DIRECTV Whole-Home DVR: Impressive, but what a pain to get installed

DIRECTV Whole-Home DVR: Impressive, but what a pain to get installed

Summary: DirecTV's new Multi-Room DVR experience is impressive, but you may have a hell of a time getting it installed in your home.

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TOPICS: Mobility, Hardware
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DIRECTV's new Whole-Home DVR experience is impressive, but you may have a hell of a time getting it installed in your home.

Recently I had DIRECTV's Whole-home DVR service installed in my house, after watching the promotions on TV. The software and hardware execution is excellent, but is marred by the fact that DIRECTV's technicians/subcontractors are not yet properly trained or are up to spec on the new technology.

Firstly, if you want to see the technology in action, take a look at this video I took recently which shows you what the new service can do.

Watch a 10-minute demo of DIRECTV's Whole Home DVR service in my living room.

If you're a DIRECTV HD DVR owner, and you have multiple TVs in your house, you probably have wanted to be able to share content between multiple DVRs or to stream content from one DVR, say, in your living room, to another TV set in your house, such as in your bedroom.

In order to do this in the past, special appliances such as the SlingBox Player and Sling Receiver were needed, or through the use of simple devices such as the X10 video receivers.  However, the integration with these devices was difficult and the video quality was not necessarily perfect.

SlingBox, while an excellent remote solution for streaming to PCs, Macs and Smartphones, is not an ideal solution for transmitting HD video to different rooms in your house. For starters, as good as the video quality as Slingbox HD is (720p) there is a very perceivable lag-time when remote-controlling your Slingbox from a receiver device or software.

Additionally, networking with these types of streamer devices requires either the use of very fast wireless Ethernet bridges (Such as 5GHZ 802.11N) or hard-wiring your house with Cat-5 to push a 1000Base-T signal back and forth between the devices to ensure a high-quality connection and enough bandwidth to handle HD video.

There are also Power Line Ethernet Adapters such as the ones produced by NETGEAR and Linksys, but the performance of these devices vary depending on the age and configuration of your home's electrical wiring and have a maximum speed of about 100Mbps. While this is fine for games and Internet access, it really isn't fast enough to push HD video.

DIRECTV's solution eliminates the wireless problem by using the coaxial cable that is already in your home going in and out of your satellite dish -- it creates a closed circuit between the DVR and "Receiver" devices in your home and permits the transmission of very high-quality HD video in a nearly instantaneous manner.

DIRECTV's Connected Home Adapter uses the coaxial wiring coming in and out of your satellite dish to share HD video content across multiple DVRs and receiver units.

In order to provide this service, an installer sent by DIRECTV needs to make a home visit and install new "Connected Home Adapter" units to your DVRs and/or install compatible receiver units. Depending on the age of your DIRECTV DVR hardware and receiver units, you may need to upgrade to new technology.

In my case, I was lucky -- my two DVR units, an HR-20 and and HR-21 were deemed compatible, and all that was required was the software update, the $9.99 per month for DVR Service plus Whole Home coverage (a $3 increase per month above the $7 per month for just HD DVR). It also requires the new Connected Home Adapters, of which I needed 3 and was included as part of a $100 installation fee. Sounds simple, right?

Er, no. Here's the simplified version of what happened.

After placing my order on Thursday with DIRECTV to upgrade my service, the first technician arrived the next day, late Friday morning, after I had waited several hours for him to arrive during a 4-hour expected time window. When he got here he was absolutely nonplussed.

Apparently, he didn't receive the correct order from his dispatcher, which was a subcontracting service that does the DIRECTV installs in my area. He also didn't speak English fluently. This wasn't a problem for me as I was immediately able to switch to Spanish, being a fluent speaker, but your average person might not be able to do that.

Also Read: DIRECTV, What About Make the Products Work and Keep the Customers Happy Do You Not Understand? (July 2008)

Also Read: DIRECTV, Well HERE's Your Problem, Ma'am (July 2008)

After listening in on a 45 minute call with his dispatcher/supervisor (in Spanish) we apparently found out that that our dish wasn't compatible (we needed to get updated to a new SWM-compatible Multiswitch) and the correct parts for the Multi-Home DVR weren't sent to him (The Connected Home Adapters and the new Multiswitch).

This required the parts to be sent to our house and a second visit.

The "initial" second visit was supposed to have occurred the following Monday. I wasn't at home, as I was away on business, but my wife waited all morning and nobody showed up.

