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Lessons learned: Switching to the TiVo HD

After buying a TiVo HD, Don Reisinger has a rather interesting story to tell about his experience just trying to watch television.

Don Reisinger
Former CNET contributor Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.
Don Reisinger
7 min read

As a Time Warner Cable customer, I've experienced rather annoying issues with the Scientific Atlanta 8300HDC digital video recorder (DVR). I've been forced to replace it on several occasions. Other times, it would simply stop working, requiring me to unplug it from the wall to reboot.

It had become such a problem that I finally decided I'd had enough last week and that I'd ditch Time Warner Cable's HD DVR for a TiVo HD. For $239.99 at Best Buy (the company was offering it on sale--the TiVo HD usually retails for $299.99), it was a great deal. I also paid $129 to get one full year of TiVo service.

My new toy. TiVo

With the TiVo HD in hand last Monday, I was ready to enjoy my new toy. I contacted Time Warner Cable to get all the details I needed to get set up.

Training anyone?
When I called Time Warner Cable last Monday, I was extremely displeased by the company's customer service. No one quite understood what I was talking about when I told them that I wanted to switch from my HD DVR to the TiVo HD. I asked them what the set-up process was. I wanted to know if I lost any channels.

After waiting for about five minutes for the customer-service representative to find information on the TiVo ("Sorry, we don't get many of these requests," she told me), she finally read to me, verbatim, what it said on her sheet.

According to the technician, I would need to have a multichannel CableCARD installed to get my programming. Unfortunately, I would lose several channels even with the CableCARD. I was told by the agent that I would need a Switched Digital Video adapter in addition to the CableCARD to retrieve those channels. An SDV adapter is basically a black set-top box that connects to the TiVo HD, allowing you to watch switched digital video channels. It's a fancy term for saying that Time Warner Cable is trying to save bandwidth.

Somewhat satisfied by the information, I told the agent that I wanted to schedule an appointment for a Time Warner Cable technician to come to my house and install both the CableCARD (you're not allowed to install it yourself) and the SDV adapter. No luck. The agent told me that I would first need to go to the Time Warner Cable Web site and fill out an online form. Upon doing so, I was put in line to receive an SDV adapter.

In order to get that adapter, I would need to wait for an e-mail confirmation and a letter in the mail. I could then bring that letter to my nearest Time Warner Cable office and pick up an adapter. I asked her how long it would take to get that letter. Once again, the answer wasn't all that clear. She said it could take between one day and one month to receive it.

The troublesome Scientific Atlanta 8300HDC. Cisco

OK, I could live with that. But rather than looking at a useless TiVo HD, I asked the agent if I could have a technician come to my house to install the CableCARD so I could at least watch those other channels while I waited for the adapter. She indicated to me that I needed to wait for the adapter to be made available before I did so. She then assured me that the wait wouldn't be too long.

As the days progressed, I was growing more and more annoyed. I hadn't heard back from Time Warner Cable about my SDV adapter. And I still didn't have an appointment scheduled for my CableCARD installation. I decided to call back on Thursday.

When I finally reached another agent, she told me that, for some reason, my request for an adapter wasn't displayed on my account. I expressed how displeased I was. The apologetic agent understood and personally e-mailed a person in my area named Chris who would be able to get an adapter for me.

That night, Chris called me to tell me that not only would I have an SDV adapter by Friday, but he was scheduling a technician to come to the house that same day to install my CableCARD.

The installation
Overall, the installation of my multichannel CableCARD went well. The technician installed it, set it up properly, and it worked like a dream. Unfortunately, he didn't have the SDV adapter with him, so I was forced to head down to the local Time Warner Cable office to pick it up. It was a hassle, but at least I finally had the Cisco STA1520 tuning adapter that was holding me up all week.

I hastily returned home and set it up. I waited for it to boot up, only to find that the green LED light on the front of the adapter was blinking and I didn't have switched-digital channels.

After being reassured by Chris earlier in the day that if I had trouble installing the SDV adapter someone at Time Warner Cable could help me, I was expecting a quick solution. Oh, how wrong I was.

For about 40 minutes, I sat on the line with a supervisor in the tech support division at Time Warner Cable. The first person I spoke with said she had no knowledge of the SDV adapter and couldn't help. Even the supervisor said that she didn't know too much about it and could only do so much.

The SDV tuning adapter I was waiting for. Cisco

After determining that everything was set up properly, the supervisor couldn't figure out what was wrong with my adapter. She told me to unplug the device, wait 30 seconds, and plug it back in. It didn't work. She asked me to pull the USB cable out of the TiVo HD that connected it to the SDV and plug it back in. It didn't work. After sifting through some documentation on the product, she finally said that she didn't know what was wrong. I was asked to set up an appointment with a technician who would come to my home on Monday.

Once again, a faulty Time Warner Cable product had caused me to lose some of the value I derive from television. Granted, all my favorite channels--ESPN, ESPN 2, the major networks, and the YES channel--were all available. But some of the channels I enjoy, like TLC HD, were not. The error message said that the signal couldn't be read on the TiVo's Cable IN port. It needed to be fixed.

I decided to try Time Warner Cable's tech support one last time on Saturday night. This time, I spoke with a technician who made me feel like he had the time and willingness to help me out. We spent an hour on the phone trying to determine the issue. He searched Google, I searched Google. He read me what he found, I read him what I found.

Finally, as a last ditch attempt, he asked me to read the MAC IDs on the back of the SDV adapter. After reading them off, he told me that he might have found the problem. He put me on hold for a couple minutes to fix it. When he returned, he told me to unplug the power cable and plug it back in. When the SDV adapter finally booted up, it worked. Evidently, it had something to do with those MAC IDs, though he wouldn't say exactly what it was.

The experience
After waiting nearly a week, I was finally free to use my TiVo HD. I started recording shows. I set up Season Passes. I even watched some films on Netflix. It was great.

So far, I'm impressed by the TiVo HD. The sheer number of features it boasts is enough to easily eclipse the box Time Warner Cable offers. And although it's a slightly more expensive alternative, it's worth the price.

That said, I do have some gripes. The huge info display on each channel will take some getting used to. I'm also a little upset with just how slow the TiVo HD's boot time is. If it goes down, expect it to take at least five minutes for it to boot. That's unacceptable.

I should also note that I'm having trouble recording two shows at once. Twice last night, the TiVo HD froze and rebooted on me while it tried to record two shows simultaneously. It was maddening.

Finally, I'm sad to see my Time Warner Cable OnDemand channels go. I often went to HBO OnDemand to access old episodes of The Sopranos or to watch movies. Those days are gone.

But in the end, I guess it's a small price to pay for such a capable product. The TiVo HD isn't without it's faults, of course, but it's better than that Scientific Atlanta 8300HDC DVR that was causing me so many headaches.

If you're a Time Warner Cable customer planning to switch to a TiVo, I recommend it. You'll have some headaches. But once everything works, the payoff is worth it. Click here if you're a Comcast customer who wants to move to the TiVo.

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