DirecTivo

Commercials Annoy But Often Work

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Most people complain about watching commercials. Of course, they serve a number of purposes, the two obvious ones are:

  1. Keeping the content free (most people seem to like that part)
  2. Making you aware of a product’s existence (many people think they don’t care about this aspect)

I am unaware of anyone who hates commercials more than Lois does. There are probably too many reasons to list here (after all, I am constrained by the number of GB’s available on my hard drive!) 😉 but I will list a few of her top complaints:

  1. Commercials are typically played at an insanely increased volume from the show you have chosen to watch
  2. They are often inane
  3. They often have no correlation to the product or brand name of the advertiser, going purely for an emotional (or humorous) pull, leaving you with no recollection of what was being advertised
  4. The content is often offensive, even if some segment of the population truly needs a particular product genre
  5. Every year, the length of commercial breaks increases (feeling exponential at times)

I could go on, seriously, but that’s not really the point of this post, so I won’t. (You can thank me now, or thank me later…)

#1 above is probably Lois’ biggest complaint. We’re settled in, quietly enjoying a show, and then all of a sudden, bam, you’re being screamed at.

This has been true for a very long time, even when commercials weren’t such a large block of a typical 30 or 60 minute show. I shouldn’t have been surprised when it recently became a very large issue between us.

The advent of the DVR has been a godsend for people who don’t care for commercials. It has to be the rarest individual who actually watches commercials (it doesn’t count if you just let them run, but go do the things you do during live commercials). Given our crazy schedule, when we’re home, we do the vast majority of our TV watching via DVR. On the road though, we choose to watch reruns most of the time, with full-blown commercial watching.

One of the shows we watch on DVR religiously is Lost. I like the show way more than Lois does (that’s another hot topic between us), but she is at least willing to watch it with me every time we get back from a trip. I record it on the DirecTivo DVR.

In addition to DirecTV, we also have Verizon FiOS in the house. They have a reasonable number of broadcast hits available for free via Video on Demand (VOD). Most of those shows are also available for free HD VOD. Lost is one of those shows, though I only recently realized that. My DirecTivo only records in normal, Standard Definition (SD).

So, a few episodes ago, I decided to watch Lost in HD, using the free VOD service on FiOS, instead of watching my recording of it. All of the CBS shows on FiOS VOD contain minimal commercials (typically less than 90 seconds for an entire show!). In addition, they can be fast-forwarded (even in VOD mode), but I choose not to, because I feel it’s an extremely fair price to pay for the value of receiving HD on demand.

So, I thought it would be the same with watching Lost. When I fired up the HD VOD for ABC, I was greeted with a message that ABC does not permit the fast-forwarding of commercials during Lost (I have no idea whether this is true for other shows like Desperate Housewives, etc.). I thought that would be fine, since I’ve gotten in the habit of not forwarding anyway, since there are so few commercials on VOD to begin with.

So, I mentioned to Lois (knowing how much she hates commercials) that I intended to watch Lost in HD, and that we would have to watch the commercials, because ABC doesn’t permit forwarding, even if I wanted to. She reluctantly agreed.

Unfortunately, in addition to not allowing fast-forwarding, ABC also jams significantly more commercials down your throat than CBS does. To add insult to injury, they repeat commercials over and over, and they are often of the inane variety. By the second block of commercials, Lois was so annoyed at me, that she refused to watch to the end of the episode (no, I’m not kidding).

Before we watched the next episode (a day or two later), back on the DVR (so we could avoid all commercials), I forced her to watch the end of the previous episode on the DVR, so that she would be caught up (Lost is not the kind of show you can just jump into in the middle and have any clue whatsoever).

What’s the point of all of this? Check the title again. I said that commercials annoy, but also often work! Could they even work on Lois? Could the effect be instantaneous and obvious as well?

The answer is Yes.

I already mentioned above that when we travel, we watch reruns, and therefore commercials. When we were in Fredericksburg a month ago, we saw a commercial for Pizza Hut that highlighted their new Tuscani Pastas. The very next day Lois ordered them for lunch for the staff of Zope Corporation. They were pretty darn good.

This past weekend, we called in an order to a Pizza Hut up near our house, and picked it up and served it (along with supermarket bought items) to good friends of ours. It was most delicious again.

The point is that we would never have known about the existence of Tuscani Pastas from Pizza Hut were it not for commercials. Could we survive without that knowledge and experience? Of course. Are we (Lois included!) happy to have discovered these tasty and affordable dishes? Absolutely.