She called DIRECTV, extremely angry. To make a long story short, another technician showed up the next day, Tuesday. This one was apparently correctly trained and spoke perfect English, did some re-wiring to simplify our Coax install, upgraded the dish to SWM, and installed the Connected Home Adapters and pulled off the BBCs (B-Band Converters) which were Thank God, no longer needed.

So, how is the DIRECTV Multi-Home DVR service now that it is installed? Very cool. As you can see in the video I have posted above, I can now share the playlists between both of the HD DVRs in my house and also watch the content from either DVR in either room of my house.

The HD video quality of playing connected DVR content is exactly the same as if I had been watching it right at the DVR where it was recorded. If I so desired, I could buy additional receiver units and watch DVR content from either of these two units in other rooms.

My wife and I can watch the same recorded program on both the Master Bedroom DVR and the Living Room DVR at the same time, and we can also watch programs recorded on the opposite DVR from each room, simultaneously. If we watch a DVR-recorded movie in the Living Room during the evening, and we get tired, we can go upstairs and watch the rest of it in the bedroom.

The only drawback to the current system is that the two DVRs are still autonomous, even though their content is shared with each other.

In other words, I have to continue to program them independently and be aware that each unit is consuming recording space and maintain a To-Do recording list on each. The software and Multi-Home system as it exists today cannot "Load Balance" DVRs and maintain a unified recording To-Do list and assign recordings automatically to whichever DVR is underutilized.

Additionally, if you have two or more DIRECTV HD DVR units in your home parental content control becomes difficult if you want to block what your kids can watch. With a single, centralized DVR it's easier because you can set content controls on the receiver units not to display movies and programming with specific ratings, but if you have more than one unit, all you can do is set a DVR not to share its playlist.

So if mommy and daddy have a DVR in their bedroom and record mature content (say, "Spartacus, Blood and Sand"), they have to set that DVR not to share its list, but that means that when they are downstairs in the living room, they can't watch any of the G or PG-rated stuff the bedroom DVR has recorded either.

With play list sharing between DVRs it's an all-or-nothing proposition, and with the parental controls, you have to manually turn it on or off if you want to watch or block adult-oriented (X, TV-MA, R, NC-17, PG-13, etc) content.

Still, for an initial offering, the DIRECTV Whole-Home DVR service is excellent, and I highly recommend upgrading to it especially if you already have compatible DVR units. Just be prepared for a bit of hassle getting it installed until DIRECTV gets its installer subcontractor act together.

Do you have the new DIRECTV Whole-Home DVR service yet? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

Topics: Mobility, Hardware

About

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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43 comments
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  • RE: DirecTV Whole-Home DVR: Impressive, but what a pain to get installed

    I have 5 DVRs in my house, and the whole house setup is indeed a lot more painful. The 1Gb connection becomes a bottleneck with HD content, and scrolling through the program list can get very slow and laggy.

    I only have one HR24, two HR22s, an HR20, and a standard def DVR at the moment. The HR24 is swift, but the older boxes definitely struggle.

    With 5 DVRs you end up getting two coax hubs and two connections to your Internet. The installer plugged both directly into my router and performance was quite poor because traffic from one DVR to another had to go through a very busy router. I eventually pulled my boxes off the internet and put them into their own hub.
    jrp@...
    • RE: DirecTV Whole-Home DVR: Impressive, but what a pain to get installed

      @jrp@... You were supposed to get a SWiM-16 but apparently had 2 SWiM-8s installed instead. The installer did this wrong in your case.
      dwbrott
    • RE: DirecTV Whole-Home DVR: Impressive, but what a pain to get installed

      @jrp@... Can someone please tell me how you can get on demand to work in conjuction with the whole home dvr service. I was told you cannot use the direct wireless connection kit that costs 100$ because that can't be used with whole home dvr. All it says on direct tv's site is "a professional installer will connect you using the TV Internet Connection Service. What is that? Can you have whole home DVR and still have on demand wirelessly, or must it be hardwired from my internet router to my cable dox? PLEASE HELP
      NEAL118167
  • A pain???

    It took me barely 15 mins to do the full installation myself. From installing the SWM to connecting the receivers, it was nothing.

