One of the things I didn't know about TiVo, until it was too late, was the importance of having a compatible cable or satellite box.
My original TiVo installation was for a digital cable set-top box. Because the box lacked a serial input port for changing channels, I had to use the infrared blaster (a three-sided cord with two infrared output lights that pretends to be a remote control). This worked without a hitch.
When I switched to DirecTV, the installation included a Philips DSX5353 receiver. That box also has no serial input port, so I hooked up the IR blaster. Unfortunately, the satellite box was terrible at receiving the signal -- at least 20 percent of the time the channel wouldn't change even though TiVo thought it did, causing it to record the wrong programs or dead air. None of the tips from TiVo's Web site made it better -- I moved the cords around, built an "IR hood" out of cardboard to shield the signal, and tried all of the channel-changing speeds.
Because some of the least-expensive DirecTV receivers include a serial port, I asked the company to swap receivers. In keeping with its spotless record of atrocious customer service, they wouldn't consider it.
Finally, I broke down and decided to buy two new DirecTV receivers that had serial input ports and cords that connected them to the TiVo.
After doing some research, I found that several cheap receivers include serial ports for controlling the box. The port's usually called a "low-speed data port" and requires a $6.99 "home control cable" from the TiVo store.
The RCA DRD 435 is an inexpensive receiver that has a low-speed data port, as I verified from this product shot. Prices vary wildly on the Internet, but I found it selling new for $31.99 from SpectraVox.Com, with discounts for ordering two.
The receivers and cords arrived quickly and were installed in less than two hours. To hook one up:
- I turned off the DirecTV receiver and unhooked the satellite-in cable, video-out cable, power cord, and IR blaster output cords.
- I put the new receiver in its place, hooked up the two TV cables and plugged in the power cord.
- I used the IR blaster cord to find the place where the home option cable should be connected on the back of the TiVo box (on my Philips Series 1 TiVo, it goes right above the IR blaster), then hooked it up and disconnected the blaster.
- I inserted the new DirecTV access card, which came with the receiver, and turned on the box. DirecTV's preview channel began working immediately. When I tried any other channel, a message appeared stating that I needed to call DirecTV so that the access card could be activated.
- With my access card number, the receiver's ID number, and the receiver's serial number (from the package), I called 1-800-347-3288 (1-800-DIRECTV) and they activated the card in around 10 minutes.
DirecTV's customer service rep tried to tell me that I was committing to another year of my existing TotalChoice subscription by activating the card.
When I said this was unreasonable because I bought and installed my own receiver, the rep surrendered quickly and said the requirement would be waived.
The new channel changer zooms. The RCA DRD 435 also has a feature I didn't have before: on-screen caller ID.
Though $50 isn't a bad price for reliable TiVo service after a year of needless suffering, the moral of this story is to never add cable or satellite service unless they give you a box with a low-speed data port.