DIRECTV: Well HERE's Your Problem, Ma'am...

DIRECTV: Well HERE's Your Problem, Ma'am...

Summary: Shortly after I posted my diatribe on my problems with my DIRECTV HD receivers and the company's horrible customer service, I was contacted by Stuart Sweet, a moderator on a popular Satellite TV forums site, DBSTalk. Apparently, my post had created quite a stir  and I was asked to register on the site in the hopes that the online community could help me out.

TOPICS: Hardware, Mobility

transponder.jpgShortly after I posted my diatribe on my problems with my DIRECTV HD receivers and the company's horrible customer service, I was contacted by Stuart Sweet, a moderator on a popular Satellite TV forums site, DBSTalk. Apparently, my post had created quite a stir  and I was asked to register on the site in the hopes that the online community could help me out. Given that I was ready to smash my equipment against the wall, it seemed like a viable option, because DIRECTV itself wasn't helping one bit. They were in fact, quite content to cancel my account on my behalf and charge me a termination fee rather than resolve my issues or escalate based on the information I was giving them.

Frequently, hobbyist sites and discussion forums are the best places to seek out information on sophisticated equipment such as satellite receivers. Back around 1999-2000, I briefly ran one myself, called, which was dedicated to the late Microsoft UltimateTV receivers, until Microsoft pulled the plug on the product and declared it as a dud. I eventually changed it to and at some point let the domain lapse, when someone else grabbed it. I was more interested in forming food discussion sites at the time. Ah well, 20-20 hindsight and all that.

So after explaining my problems to the folks over at, we went through the process of "Peeling back the onion" where we went through a number of diagnostic procedures. One of things that immediately jumped out was that during the signal tests for satellite 103(c), also known as DirecTV 10 was that on my bedroom receiver, I was getting weak or zero transponder reception on one of the dual tuners. 103(c) carries virtually all of the high-definition content, so this explained why some of my HD recordings that were not related to over-the-air broadcasts were coming up as "black screens".

Click on the "Read the rest of this entry" link below for more.

The community identified this as either a cabling or a multiswitch issue. When we swapped the cables on the unit, the other tuner would be the one with the problem. We didn't rule out the actual cables themselves going bad, but the evidence pointed towards it being a bad B-Band Converter (BBC). What's a BBC, you ask?

Without getting too technical into satellite technology speak, here's a quick summary.

DIRECTV calls up the satellite development division of  Boeing Integrated Defense Systems.

"Hey, can you launch us a satellite? Oh, great. It's gonna cost us how much money to engineer us a new Ku-band design for Hi-Def transmission and put it into an optimal orbital slot? Uh... how bout dis... can you give us one o 'dem 702 jobbies that you made for the SPACEWAY Internet thingamabob, and launch it into the same orbit, but can you jigger 'dem software so it uses up all its bandwidth for one-way transmission instead of bi-directional? Oh, yeah, we know all about our current HD receiver and DBS dish design and the 500mhz frequency block issue. We'll just give the customers this dongle whatchamacallit that does a signal conversion from Ka band to Ku band. Yeah, we know it's a major kludge. No problem. When can you launch it? Great."

"Hey Clyde, call up them fellers in China, we gonna need a couple million dongle thingies real quick!"  

So with the information gleaned from and transponder diagnostic outputs as ammunition, I call up DIRECTV customer service again. This time I ask for an immediate escalation. This time, I actually got a tech that knew what the hell he was talking about and could understand my issue. After talking him through my problem and being as informed as possible, we determined that the BBC -might- be bad, but they were going to send over a technician Saturday morning anyway.

Late Saturday morning, the technician gets here. He swaps out the BBC's on the upstairs DVR that is causing issues. No effect.

We then scratch our heads and run diagnostics on my other DVR and watch the transponders on 103(c) for about an hour. It seems the second DVR is also having issues. We look at the cabling on both units, everything looks fine. So then, it's the multiswitch, right?

Well, as it turns out, the multiswitch is actually embedded in the newer DIRECTV "slimline" dishes themselves. So the entire LNB assembly of 5 separate antennae had to be ripped out and replaced. After that was done, I was happy to see we got 95 percent plus signal on all the active 101 and 103(c) transponders on all the tuners on both HD DVRs. The LNB assembly "just went bad", it seems. No sign of lightning damage or anything like that. Just plain died.

