pretty pictures

So, after owning an HDTV-capable TV for the better part of three years, I finally got an HDTV receiver last week. I use ExpressVU as my provider, and have been reasonably happy with the service, so I have sworn off Rogers and will stick with them. The receivers have finally dropped to “reasonable” prices, so I took the plunge.

Annoyance number one was that you have to upgrade your antenna, and there’s an $89.95 upgrade kit that includes two signal combiners, some coax, a second LNB and no instructions. In the US, the $79.95 receiver I purchased included a dual-LNB dish and 4-way multiswitch. I wasn’t terribly cheesed, as the upgrade kit included a $60 programming credit – not the way I like to get my money back, but it’s $60 cash either way.

Finding the instructions on the website was annoyance number two, but around 60 clicks later (the search engine doesn’t find it, and the navigation is severely broken) I found a PDF detailing the install process. It was blue and gold, and not terribly detailed. No where did it show how to install the bracket the switches went on, and it talked about parts that weren’t included that were in my box. Having wired a DirecTV dish up before, it wasn’t a challenge, but I can see some do-it-yourself-ers getting aggravated. I sent a note to their support and marketing groups, maybe they’ll even read it.

After stringing some cable and climbing a ladder a number of times (thanks James!), the antenna was finally in place. I fired up the receiver and it didn’t quite work as expected. Once again, the documentation wasn’t quite right in how to convince your receiver that it now has access to two satellites (the DirecTV model detected everything with no user intervention required). After telling it to look at the switch it was connected to, it found the second LNB. The signal was a little off, so it was a trip back up the ladder to adjust elevation and bring both satellites into the 90% range. All good, all done.

The whole process took about 2.5 hours from start to finish, and I wired a second RG-6 cable into the house at the same time to feed the original receiver. Not too bad, all things considered. After waiting in the call queue a ridiculous time to activate teh receiver, I gave up and searched for an online method of activation. I won’t even go down the path of why it wasn’t activated the minute I bought it at the retailer, who linked it to my account. I found the activation link, and the receiver started to work within 20 minutes of hitting “submit”.

Finally, it was time to actually add the HDTV programming to the mix. This required a call, because the online sign-up tool won’t let you add channels that require the upgrade kit. Why they don’t have a “yes, I bought and installed the upgrade kit, so really do want these channels” button that transfers liability to me for choosing them, I don’t know. I called in, and was subjected to multiple sales pitches while trying to get to the options menu. Hit pound to bypass them – hearing the exact same pitch at the start of every menu option gets old fast. When I finally spoke to a human, setting up the channels was relatively painless, and I give props to the rep for finding me a solution that was cheaper than what I had thought it would cost. I even get all the sports networks now, which is kinda nice.

Finally, I could watch TV in highdef, but it was time to meet Coop and Kristina for dinner, so off I went. After a truly excellent dinner at Social, I got home and checked to see if glorious highdef was available. It was. Yay!

I found all the hidef network channels, and the picture is spectacular. The Florida vs. Tennessee game was on, and I was pretty much blown away by the colour, clarity, and 5.1 audio mix. As James says, it actually makes an HDTV worth it. I was pleasantly surprised on Sunday to discover that Sunday ticket provides all the HDTV feeds of games in addition to the standard 4:3 feeds. An added bonus. A bunch of the network programs are also broadcast in hi-def, but all the commercials and promo/trailers for the networks are 4:3, so the pic shifts between 16:9 and 4:3 with grey bars when they pop up. A minor annoyance.

So, all in all, great addition. TSN needs to broadcast more content, in particular SportsCentre, to justify the additional monthly charge, but I won’t bitch too much about that. The new receiver stretches the signal to fit the TV as required, but it’d be nice if you could set this per channel. The interface has been improved a little bit, and the receivers are addressable so you don’t have to worry about changing channels on both receivers when you flip. Nice touches, and I’m pretty impressed. The damn thing still looks like shit, though. DearEchoStar – please hire some ID folks who know “pretty”.

Ok, I’m done. It was a pain in the ass to set up and costs an additonal $15.00/month, but the picture and audio are excellent and there’s enough content to justify the purchase in my mind.

Pretty moving pictures.