Bell ExpressVu 9200: New software full of bugs

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Bell Satellite
May 15th, 2006 • 7:39 am

Great. Bell ExpressVu launches a long-awaited software update for their 9200 receiver—and the new software introduces as many new bugs as it fixes old ones.

I’ve only been using the new software for a few days, but I’ve already had the following two things happen to me:

  1. On Saturday, I had a timer for a show coming on at 3:00 pm. The on-screen guide indicated a duration of 50 min, but I knew the show was 2 hours long (a soccer game), so when I created the timer I extended the end time by 90 minutes. When I walked past the receiver late in the afternoon, I noticed that the red light indicating a recording in progress wasn’t on. I turned on the TV, and, sure enough, it was showing the event, but it was not recording it. The game was almost over. Grrr.
  2. This morning, after breakfast I noticed that the red light was on. I didn’t remember programming anything for this morning. I turned the TV. I brought up the list of PVR events (recordings completed or currently in progress). The list had two events currently in progress and currently both being recorded, with a recording time of over 10 hours for both already! The two PVR events were recording two of the channels I watch most often, and these were the two channels for which I happen to have daily recurring event timers (one recording a newcast from 6:00 pm to 7:00 pm from Monday to Friday and the other one recording a newscast from 7:30 pm to 8:00 pm every day of the week). The recording for the second event had worked fine last night (Sunday), but since we were watching the newscast live, I had actually stopped the recording of that particular event while in progress, since I didn’t need it recorded. Is that what triggered the problem? I have done this (i.e. stopped a recording in progress) countless times in the past without any problems. And why would this have caused two recordings on the two channels in question to start last night at approximately 9:30 pm and continue endlessly all through the night? Double grrr!

Of course, it just so happens that I only had approximately 15 hours of free space left on my hard drive, which means that, when the PVR was recording these two 10-hour+ events during the night, at some point it ran out of space. And what does the receiver do when it runs out of hard drive space? Well, it just starts erasing older recordings, that’s what it does! (Unless these older recordings have been manually “protected”—which of course I had no reason to have done for my recordings, because I always monitor my hard drive space carefully and make sure there’s always enough room left for new recordings.)

So when I turned on the receiver this morning,it had already erased a number of older recordings to make room for the new ones currently in progress. Triple grrr!

Needless to say, I was on the phone with Bell ExpressVu as soon as I saw this disaster this morning. I explained to the girl what had happened, and I made it quite clear that I wasn’t particularly impressed.

To her credit, she immediately understood that I knew what I was talking about and that I was rather upset. (I remained very polite throughout, of course.) But she didn’t seem to be particularly aware that there had been a recent system update for the 9200 receiver. Based on the ways communications with customers work at ExpressVu, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if communications with their tech support staff were less than optimal as well. It seems to me that, when a major software update is being launched like this, all tech support staff should be made aware of it and be prepared to deal with an increase number of calls from users with new questions, etc. Apparently this was not the case.

She first asked me to bring up the system information and read the software version to her. Then she had me reboot the PVR unit, which you do by unplugging it from the power outlet, waiting two minutes (her idea of two minutes was more like 50 seconds, but never mind…), and plugging it back in. I have done this before. The system went through its normal booting procedure, and everything was back to normal after a few minutes.

But how normal is “normal”? This, I am afraid, is something that can only be determined in time, through the normal use of the PVR. Will this reboot fix the problems I described above? I highly doubt it. These problems look like software bugs to me, and not one-off glitches—although I suppose that the fact that I had existing event timers at the time the software update took place, and that the software update made a number of changes to the interface for creating event timers, means that the software update had to deal with these existing timers created using the old interface (as opposed to brand new timers created using the brand new software interface). I don’t know if ExpressVu have made any changes to the software definition of timers per se, or only to the interface for creating them. The bugs I have experienced seem to indicate that there might be problems in the software definition of timers itself in the new system. As well, the first bug I experienced had nothing to do with an existing timer. It was a brand new timer that I created on Friday evening.

In any case, the girl told me to use my PVR normally for a few days and see what happens. She says she’s put me in her calendar and will call me back on Thursday, to see how things are going.

I repeated once more that I was not particularly impressed with the fact that I had lost several hours of recording because of this whole ordeal—obviously with the intention of making them pay for it. She got the message, and, after having a look at my programming options, kindly offered to give me free access for a month to the “Movie Network” package, which consists of several channels of commercial-free recent Hollywood blockbusters and is not currently part of my package. It’s not exactly the most exciting offer, but I am not the quibbling kind, so I say thanks and made sure she designed it so that this free offer would be turned off after a month and not automatically become part of my existing programming options, with an additional fee.

So there we are. You get a long-awaited software update, and it’s (apparently) full of bugs. What else is new? What’s new, of course, is that this is not a computer system we are talking about. It’s a bloody PVR. Compared to an actual computer system, this is basic technology. Sure, you can do a number of things with a PVR. But this number is still very limited compared to what you can do with a computer. So there should be much less opportunity for glaring bugs to slip through the cracks. But that’s the way it goes in this modern world. More and more things are software-based, and there is not a single software company out there that appears to be capable of doing enough in-house testing to make sure that all bugs are eliminated before the product is inflicted on the general public.

And so we all become beta users in a beta world, whether we like it or not.

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