Adventures in Value Subtraction

One of the reasons I liked Dish Network (to the extent anybody can like a purely commercial entertainment utility) was that their satellite receivers included an over-the-air tuner. It nicely folded your over-the-air (OTA) stations in with others in the system’s channel guide. Here’s how it looked:

dish_guide1

Well, the week before last I discovered that our Dish receiver was having trouble seeing and using its broadband connection — and, for that matter, the phone line as well. That receiver was this one here…

vip622-lrg

… a ViP 622. Vintage 2006. Top of Dish’s line at the time. Note the round jack on the far left of the back side. That’s where your outside (or inside) over-the-air antenna plugged in. We’ll be revisiting the subject shortly.

So Dish sent a guy out. He replaced the ViP 622 with Dish’s latest (or so he said): a ViP 722. I looked it up on the Web and ran across “DISH Network’s forthcoming DVRs get detailed: hints of Sling all over“, by Darren Murph, posted May 18th 2008. Among other things it said, “The forthcoming ViP 722 will be the first HD DVR from the outfit with loads of Sling technology built in — not too shocking considering the recent acquisition. Additionally, the box is said to feature an all new interface and the ability to browse to (select) websites, double as a SlingCatcher and even handle Clip & Sling duties.”

So here it was, July 2009, and I had a ViP 722 hooked up to my nice Sony flat screen, and … no hint of anything remotely suggestive of a Sling feature. When I asked the Dish guy about it, he didn’t have a clue. Sling? What’s that? Didn’t matter anyway, because the thing couldn’t use our broadband. The guy thought it might be my firewall, but I don’t have one of those.  Just a straight Net connection, through a router and a switch in a wiring closet that works fine for every other Net-aware device hooked up to it. We tested the receiver’s connection with a laptop: 18Mb down, 4Mb up. No problems. The receiver gets an IP address from the router (and can display it), and lights blink by the ethernet jack. But… it doesn’t communicate. The Dish guy said the broadband was only used for pay-per-view, and we don’t care about that, it doesn’t much matter. But we do care about customer support. Dish has buttons and menu choices for that, but—get this—has to dial out on a phone line to get the information you want. I had thought this was just a retro feature of the old ViP 622, but when I called Dish they said no, it’s still a feature of ALL Dish receivers.

It’s 2009, and these things are still dialing out. On a land line. Amazing.

So a couple days ago my wife called me from the house (I’m back in Boston) and said that the ViP 722 was dead. Tot. Mort. We tried re-setting it, unplugging and plugging it back in. Nothing. Then yesterday Dish came out to fix the thing, found was indeed croaked, and put in a new one: a ViP 722k, Dish’s “advanced, state-of-the-art” reciever of the moment.

Well, it may be advanced in lots of ways, but it’s retarded in one that royally pisses me off: no over-the-air receiver. That jack in the back I pointed out above? Not there.  So, no longer can I plug in my roof antenna to watch over-the-air TV. To do that I’ll have to bypass the receiver and plug the antenna cable straight into the TV. (That has never worked either, because Sony makes the channel-tuning impossible to understand, much less operate. On that TV, switching between satellite and anything else, such as the DVD, is a freaking ordeal.) Oh, and I won’t be able to record over-the-air programs, either. Unless I get a second DVR that’s not Dish’s.

Okay, so I just did some looking around, and found through this video that the ViP 722K has an optional “MT2 OTA module” that gets you over-the-air TV on the ViP 722k. Here’s some more confusing shit about it. Here’s more from Dishuser.org. Here’s the product brochure (pdf). Digging in, I see it’s two ATSC (digital TV) tuners in one, with two antenna inputs, and it goes in a drawer in the back of the set. It costs $30. I don’t think the Dish installer even knew about it. He told me that the feature had been eliminated on the 722K, and that I was SOL.

Bonus bummer: The VIP 722k also features a much more complicated remote control. This reduces another long-standing advantage of Dish: remote controls so simple to use that you could operate them in the dark. Bye to that too.

So. Why did Dish subtract value like that? I can think of only two reasons. One is that approximately nobody still watches over-the-air TV. (This is true. I’m one of the very few exceptions. Color me retro.) The other is that Dish charges $5.99/month for local channels. They did that before, but now they can force the purchase. “Yes, we blew off your antenna, but now you can get the same channels over satellite for six bucks a month.” Except for us it’s not the same channels. We live in Santa Barbara, but can’t get the local over-the-air channels. Instead we watch San Diego’s. Dish doesn’t offer us those, at any price.

The final irony is that the ViP 722k can’t use our broadband or our phone line either. Nobody ever figured out that problem. That means this whole adventure was for worse than naught. We’d have been better off if with our old ViP 622. There was nothing wrong with it that isn’t still wrong with its replacements.

Later my wife shared a conversation she had with a couple other people in town who had gone through similar craziness at their homes. “What happened to TV?” one of them said. “It’s gotten so freaking complicated. I just hate it.”

What’s happening is a dying industry milking its customers. That much is clear. The rest is all snow.

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16 comments

  1. Richard Altman’s avatar

    the sooner the 20 c m m (20 century media model) recognizes that it is nothing more than a detailed map to the internet, imagine twitter but an f load more than 140 characters, richer, nuanced, riveting. Seriously. Once 20 c m m industry players realize that, the better off things will be. They are obseleced, therefore they will Retrieve whats online.

  2. Jeremy’s avatar

    I still use OTA with DirecTV. Picture looks great, shows integrate with the guide. Sorry to see Dish is ruining things for their customers.

  3. dave taht’s avatar

    http://www.justin.tv is the answer. What was the question?

    I can pull in live tv from absolutely anywhere….