The moral of this post is this:

  1. Lower the volume on your commercials, and perhaps some people will actually watch them
  2. Make them entertaining and informative (I should be able to remember what was being advertised after the ad is over!)
  3. Make them relevant to a large percentage of your viewers, not only those with ED 😉
  4. Fewer commercials would be more effective, not only because viewers wouldn’t be desensitized, but they would also not have as much time to do other things

Now if only ABC would get smart like CBS, I could watch Lost in HD VOD and suffer a commercial or two, and perhaps even go out and buy that product! Instead, I watch zero commercials during Lost (in SD), and everyone (except for us) loses in the process…

My Hughes HDVR2 Gets Resuscitated

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In October 2003, I bought a Hughes HDVR2 from Weaknees.com. It is a Tivo Series 2 device, which has DirecTV tuners (two of them) built in. I ordered two disks (each 160GB) which at the time, was a large system. Today, they build terabyte (and greater!) systems, so mine is pokey by those standards.

In this post, I discussed getting FiOS service and our first HDTV. We didn’t get rid of the DirecTV at the time, largely because it’s the only place you can get the full NFL Sunday Ticket package. I’m actually watching less football nowadays, so it might eventually go. I also have the full premium package, so I get all of the HBO/Showtime/Cinemax, etc., even though I rarely watch any of them. I don’t have that package on FiOS.

A few weeks back, our DirecTivo (the Hughes) died. It was rebooting itself once a day for weeks, so I knew it wasn’t going to last long, but I had no idea how long. When it died, I went on to the Weaknees forums. I posted about my problem, and an employee of Weaknees conjectured that it was a bad power supply. I responded to a few of his questions, and he then raised his confidence level to nearly 100% that it was a power supply.

Weaknees sells power supply replacements for many models, and mine cost $69 including shipping. I searched the net, and no one else seemed to sell new ones. Most people suggested buying a used machine on EBay, and then pulling out the power supply. I bid on a number of them, but lost all of my attempts. In the end, I ordered the power supply from Weaknees.

It arrived at Zope while we were away. We got home yesterday, and I popped in the new power supply (I had already removed the old one before we left). It worked on the first try, and we now have a working DVR for the DirecTV system again, and we didn’t lose any of the shows that we had previously taped. Very cool, as I am really not handy with this type of stuff, at all!

I don’t intend to do this, only because I am not investing any further in the DirecTV system (even though I’m not close to giving it up just yet), but, once I had it open, I realized how absolutely trivial it would be to pop in two 500GB drives to replace my 160GB ones, and triple my disk space. My only real complaint about the FiOS DVR is that it only has a 320GB disk, and they haven’t (yet) lit up the eSATA port to permit external disks (which they claim they will, one day…).

FiOS TV Leads to HDTV

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As much of a technophile as I am, including being a gadget freak, I am also a reasonably late adopter for many technology breakthroughs. This included being very late to the Compact Disc party, among others.

HDTV was no exception. I have friends who have had HDTV for a few years now, so I know how awesome the picture is compared to regular TV, but still, I wasn’t motivated to get one.

Usually, it’s pure laziness that causes me to adopt late. In fact, many of my most favorite gadgets were gifts. In that regard, I’m easy to get gifts for (albeit very expensive ones!), because I usually don’t rush out to buy the latest thing. I am thankful that my first Blackberry, first Treo, first GPS, etc., were all gifts, or I might never have gotten them, and I love(d) them all. 🙂

In the case of HDTV, it was more of a logistic/tactical reason, rather than pure laziness. In our family room (downstairs), we have a 60″ rear projection Mitsubishi TV that we bought when we first moved in to the house, over 18 years ago. After weeks of nightmarish repair calls 11 months after we bought it (one of the few devices that I ever bought an extended warranty for!), they finally agreed (reluctantly) to replace the motherboard with the newer model (Diamond Vision II). Since then (17+ years), the TV has been flawless. The picture is hardly state-of-the-art (not even close), but it’s big, clear (enough), and has tons of stuff sitting on top of the massive cabinet that it is housed in (in other words, it’s a useful piece of furniture as well as being a functional TV).

It’s (obviously) not HD capable. When we first bought it, we had sliding glass doors to the backyard patio right next to where the TV currently is. Getting this monster in the house wasn’t all that painful. A few years later, we sealed off those doors and they are now just a giant (un-openable) window. The thought of ever replacing that TV is daunting. I have no idea how we’ll get it out, other than completely breaking it up. That would be a shame, as it would make for a fine TV to donate, to the local VFW for example.