What is the lesson learned here and what is at fault? I think it can be boiled down to a number of separate issues.

DIRECTV had a customer base that was happy with the TiVo platform, and when the company moved to HD technology, they chose to develop their own software and hardware in-house in the hopes of bringing down the cost of the platform rather than continue to partner with TiVo on HD units. Unfortunately, this means had to re-invent the wheel with the HR series of DVRs, which was naturally going to introduce problems.

When the original standalone SD TiVo's first came out, they were problematic -- I beta tested some of the original ones, didn't like them, and used ReplayTV units for a few years until the Microsoft UltimateTVs came out, then eventually migrated to DirecTiVos. With the DirecTiVo Series 2 the software was pretty much mature and stable. That being said, at the very same time the DirecTivos were as stable as they could be for a Standard Def DVR, DIRECTV rolled out HD service. So when you go from a very stable platform to an unstable one, the natural customer reaction is going to be negative. The software is under constant development and an end-user can even enter DIRECTV's "Cutting Edge" program if they learn about it on sites like DBSTalk, but most people aren't going to go through all this trouble to get a consumer electronics product working. These aren't computers where it is supposed to require a certain minimum level of end-user expertise -- they are supposed to just work, period. b_band_converter.JPGThe BBCs introduce an unnecessary layer of complexity . This problem should have been solved by having the LNBs engineered with the necessary Ka to Ku conversion circuitry embedded from day one. All HR-20 and HR-21 customers that are currently using BBCs should be given new LNBs with the signal conversion electronics embedded to correct the issue. Apparently, BBCs will not be required with future generations of DIRECTV HD DVR equipment and the newest dish models such as the SWMline, but that leaves the early adopter and current loyal customers in the lurch and having to deal with flaky dongles that burn out. As it happened, it wasn't my specific problem, but it's a huge pain in the ass for a lot of people. callcenter1.jpgThe customer service representatives are poorly trained, have terrible bedside manner, and do not know how to escalate issues properly to technical support. They didn't take my first requests seriously. "Oh, it's a known issue, here's 10 bucks a month until we resolve it" -- and they should have sent a tech out there immediately. Not offer to disconnect my service after 8 years of customer loyalty after I got annoyed with them on the phone and make me incur a $250 fee for the privilege of severing my relationship with them.

When you do get escalated, the quality of technical support representative you get at any one time is also completely random. It's taken us a number of calls and being milled thru the system a few times to get a technician out to the house and perform diagnostics and make the necessary repairs. This should not be happening. Period.

DIRECTV is apparently instituting verification procedures  on its new installs to mitigate some of the typical headaches that happen to HD customers.  This is a step in the right direction, but at the end of the day, it was the customer service experience overall that nearly put me over the edge and calling up my local Cable TV company.

Do you have your own DIRECTV horror story? Talk Back and let me know.

Topics: Hardware, Mobility


Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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  • Continuing Saga to show how great D* is now aday

    From a 7+ year customer and I am a paper thin from calling it for D*.
  • RE: DIRECTV: Well HERE's Your Problem, Ma'am...

    I've been with DTV since December 1994. I am also a FCC certified card carrying technogeek. Some times you have to play stupid with help desks. Pretend you are Joe Sixpack and pretend only to know how to turn the gear off and on and you get more from that then trying to provide them with a tech description of the failure. I almost pushed DTV off the gangplank a couple of times. Once when they fried my access card on a gen 1 RCA receiver while pushing out silver bullets to pirates. Another time when my H20 suddenly refused to provide audio out from HDMI and RCA jacks at the same time. I was told that was the way it worked, get over it (even though it worked fine that way for close to a year) If it wasn't for my wife I would ditch DTV in an instant today based on the amount of junk channels offered, in particular home shopping, talking head egotistical so called news shows, religion gone extreme and the really, really crappy program content that has crept into too many channels...reruns, reality, reruns, and really bad movies repeated over and over and over and over. Bad boring programming content is going to kill off cable, fios and satellite TV.
    Steve Stone
    • Home shopping....

