February 10, 2007

Bad Things Happen When Competition Is Removed From Networks - The DirectTV HD DVR

I live in a hollow in the hills; we can not get broadcast TV.  Our cable TV provider is awful.  So for the last few years we have been using Direct TV to receive satellite feeds.

We've been reasonably happy with the service - that is until we decided to go to High Definition.

The dearth of HD material is disappointing, and there are the FCC's stupid rules that effectively deny feeds of HD programs from the broadcast networks.  Neither of these are really DirectTV's fault.

But this note is about what happens when a provider, such as DirectTV, begins to consider its customer base as captive.  It seems that we may be in for a lot of this as last-mile distribution systems - telcos, cable TV operators, and satellite providers - begin to feel their oats.  The recent attempts by internet providers to fight network neutrality is one aspect of this.

One of the effects of this kind of provider hubris is a disregard for product quality and customer satisfaction.  A case in point is the the DirectTV HD DVR.  It is one of the worst pieces of equipment I have ever used.  It is the Yugo of DVRs.

I have two Direct TV standard definitions Tivos - which are easy to use, and reliable.  But when I signed up for Direct TV's HD service no Tivo HD DVR was available; my only option was to get the Direct TV's own brand, not based on a Tivo engine.

The menus of the DirectTV HD DVR are confusing, inconsistent, and frustratingly slow.  Some things, such as jumping around a recorded program in big steps, are either non-obvious, difficult, or non-existant.

Programs that one asks to be recorded often turn out to be blank.

There is no speculative recording - so one does not get the serendipity factor found with a real Tivo.

And some marketing dweeb decided to cover it with blindingly bright blue LEDs that, even after the user turns them off, get reset when new software is loaded - which occurs several times a week.

If there were real competition for customers it would be hard to imagine any company releasing a product as bad as the DirectTV HD DVR.

Will most internet users soon find themselves coerced into using weak products?  I believe that unless we require network neutrality - in the sense that user's rather than last-mile providers get to make choices about traffic handling - and unless the internet remains firmly based on open standards that we are likely to find that DirectTV HD DVR is a harbinger of things to come.

Posted by karl at February 10, 2007 12:53 AM