    How can you claim it was a pain??? Is hooking up a couple of cables so hard to do???
    wackoae
    • RE: DirecTV Whole-Home DVR: Impressive, but what a pain to get installed

      @wackoae Because I didn't DO the install. I called Directv to order the service, and they said it REQUIRED a tech to visit and perform the install.
      jperlow
      • Then you were born yesterday

        There is no "required" anywhere. You just got served by a "sleazy used car" (DTV) salesman.

        I purchased an SWM from a reputable DTV distributor and had the multi-room service during the trial period with ZERO need to get a tech. The hardest part was replacing a multi-switch with the new SWM (single-wire-multiswitch), and that took about 10 minutes. Basically, the full installation is just installing a few cables, rebooting the receivers and enabling the option in the system menu.
        wackoae
      • RE: DirecTV Whole-Home DVR: Impressive, but what a pain to get installed

        @wackoe I would rather have directiv who is fully insured against liability perform service on my roof and the dish. my personal health is worth a lot more than $200 in installation fees. Falling off the roof in the hot sun would more than just ruin my day.
        jperlow
      • You didn't say it was a NEW installation

        @jperlow In that case I do agree to have the technician do the job. Specially when you still have to sign up for a multi-year contract.

        But for people who already have the dish and the receivers, it is not a big deal to install on your own.
        wackoae
      • RE: DirecTV Whole-Home DVR: Impressive, but what a pain to get installed

        @jperlow YOU ALL SHOULDNT BE PAYING ANYTHING TO HAVE THEM INSTALL WHOLE HOME DVR AND NEW BOXES. I SIMPLY CALLED THE CANCELLATION DEPT. AND TOLD THEM THAT I WOULD SIGN WITH ATT U VERSE, WHO OFFERS THE SAME DVR SERVICES AND A CONTRACT BUYOUT FEE. THE DIRECT TV AGENT WAS MORE THAN HAPPY TO WAIVE THE 250$ IN FEE'S (50$ FOR INSTALL, 100 FOR NEW HD BOX, AND 100 FOR SOMETHING ELSE I COULDNT UNDERSTAND). THEY WAIVED EVERYTHING, ALL I HAVE TO PAY IS 3$ A MONTH. IT TOOK A 15 MINUTE PHONE CALL TO GET ALL COSTS WAIVED AND HAD INSTALLER OUT THE NEXT DAY.

        I AGREE WITH THE ORIGINAL POST THOUGH. THE INSTALLER WAS HORRIBLE AND HAD NO IDEA HOW TO INSTALL WHOLE HOME DVR. HE SPOKE BARELY ANY ENGLISH AND WE DONT SPEAK SPANISH. IT TOOK HIM OVER 3 HOURS TO GET IT INSTALLED AND STILL HAD TO COME BACK THE NEXT DAY BECAUSE IT STOPPED WORKING DURING THE NIGHT. ONCE ITS HOOKED UP ITS AN AWESOME SERVICE THOUGH.
        NEAL118167
      • RE: DirecTV Whole-Home DVR: Impressive, but what a pain to get installed

        @jperlow Can someone please tell me how you can get on demand to work in conjuction with the whole home dvr service. I was told you cannot use the direct wireless connection kit that costs 100$ because that can't be used with whole home dvr. All it says on direct tv's site is "a professional installer will connect you using the TV Internet Connection Service. What is that? Can you have whole home DVR and still have on demand wirelessly, or must it be hardwired from my internet router to my cable dox? PLEASE HELP
        NEAL118167
    • RE: DirecTV Whole-Home DVR: Impressive, but what a pain to get installed

      @wackoae Just because it required work on the dish doesn't mean it was a new install. Most people aren't going to go out and buy their own SWM, they get a new LNB. The majority of people would rather pay the $150 (or less) for install than to buy a SWM, all the DECAs etc individually. For a review like this, it is best to go the route of the average consumer anyway.
      dpeters11
      • RE: DirecTV Whole-Home DVR: Impressive, but what a pain to get installed

        @dpeters11 Correct, this wasn't a new install. The dish had to be upgraded to a SWM, and I didn't want to climb on the roof and have to do the install and re-align, not to mention have to fix some of the cabling (which apparently was needed after a stormy season). The $100-$150 was totally worth not having to do it myself.
        jperlow
      • RE: DirecTV Whole-Home DVR: Impressive, but what a pain to get installed