      We have DirecTV installed where I work, and a couple of months ago accounts payable somehow neglected to pay the bill and the service was disconnected for a few days.

      Now, with the service disconnected you'd wouldn't expect to receive any channels via the satellite, right?

      Well, you'd be wrong. Because even though we couldn't get CNN, Fox News, TWC, or any other channel you might want to see, we COULD still get all those worthless home shopping channels.

      The only reason this makes any sense is that DirecTV pays CNN, TWC, Fox News, etc., for the right to carry their channels, while the home shopping channels pay a fee to DirecTV to be carried.

      And that explains why DTV fights the idea of ala carte subscriptions as hard as they do... if you could pick and choose the channels you wanted, the worthless home shopping channels would be out of business almost immediately, and a revenue stream for DirecTV would dry up.
      Hallowed are the Ori
      • It's not that they're paying DTV

        The reason you can get the shopping channels et al. is because they're not scrambled, not because they're paying DTV. They shut off all the scrambled channels by removing the decyphering keys of your receiver by typing unauthorizing data to the satellite. Scrambling costs money, so if you want people to watch your crap, you simply don't scramble it! In the beginning, NONE of the signals were scrambled. If you aimed your c-band satellite dish at the right satellite, you got everything that was being broadcast from it. Then HBO et al. decided that they should be getting money from those who were watching their programming, so they scrambled it, and Videocypher was born. It has gone downhill from there. Movies and TV are BIG business. If you don't believe me, call your local TV station and ask what it would cost for a 10 second commercial (just the air time!). HSN is worth millions today, and it all started with a guy selling some mdse that someone gave him in lieu of a debt... ONLY IN AMAERICA!!!
  • RE: DIRECTV: Well HERE's Your Problem, Ma'am...

    I have a good one. I was a customer for 5+ years until I decided to upgrade to HD with them. I signed up with the "free" upgrade package they were offering. I paid the fee for the new HD receiver and scheduled the tech to come out and set it all up. When the tech arrived he informed me that it was going to cost me $75 on the spot to do the upgrade. I naturally informed him that my upgrade was free. (he was also 5 hours late) Not believing me we called DirectTv and they too informed him that it was free. I was listening to the tech argue with the DirectTV rep and telling them "how am I supposed to make money on this service call them!" Next he tell's them that this setup is not apart of the "standard wiring" they do.

    The non-standard wiring was as follows, run an additional line from the existing dish to a central wire closet. (house was built in 2004 and all the wires these days run to a wire closet for make clean installs) Here's a little background on the house. The wire closet is in the master closet on the second floor, next to the outside will the dish was attached to. perhaps a 25 of cable and from the attic to the closet there is also a existing conduit installed also.

    The non-standard wiring job was $75 to push the cable through the 5 foot length of conduit. After I argued with the tech and the service rep. I kicked out the tech feeling like he's trying to pull a fast one and told DirectTV if this is really case I'm going to just cancel me service. The service manager informed me that's a shame please call us back when you want to cancel your service. I called back later that afternoon after I schedule my install with DishNetwork. DirectTV offered to spot me an additional $75 for the "free" install I signed up for. I was happy to tell the to go F themselves ( I didn't really say that) and they had lost me as a customer for such crappy service. My original install was considered standard when I signed up, and I wasn't going to get jerked around for my upgrade. I'm sure this is not the first time this has happen to a customer. I can say that I'm very happy with Dish, the install was fantastic and very professional unlike the DirectTV installer. I was able to leave since my contract was up at the time, it didn't cost me anything.
    • You are not alone there