In addition to that, I have DirecTV (non-HD version!), and had Cablevision without a cable box, and therefore without HD service either. I could get a new HD capable dish for DirecTV, but then my current DirecTiVo (with 250GB disk in it) would become useless. Painful upgrades, including installing the new dish outside, but still, I’d have to deal with the TV itself. In other words, status quo was the perfect solution. 😉

Upstairs in the bedroom, where we actually watch TV 99% of the time anyway (the downstairs mostly gets watched on Football weekends, by me alone), we had a 27″ regular TV. This TV also showed a nice picture, but it’s as pedestrian a TV as you can find. Only two inputs, coax and red-white-yellow audio/video input (which is called Game mode, for Nintendo-like consoles). The size of the TV was determined by the available shelf space in our wall-to-wall built-in. Given how deep the TV was, and the size of the only opening made for a TV, this was as big as it could get.

Enter FiOS TV a few weeks back. Previous to this, all of our equipment was downstairs. There was a single coax connecting the downstairs to the upstairs TV. Using a remote control extender, I could turn on various devices downstairs, and watch the DirecTV upstairs, etc. If all downstairs devices were off, then the basic cable was automatically passed to the upstairs TV.

With FiOS TV, we had our first cable box in the bedroom, including our first DVR in the bedroom. Of course, it is also an HD box (both DVR and live). After thinking about it for a whopping two weeks, I decided to break down. Yesterday, Lois and I went over to Sam’s Club to buy an HDTV. I don’t know all that much about them, so I spent about 30 minutes doing very light research (difference between Plasma and LCD, etc.).

Given that these sets are flat panels, I knew that I could go bigger than the current 27″, since the TV could be wider than the opening that the current one is in. I figured that I could go as high as 46″, but 42″ was likely optimal. Sam’s carries lots of HDTV’s, in all sizes and capabilities. After browsing for a long time, I narrowed it to a JVC 42″, a Sharp Aquos 42″, and a Magnavox 37″ (that I knew would be much more pleasing to Lois, aesthetically). All were full HDTV, 1080p, 1920×1080 resolution. I was leaning toward the Sharp. The JVC only had a 1200:1 contrast ratio (I have no idea whether that’s good or bad, but some other sets there were 15000:1, yes 15 thousand), so the JVC sounded puny next to that. I think the Sharp was 6000:1.

Well, it turned out that on the shelves under the demo TV’s, there was no Sharp, but there was one JVC, and one Magnavox (the 37″). I grabbed the JVC and ran. 🙂

Amazingly, the TV comes with zero cables, other than the power cord. Clearly, they assume that whatever source you are connecting to the TV, had to come with cables, or you prefer (yeah right) to buy your own. This, on a TV that can accept 5 simultaneous inputs of varying types! (actually more, but who’s counting)

Having not had any experience with HDTV, or even component cabling, and having hooked it all up before bothering to read either the JVC manual (which I eventually read cover-to-cover) or the STB (Set-Top-Box) manual, the only way I was able to get a picture was to use the lower-end red-white-yellow audio/video connection. That doesn’t carry full HD on it. So, while the TV looked very good (very good indeed!), it still wasn’t awesome. So, I got online and ordered an HDMI cable, which will arrive in a week.

After reading both manuals, I realized what I had done wrong, and I was able to use the component video plus separate audio cables, and I now have full HD working on the TV. Wow, cool! The HDMI cable should be simpler from a cabling point of view, but I doubt the picture will be materially better (if better at all).

Of course I was right about the aesthetics, as Lois wished (after the fact) that we had gone for the 37″ model. I (of course) am delighted that we went with the 42″ one. 😉

Lois also wished that it came in either white or grey, rather than the stark black (our built-in is cream colored), but there really was no choice at all, especially given that there was exactly one 42″ 1080p in stock. That said, none of the other demo models were really anything other than black or charcoal gray either…

At the moment, we can’t (without a lot of pain) watch the DirecTV upstairs. While I have a pair of video extenders somewhere in the house, an exhaustive search didn’t locate them (it’s been over 10 years since they were used). I ordered a new pair from X10 on Friday, and they too should get here by the end of the week, when the HDMI cable shows up. That should easily let me switch between FiOS and DirecTV. I still won’t have HD from the DirecTV dish, but it should still look awesome on the new JVC.

While it’s still likely off in the distance, we can both already feel more HDTV’s in our future. At some point, I’ll break down and replace the ancient TV downstairs, especially now that the FiOS stuff will immediately work on it. We had also already discussed getting one for the apartment living room. We never watch TV there alone, but it’s a gathering place when we have company in the city, which is reasonably often, so we might break down and do that in the near future. We’ll let this one sink in first though… 😉