Tuned In

TV-Free Thursday: TiVo Vs. the Cable Guy

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My replacement TiVo finally arrived Tuesday night, with promises that getting it running would be as simple as popping out the Cablecards from the old box, putting them in the new one and re-setting up the box. 

I knew it wasn’t going to be that easy, and I was right. I installed the Cablecards at nine a.m. Numerous conference calls, two software updates and fourteen hours later, my day on the phone with customer service ended. There was a two-hour Tivo-tech-support session, in which the agent concluded that the Cablecards—which had worked in the previous box for a year—must be “broken.” That was followed by five hours on and off the phone with a polite, knowledgable higher-level TiVo tech who determined the first tech was wrong, and tried to get Time Warner Cable to properly “pair” the cards remotely with the new machine. Unsuccessfully. [Update: I should note that this particular TiVo staffer—a saint among techs—quickly figured out what was wrong; at this point, it was getting the cable side to understand and correct it that was the hitch.]

I still have no cable service. And I’m now waiting for a cable-technician visit—all together now!—between the hours of 8 and 12. 

What could I have done with fourteen hours? I could have flown to Paris and back. I could have watched every showing of Quantum of Solace at my local theater, with time left over for lunch and dinner. I could have had a particularly difficult labor and given birth to a strapping baby. Which at this point seems more likely for me than getting trouble-free service with this product.

The problem is that an HD TiVo, beautiful machine though it is, requires your cable company to provide and remotely authorize a Cablecard chip in order to decode your cable signal. And trying to get TiVo and Time Warner Cable to coordinate on a Cablecard installment is, in my experience, like trying to set up brunch plans with bitterly divorced parents.

Cable providers never particularly wanted to deal with Cablecards, gizmos that enable you to receive cable through TVs or DVRs without getting a cable box. Cable companies want you to get their DVR, for which they most likely will charge you more per month than they do for the cards. To them, TiVo is at best an annoyance, at worst a competitor.

But they are required to support Cablecards—Aaron Barnhart gives a good overview of some of the drama here, as does Gizmodo here—even if, in my experience at least, they do so grudgingly. The installation involves a cable worker coming in, popping the cards in, talking to the phone with a tech at Time Warner, and having a signal sent. Nonetheless, my previous setup involved multiple visits, by Time Warner techs who: did not bring Cablecards with them; did not seem to know what a Tivo box was; or thought they were there to run a cable line into the house. 

I may have to become a radio critic. 

Now, I can’t entirely blame TiVo, despite the time on hold and the “solutions” that turned out not to be. Part of the reason my customer-service experience lasted so long is that one valiant, impossibly solicitous TiVo tech spent a good five hours of his day working with me, troubleshooting my problem, tracking down cable personnel, and patiently explaining to them, more or less, how Cablecards work. The performance of cable company’s employees is not TiVo’s fault. But since they make a product that depends on interfacing with cable services, it is their problem. Or in this case, my problem.

That said, I’ve heard, anecdotally, that getting a Cablecard installed is not such a headache in other cities. Is that true? Where are these wonderful cities and how do I move there? Can any Tuned Inlanders share their Cablecard experiences?