      We recently went through a similar situation with Directv as well. Over a year ago we signed up for Directv and got an HD receiver. All was well until a month ago. The receiver stopped receiving HD channels and locals that are received OTA. Called tech support and they said I'd have to pay $80 to have someone come out and look at it. I asked why I'd have to pay anyone to come out and fix something that is leased? He just kept saying I'd have to pay a fee. Told him I wasn't going to do that. Called back to cancel HD service since we couldn't receive it anyway that night. A week later we had Dish come out for installation. I called Directv back the night before the Dish install to cancel service. The rep now said I wouldn't have to pay the $80 for repairs and they wanted me as a customer. I told him if they wanted me as a customer they wouldn't have tried to charge me a fee to begin with. After that he started to threaten me with an early cancellation fee. He tried to tell me that there was a 24 month contract signed for the HD receiver. I told him we weren't told about that when we signed up. We were told 12 months. He kept stating that the contract was 24 months for that receiver. I then told him we couldn't even use the HD and we weren't going to pay for another year of service that we weren't receiving. He then said we wouldn't have to pay the fee and he would cancel it. Two weeks later we receive a final bill that included the fee of $101 and it would be due in a month. A day or two after that they took the $101 directly out of the credit card we used to sign up for Directv over a year ago. We had never signed up for direct billing yet they billed a card that we did not authorized them to use. We are still in the process of getting the money back through Visa and filing our complaint with the BBB. I've dealt with bad customer service before but they topped the cake.
    • I've got one even better...

      A few months back, we were moving from Nebraska to Iowa, a whole 70 miles away, and I contacted DTV for their "dish mover" service. I made an appointment to meet them at the new house, and I stayed there ALL day waiting for someone to show up, and at 5 minutes before the end of their time period, I got a call telling me that the guy got his truck stuck in the sand, and he wouldn't be able to make it to our place that day because he was waiting for a tow truck. OK, we all know that S**T HAPPENS, and it was only one day out of my life wasted, so I shrugged it off and made another appt for another day, about a week later. That day comes, and they left me sitting there ALL day, and they didn't even bother to call me this time. I was furious, to say the least, so I called their number to find out just where they were, and they were to call me back. In a few minutes, the installation contractor called me back and apologized, saying that the installer went off the road into a ditch and was waiting for a tow truck. I guess he thought I had just today fallen off the turnip truck, and I was insulted at his trying to play me for the fool, so I told him that perhaps they should hire installers who could drive as well as install systems, and also asked if he had a cellphone and might have given ME a call, since he had my phone number on the install invoice.

      I am retired, and I suppose that I have nothing better to do than to wait around for them to show up (or not). It's as though MY time is worth nothing, and theirs is worth a fortune. Well, I cancelled DTV and went to Dish Network... they tried to threaten me with paying for leased equipment when I had bought the 2 receivers off of eBay that had virgin cards in them, and had authorised them in my name. And, lucky for me, the credit card I had used years earlier had been lost and cancelled, so they had no place to charge it to. Now they're inundating my mailbox with crap, trying to get me back. I'll do without TV completely before that'll ever happen.

      I had thought that I had moved on with my life after this fiasco, but this thread opened my wounds once more. But, now I feel better, having typed this e-mail, and I won't need to consult my psychiatrist again!!<G> (At least NOT for THIS!!)

      Mike W
  • RE: DIRECTV: Well HERE's Your Problem, Ma'am...

    DirectTV is hopeless. They seem to earn only from termination fees by harassing people. In my case They had a sales team sell the service with certain promise and after the instrument was installed, they did not keep the promise. When we cancelled, they put hefty termination fees.
    • I don't know what the laws are in your state, but ...

      that sort of behavior is considered a variation of "bait-and-switch" and is illegal out here. It can get you treble-damages in court. That means you would get the termination fee back, plus recompense for the lost revenue from the downtime (if you can demonstrate financial loss) ... all x3.

      You should contact your local attorney general and check on it.

      Just my $0.02 USD in hope of helping...

  • RE: DIRECTV: Well HERE's Your Problem, Ma'am...

    Before I switched from my DirecTivo to their HD DVR I took the time to read first. I downloaded the manuals and read extensively on DBSTalk and SatGuysUS. I knew what to expect/demand from the installer, new how to test my equipment, and adjust the dish.

    I did this because I already know it is wishful thinking that any CSR will have the knowledge or authority to handle my problem. Could we really afford DirecTV if the level of service some expect/desire was provided? The customer/user needs to take some responsibility to get a good outcome. This applies to your mechanic and doctor as well.
  • DIRECTV: Run by morons.

    The story is not a surp[rise.
    My father inlaw worked for Direct TV as an installer for 6 months. His prior experience amounted to 8 hours trying to get the clock to stop blinking on his VCR.
    He received 4 hours of training and was put into a truck that afternoon with a "veteran" installer who had been working for DirectTV for a week.
    After one afternoon with the high school dropout "teaching" him, he was on his own.
    Hates Idiots
    • and which company isn't?