  4. ski’s avatar

    >> What’s happening is a dying industry milking its customers.
    >> That much is clear.

    Yep. Like newspapers raising prices to “make up” for lost revenues.

    In other words, at no time did management (they cannot under any circumstances be called ‘leadership’) consult common sense. Or holistic (systems) thinking.

    The adage, “The faster you go, the behinder you get” works here too:

    “The more an industry tries to plug holes in a sinking ships, the more holes they create.”

    -ski

  5. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Dave, the question here, and I should have made it clearer up front is that we don’t have TV for ourselves here. It’s mostly for guests. What we’ve found is that guests like lots of channels, and a big screen. Got a nice house? Gotta have a nice screen. The fact that it’s HD is secondary. Most people don’t know the difference. Just like most people don’t know what stereo was about in the first place, and can’t tell the difference between good hi-fi audio and the same music coming from in a 32kb .mp3 file. (By the way, nothing coming over cable or satellite is even close to uncompressed 1920×1080 video. Few people have ever seen that on their TVs. Most of the “HD” cable and satellite pictures are so data-starved that the skies are plaid and skins are blotchy.) Here at our little apartment in Boston we no longer have any TV. The only YouTube I watch are short pieces people point me to. Long pieces I usually blow off. I’m about to cancel our Netflix account because I’m sending most of the movie DVDs back, unwatched. We’re too busy with other stuff.

  6. PJ’s avatar

    We ditched our pay-TV (cable) a couple years ago and haven’t looked back. Anything the wife wants to watch is available via hulu, either on her laptop or (via the neuros Link) on the TV. The boy watches DVDs on the big screen via the same neuros LINK box with a USB DVD drive. The TV itself used to do OTA of course, but since the digital switch I’ve been thinking of getting an HDHomeRun to let the LINK play client for as well.

  7. Steve’s avatar

    Dish Network uses the phone connection to verify physical location of the box, so you don’t (for example) order an extra receiver, pay the extra $5/month for programming on it, and then go install it in someone else’s house (with a dish you bought at a yard sale).

  8. Patrick’s avatar

    Doc, you might want to hook up an Xbox to your tv and activate the Netflix instant view feature. At every disc a month rate, you get unlimited instant. You can watch on your computer, but unless you have that set up to group monitor, you lose the social factor in watching a movie, which I find offers lots of parenting opportunities.
    While the instant offerings are limited, we generated a queue of over 50 titles the first time we browsed. We get HD – compressed but still better than most of what Cox delivers, and the ability to pause etc. No bonus features, but then we still have the dvd option when we want.
    For our house, where the xbox live feature means our sons have been able to keep playing with the friends burned out of the neighborhood, all this is just bonus/
    When you walk away from the film form, you take yourself out of the single most shared set of experiences and references. Try asking any group outside of family and everybody has this most in common- be it Star Wars, Gone With the Wind etc.
    Live TV is the next level, with real events being simultaneously experienced. For better or worse, this is the common culture.
    As pointed out by others, there are many ways to have it available- all of them complicated.
    Those people who want simple TV are examples of the power vs complexity equation being calculated poorly.

  9. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Steve, whatever Dish’s reasons for wanting you to use a landline, they’re still retro beyond endurance. Lots of houses no longer have landlines. There must be better ways to verify location.

  10. Mike J’s avatar

    Doc, I am very familiar with Dish Network DVRs. Many of your frustrations are caused by your installer’s lack of knowledge and by errors in the Engadget article. The article refers to the forthcoming ViP922, not the 722. The 722 is simply a new production run of the 622 with a larger hard disk. The 722k is the current model, again only slightly updated from the 722. The OTA tuner is optional, but is much improved from the one in the 722. It also has two separate OTA tuners instead of just one. The reasoning for the optional tuner was that many people don’t use OTA any more, so why install additional hardware that might not be used. Also, it is a marketing tool to sell Dish Locals. It is also easily replaced should it get damaged by a surge. Note that is has two RF jacks. One is an input, the other is a Ch 3 output. No splitter is needed to feed the two tuners. I highly recommend this tuner.

    You do have to use the phone line to access the built-in customer support application, but frankly, it sucks. Sign up on the Dish web site to access your account and forget about this app. Dish does prefer the receiver call home every night with a phone line. They use the caller ID to make sure the receiver is at the location you told them it would be. It can call home over broadband instead of phone, but you need to call them to set this up.

    You can use the 622/722 remotes with the 722k. I hate the 722k remotes, too. If you have your old ones, use them instead.

    Drop me a line if you need help.

  11. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Mike, thanks a bunch for that pile of updates, corrections and helpful information.

    As it happens I just arrived at the house last night, and am using the 722k for the first time. Items:

    - The new remote barely works. I mean it is outright bad. Pushing on buttons does nothing, or too much. The action is slow. So I’ll see if I can make an old one connect to it.

    - Even if the new OTA tuner is better in some respects, making it optional really pisses me off. It’s a value-subtract of the first order.

    I could go on. If having TV here were not so important for guests (gotta have football and movies), I’d drop Dish in a second and replace it with nothing. I dropped Verizon FiOS TV (kept Internet, which is excellent) in the Boston apartment a couple of months ago. We don’t miss it.

    Thanks again for your help. Much appreciated.

  12. John’s avatar

    If you own your receivers They will charge you $6.00 monthly charge access fee to be able to get programing . If you don’t subscribe to one of their packages. Just another way of putting it to the consumer. You can watch their paid programming. I say we should be able to pick and choose what we want to watch. Heck we can only watch one station at a time anyway. So we shouldn’t have to pay a premium price while watching locals/news network or a discovery while paying for HBO. We shouldn’t have ton HBO and it is at $15.99 a month. I think C Band will be back

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