Archive for March, 2010

The Trouble with Tivos

Thursday, March 4th, 2010

Tivos and DVRs are great until they stop working. And then you hear all about it from wives and daughters. Oh, how they scream bloody murder when their precious shows and entertainment are not being recorded. It is enough to lose sleep over.

I had a particularly troubling episode occur recently. When we originally signed up for DirectTV, I ordered three DirectTV receivers for the household:
- living room
- basement
- master bedroom

I then received a Samsung SIR-4040R DirectTivo unit from my friend Tom. (Thank you Tom.) I plugged the Tivo into our home video distribution unit and the family can watch DirectTV recorded by Tivo throughout the house. So our need for multiple receivers abated and we had stopped using them. In fact, we had consolidated to:
- one receiver in the living room (for Tivo outages or live events)
- tivo in the basement (redistributed to the rest of the house)

Two receivers sat unused and unplugged in the basement. So after 3 years of paying for something we weren’t using, this past Saturday I de-activated the unused receivers. And something of a Tivo nightmare began the following Sunday. The Tivo stopped recording with the following message “Activate your DVR Service, Message #81. Please call DirectTV”. The Tivo would allow us to watch previously recorded shows and it would let us view live satellite TV. However every attempt to make it record a show resulted in the Message #81.

So I called DirectTV, the helpful reps tried several times to reset the activation of my Tivo’s Access card to no avail. The last DirectTV tech rep told me, “Your Tivo unit is only partially supported, Sir. If it doesn’t respond to these reset commands I am sending, than we have to assume it is in-operable. Let me ship a supported R15 DVR unit to you to replace your broken Samsung.”

I begrudgingly accepted the R15 replacement. I thought my DirectTivo was toast and that the family’s bliss of watching recorded shows on which ever TV they wanted was at an end. In a vain attempt to solve the problem my self, I logged into the www.directv.com support tools and tried to re-activate the Tivo’s access card myself. All the attempts were in vain, however I did notice the DVR Service on my account was still active.

Several days later we received the new R15. I began the install process. As soon as I powered the R15 on, it wanted to be activated. “Please call DirecTV” it asked. So I did. The automated DirecTV system asked: “Do you want to add the DVR service to your account for $7 per month?”. I thought this is strange “DVR Services” are already active on my account from the Tivo. I responded “Yes” anyway and tinkered with the R15. The R15 continued to complain about its “Access Card” being in-active, even though I just walked thru a DirecTV representative activating it for me.

While waiting on hold to talk to another DirecTV representative, I noticed the Tivo was working again. Brilliant I thought! All my troubles are at an end! And they are. The Tivo is recording again and I have an R15 to play with to observe all the well placed complaints about its clumsy interface.

The DirecTV R15 is probably great if you are coming from a plain old DirecTV receiver. The R15 remote has a gazillion buttons that do this, that and the other thing but not what you want to do at the moment. Many of the buttons are context sensitive. In other words the buttons are useless until R15 UI interface is in a certain mode when the buttons can be used. The R15 interface is also busy and hard to navigate, but it looks an awful lot like the interface of a normal DirecTV receiver. The Tivo interface on the other hand is stream lined and simple down to the remote. DirecTV can take my Tivo remote from my cold dead hand.

I am looking forward to a HD Tivo / DirecTV unit that is suppose to hit the market this 2010. Apparently the product will contain Tivo software only. So the box will be built by DirecTV, but a portion of the software will be written by Tivo. So let’s hope it is a good product combination and that DirecTV supports the product far into the future.

To summarize, if your DirectTivo gives you a “Message #81″ and your DirecTV rep. tells you “You need to retire the unit.” Try de-activating your DVR Service for your account and re-activating the DVR Service. It seemed to do the trick for me.