      And which company isn't run by morons?

      Alephia should come to mind

      Dish? Well they're lucky the DVR's are still running from what I hear .. and if the lawsuit goes through they stand to loose a considerable amount of money or market share or both... (being sued for infringing patents on DVR technology)
      • re: Adelphia

        We had a cable company here that was bought out by Adelphia several decades ago. One day in the 90's, a friend of mine was called to the airport to determine what was causing problems with the Glide Slope transmitters. It was Adelphia Cable's Leaky cable network! He called in the FCC in Detroit and the FAA (GSTs come under their jurisdiction). They confirmed the source, and the FCC Field Engineer did a fine tooth survey of Adelphia's entire cable network. It was so leaky that they might as well have been broadcasting: NO grounding and NO proper terminations!

        The FCC went ballistic, forcing Adelphia to completely re-cable the entire network with proper grounding and proper termination at Adelphia's expense (no charging customers) under the FCC's supervision, and got hit with a HUGE fine. Not to mention a Large Fine from the FAA for interfering with FAA equipment, which could have caused a Crash.

        Adelphia here was bought by Time Warner Cable, which has been fantastic.
    • Sounds familiar

      Oh wait it is!

      Sounds just like our cable TV installers. My installer was happy enough to tell me that he had two 3 hour seminars on installing and had worked installing for 4 whole weeks.

      I found this out only after asking why he was having to call back to the central office so much.
  • RE: DIRECTV: Well HERE's Your Problem, Ma'am...

    I had DIRECTV for about 5 years. Customer Service sucks. They have no respect for the people keeping them in business. After many problems that I waited a long time before a Rep to come and then to tell me that they did not know what was wrong and left, I finished my service contract and moved to Dish Network. I am now a happy person again. They treated me great throughout the entire process and answered all my questions and made sure I knew how to use everything and they have great Customer Service Reps.
  • RE: DIRECTV: Well HERE's Your Problem, Ma'am...

    Agree about no knowledge customer service. Installed 2nd HD receiver on existing dish a while back. System came up no problem but failed after about 5 minutes. Did all the resets, tests to no avail. Receiver would fail after 5 minutes. Switched cabling from known good receiver and receiver again failed. Called DTV; explained what I had done. Their response "You'll need a tech to come out at $75." Asked for supervisor - believe I got another agent acting as supervisor who gave me the same story. Reran all tests, resets, suggestions from a user forum to no avail. I could tell the 2nd receiver was at fault. Called DTV back, got a knowledgeable agent that listened to my tale of woe and immediately said they'd send out a new unit with return authorization for bad unit. Unit showed up about 3 days later, hooked it up and worked like a charm and has continued to work flawlessly for last 9 months. Moral of story? Keep calling back to DTV if your problem is not resolved on first couple of calls. You might just get someone at DTV who has been trained and knows what the term "customer service" means. BTW - this whole unit was self installed by a non-techie following the booklet instructions on installation. Have been a DTV subscriber for 10 years and upgraded to HD late 2007.
  • RE: DIRECTV: Well HERE's Your Problem, Ma'am...

    We had Dish in Denver is it was great. The only time it failed was once during the last blizzard. The minute we cleaned off the dish, it came back beautifully. When we moved to the near middle of nowhere, North Carolina, we hooked up cable because it was there. The cable company was small time, awful service and within a month we were looking for a deal on satellite. We chose DirecTV because of the HDDVR deal, but now regret it and can't wait for the contract to run out. If it threatens rains, the picture goes out. When it's windy, the picture goes out. Try to play back something you recorded, the picture is un-watchable. We've had 2 HD20's, both scramble pictures at will. When we call customer support they say it's the weather, they say reformat the hard drive, they say "that's just the way it is"

    So here's my question: Did living at altitude (6000 ft) really make a difference in picture quality? If we switch to Dish will it get better or will we have the same problems because we're at sea level?
  • RE: DIRECTV: Well HERE's Your Problem, Ma'am...

