can fill me in on what happened to Denis Leary in the last 47 minutes of this week’s episode, I’d be grateful.

Oh, and if you’re in the market for a gently used, still-working HD DirecTiVo, let’s talk.

23 thoughts on “About that DirecTV HD DVR…

  1. Ed,

    Unfortunately, “Recue Me” this season has been a real disappointment especially after season 3. Nothing major happens in the season finale, unlike last year where Sheila burned the beach house to the ground with them in it. I can get it to you on DVD if you really need it.

    I have gone through most of the major provider’s DVRs and they are almost all crap. Basically, they try and get the lowest end hardware because most of them give them to you free. This means that the processor sucks, the space is low, and they aren’t made to last.

    The only exception that I have found is Dish Network who manufacturer their own boxes and do their own engineering. The drawback to Dish is that their GUI is, ahem, done by engineers so it isn’t as nice as other’s GUI. I have never had an issue with fast forward sticking or stuff not being recorded, other than my wife mistakingly cutting off a recording because of a lack of good GUI.

    Until I can pipe my satelite signal (I refuse to have Comcast anymore) directly into my Media Center, I am sutck with their DVR boxes.

    I have blogged about my DVR and Media Center experiences (http://blogs.technet.com/mhass/archive/tags/Home_2F00_Audio/default.aspx).

    UltimateTV is still the best DVR out there, just wish they would have kept it uo and supported HD.

  2. I was a happy DirecTv subscriber for years – until I got the DirecTv HD DVR. Agree with all the problems you mentioned… but the deal killer for me was constant lip sync problems. Kept getting different explanations about why the problem happens. So I cancelled. While dealing with cancellation billing problems (my checking account was dinged $750 3 times ($2250), that customer service person asked if I had connected via HDMI. I had. He said Sony and other manufacturers that make TV sets in Mexico had used processors that didn’t conform to HDMI standard and if I connected thru RGB everything would be fine. Too bad they didn’t tell me that a long time ago. I’m now using a Maglia USB HD DVR ($150) connected to a Mac Mini getting OTA digital HD and it works perfectly, even exporting shows for me to watch on my iPhone while taking walks.

  3. BTW, Newscorp sold DirecTV recently and I heard that DTV is bringing back the Tivo HD Series (NDS, the maker of the problematic HR-20, was owned by Newscorp). Coincidence… I think not. Based on what I’ve read on user groups on the Web, the HR-20 was driving people away from DTV in droves.

  4. I was a DirecTV subscriber for 12 years. When I moved to HDTV this summer, I switched to Dish Network and have been thrilled with its picture, service, ease-of-use, and DVR reliability.

    Unlike DirecTV, DISH doesn’t require you to put out big chunks of cash for a box you don’t own. Yes — even DirecTV is now insisting that you “lease” instead of purchase their new receivers.

  5. Are the cable card tuners in your Dell internal or external? Either way, can you move them to another machine, if that machine has an HDCP capable video card?

    I’m really interested to hear about your experience with cablecard in the Media Center. I tried it in my TV about a year ago and it was a disaster. My biggest complaint was that it was slow.


  6. Ed, I record Rescue Me episodes on DVD to send to my son at University of Pittsburgh….if you’d like, I can have him make a copy and send to you (I’ve already sent him the last two episodes for this season)….I’m assuming you missed the season finale? Dave

  7. Sadly the comcast motrolla MCE boxes have many of the same types of quirks and problem, and while the reboot dosn’t take 8 minutes it can take a good day or so for the guild data populate completely.

    I want to switch, I want to switch bad. But what I want to switch to is a MCE box that I can choose my provider with. Dish, DTV, comcast, some IPTV flavor, whatever, I want to be able to chose a vendor and pipe my HD in to that box, and be able to fire their skanky asses when there quality drops or prices and get somebody else in, talk about the holly grail of voting with your dollars.

    I find it pretty insane and total failure of legislation and market forces that we can’t all do that allready today.

    I guess there is some vauge glimmer of hope out there at the end of some unmeasurable long tunnel with some feature version of Vista, or so rummor suggest.
    Though I think th reality will be a huge let down and each sat vendor will try to game the system by making you buy their PC, and these won’t be cable labs certified so you will be SOl for getting cable cards on there.

    The cable card situation is pretty nutty and a little buggy as understand it so may the force be with you. Expect multiple install attempts and then expect problems with cards to be able to reliable decode and play back jitter free. It’s still .01 technology IMO, but at least there is some hope.
    My will to resist will problem break down when M-cards are available and won’t have to buy 2+ readers for tuners, that is simple lame.

    Course direct TV should be getting sci-fi channel in HD soon, plus FX, plus cartoon network…and slew of other stuff I care less about. Not sure I can resist sci-fi in HD, but then I won’t be able to watch on my now retired hd tivo that I paid an obscene amount of money for only to spend years watching it not get up dated with new features :p.

