OMG the DVR died!

November 16, 2010

Our DVR died of hard drive failure the other day. It was like losing a member of the family.

We installed new flooring in our living room which meant moving all the furniture out. Now, I was careful. I’m a computer guy; I know there’s a fragile hard drive in there. I unplugged it, as I was told, and waited far longer than the 10 seconds they say to wait until it’s safe. Then I still treated it with the care I would afford a newborn, gently placing it in a safe location until the flooring project was complete.

When we plugged it back in it told us that the hard drive had failed and that we were essentially screwed.

Now, I assume that you, as a reader, are aware of all the wonderful advantages that a DVR has to offer. If not, I’m guessing you would probably find yourself saying or agreeing with at least one of the following statements:

  • My dialup internet does everything I need it to do.
  • I don’t get what’s up with these kids with their MyBooks and FaceySpaces.
  • My cell phone has its own bag.
  • Do you want to see my collection of laser discs?
  • Why don’t they sell appliances in that lovely avacado color anymore?

If you found yourself agreeing with any of those statements, please stop reading my blog now. My thoughts will not interest you.

Maybe the rest of you understand our pain. I really don’t think it’s that we’re addicted to TV (although maybe we are) but more like we want it on our terms.

With the DVR dead, if we wanted to watch a show, we had to do it on the show’s terms. House starts at 7. House doesn’t care if you’re finished with dinner yet. Wasn’t House already snarky enough?

When a commercial came on, I reflexively grabbed the remote and pressed fast forward. Oops, that didn’t work. Live TV is the devil.

We have Dish Network, and to their credit, they shipped a new receiver to us (overnight, no less) at no charge, and we’re back in business.

But the software developer in me thinks … can’t we do better?

First, of course we lost all our recordings. I’m already over it, but it’s still a pain. Shows are so serialized nowadays that if we want to know what’s going on, we’re going to need to look up a few episodes on Hulu or the network’s website and stream them over the Internet. Not a huge deal, but it is kind of a pain to hook the laptop to the TV. I’m not really sure why Windows needs to make it so difficult to set the default sound output to the HDMI jack.

Is it ridiculous to suggest a RAID 1 in the receiver? “One of your hard drives has failed. Please contact Dish to have a new hot-pluggable hard drive sent to you.” Sure it costs more up front but Dish would save money overnighting small hard drives instead of large receivers, plus the support costs associated with activating the new smart card.

Or failing that, what about an add-on capability to back up to an external hard drive. Dish currently supports add-on hard drives for additional storage, but doesn’t appear to support them in a backup strategy.

Second, we lost all the timers and preferences, and had to set them back up, from memory. The old receiver, while it would still allow us to watch live TV, wouldn’t even allow us to write down our old list of timers on paper, because that was a function of the DVR, and the DVR wasn’t available with a failed hard drive.

My Dish is already on the Internet, how about the ability to automatically back up my timers and settings into the cloud? Or even to a USB stick?

And one day, though I know it is not feasible now, I hope that DVRs will contain solid state hard drives. A quick search shows that my Dish ViP722 DVR contains a 500GB hard drive. In November 2010 a 500GB solid state hard drive would be a minimum of $1200, while a traditional spindle hard drive can be had for less than $100. That’s a big difference, but one I hope will dwindle in the years to come.

Imagine a DVR that is small, silent, low-heat, and not prone to failure. I think it will happen one day.

But until then, I have some TV to catch up on.