        @wackoe --ditto dpeters11 comments. Why would you go out and buy all this stuff when DTV shows up and does it for you for $99-$149. In my case I got a SWiM 16 ($282) and power supply, two 8-way splitters (about $30), 3 DECAs w/one power supply ($140), got a brand new HR24 as an additional receiver ($199), upgraded an HR20-100 to an HR24, upgraded some natty old DTV receiver for an H24, updated my old standard def TIVO for an R16, and updated an additional StanDef box. That's $650 if I did it myself not counting the upgrades--I paid $199 total ($99 for the install, and $99 for the new additional HR24--$49 fee waived) for my system with 4 HD DVRS. Not sure why anyone would do it themselves--hell you can stand over to instalellers to check their work if you want.
        badgerdms
      • RE: DirecTV Whole-Home DVR: Impressive, but what a pain to get installed

        @wackoe --ditto dpeters11 comments. Why would you go out and buy all this stuff when DTV shows up and does it for you for $99-$149. In my case I got a SWiM 16 ($282) and power supply, two 8-way splitters (about $30), 3 DECAs w/one power supply ($140), got a brand new HR24 as an additional receiver ($199), upgraded an HR20-100 to an HR24, upgraded some natty old DTV receiver for an H24, updated my old standard def TIVO for an R16, and updated an additional StanDef box. That's $650 if I did it myself not counting the upgrades--I paid $199 total ($99 for the install, and $99 for the new additional HR24--$49 fee waived) for my system with 4 HD DVRS. Not sure why anyone would do it themselves--hell you can stand over to instalellers to check their work if you want.
        badgerdms
      • Why DIY???

        @dpeters11 and @dpeters11: The answer is simple. A SWM-8 (what most people would need) is just $70 max and it takes 10 mins to install. Why pay DOUBLE when it is a simple process.

        BTW: jperlow, If you were told that the HD dish had to be upgrade to a new one, you were conned (again). If you already had HD there is no need to change it. A SWM is just a multi-switch where you hook all 4 cables coming from the LNB.

        Now, if you needed additional receivers ..... then that would increase the price heavily. But SWMs are not expensive if you don't go out and buy them from the WRONG sellers. Too many scams running right now.

        BTW: badgerdms, you got scammed by paying $282 for a part that usually cost $110 w/ the power supply. Even the cost of the DECA is ridiculous. Where the hell did you buy your parts???
        wackoae
    • RE: DirecTV Whole-Home DVR: Impressive, but what a pain to get installed

      @wackoae or Someone...please help!
      How did you do the install yourself? They just sent me the parts but no instructions. Could you or someone please help?
      dpkulp
  • Unsupported ethernet

    I have 10HDDVR's. (Yes call me nuts) I have 100mb ethernet runs to every one of them. This is not a supported setup by DirecTV but they'll let you di it. It only costs me $3 additional and works fairly well.
    Now, I am not 100% sure that every DVR talks to each other but for the most part many do. Sometimes it seems like I can't see programs in my list from other DVR's. Now since ethernet connectivity is not a DirecTV supported setup, I guess that I can't complain.
    My issues are that ff and rw are not very clear/responsive. Though I've been told that DECA handles this much better than ethernet.
    What I like about my setup, is that I get to do it myself. I have a very complicated multiswitch setup. I have 2 switches cabled in parallel. I have a SWM-8 and an older 4x16. (So 4 receivers are on SWM and the other 6 are not, once the SWM 8's drop some more, I might toss in another one) Oh did I mention that I also have a 95 degree dish for international programming and an OTA antenna. I've done all the setup myself except for putting up my dishes. Needless to say every tech that has come over to my place, stands slackjawed when looking at my wall mounted box where all my wiring is done. I even had one tech tell me that my setup wouldn't work....Hahaha....I said but every receiver is working fine, how can you say it won't work. He said I should run my switches in series rather than parallel. He couldn't understand that I'd lose 4 ports and I can't do that with the 95 degree dish.
    Salonikios
  • Not only a pain but too expensive...

    I cut my cable bill. Aside from the $100+/month bill, I always had problems with the signal. I get TV via Internet from a program at seetvpc.com. Have used it for a couple years and its dirt cheap.
    JenniferWeb
  • Still less painful then dealing with Cable

    After 2 weeks my TiVo Premiere still has no functioning Cable Card. Trying again tomorrow, but don't have high hopes.
    jtoverath@...
    • We will be there between 8am and 10pm

      Then they call you to tell you they are late around 9:30pm.

      Typical cable installation story.
      wackoae