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July 18, 2006

End of an Era?

Around October of 2000, I used an unusually large bonus to buy myself a treat, the ReplayTV digital video recorder I've been using ever since. At the time, I paid for a 'lifetime subscription' to Replay's online programming guide, which is really what makes the thing so useful. By the way, 'lifetime' translates to 'lifetime of the unit' (or more ominously, 'lifetime of the original management of the company behind the programming guide'). Still, it's paid for itself in years of timely programming with little commercial interruption. I don't ever want to go back to traditional network-scheduled television.

When I first got the unit, it had a thirty hour disk, which means thirty hours at the lowest quality recording level ('Extended'). Around fifteen at 'Medium' (a level somewhat better than VHS), which is what I preferred, but I stuck with extended. After a few years, it started behaving flakey (freezing, failing to respond to button presses on the remote) and I found online that this was a symptom of a failing hard drive. According to one post from a repair site I found, the Replay manufacturers used a lower-grade hotter-running consumer disk that was prone to block errors over time.

So in 2003, I decided to do it myself and replace the hard drive, upgrading to the maximum size disk while I was at it. This worked beautifully, and gave me over sixty hours at Medium quality -- a capacity I've never filled up.

Now it's three years after that project, and the box is acting all sick again. This time, it's much flakier still. It's been hanging repeatedly on various shows for the last few weeks. Last night, I tried to watch an episode of The Venture Bros and had to perform 'magical workarounds' that effectively skipped over frozen sections of the program approximately every minute. That will not do.

So this evening, after clearing my queue of Venture Bros programming, I performed triage. I tried Refresh Partition, with no results. Then I did a Reset to Factory Settings, which erased everything, from recorded shows to recording times for upcoming shows to preference settings. Waiting for the unit to phone home, download updates and programming guides takes awhile, so I spent the time on my laptop computer IRC'ing with Adam up North and logged into work checking my email.

So I've done all the triage, and the ReplayTV is now happily recording a show. I plan to let it record about a week's worth of programming, after which I'll watch them and look for glitches. Cynically, I expect that this will be a failed attempt, in which case the next stage is to try putting in another hard drive. Online sources say that 95% of all video glitch problems are fixed by putting in a new drive (but then, 95% of statistics are made up).

Unfortunately, Burr sold his PC, and the RTVPatch software is Wintel specific. Rather than hunt down another friend who meets the very specific requirements:

I decided this time to find one of those plentiful online merchants to do it for me. If I need to go there, I'm gonna pay a premium of $40 over doing it myself, but given the extra effort and impact on friends, I think this is an acceptable way to go.

If I go that route, and that does not fix it, do I go Tivo? They gouge the bejeebers out of you over the online programming guide (they don't even have a lifetime subscription option anymore), so I'm really hesitant, but I surely don't intend to go back to watching television live, so I've got my fingers crossed on resuscitating my little ReplayTV...

Posted by dpwakefield at July 18, 2006 10:06 PM