Bell ExpressVu: More on event timer bug

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Bell Satellite
May 16th, 2006 • 7:51 am

Yesterday, I wrote about problems I have been experiencing with my 9200 in the past few days, i.e. since the software update that took place some time last week. It turns out that I missed some information in my initial report.

What I didn’t remember at the time and finally recalled later in the day was that, on that fateful Sunday evening where things went very wrong, I had done one other thing. I had also purchased a pay-per-view movie that was due to start at 10:30 pm, and I had created an event timer for that pay-per-view movie in order to record it to my hard drive.

While I might still be wrong about this (some of the evidence having been irretrievably lost), it now looks like the receiver started acting up exactly at the time when it was supposed to start recording the pay-per-view movie. Instead of recording the movie and just that, the PVR started recording two different channels at the same time on its two tuners (not pay-per-view channels, regular channels that I watch on a regular basis but were not related to the pay-per-view movie in any way), and both recordings continued all through the night and were still going on in the morning when I finally noticed the problem and stopped them and deleted them.

This also means that I ended up paying for a pay-per-view movie that I didn’t get. Indeed, when I looked at my “Purchase History” later on yesterday afternoon, the movie was listed there. But I didn’t have it. So back on the phone I was. I got another tech support person and re-explained the whole ordeal, with the additional information about the pay-per-view movie.

She asked me to repeat it in order to make sure she understood it, and then told me to hold and got another person to talk to me—presumably someone higher in the hierarchy, although it didn’t sound to me like he was particularly smarter or better informed about things.

I explained things a third time. He immediately started talking about sending me a replacement receiver. But he also asked me to unplug my current receiver and leave it unplugged all through the night once before plugging it back in. I doubt very much whether this troubleshooting method will make any difference—the only thing it will do is allow the always-on hard drive to cool down, I suppose.

He then said that, since the replacement receiver will take 5 to 7 days to get there, I should continue to use my current receiver and “observe” it to see if it starts acting up again in any way. Then, if nothing happens, when I get the new receiver, I should still keep the old one for a week and continue to observe it. If after one week the old receiver seems to be working fine, I should simply return the new receiver without using it. If the old receiver acts up again during that period, then I should return the “defective” receiver and keep the new one.

I indicated to him that, to me, it looked like more than a coincidence that the problems started just after the new software update, and it might therefore be more of a software problem than a hardware problem. He acknowledged that, but said something about the problems possibly being just “glitches” with the new software that would get cleared through the troubleshooting procedure described above.

I remain somewhat skeptical, and I find it rather disconcerting that even tech support people higher up in the hierarchy at Bell ExpressVu don’t have any special troubleshooting methods beyond the brute force approaches of unplugging the receiver for a while or replacing it with a new model. It seems to me that, in this day and age, they should be able to access some “hidden” troubleshooting procedures in the operating system of the receiver itself. Apparently not.

I also asked him about this pay-per-view movie that I didn’t get. He said something very weird about their system actually being able to “see” if the user has indeed watched the pay-per-view event he purchased and not charging him if he hasn’t. I don’t believe this for one second. The event is listed in my purchase history, and I am pretty confident that it’ll show up on my next monthly bill.

I purchased the movie again yesterday afternoon (I don’t want to miss it and by the time the monthly bill gets here it might no longer be on the air), and this time the purchasing and the recording went fine. But now of course my purchase history lists two purchases. Strangely, however, the date for the second purchase is in red, instead of the normal blue text colour. Could this mean that the tech support guy was right and the system can actually tell whether the movie has been watched/recorded or not? Since there is no explanation anywhere of what this red text colour means, I guess we’ll never know.

I might still get a bill with two purchases listed next month. Hopefully, however, the tech support person will have recorded all this information in my case file, and when I get my monthly bill, I can just phone them again and get them to refund the first purchase. I have had a somewhat similar experience in the past, and they didn’t make any fuss.

The bottom-line here, however, is that the Bell ExpressVu software for the 9200 PVR remains decidedly buggy. Maybe some of the bugs are new and were introduced with the latest system update. Maybe they were there all along and I just happened to experience them recently. Obviously, however, the Bell ExpressVu staff does not seem particularly interested in finding out more about this. Their approach to troubleshooting still seems pretty crude to me, and, given that I am already on my third 9200 receiver and that they are sending me a fourth one (and that my story doesn’t seem to be all that unique, based on other accounts I’ve seen elsewhere on the web), I can’t help but wonder how long it will take before we get a reasonably stable and reliable system, and how many receivers Bell ExpressVu will have had to replace like mine (although that’s not really my problem).

There used to be a time when watching TV was a pretty straightforward experience. I, for one, certainly wouldn’t want to return to the pre-PVR days for anything in the world. The PVR revolution has certainly changed the TV watching experience in many very positive ways for the consumer. (We almost never watch TV live anymore, except when it’s commercial-free. And we certainly haven’t seen a single 30-second commercial clip in full in ages. The only snippets of ads we see are 2- or 3-second clips at the very beginning or at the very end of commercial breaks, and they certainly don’t have any influence on our purchasing habits at all.)

But at the same time, our TV watching equipment has become awfully unreliable. The end result is that, when there is something really important on TV that I do not want to miss—like a certain Champions’ League final in a little more than 24 hours—I end up having to make sure that the PVR is recording it fine by going to the living room and turning the TV on and checking what’s happening. Which means that it is a mighty good thing that I work at home!

One day, maybe, our PVR machines will work as reliably as a good old VCR used to do (in its own, very limited way, of course). But if the current trends in the technology/software industry are any indication, it will take a very long time—and in the mean time we will all continue to be beta testers at our own expense for the industry.

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