Sunday, January 18, 2009

Stupid Stupid Motorola Set Top Box

I pretty much hate the set top box that Bend Broadband (and many, many other cable providers) uses. It's a Motorola DCH3416, dual-tuner DVR running the iGuide user interface by TVGuide/Gemstar. We had a lesser version last year of this box, running the same software, when we were Time Warner Cable customers in SoCal. I had hoped that this more powerful box would not have the same annoyances the other box tortured me with, but no.

So, just to get them off my chest, I herewith post my peeves:

  1. Major Peeve for all of us in the Elliott household: This stupid box is frequently unresponsive to keypresses for sometimes up to tens of seconds while it's doing things. This causes the user to try pressing the key on the remote a few more times just to see if the box "saw" the remote. Then after it's done doing things, it will suddenly catch up and play back all those keypresses, including the extra, repeat, ones, which usually takes us someplace in the menu system we wasn't trying to get to. 

  2. Minor Peeve: It changes channels just because I told it to record a show -- not display it, mind. I'll be listening to music on one of the Sirius channel I pay BBB for and suddenly the audio will change to the show I told it to record. Hey stupid box: I said record, not view! I'll watch it later. That's why we record things. 

  3. Another Minor Peeve: So we're watching a show and a giant popup text box pops up saying that my recording has finished . . . while I'm watching another recorded show. And it stays there, covering up most of the center of the screen for easily 15 seconds. The "exit" button can be used to dismiss it, but if it doesn't dismiss immediately, one wonders whether the box saw the command, so one tries pushing the key again. Which leads to Major Peeve (See 1., above). Stupid box needs a "quiet" mode to stop this.

  4. Yet Another Minor Peeve [added Jan 19, 2009]: The box keeps recording the same show over and over. Say I have told it to set up a series recording of New Episodes of The Rachel Maddow Show. MSNBC airs that show twice a day, I think it is. So I watch the playback of the first instance, and the stupid box then proceeds to record the second instance. Look -- this is the 21st century. Surely the box can determine that I already recorded and deleted the show.  
NOTE: Motorola, not Bend Broadband, is the manufacturer of the hardware.The user interface, called iGuide, is a product of TVGuide/Gemstar. Minor Peeves #2 through #4 are most likely iGuide issues. The major Peeve (#1) has to be a hardware issue (small cpu?) or really crappy soft/firmware coding.  I'm told that trying to get UI improvements through TVGuide/Gemstar is pretty much a waste of time.

The Bulletin reported today (see below) that satellite providers may be providing local channels in a couple years. If that happens, then I'm going to spend some time playing with their boxes and if Gemstar hasn't cleared up this box's UI glitches then I'll seriously be considering a switch.

[Update January 29, 2009: Bend Broadband's Moxi MC3 box is coming to the Elliott household. See here.]

Channels come to satellite providers, cable will have more competition 
By Andrew Moore / The Bulletin 
Published: January 18. 2009 4:00AM PST 

Satellite television in Deschutes County can be both entertaining and frustrating. There’s plenty of content at competitive prices, but depending on where you live, that content might not include “American Idol,” “World News Tonight” or “Sunday Night Football.” 

For reasons wrought with red tape, neither of the nation’s two satellite television companies, DirecTV or Dish Network, provides customers in Deschutes County with network programming. There are a few caveats, but for most satellite customers here, it means using rabbit ear-type antennas to pull down over-the-air broadcast signals from Bend’s network affiliates in order to watch network programming. 

That could change in 2009. 

Chris Gallu, general manager of KTVZ-TV, Bend’s NBC affiliate, and KFXO-TV, Bend’s Fox affiliate, says he has created space at the KTVZ/KFXO station for both satellite companies to place the necessary uplink equipment and that as a result, both have expressed interest in using the station to process local network signals for Bend in 2009. 

“The satellite companies have come to town and looked around and requested this be the facility to uplink all local channels, in this year,” Gallu said. 

Robin Zimmerman, a spokeswoman for Meridian, Colo.-based Dish Network, said the company dooes not comment on the status of contract negotiations. 

Robert Mercer, a spokesman for El Segundo, Calif.-based DirecTV, said the company has no immediate plans to offer local network programming to Bend due to bandwidth limitations pertaining to its satellite signal. 

“We understand there is strong demand for locals via our service, and though we will continue to expand our satellite capacity to offer more services, it’s a little early to say when or if we’ll be able to launch in Bend,” Mercer said. 

Gallu said the satellite television providers now beam local network channels into the top 182 markets in the country. The Bend television market, which encompasses Deschutes County, is the nation’s 192nd largest market out of 210 total markets. Most of Crook and Jefferson counties are included in the Portland television market. 

“We’re right on the cusp, so we should be getting it, and it will offer alternatives for all of Central Oregon,” Gallu said. “Especially in rural areas, it would be a great relief.” 


Since 1999, satellite providers have been barred by federal law from providing their customers with network programming that originated outside customers’ home markets unless the customers were able to prove they could not receive over-the-air broadcast signals from their local network affiliates. This became known as the “local-into-local” rule. 

In other words, it became illegal to provide someone in Deschutes County with a feed from the NBC affiliate in Los Angeles if he or she could receive KTVZ’s NBC signal over the air. 

Certain satellite customers who had service prior to the law’s enactment were able to keep outside network signals. 

But for new customers, it can be a hassle. 

John Baker owns and operates Para-Tech Satellite Systems in Bend, an authorized reseller and installer of both satellite television systems. Baker said roughly 50 percent of the customers who come into his office eager to sign up for satellite television service leave empty-handed after finding out the service does not include network channels. 

