sometimes the circumstances of poor customer service can save you from yourself.

so i got my Digital TV converter box coupons in the mail yesterday — the two $40 coupons to use to buy a box to convert ATSC (digital over-the-air antenna) signals into NTSC (analogue ota signal, what all equipment used prior to this whole pesky digital revolution thingie). then i started googling looking for reviews and advice for using them with my tivos. i thought it would be as simple as using my tivos’ external IR blasters (faux remote controls; they let the tivo change the channel on the converter box, so the tivo can still change the channel on cable boxes and stuff without manual intervention, v. important for recording shows when you are not actually watching tv, which i am generally not doing while it records them). and then i checked the tivo community forums and discovered that tivo hasn’t even decided yet if they’re going to support the converter boxes — which is important, because tivo has to add support for the spectrum of digital channels (which have weird numbers, like 5.5 instead of 5), in addition to adding drivers to support using the IR blaster to understand which remote controls it’s supposed to be emulating per converter device. to boot, i could find precious few reviews at all for the converter boxes — in fact, only one, and that because it was the only one i could find on amazon.

well, fuck.

yes, this is very early on into the process, and no doubt things will become clearer later in the year, as we progress to the february 2009 deadline for conversion to ATSC. however, i do not want to spend 1000 hours tied up in quibbling over which gadget i want best. i pretty much just want to get it dealt with and move on with my life. so i thought about it, and thought about adding more boxes and more clutter, plus wires of IR blasters for two boxes, plus new HD antennas to replace my beloved rabbit ears, plus oy what a pain in my ass this is… and decided fuck it, i’m just going to buy a new tivo with an ATSC tuner.

now, i’m an existing tivo customer. i love my tivo. my tivos love me. i have two — i had one series2 DVR, which is about 5 years old or so. about 3 or 4 years ago it lost the ability to output sound: it would record just fine, but no sound ever comes out of the box. i was totally broke, but i found identical tivos at target for $99 and bought one, and i just use the second one for recording, then transfer the shows over the wireless to the first one when i want to watch them. it works out fine, for the most part. i pay $20/mo for the two service plans, which is not too bad, especially when you consider the fact that tivo is the thing that makes tv worth watching. (I LOVE TIVO! TIVO RULES, VCRS DROOL!) so anyways, i decided that since i cannot possibly be the only tivo customer in this situation i should call them up and see if they have any special retention or other offers for existing customers to buy new ATSC equipment.

my first call got disconnected when the customer service agent was mid-sentence. (probably not her fault, the line just went dead and about 20 seconds later it started beeping the beep of disconnecty death.) my second call got me to Regina, the Agent of Cluelessness. i explained that i was an existing customer, i wanted to replace my two series2 tivos with a single new dual-tuner ATSC-capable box (in fact, after browsing the boxes on the tivo web site, i had my eye on a TiVO HD DVR already), and what could she do for me?

she explained that there was in fact nothing she could do for me. she said there were no dual-tuner over-the-air capable boxes. i brought up the HD DVR and she said it could only do cable. ohhhh-kaay then. so i said, okay, well, i’ll just order from the web site then, thanks. i went back to the web site and dropped a TiVO HD DVR into my shopping cart, and was then confronted by its request that i choose a service plan, all of which were discounted because i have a multiple-tivo discount. but then, if i bought it with a multiple-tivo discount, and got rid of the other tivos, what would happen to the cost? i decided to call back. i got regina again, who obviously didn’t recognize me (how many ATSC dual-tuner-wanting existing customers wanting to upgrade do you get in a 20-minute time span, Regina?), and she said that in order to deal with the service plan issue, i should go to a store, because tivo only sells direct with service plans bundled, but if i get a tivo at a store i have to activate it separately, and i can deal with the two-into-one issue then. well okay then! if you guys don’t want to sell me a tivo, i can take a hint…

so i started googling around and found the HD DVR at amazon for $250, $50 off’s price anyways. woo! and it was amazon prime, so free two day shipping, yay for me. i placed my order, threw in a shiny new HD antenna (bye bye rabbit ears, i’ll miss you. i probably won’t miss your shitty CBS2 reception with the vertical roll, though.), and a copy of the Twin Peaks DVD box set just to celebrate. (hey, i hadn’t spent any of my $2700 tax refund, cut me a break. i can have a $72 DVD set if i want!) i went to bed with the order in pre-processing, satisfied that by friday all this digital conversion bullshit could pretty much idly pass me by.

so after a couple hours’ drama yesterday, this morning i get up at oh-god-thirty in the morning, and check my rss reader, and what is today’s woot? a (refurbished) TiVO HD DVR, for $179 (plus five bucks for shipping)! i shit you not. i clicked “i want one!” and ordered, planning to cancel the amazon order. well, i checked on it and it’s pre-shipping so they won’t let me cancel it; i’ll have to do a return. so at the moment i’ve spent (on visa) $435 on my shiny new tivo, but at least $250 will be refunded probably next week, if i turn the amazon one around promptly. the woot tivo will ship in 5 days, with probably another couple days to arrive — my amazon tivo is supposed to arrive on friday — but, srsly. $185 instead $300?

go, go gadget coincidence!