Will I hate DirectTV less than Time Warner?
March 27, 2006 10:11 AM   Subscribe

Having come to the end of my rope with Time-Warner's sucky customer service, we're looking at DirectTV. What advice, warning, cautions, or kudos would you give us before switching to this service. Two more specific (kinda stupid) questions are inside.

1) Will getting DirectTV now work ok with our pre-existing Series 2 Tivo?

2) Anything special I need to know about getting/maintaining a dish?
posted by anastasiav to Technology (23 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Will getting DirectTV now work ok with our pre-existing Series 2 Tivo?

It will work, more or less, but you'll be 10x better off getting an official DirecTV DVR. Until recently, they gave out TiVo units, but now they're rolling out their own brand of PVR (which is supposed to be OK too), so I'm not sure if you can still get the TiVo ones. The main advantages of the DirectTV TiVo or generic PVR are:
  1. The video is compressed before it is broadcast, and the digital stream is saved directly to your hard drive, so you get a perfect picture.
  2. You get 5.1 digital surround sound.
  3. Most importantly, you get two tuners, so you can record two channels at once (no more choosing between Veronica Mars & Lost).
I have an old Series 1 DirecTV TiVo that I installed a second hard drive in, and it's fantastic. I couldn't go back to the channel-switching delays and compressed picture and Season Pass conflicts of cable.
posted by designbot at 10:23 AM on March 27, 2006

In answer to number 2, I had Dish Network, and never even knew where the dish was. We had a lot of problems with it, though. Especially during rainy spells.

In my opinion, the customer service for pretty much all cable and sat companies totally sucks. I always end up hating my cable/satellite vendor.
posted by popechunk at 10:24 AM on March 27, 2006

I don't know about Tivo compatibility, but, a word of warning about dish maintenance: Here in Minnesota, both certain sorts of storms and the thick clouds that winter brings will cause a persistently poor signal, or a total loss of coverage. One of my friends had to switch back to cable on account of the weather-related outages and periods of poor receiption.
posted by Yeomans at 10:26 AM on March 27, 2006

Best answer: Anything special I need to know about getting/maintaining a dish?

Make sure they install a dual- (or triple-) LNB dish, with two lines running into your house. That's the only way you can take advantage of the dual tuners to record more than one show at once. It shouldn't cost any extra.

It looks like right now you can get a free DVR, free shipping, and free installation in up to four rooms with a 2-year commitment. I don't know whether there are any better deals out there.
posted by designbot at 10:34 AM on March 27, 2006

1. Yes, (for now) - DirecTV is ending their relationship with TiVo (we've got one of their new non-TiVo DVRs and love it) but I have friends with DirecTV who are still using original-generation TiVos. My concern would be less with DirecTV and more with TiVo themselves, as they're embarking on a relationship with Comcast, and I don't know the implications for existing users on other signal providers. In any event, our DVR was $148 with a $100 rebate, so it's not prohibitive to switch, putting aside the hassle of what to do with stuff you've saved.

2. Installation is straightforward, and the picture quality is excellent, In 3 years, I can count on one hand the times the weather has messed with our signal, generally during extremely heavy rain. I do have friends that have had more problems, so I'm not sure how much luck is involved. Given that I pay less than half of what Comcast wants for digital cable, my DirecTV would have to be a lot crappier to drive me to a competitor.

I've always been relatively happy with the folks we talk to on the phone, the only issue has been the variable quality of the installers/service people they subcontract with locally.

The guy who first installed our dish didn't aim it properly, then hung his van over a wall backing out of our driveway and was stuck there for about 5 hours. He later came back trying to sell us cracked access cards. But the guy who came to aim the dish properly, and the guy that came to install the DVR, were both top-notch, so who knows?
posted by jalexei at 10:39 AM on March 27, 2006

Best answer: In Maine, those heavy gale winds with rain shorted out the reception entirely, but just plain snow didn't seem to cause a problem when I had a dish.
posted by JanetLand at 10:53 AM on March 27, 2006

I have friends with DirecTV who are still using original-generation TiVos.

Just to clarify, there is a difference between DirecTV TiVos and standard TiVos. A standard TiVo (like you have) takes video input from any source (cable box, satellite receiver box, antenna) and compresses it internally. You could get a regular satellite receiver and connect the video output to your standard TiVo, controlling the satellite receiver with the IR transmitter. This will give you similar picture quality & inconvenience to what you have now with cable.

