Sat, 09 Oct 2004

Tivo Sucks

...a little

Neanderthal Tivo

My Tivo died last weekend. I suppose I'm not quite a typical Tivo owner. I have an old TV with just an RF input. Up until a few months ago, when I moved to Northridge, my only television source was an antenna. I had my Tivo hooked up to my TV, and had my DVD player plugged into my Tivo. My Tivo was configured to think that my DVD player was a satellite receiver.

There were a couple nice things about this setup. I could start a movie on the DVD player, and then use the Tivo remote to control it, allowing me to use the instant replay feature, for example. I could also record DVDs to the Tivo by setting up a manual recording. There are a number of downsides to such a setup, though. I couldn't watch DVDs while the Tivo was recording something. Also, a number of Tivo features didn't work correctly. Tivo stopped recording recommendations after I setup the satellite receiver (DVD player) and some of the search features stopped working. I think it would only search the satellite channel list, even though I had setup My Channels to only include a single channel from the satellite input, 100 - Pay-per-view Previews, that I used to watch DVDs on. I also couldn't take advantage of multi-channel digital audio on DVDs, though that didn't matter with my RF-only TV.

Movin' on Up

I decided to buy a stereo a few weeks ago. I've never owned a real stereo. I've had a sub-$200 bookshelf stereo for about 10 years and the CD player no longer liked playing the first three tracks of most CDs. I was thinking about getting one of those home-theater-in-a-box systems because I figured it would be good for listening to music as well as watching movies. Music is much more important to me than movie sounds effects, though, so I wanted to make sure that music would sound good on the system.

On a Sunday afternoon, I went down to Best Buy with two CDs, Idlewild's The Remote Part and Tom McRae's self-titled. First thing I learned, music sounds like crap on those little speakers that come with those home-theater-in-a-box systems. Ideally, the store would allow customers to hook up any receiver to any CD or DVD player and to any speakers. It didn't seem to work like that at Best Buy, though. So I picked up a Sony Receiver, STR-DE897, assuming it would probably sound good and that I could always return it if I had any problems. Next, I had to decide on speakers. They have a bunch of speakers hooked up to receivers and CD players that have about 6 music tracks you can choose from. After listening to the same tracks over and over, I decided on a pair of Sony floor speakers that sounded good and weren't too expensive. I found a sales guy and told him which speakers I wanted, and he said they didn't have any. Here's a recommendation for brick-and-morter retailers: If you don't have somethingn to sell, take it off the shelf. If I wanted to order something and wait a few days before taking it home, I would've bought it online from the cheapest store.

I bought the receiver since it was a pretty good deal. There was a 10% and it was an open box, so the price was about $270. Next, I went to Circuit City to check out their speakers. (I also went to Good Guys, but quickly left after checking the prices. This is my first real stereo; I'm not fanatical yet.) I spent a long time listening to different speakers and decided on a pair of Polk Audio floor speakers. It should be noted that Circuit City has a much better selection of songs in their test systems. I listened to Snow Patrol and Franz Ferdinand song a number of times. There weren't any sales people working in the audio section, so the car audio guy (he apparently doesn't know anything about audio equipment that can't easily be mounted in an automobile) wrote down the item number and told me to take it to the register. Not having learned my lesson, I was frustrated, though not terribly surprised, to learn that Circuit City only had a single speaker of the model I wanted in stock. So I went home with just a receiver.

I hooked up the receiver to my Tivo and little bookshelf speakers, and ordered the speakers I wanted from After doing lots of research trying to determine if there's any possible way for copper wires that come in fancy packaging to sound better, I went to Home Depot to buy some 16-gauge wire.

After getting the new speakers setup, I decided to get the DVD player hooked up directly to the receiver so I could watch DVDs while the Tivo is recording and see how the digital audio compared to running audio over RCA cables through the Tivo. Back at Best Buy, I bought an RF modulator and a digital coax cable. Next lesson, "digital coax" cables are the same as normal RCA coax cables, so that $12 cable is going back to Best Buy, replaced by one from the 99 cents store.

Death of a Tivo

After getting everything hooked up, and powering everything back up, I found that the Tivo had died. Black screen, green light. That's it.

Pressing the Tivo button on the remote made the green light flicker, but couldn't wake the box from it's sleep. I tried hooking everything up how it had been previously thinking that maybe the Tivo got confused when the inputs had changed, but no luck.

My Tivo is just over two years old, long out of warranty. I have paid for the lifetime service, so I definitely wanted to get it repaired, and not have to buy a new Tivo. I opened up the Tivo and found that the hard drive was spinning up, but it didn't sound like it was seeking at all. I pulled the hard drive out, stuck it in my computer, and was able to make a backup using MFS Tools. I emailed the guys at weaKnees, who sell Tivo upgrade an repair parts, and asked if I could bring it. They said it sounded like a bad power supply and that they didn't have any replacements.

I called Tivo to see how I could go about getting it repaired. I hoped that they had local authorized repair shops that I could drop it off at and, hopefully, have it back within a few days. Tivo has an obnoxious voice response system. Automated telephone systems that make you press a myriad of buttons are bad enough, but those that make you speak to them, which I'm sure the manufacturer claims is more satisfying to customers, annoy the hell out of me. After finally navigating the system to the place where I tell the system I wanted to speak to a human, I was told there was a 20 minute wait.

The tech support guy, of course, made me go through the motions of unplugging and replugging the Tivo, pressing the Tivo button on the remote, and even made me replace the coax cable between the Tivo and the TV, not convinced that the cable was OK despite the fact that the television worked fine with the Tivo unplugged and the signal passing through it.

Eventually, we got to the point where he told me I could them my Tivo and $79 and get a replacement. I suppose this is a pretty good deal for a device that's out of warranty. Seventy-nine dollars is also the amount that Best Buy charges for their four-year insurance policy (not an insurance policy in Kansas) on a Tivo. I've never worked in the insurance industry, but it sounds like Best Buy, or the insurance underwriter, would make a good profit off such policies.

FedEx Kinko's shipped my Tivo to Louisville, KY for $10.05. The best thing about the presendential debates is that I can watch them commercial-free without a Tivo.

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The state is that great fiction by which everyone tries to live at the expense of everyone else. - Frederic Bastiat