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September 29, 2007


I admit it...I'm a sucker for good marketing, especially when it comes to electronics. TiVo has been advertising their new TiVo HD heavily during college football games,which piqued my interest. The TiVo HD is essentially a scaled-down version of the $799 TiVo Series 3. The only differences are a smaller hard drive (160GB v. 250GB), a non-lighted remote, and a boring front panel display (the Series 3 has an OLED display). The latter two items are completely inconsequential to me, and the difference in storage space wasn't a big deal, especially since the storage capacity eventually will be expandable via the eSATA ports on the back. Like its more-expensive sibling, the TiVo HD uses CableCARDs to decode digital cable transmissions. This was somewhat of a concern, as CableCARDs are reportedly difficult to set up. However, a close friend of mine got his up and running, and he raved about how much he enjoyed his TiVo.

So, I took the plunge. Amazon had a good price on the unit at just over $250. Once I had it ordered, I called Time Warner (Austin) to set up an installation appointment. The CSR went through his little spiel about how the CableCARDs don't provide the same level of functionality as their digital set-top boxes, but I told him I was aware of the shortcomings. A couple days later, two techs showed up to install the cards. Upon arrival, they readily admitted that they hadn't done many TiVo installs, which probably was a harbinger of things to come. After about 30 minutes, they got the CableCARDs up and running (seemingly). I wasn't receiving all of the channels, however. They explained that it sometimes took a couple hours for all of the channels to "download," which didn't really make sense. But, I didn't really have much to go on, so I took them at their word. Fool me once.

After a couple hours, I still wasn't receiving a large percentage of my channels. In fact, none of my HD channels (outside of the local QAM channels) were being received. After a couple of calls to TW tech support (the first guy hung up on me after failing to get the cards working), I made a second appointment for a tech to come out to troubleshoot the install. I also posted my installation experience over at the TiVo Community forum. There I received a message from a TW tech who offered to get me up and running if the on-site tech wasn't able to.

On the day of the install, I got another message from the TW tech from the TiVo Community stating that their billing system had been down, and that it was unlikely the tech would even make it out to my house that day. By 4pm, I decided to take him up on his offer, as it didn't look like the on-site tech would show (he did finally call 30 minutes after he was supposed to show, asking if we still needed him). The inside tech got me up and running in about 10 minutes. Now I have all of my channels, and the TiVo is busily recording shows according to my preferences.

I haven't had a lot of time to really dig into all the features of the TiVo HD, but I really like the fact that it can download video podcasts like DL.TV and Cranky Geeks. Hopefully more will be added as time goes on. The recording quality is quite good, especially for HD broadcasts. The only downsides for me right now are the lack of placeshifting options (i.e. being able to view on computers around the house), and the lack of hard disk expansion (the eSATA ports are supposed to be activated later this year). But, outside of those minor issues, I really enjoy it. Even though we don't watch large volumes of television, we are now free to watch what we want, when we want. Good stuff.

September 19, 2007

SXRD Reborn

Today, the optical block on my Sony KDSR-50XBR1 was replaced. Over the past 6 months or so, the picture quality had slowly degraded, with the appearance of a yellow "stain" appearing over much of the display. This is a known problem with first-generation SXRD displays, and there is quite a lengthy thread discussing it on the AVS Forum. Earlier this year, Sony responded to the high volume of complaints by extending the warranty on all XBR1 displays until October, 2008. I finally decided to take them up on the offer this week.

Sony eSupport directed me to the local support dealer, Georgetown TV and Video, which is a few miles from my house. Surprisingly, they were able to get the part in under two days and schedule an appointment. They were originally scheduled to perform the service on Thursday, but were able to come out a day earlier.

The support call took about 45 minutes to perform. The result is absolutely stunning. Picture quality has improved tremendously, with bright clear whites being displayed once again. The display looks like it did when it was brand new. The tech who performed the swap stated that the new optical block had been completely redesigned by Sony. The previous optical blocks had problems with UV radiation from the bulb affecting the blue SXRD panel (hence, the yellowing effect). The new OBs have additional filters installed (supposedly), so the yellow stain should no longer show up after extended use. While this remains to be seen, I still have another year on Sony's warranty extension, and another two years beyond that on the extended warranty I purchased with the display.

The tech also mentioned that he could clean and align the guns on my 65" Toshiba RPTV, so I'm probably going to schedule an appointment in the near future. It's good to have my TV back!

September 11, 2007

New Processor Arrived

Just like last time, Intel turned around my warranty replacement in short order. I received the new processor today. Now, I just need to pick up the new motherboard. I've decided to go with abit's IP35 Pro, as it seems to be the P35 mainboard to beat these days. It has more features than I really need, but it's the only abit board that has at least 4 system fan headers on the board (which is a requirement for me). Unfortunately, no one appears to have it in stock at the moment. So, it looks like I'll have to wait a bit longer to install the new proc.

September 04, 2007

My System is Cursed

OK, this is ridiculous. After nearly two months of stability, my system decided to throw me for a loop the other day. I was enjoying a session of Bioshock Sunday morning, when my system hard-locked in the middle of the game. Thinking it was just a random lockup, I used the trusty three-finger salute (i.e. CTRL-ALT-DEL) to get out of the game and back into the operating system. When that didn't work, I hit the reset button.

Unfortunately, nothing happened after that.

The system wouldn't POST. The power LED was lit, and the fans, video card and drives appeared to be spinning up, but there was no response otherwise. As a similar situation had happened before, I had a sinking feeling that my processor had died. Sure enough, when I popped in a different processor (a Core 2 Duo E4500), my system fired right up. Fortunately, the processor is still well within its warranty period, so Intel will replace it (I've already set up an RMA with them).

For the life of me, I can't figure out why the processor would have failed. I don't overclock, and none of the components in my system are particularly exotic. The Intel tech with whom I spoke couldn't offer any good explanations either, especially since the processor seemingly had been running well for 5 months. He said it could be a faulty power supply, or an electrical surge from the main. I'm definitely going to test out the power supply to make sure it's not the problem. I'm also going to replace my aging APC SmartUPS 750, as it could be preventing surges from coming through to the PSU. It's possible that my PSU could be pulling too much load for it to handle.

I've also decided to use this as an excuse to upgrade my motherboard, since it too could be the problem. Intel released its new P35 chipset a couple months ago, so it's a good time to upgrade. I'm going to try an abit board this time, as Asus' quality seems to be taking a turn for the worse these days. I'll then use my old motherboard in either the family PC or the HTPC in the den.