Thursday, February 7, 2008

Finally got TV (DirecTV)

Oh no, not another diet update! No wait, this is something else entirely...

By the title, I don't mean that we finally got A TV... We got our 32" HDTV last summer, but we've only watched movies on it, and briefly used it as a computer monitor. But when people say "watch TV", they usually mean cable or satellite, TV shows, broadcast TV, etc. Well we live out in the middle of nowhere, so what comes over the antenna usually sucks - low picture quality, audio in and out, not worth messing with. I was really hoping to get cable hooked up, but the cable company pretty much strung us along, sent people out to check out the area, told us we could have it in a couple months, kept saying they'd call us back, then finally told us they'd decided they didn't need our money, but they'd reevaluate the area in three months. And if come April they decide our money's good enough for their pockets, it'd take them another couple months to get stuff set up. I told them I have an HDTV, I'd like to watch WrestleMania this year in my own living room in HD. They told me I needed satellite to do that, so that's what I did.

Forget a couple of months, DirecTV came out in about a week. They originally scheduled us on a Sunday, but later realized they don't install on Sundays (ya think?! - this IS the Bible Belt!) so rescheduled us for Tuesday - that's the Tuesday before last, 9 days ago. They said between noon and 4pm. I set my alarm for noon thinking I'd be waiting at least a few hours. But no. I wake up, the guy's already out there and ready to install at my command.

There's just one problem. The dish can't be up against our trailer like everyone else's. It's gotta be 20 feet out into the yard! At first it was a huge letdown. I'm thinking there's no way. I wake Jen up, and she has the solution. Call the landlord. Duh, why didn't I think of that? So I call, then call again, both times, no answer. The DirecTV guy says he'll do it without the landlord's permission, but the problem with that is if we have to have it taken out, we're still stuck with a 24-month contract. (Yep, satellite service is as bad as or worse than cell phones when it comes to contracts.) I'm about to tell him go for it, when I realize we also have the landlord's cellphone number. I call that and he answers on the third ring. Nice, cheerful older guy, I hate to bother him, but he is pretty accomodating when we do. He says no problem. I'm more than a little surprised. What the hell, I think. The landlord signed off on it, so why not? I tell the guy to go for it.

Barely an hour and a half later, we're all set up. He dug a hole about 2 feet deep, then pounded a pole into the ground, mounted the two satellite dishes (the big oval one is for the national channels and hi-def stuff, the small round one is for local channels), and somehow peeled up a bit of ground, and ran thick coax cables (some special fiber optic kind that can carry HD signal) under and into our living room, set up the receiver, and that alone took about 20 minutes, as it had to download firmware and stuff.

I was glad we had our HDTV set up with DirecTV for the Super Bowl, but three things kinda brought the day down (on top of Jen having a really crappy day Friday). First, the three people we invited (a couple, and her sister) all flaked on us or found other places to be. Second, the broadcast kept cutting in and out. I heard this happened to people without HDTV and people with cable as well. Third, the Patriots lost. No, just kidding, I didn't favor either team, let alone know anything about either. No, third, the game wasn't even in HD. We have I think around 80 HD channels. News, movies, music, and regular stuff like USA, Sci-Fi, TNT, etc. Even Discovery and History channels are HD now. We have a dozen or so ESPN channels, most in HD, but the Super Bowl was on Fox and there's no Fox HD channel yet. Maybe next year, everyone's saying.

But WrestleMania, most likely, will be broadcast in HD. Monday Night RAW (USA, Monday, 9pm), ECW (Sci-Fi, Tuesday, 10pm), and Friday Night SmackDown! (CW, Friday, 8pm) are all shot in HD. The WWE went HD a couple weeks ago on all their brands and Pay-Per-Views (starting with Royal Rumble 2008). RAW and ECW come in in HD, however the CW is not in HD yet, so it still comes in in widescreen, but the quality is a little lower. It seems like a third of the PPV channels are in HD, so all it takes is one of the HD PPVs to carry WrestleMania (and for $49.99, it had better be!). Yep, it costs $50 to order WrestleMania, in case you didn't know. It's not cheap. But it's longer than a boxing match and cheaper than some of those. It's a 4 hour event and their creative team put on the best matches. (The other WWE PPVs range from $30 to $50 - I think the SmackDown-only and ECW-only PPVs are $30, and SummerSlam and Royal Rumble are probably the same price as 'Mania, but I'm not sure, just guessing.) But even if 'Mania goes up to $60, I'm pretty sure Jen will still want it.

Anyway, I don't think we'll be doing other PPVs. They're all predictable, basically John Cena's going to win the match he's in, and about 75% of the time, other champions retain their title; title changes have gotten pretty rare even at the buy-in PPVs. And as for movies, sure they're only about $5, but there's a Redbox where I work, so I can get movies for a buck apiece.

Oh, we got the whole package, too. We not only have their "Choice Xtra" package (which basically includes everything but the "pay" channels), we have a 3 month free trial of all the pay channels, we have all the HD channels, and we have DVR. For the uninitiated, that's digital video recording. Like TiVo. Like the future of VCR. A hard drive, we don't know how big, that will supposedly hold 50 hours of HD programming or 200 hours of SD (that's what they call that which is not HD) programming, or any combination (I guess using the formula that 4SD=1HD, so we could have, say, 20 hours of HD and 120 hours of SD). Also, it always records, I think the past 15 minutes, so you can pause and rewind live TV. (You just can't fast forward, unless you've previously paused, in which case you can catch up to live.)

Here's an example of how I used DVR. I was watching Law & Order: SVU, which, if you know it, you know it's a real engaging program, you can't look away from. Jen calls. Without DVR, I might have ignored the call, and being an SVU fan, she probably would have understood. (Is that sad or what?) But no, I just paused it. We talked for about 10-12 minutes. After I got off the phone, I resumed and kept watching. When the ads came on, I skipped past them. I have four stages each of fast forward and rewind, plus "jump 30 seconds forward" and "jump 8 seconds back" buttons. By the time I caught up, the next show had already started, but it was just Criminal Intent, which I don't care as much about. The only bad thing was, if there was something on another channel I wanted to watch, I'm already 6-7 minutes into the timeslot.

One other thing about DirecTV. Power outages really kill their receivers. Sure, it doesn't work when the power's out - that's to be expected. But when the power comes back on, you've got to turn the receiver back on, and it's gotta take its 15-20 minutes to contact DirecTV and download stuff like the first startup, but it doesn't need to be configured, and it doesn't lose DVR'd shows. It does, however, become unable to DVR until you do this, so I missed RAW this past Monday. Power went out in the morning and I didn't mess with it until that night, after RAW was over. I wanted to cuss someone out at DirecTV for not giving me a heads up on that (seems like a problem they should point out to people), but I cooled it, figured I'd just be smarter about it next time.

Now here's some pictures. The first three show just how far away it is, and the fourth shows the dishes themselves, close up. As always, click on these to see them fullsized.

The satellite dishes on the far left. Then two cars the landlord presumably owns that were dumped off last year or the year before, across the driveway. Then my car, then Jen's... Then a couch we really need to haul off, then there's our place.

Walking out a little farther...

...And from behind the dishes...

...And here they are. Kinda funny-looking, eh?