16 December 2008

My TiVo HD/Comcast Saga Rant

I love TiVo. I love them irrationally in a way that a smart person like myself really shouldn't love a consumer brand. But, seriously, TiVo is awesome. Not only does it serve a technical function that makes me happy (time shift my television watching, allow me to skip commercials, help Suggest new shows I might like and connect me to content through Amazon), but it does it in a friendly, usable way. Even the remote control was thoroughly thought out.

I've had a TiVo Series 2 since about 2004 and have very little complaints. They even replaced the hardware when it started malfunctioning - twice! This last box had lasted through 3+ years and 3 different apartments and is still going strong. So, even though the USB 1.0 is a bit slow for downloading my shows or transferring to my PC and even though it can't handle HD, so my cable/TV/TiVo setup is needlessly complicated, I really wasn't tempted to upgrade to TiVo HD. That is, until they announced Netflix streaming would not be supported on the Series 2. I've been pretty satisfied with Amazon Video On Demand (formerly Unbox) and I may downgrade my cable package and get my TV shows there next year, but I've been frustrated with the lack of new releases to rent (many are available only for purchase for the first few weeks) and I missed the breadth of Netflix's selection.

So, my shiny new TiVo HD arrived a week ago. I tore open the box, thinking I was less than 30 minutes away from my new media heaven only to find the very first paper on top informed me that TiVo HD does not work with my cable box. Rather, I needed to call my cable provider to come install a CableCARD directly into the TiVo. This was unpleasant news. I have had only disappointing interactions with Comcast and I wanted to set up my TiVo NOW. This was also unexpected news. There was no part in the order process that mentioned the CableCARD requirement. (In TiVo's defense, there was a teeny little link to an Installation video in my Welcome email, but a) I've installed 2 other SD TiVos and b) why would I watch the video before the TiVo arrived anyway?)

So, I called up Comcast and said "I just purchased a TiVo HD and the instructions say I need to get a CableCARD installed, can I make an appointment?" The operator put me on hold for a second and returned and gave me an appointment window on Friday. I worked from home and waited and waited. The installer knocked on my door about 10 minutes before the appointment window ended to tell me he was working in an apartment upstairs and would be down right after. I waited and waited for about 40 more minutes - what the heck were they installing up there?

Finally, Comcast guy returns and he has a giant box in his hand and says "So, we're going to remove your CableCARD and install a DVR?" and I stared at him and said, "No, exactly the opposite. I have a new TiVo DVR, I do not have any CableCARDS and I need one." He looks over the work order, which also lists all my current equipment and, sure enough, "See, there it says 'Remove CableCARD,' but here I can see you don't have any on the account." The tech was very nice and apologetic (even though it wasn't his fault), told me he had no CableCARDS with him, mumbled that they'd done the same thing to him at the last call, and called Comcast to schedule a new appointment for me on Monday.

Now it's Monday and a different technician shows up, with CableCARDS but, perplexingly, also with an Comcast DVR box. Anyhow, he starts the installation process and then gets to an error message. He calls in to wherever to report the error and I can hear pretty much all of both sides and it turns out my tech did a few things in the wrong order. There's lots of back and forth and a TiVo reboot and some other activities, but, essentially, the technician screwed up and has now been at my place for almost an hour so he tells me I'll need to reschedule because he can't manage to install 2 single stream cards so someone will need to come back on a day when a single multi-stream card is available (TiVo says either setup should work fine).

Most of this is really Comcast's fault, but I also found the Installation Guide poster provided by TiVo to be fairly confusing. Two points in particular:

  • Step 1 says "Install CableCARD" but then the smaller print says to complete rest of the installation steps 48 hours before the cable guys arrives. So, shouldn't "Install CableCARD" be the last step?
  • TiVo provides YPbpr cables, but also supports HDMI, you just have to buy it yourself. The installation instructions only reference the YPbpr cables through the first 8 steps. I actually began to wonder if TiVo needed to go through setup and either download and update or have me manually change a setting before I could use my HDMI cable. But then way down at step 8 or 9, the small print says "Oh yeah, by the way, you could have substituted an HDMI cable way back at Step 4"

So, now, I guess because Comcast disabled my box before the failed CARD installation, I have a Comcast HD DVR feeding into my still-working SD TiVO and a nearly useless HD TiVo just hanging out.

On the bright side, I got Netflix streaming hooked up and it's FANTASTIC.