I have had DirecTV for almost two years now, and have been very happy with the service, price and quality. Sure there have been a few storms that have knocked out our picture for a few hours, but nothing devastating. Their multi-room DVR service is pretty good, but it has it’s flaws. Here are five things I would like to see DirecTV improve upon.
1. Set a Recording From Any DVR to Another DVR
The multi-room viewing concept of DirectTV allows users to watch any recorded show from any DVR in the house on any other DVR or HD receiver in the same house. This nothing earth shattering. AT&T U-Verse had this first (I think) and I believe Comcast supports it now as well. There’s a minor annoyance with setting recordings though, and it’s likely that this annoyance is only realized because of an added feature to the non-DVR receivers.
DirecTV allows recordings to be scheduled from non-DVRs. When doing this, another DVR in the house must be selected as the location for this recording. This is super handy, and well implemented. For whatever reason though, this feature does not carry over to the DVRs themselves. When selecting something to record, there is no option to record it to a different DVR in the house. Sure, it’s only a 5 second walk to another room in the house to set this recording, but that logic would apply to the non-DVR receivers too. It’s obvious that this option shouldn’t be presented every time a recording is scheduled, but it would be nice to at least have the option to change a recording to a different DVR at some point.
2. View Recording Queues For Other DVRs
This goes hand-in-hand with #1. Presently, the only upcoming recordings that can be viewed are for the DVR they are being viewed on. This presents a minor inconvenience, especially when setting a recording from the non-DVR receiver. Currently, when a recording is scheduled for another DVR from a non-DVR receiver, or the iOS apps, there is no way to know if there is a conflict. The recording is sent, and as long as the DVR receives the message, there is no notification of conflicts, and therefore no guarantee that the program will actually be recorded. The only way to verify this is to check on the target DVR later. Overall, this is just a convenience thing. When a schedule conflict happens on one DVR, it would be nice to see where there is available space, so you know which one to go to where there isn’t a conflict.
3. Notifications of Failed Recordings
There is nothing more annoying than thinking something is set to record and finding out later it did not record. If recordings are setup locally and there is an identifiable conflict, that is presented to the user immediately. There are flaws with this though.
If recordings are sent via a non-DVR or the iOS apps, the user is told the request was successful as long as the request was successfully sent, and not whether or not it will actually record. If there is a conflict, the request is immediately discarded by the target DVR. This isn’t the only kind of conflict though. If a user has a recurring recording setup, often referred to as a “season pass”, there may be conflicts that pop up at a later time.
For example, perhaps a user has two recurring recordings setup for 8 PM on Sunday for new episodes of two different programs, but neither program has a new episode in the next two weeks. Then say, that another recurring Sunday night recording is setup for a new show that is starting this week, also at 8 PM. No conflict will be presented. But when it comes time to record the last requested recording will just be ignored because only two programs can be recorded simultaneously. This behavior makes perfect sense. What doesn’t make sense is that there is no way for the user to know this until they try to go watch the show and find out it’s not there. There is an option to show recording history that would confirm for the user that a recording did not take place, but that doesn’t help after the fact.
What would make the most sense, is to alert the user of conflicts, preferably as soon as they are detected. The DirecTV guide goes out two weeks, so in most cases the DVR should be aware of these conflicts two weeks in advance. It doesn’t seem like it would be that complicated to audit these recordings once a day and give the user a message that there is a conflict.
4. Unreliable On-Demand
DirecTV like most cable/satellite providers has an “On-Demand” feature that allows for the viewing of hundreds of movies, TV shows and other video clips. Unfortunately, due to some sort of technical limitation, the “whole-home” DVR service prevents just connecting an ethernet cable to back one of each DVR and having access to On-Demand. Instead an additional piece of hardware is required.
This “internet connection box”, or whatever it’s called, hooks into the primary DVR and wireless connects to the internet. Until about a year ago, this box cost about $25, but included an additional installation fee of about $50 or so. Of course the installer never told me that this extra box was required during the original install which would have saved me the $50 installation fee. Within the last year or so DirecTV began offering a “self-install” kit, which cost a bit more but didn’t require a professional installation.
There are not a lot of steps to the setup. It requires the connection of coax cable to a DVR, then some on-screen setup. This is where things got hairy though. Despite my techsaviness, I had a terrible time getting it to connect to my wireless network. I eventually tried a different access point, and found that somehow that solved the connection issues. After several hours, it was finally working, or so I thought.
The only time the device seems to actually be used is when “downloading” something on demand. On-demand on DirecTV actually downloads the programming onto the DVR and it shows up like any other recorded program. It’s unclear whether this is any sort of advantage or not. The biggest issue with the whole system though, is that it’s very unreliable. A program rarely downloads successfully the first time without the download stopping and starting at least once. Also, the download speeds seem to be incredibly slow, meaning that often a show can not be viewed “on-demand”, but rather can be queued up for viewing at a later time. It’s entirely possible this could be related to my internet speed, but it seems more likely the fact that it’s wireless only, and unreliable
5. New Guide Colors
Recently DirecTV upgraded their guide to be more “high definition”. This also included a color change from white text on a blue background to white text on a black background. They also added new colored icons for recording programs and auto-tuning and shrunk the size of guide rows down to fit more on a screen at a time. My theory as to why they moved to white on black is that it would be easier on the eyes since a lot of people probably watch TV in the dark. It seems like a good idea in theory, but seems to fail in practice. It seems a bit straining on the eyes in most cases, and unless you have a Plasma TV with deep blacks, it probably isn’t really that easy on the eyes.
Many of these issues are minor quibbles. None of them are disqualifying offenses, but it would certainly be nice to seem these minor improvements made. Most of these are likely software limitations based on the way the existing system was designed to work originally, and then modified to have multi-room viewing capability.