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TiVo suckiness and eero awesomeness

August 13, 2017

We replaced our old TiVo a month or so back. The previous one had lasted forever (I’m pretty sure we got it around 2009), but it was starting to experience playback issues and at this point I’m pretty sure we got our money’s worth out of it. So I went ahead and ordered a TiVo BOLT.

Previously I’ve had really good experiences with both TiVo hardware and software (witness the previous TiVo that lasted forever in technology-years). But the BOLT setup experience was awful. It’s much more dependent on network access than our old model, and its feedback when errors is downright awful. Its customer service has seriously gone downhill as well.

The problems started when first setting up the device. During setup it successfully connected to our wireless network, but then it kept complaining that our network must be firewalling it’s access to TiVo’s servers. Except, nope, no firewall. I both checked the router and confirmed with Comcast. A call to TiVo’s customer support was useless: they kept wanting me to access the network settings on the TiVo home screen, except that I couldn’t complete setup to access the home screen because setup requires a successful network connection. Great design, TiVo! I gave up on that rep and tried another, and ended up in the same place. Clearly TiVo is now outsourcing their customer service to a low cost provider (I’m guessing India based on the accents) and providing a useless trouble-shooting script where reps have no idea how to help if a problem falls outside that script.

I should mention at this point that our previous TiVo had been connecting to our wireless network for years in the same spot with zero problems. And WiFi was clearly more of an afterthought for it: we started out with a phone connection for it to download program information (told you it was old), and bought the external WiFi connector for it a couple of years after getting the box. So I was pretty sure the issue was not our network.

Finally I gave up, dug out an old TV, and set up the TiVo box right next to our router with a hardline connection. Now I managed to complete setup, and after installing a software update I managed to get a wireless connection working as well. One small problem: the wireless radio in the BOLT clearly sucks. It could establish a solid connection only over very short distances and with a clear line of sight to the router. Put it back where the old TiVo was, and suddenly it started dropping the connection (and complaining about being firewalled) 80-90% of the time.

I will admit that our router is not the most technically advanced. For the last few years we’ve just been using our Comcast cable modem to provide WiFi. Yeah, it’s not the greatest, but it’s been good enough. Our TV and a Mac mini connect to our WiFi in that same spot without problem, and our mobile devices don’t have any issues in that room. At this point I gave up in frustration and, after playing around a bit with our router’s channel assignments, decided to just live with the sucky connection. It was a close call, though; I almost decided to give up on TiVo, return the damn thing, and just make do with live TV and streaming (our consumption of recorded content had been declining for years anyway).

Use of a BOLT with an unreliable network connection, however, is a death of 1,000 cuts. Remember how I mentioned that the BOLT is more dependent on a network connection than our old TiVo? Yeah, apparently TiVo no longer believes in caching data. Which is kind of ironic given how much more space the latest boxes have to cache data. The BOLT will download and use scheduling data, but program details are pretty much all accessed on the fly. Want to search for a show to set up a pass or record it? Requires a network connection. Want to look at a program’s details to tell it to record or give it a thumbs up? Network connection (ok, from some-but-not-all screens).

I’d been curious about setting up a mesh network in our home for awhile; in general our wireless worked ok, but connections had always been a bit slow in the back bedrooms. And I’d heard good things both about the setup experience and WiFi quality of the eero. After putting up with the lousy TiVo connectivity for a month or so, I finally caved and ordered a base station and two beacons from Amazon.

The eero definitely earns the praise it’s received for it’s simple set-up process. Install the mobile app, plug the base station into your cable modem, specify the name you want for your network, and you’re off. The app connects to the base station automatically for you, so there’s no need to open up a browser and type in the IP address of your router. And the app and base station had WiFi up and running within a minute or two with essentially no additional work on part.

Setting up the beacons was similarly easy. Plug one in (I’m amused that the beacons also double as night lights), wait for the app to detect it, then have the eero test the connectivity to the beacon. If the connection is good you’re done, otherwise the app recommends how to reposition the beacon. I had one placement work right away, while I had to reposition the second beacon once before the app was satisfied with its placement.

The eero also makes updating easy. The app notified me of an available update, and with one tap the eero downloaded and installed the update.

Since getting the eero, our network has been noticeably faster and the coverage is significantly better. The BOLT now has a reliable connection. The bedrooms get a strong connection. I’ve noticed two cases where walking around the house while using the network caused short hitches (presumably from transitioning between the beacon coverage zones), but in both cases the connection quickly resumed.

After living with it for a week, I’d say that, while the eero is more expensive than other mesh networking offerings, the ease of use and reliability it offers has made it worth the price of admission so far. And the obvious care and attention that went into the design and implementation of the setup experience is orders of magnitude better than TiVo’s latest setup experience.

From → Musings, Technology

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