A DirecTV-branded TiVo (or DirecTV DVR) requires no separate receiver box. The satellite feed connects directly to the recorder, and the digital stream is saved without recompression. Changing channels, etc. is all handled internally. It's much more efficient, and gives the added benefit of dual tuners.
posted by designbot at 10:54 AM on March 27, 2006

The specialty satellite companies offer larger than standard (but not huge) dishes, and dish heaters, both of which might be useful when using DirecTV from Maine.
posted by I Love Tacos at 10:57 AM on March 27, 2006

First off, I love my DirecTV service and TiVo. It works great and rarely goes out with bad weather. It sounds like a bit of a bummer that DirecTV doesn't give you TiVos anymore, since I like that TiVos record things they think you might like if there's lots of extra disk space.

That said, I had lots of problems with my initial installation. The installation was during the winter, so when the leaves came in months later, the signal was lost. I then had someone come try to fix it, and he wanted to put a big pole in my front yard.

I liked the service so much, I didn't cancel right away, and I eventually figured out how to put the satellite in myself. Using a compass and a quadrant (scroll down to the Mariner's brass quadrant) made with a protractor and a heavy necklace, it wasn't too hard to find the right place on my property to aim at the satellite. (The location wasn't even close to where the service people had it.)

Just keep in mind when you aim the satellite that the direction the dish is aiming is not perpendicular to the dish. It's instead a bit upward, being at the angle at which a straight line would bounce from the satellite, against the dish, and into the feed.
posted by landtuna at 11:02 AM on March 27, 2006

Best answer: There is one disadvantage to consider; DirecTV doesn't support TiVo's Home Media Option; if you currently use your TiVo to stream music from your computer or transfer shows between units, or schedule recordings online, you won't be able to do that with a new PVR.
posted by designbot at 11:03 AM on March 27, 2006

Best answer: In Portland we never ever had a problem with our DirecTV dish in two years. Recently switched to TimeWarner Digital due to a ridiculously good deal, but I still fantasize about switching back. The dish is still up.
posted by miss tea at 11:04 AM on March 27, 2006

I've had our service knocked out, once, by two feet of wet snow accumlating on/in front of our ExpressVu dish. I could reach it with a broom and sweep it off. If you live in heavy snow country it's something to be aware of.
posted by Mitheral at 11:08 AM on March 27, 2006

If you have/would like to have HD, you may want to reconsider. DirecTV charges you $399 (to lease!) for their HD DVR, and requires a two-year commitment, while Time Warner, at least here in New York, charges you nothing aside from the $10/month or whatever you're paying to get HD. The cable company may suck, yes, but I'm not going to pay 400 bucks to try something that may not be any better.
posted by lackutrol at 11:09 AM on March 27, 2006

Not certain, but I think Direct TV charges for the Tivo/PVR option. Dish Network doesn't charge extra.
posted by Gungho at 11:10 AM on March 27, 2006

Not certain, but I think Direct TV charges for the Tivo/PVR option.

yes, 5$ a month - and thanks designbot, I was unclear on the differences..
posted by jalexei at 11:13 AM on March 27, 2006

Yes, DirecTV will charge you a $5.99/month DVR fee (you're probably paying more than that now for TiVo service). It's kind of a scam really, since they don't actually give you anything for that fee that other subscribers don't get.
posted by designbot at 11:14 AM on March 27, 2006

We've had DirecTV since 1997.

Rest assured that complete failures are somewhat rare, even here in the Houston area, where we receive an abundance of severe weather. If you do not have an unobstructed view of the southern sky, it's likely that you will encounter some failures due to the movement of objects (e.g., trees) during high wind or severe weather. When our dish was positioned at a different house with an unobstructed view of the southern sky, it failed once in three years, and that was during a severe thunderstorm. Now, positioned against an unavoidable pine forest, it fails rarely, but for obvious reasons.

I have noticed a gradual degradation in service since News Corporation (see FOX and Rupert Murdoch) acquired DirecTV. It seems that they are looking to cross-promote a substantial amount of content, including FX programming as pay-per-view, at the expense of their subscribers. The number of new movies available from channel 125 to 200 has decreased substantially, and they have been replaced by "modern classics" at $1.99.

The video quality is excellent, but you will find a number of unsightly compression artifacts on a good high resolution television. DirecTV has also been downsampling a number of channels from 480 × 480 to 352 × 480 in order to conserve bandwidth primarily for their HD content. By contrast, the resolution of an NTSC DVD is 720 × 480, although other variables (such as bit rate) can affect overall video quality.

If you want to receive in HD, you will need the HD receiver and a larger satellite dish. It should be noted that DirecTV is currently in the process of migrating its HD content from MPEG-2 to MPEG-4, and it is likely that this transition will render some or all of the HD hardware obsolete.

If you decide to move forward, you should definitely consider using a DirecTiVo instead of your existing TiVo. It is tremendously convenient, and you will certainly appreciate the level of integration. Personally, I prefer the DirecTiVo to the proprietary DirecTV DVR.