    I guess the real fundamental market failure is in the fact that all these companies can suck so bad and yet still get our money across the board.

    Defiantly post your experience with the cable install and then a follow up on how well the services is or is not working for you. I’ll probable buy the firest v2 extender that supports divx, I’m so sick of having to use transcode to play back my kids stuff.

  8. David and Marcus, thanks for the offers of the Rescue Me season finale on DVD. I just checked and discovered that my Media Center box recorded it, so we actually have it to watch.

    And I’ll definitely have updates on the CableCard experience. Right now Comcast is scheduling appts for three weeks out, so I won’t actually have it working until October 8 at the earliest.

  9. Can’t tell you how sad I am. I loved my TIVO HD Dvr but was forced to upgrade to view the latest offering of MP4 HD channels. Only 12 hours into it and my DirecTV DVR reboots itself, hangs on reboot (forcing a reset), has serious lip sync problems, and randomly doesn’t let me view channels that I am subscribed to.

    Dish or Cable…here I come.

  10. Ed, Whats the latest on your DirecTV DVR? I’m on my second box in a week, this latest works better but alas, having the same problems as you outlined above (notably the input issue mandating a reset).

    I tried to return to my TIVO HDR but DirecTV won’t let me back out. They claim my upgrade is non-refundable!! Not to mention by upgrading I reset my contract to 2 years and now I’m stuck using DirecTV period…

    Anyone have any suggestions? I’m stuck in buggy DVR hell.

  11. I went through all of the hell everyone mentioned it took me 5 unit returns (all had a different issue) to get a stable box, I yell constally at the service reps on the phone, got 6 month of HBO, 3 month of Starz and $25 off my bill for wasting about 20 hours on my life on the phone and it taking 3 weeks to get a working system. I miss many of my favorte shows and if it wern’t for the NFL package I would be gone also. Even though I’m in a Comcast area which has horible HD quality.

    Now if they would please bring back a Tivo Based system I will upgrade 6 of my 9 units.

  12. @Kevin, I still haven’t gotten a stable box after 3. So if your DVR runs for 3-4 days, your DVR (play, pause, etc.) still continue to function? My latest box requires a reset every 2 days…

  13. I am so sock of DirecTv. I cannot watch half of my f’ing HD local channels. They sent some retard installer out to my house and he was worthless as a sack of dung.

  14. I am on my 4th HD DVR from DirecTV since June of 2007 and have a technician here as we speak working with the entire set up.

    The technicians from the service company say there is such a high defect rate on this box it is a major issue for them.

    DirecTV is on the decline now and the extra satellites with more HD channels is nice but a great internet and phone solution that is competitively priced with a new reliable HD DVR is imperative.

  15. wow thought i was the only one having a problem

    1 thought comes to mind class action send me an e-mail if you got a good lawyer maybee we can get out of this 2 year sentence and reembersed our $

  16. I have WOW as a provider. I just have standard cable pkg.
    Considering adding HDVR’s. Anyone have any comments pro, or con with the company’s leased units?

    Presently, they are offering the HD service free ( I didn’t find out how long )
    with the addition of the rental HDVR.
    Any benefits to trying to to find my own box and just paying WOW’s service fee?

    If so, any recommendations for units that are compatible ?
    Thanks in advance for any input.
    Thanks, John D.

  17. Enjoy paying the D* cancellation fee. Did you know when your HD DVR was activated you ended up with a 2 year non-negotiable contract?

  18. One more thing, the first problem (DVR refuses to respond to input and has to be restarted) that has been a known issue for 6 months+? STILL isn’t fixed in the newest national release that came out a week or two ago. And the lip sync problems just get worse on my hr21.

  19. Yes, I knew that the contract was 2 years and was non-negotiable and I took a chance on it. I got enough in service credits for the six months that I had the miserable service to more or less compensate for the cancellation fee.

  20. I was wondering if anyone has had this problem…I have a directv dvr that I got in December and it has recently gone through some updates. The first thing I noticed is every once in a while you won’t be able to rewind, the dvr seems to lock up and you can’t go back. Then I noticed recently that it was insisting I change the channel to another when only one program was recording (not 2). Then I noticed the yellow record button would be on when something I may have recorded in the past had recorded (example a series). The final straw was the dvr reset itself right to initial satellite setup, so I went through that with directv techs, got it righted again, but only 1 local channel comes through!! Now I only have this 1 local and they are telling me that I have to have a tech come to my house for $80 when it seems that it is a defective box to me, and to top it off, a mighty 90 day warranty that expired a while ago in February. I would like to hear peoples thoughts or maybe a “magic button” to help me with this local channel problem? I have reset and re-setup the stupid thing forever, took the card out..I am not happy

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