    As with all major companies, people will have good and bad stories of customer service/tech support/product reliability. However, I'm with you on Direct TV, but just for the simple lack of customer service.

    After six years with Direct TV, our phone company offered savings with a bundle program for phone/dsl/Dish Network Satellite. I called Direct TV and asked what they could do to keep me as a customer. New hardware (since mine was 6 yrs old), program discounts, anything? NO. Sorry, if you don't like your current service, then cancel was the attitude. So I did. Pay less now, have new equipment including DVR, and better programming with Dish.

    Funny thing is within a few weeks Direct TV called asking what they could do to get me back, and offered free upgrades, etc. like I had asked to begin with! Of course it was too late, and actually, the ineptness of their customer service really annoyed me.

    "Here's your problem..." More like, "Direct TV, here's your sign!"
  • Abandon DirecTv and move to Dish Network

    I had DirecTv in the 90s when they were a smaller company and tried harder; I was fairly happy. Then I moved to Dish Network and liked their attitude and service.
    But by then I was also a Tivo fan. So, I switched back to DirecTv for the HD Tivo. We had problems with the HD Tivo and the customer service was obscene. My wife had to sit on the phone for a total of over 10 hours to get faulty units replaced. Since it had cost us $1,000 we hung in - but decided we would abandon DirecTv as soon as there was a good alternative.
    When the Dish Network DVR 722 came out we made the move. Everything is much better. SD picture quality, HD, multi-room config with shared DVR and especially the speed and ease of use of the DVR.
    We hesitated because we thought Tivo was so much better than other DVRs. We were wrong; we have two Dish DVRs and I prefer both of them to the several Tivos we have owned.
    Dish service has been easy to contact and responsive.
    Move to Dish Network for service. DirecTv deserves to be punished for the appalling service they gave us an many others.
    Move to Dish Network for technology. The 722 DVR is even better than the PC Mag Editor's Choice review says.

    With a pair of Dish PVRs and my 73" Mitsubishi monitor I am finally a happy HD viewer. Keith

    Wow...I thought I had gotten over my rabid anger and hatred of DirecTV until you brought it back up here. ;)

    My story is long, so I'll shorten it.

    1) My DirecTiVo HD was beginning to mis-fire when changing channels. I called DTV and was quickly told that my system was exhibiting a "known issue" and was told that the new DirecTV HD receiver was available. They said they'd swap the non-working TiVo (which we had been purchased for the five or $600 at the time) with their brand new HD DVR at no charge. I asked if this would change or extend my contract in any way...the answer was "No."

    2) The new unit came in and was swapped out. After a few days I was hating on the extreme downgrade in visual interface. Then, on random recordings, we began to experience a complete loss of video. Then, the channel misfiring began again. I called support to ask for support and was told the video issue was a known issue with this new system and that the other issues would have to be taken care of with a service call.

    3) I requested my old unit be returned to me since it appeared that the issue that initiated the request for this new DVR was not an issue with the old DirecTiVo at all, but something else.

    4) I was told the old unit could not be returned since it was probably already parted out. I verified that we had lost somewhere between $500 or $600 on this deal and that I wanted to speak to a manager to verify that there truly was nothing we could do.

    5) I was allowed to speak with a manager who was absolutely belligerent, at best. In their words, I should have not sent the other box in if did not want to lose it. From there, I found that the only option I had was to take a service call to fix and/or repair the box I had. I asked if I was going to receive the same box and software as I already had and if so, I wasn't interested in receiving the same problem in a new box and that I was interested in canceling my DirecTV service.

    6) From there, I was told that I could do that if I paid them the $250 early termination fee. After asking how that's possible as my initial contract had expired, she informed me that it had been re-started from the date the new DirecTV DVR that had been sent a few days before. I told her that I had been told that my contract term would not be affected with the swap of equipment...she said that is "not possible" and that all reps are trained to make sure the customer knows that a hardware upgrade would extend the contract.

    7) I asked her to play me the recorded conversation or send me the signed contract where I had stated to the rep that I had agreed to these terms. She said that this information was "not available."

    8) I caved, paid the $300, and moved onto our local cable company.

    I will never work with or pay DirecTV again to provide any service to my family. I attempt to discourage anyone from using their services and will continue to do so until I run out of breath.