“People don’t know it at all,” Baker said. “They think they can get locals, and I say, ‘No,’ and they say, ‘That’s OK, I’ll watch the Portland channels,’ and then we say, ‘No. No (networks) period,’ and they look at me and their face is blank. They can’t believe they can’t get the networks. When they finally get it, they drift off with dazed looks.” 

According to the Nielsen Co., the television ratings firm, there an estimated 64,830 households in Deschutes County have televisions. Of those, 65 percent are served by cable providers such as BendBroadband or Chambers Cable of Sunriver. Another 22 percent receive satellite television and the remaining 13 percent watch over-the-air programming or no broadcast television at all. 

In rural areas of the county, satellite television service is the only option available, as the cable companies mostly serve only incorporated communities. That means rural satellite television customers must use rabbit ear-type antennas to watch network programming. 

In some cases, whether because of distance or geographic obstacles, over-the-air signals are not available for some satellite customers, which enables them to apply for waivers from the local network affiliates to allow them to receive network programming from out-of-market stations. 


Should Dish and DirecTV begin offering local network signals, the impact on Deschutes County could be significant, primarily due to the fact that the cable companies would have genuine competition. The local networks are all available on BendBroadband and each offers a substantial amount of high-definition channels. 

“Historically, it’s safe to say we’ve seen significant increases in new customers in markets where we launched locals with a heavy marketing campaign — as much as a double-digit increase,” said Mercer, the DirecTV spokesman. “In local markets where we did little marketing, we had a much smaller increase. So it varies quite a bit depending on the marketing effort and the market.” 

In the Portland television market, where local network programming has been available on satellite for years, 55 percent of the television households subscribe to cable, 27 percent subscribe to satellite television and the remaining 18 percent watch over-the-air programming or no broadcast television at all. 

In a written statement, John Farwell, BendBroadband’s vice president of business operations, said the company welcomes competition. 

“I’m a firm believer that competition is what makes companies great,” Farwell wrote. “It provides the impetus for businesses to seek continuous improvement in the products or services they provide and to strive for customer loyalty through reliability and superior customer care.” 

Farwell noted that BendBroadband, despite some perceptions that it’s a monopoly, already faces competition in each of its product lines: television, phone and Internet. Qwest, through a partnership with DirecTV, offers services in the same three categories. Numerous other Internet providers, and Internet-based telephone providers, also exist in Central Oregon. 

Farwell said BendBroadband offers video on demand as well as access to COTV, its local channel that features a variety of Central Oregon-themed programming. COTV is not available from either satellite provider. Farwell also noted that BendBroadband, a local company that employs roughly 200 people, can provide a level of service that could be hard for the satellite television companies to match. 

“When you subscribe to BendBroadband, you’re buying local and supporting a local business,” Farwell wrote. “When you call with a billing question or need technical assistance, your call isn’t going out of state or out of the country.” 

Business impact 

The addition of local network programming also would benefit advertisers, advertising agencies and the local stations, according to agency and TV officials. 

Matthew Bowler, a principal with the Bend-based advertising firm The Mandala Agency, said companies wanting to advertise their products or services would reach more viewers. It also would provide agencies like his more flexibility in helping clients reach potential customers. 

“The expected result would be television campaigns would be more effective in delivering measurable results for advertisers,” Bowler said. “Television would become a more attractive advertising medium.” 

Bowler noted that satellite television service with local network service also would help advertisers reach some of the more affluent areas of the county that are in rural areas or rural resort developments such as Pronghorn that are outside of any cable company’s footprint. 

Bend’s network affiliates also would benefit, as more viewers could translate to more advertising revenue, said Dave Ulrickson, general manager of KBNZ-TV, Bend’s CBS affiliate. 

Discussing his previous experience managing television stations in Santa Barbara, Calif., Ulrickson said those stations’ advertising revenue grew every year once the satellite television providers added Santa Barbara’s local network affiliates to their signal. 

“It’s a gamble and (the satellite television companies) won’t make any promises because several markets are trying to do the same thing, but what (Gallu) is doing is absolutely the best way for that to happen here and it would be very beneficial for us,” Ulrickson said. 

Baker, of Para-Tech Satellite Systems, said the addition of local-into-local service in Bend would be a double-edged sword. He figures business would definitely pick up, but he also worries it might be more than he could handle, thereby spawning new competitors in the satellite television sales and installation field. 

He also wonders how many people would be motivated to leave their cable providers, especially if they bundle other services, such as BendBroadband’s phone and Internet service. Chalk it up to human nature. 

“People get locked into one thing and are not going to change even if something new comes up,” Baker said.


  1. Oh that is a bummer! I've friends who complain about their settop boxes too. I'm so ready to drop BBB actually.

    Right now I'm paying BBB $15 + rental of a small/simple settop box to watch all the FREE channels - NBC, ABC, CBS, FOX, OPB and the freaking shopping channels and pastors with a thick southern accent jumping up and down on stage preaching God's message - something isn't right there, so I've applied for the digital conversion coupon and will try out rabbit ears.

  2. I got a digital converter box (the Insignia one) with an RCA set-top antenna ($10) from Best Buy. 10 minutes to hook up and it pulls in NBC, ABC, Fox, CW and a plethora of PBS problems with no problems at all. No CBS yet. Channel 7 won't quite pull in a signal. Hopefully, a roof top antenna will fix that.

    Now I'm looking at satellite options. I am so tired of the idiot Motorola DVR. I'm missing so many programs because of its problems that I really don't want to pay BBB for the "privelege" of renting it any more. BBB couldn't have been less helpful. When calling them the attitude seems to be "They all do it. Live with it".


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