Good luck!
posted by scoria at 11:16 AM on March 27, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks for all the comments -- keep them coming!

Some notes:

1) We're not audio/videophiles; we're currently ok with our picture quality from cable, we don't have an HDTV and don't watch enough TV to be really worried about digital tv picture vs. traditional cable picture. My eyesight is so bad I'm not actually sure I could tell the difference between an HD picture and "regualr" TV. :-)

We've put off changing providers for a long time because we only watch a few things "live" (we have about six season passes running right now), but baseball season is coming up and that's a passion, but Time Warner this week has shut off our cable *despite* the fact that we have a canceled check from them which says we paid, and I'm sick of dealing with their customer service folks who told us the the reconnect fee was "non-negotiable".

2) I'm very loyal to Tivo as a brand, plus the box and service are all bought and paid for, so I'm unlikely to add a second/alternate box unless its totally and utterly free. Our Tivo is an 80 hour box and we only fill about 30 hours at a time currently, so extra space/overlapping passes are not a concern.

3) Not currently tech savvy enough to get home media option running, so that's not a concern.
posted by anastasiav at 11:28 AM on March 27, 2006

I had Direct TV and it was awful. From the subcontractor who mangled the initial installation to the receivers in the house that kept going bad (4!) on us to the consistently poor signal - it was a bad experience all around. We ended up going back to cable and now it seems pretty good by comparison. The Direct TV service kept cutting out, especially in bad weather (Chicago) but this happened summer and winter. At least our cable here isn't Time Warner which is, I agree, the worst. If you go with Direct TV I hope your experience is better than mine. I would not recommend it in any way to anyone.
posted by Kangaroo at 11:42 AM on March 27, 2006

Best answer: I work for a Canadian satellite provider that uses external and internal equipment similar to that used by DirecTV in the USA.

Speaking generally, the better your sat system is installed, the more reliably it will work. If an installer visits your home, make sure that he uses brand-new cabling from your dish to the receivers you purchase. If he attempts to "splice" new sections of line into cabling already installed inside your home (from cable TV, for example), this can lead to problems and could also make it harder to use the cabling for it's original purpose again in the future. Make sure the installer uses more than 30 feet but less than 150 feet of cable to attach each receiver to your dish. Make sure that the dish is mounted somewhere you can reach it if possible, somewhere you can see it if not, and somewhere that minimize exposure to wind. A satellite dish has an arm that points towards the sky. When your dish is installed, draw an imaginary line outward from the arm into space. If you think that trees, snow, vehicles or buildings might intersect that line during any season or at any time soon, don't keep the dish installed there. Try to keep the dish on the side of your building away from traffic. Ask in advance if each receiver you attach to your dish needs a dedicated line of cable, or if splitters can be used to add lines. Ask the frequency range of the signal travelling from the dish to the receiver, and make sure all cabling, splitters & joiners are rated beyond that range. Don't coil any slack cabling as this can lead to magnetization effects - spread it out somehow or run it parallel lengths spaced out a half-inch.

A lot of satellite receivers need a phone-line connection to access interactive features like Pay-per-View ordering. if you want to use these features, make sure your receivers are installed near phone jacks in your home, and keep the receivers attached to the line permanently - don't just attach the line when your using the interactive feature.

Speaking as a TV lover and a 3-year veteran of a Satellite provider's tech department: Unless a satellite provider has specific services like specialty channels that you must have, if you live in an area where digital cable in available, do not subscribe to satellite. All you're doing is adding a new layer of technology and hassle to a service that's already quite consistent across providers.

All TV provider customer service sucks. My company's service sucks, and my local cable company's service sucks too, but at least with my cable subscription at home, I can still watch TV when it's raining or when an emergency vehicle drives by my home.
posted by chudmonkey at 11:58 AM on March 27, 2006 [1 favorite]

I had DirectTV for several years, and I loved it. No outages ever that I recall, but San Jose has pretty mild weather. Not so sadly, I now live in a grove of Redwood trees that render satellites dishes blind, so no more DirectTV.
posted by doctor_negative at 12:23 PM on March 27, 2006

My aunt's dish (in a rural area of Minnesota) has consistent problems with reception after snowstorms. For some reason, her dish is mounted on the ground and she has to unbury it every time it snows--the area got 15 inches of snow a couple of weeks ago and she couldn't remember exactly where the dish was to go and dig it out. She had problems with the dish in her old house, too, because it was mounted on a patio and snow would accumulate there too.
posted by Electric Elf at 12:50 PM on March 27, 2006

Oh yes, for the record-- the DirecTV installer(s) we've had in Portland were just great.
posted by miss tea at 1:05 PM on March 27, 2006

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