When Technology Backs You Into A Corner

We have a whole house DVR, where wecan record or play up to six shows at one time.  It is all centered upon one device, a media gateway, which then communicates with media players positioned at each TV.

Problem 1: Single Point Of Failure

When we upgraded our service, I knew right away that we were introducting the mb-201402tabletproblem of a signle point of failure.  Prior to that each TV had it’s own signal box.  We had one DVR and several regular cable boxes.  If one failed, that TV was out of commission.  But, with a whole house DVR, if there’s a problem with the media gateway, the entire house has disruption in TV.

Problem 2: A Second Single Point of Failure

In our case, the media gateway actually provides another point of failure: internet.  Since the media gateway also serves as the cable modem, not only does your TV go out if there’s a media gateway problem, but the internet is also unavailable.  Before we upgraded, in addition to the various cable boxes I outlined above, we had a separate cable modem device strictly for the Internet.

Problem 3: Minor Problems Don’t Get Dealt With

If the media gateway were to completely fail, obviously we would call and get it serviced.  Actually, the most likely scenario would be that they would replace it.  This would mean that we’d lose all of our recordings which we haven’t watched (in addition to some we keep as they are favorites of the kids), but we would also have to re-load all of our settings, as they don’t have any way to transfer data or settings between devices.

I know, first world problems, right?

But what about minor problems?  We’ve been having a few small issues with our service.  There are times when the HD channels will no longer display, and we get a message that the CableCard is not authorized for service.  Simply put, this is basically the tuner in the box that communicates with the central office to authorize us using service, preventing someone from simply getting a box and plugging in to the wire.  Usually, restarting the media gateway resolves the problem, although there have been a couple of times where we’ve had to call in and have it reset on the computer.

We’ve also had issues where the box provides lousy service.  It will pause every few seconds, making watching or recording anything impossible.  For some reason this seems to present itself as a problem overnight.  This has actually kept it tolerable for us, because we can reset the device and fix it.  It would likely be a bigger problem if it happened during the day or evening, as it would then make any recorded TV unwatchable.

We also noticed that a feature that we used rarely, but was a nice one to have, has recently stopped working. With the media gateway, you can log in remotely and make changes to your device.  There are smartphone apps or you can do it through a website.  This way, if you’re away from home and realize you want to record something, you can make the settings from anywhere where you have an internet connection.  It’s pretty nifty, but the last few times I’ve tried to use this, it wouldn’t connect.

The problem is that because these are ‘minor’ issues, we just deal with them, simply because we don’t want to lose the recordings and the settings we have.

Backed Into A Corner

This made me think that technology often backs you into a corner.  In addition to cable, think about:

  • How often do people live with a cracked screen or malfunctioning phone because they’re not yet out of their contract or because data transfer would be too much of a hassle?  Technology in the last couple of years has largely taken this element out as ‘the cloud’ makes it easy to power down one smartphone and power up another, but a few years ago, it was pretty much impossible to have any type of pain free transition.
  • Laptops and computers provide the same challenges. People spend years accumulating their settings, their music and video files, their bookmarks, and building their folders full of spreadsheets and documents, and the idea of losing it or having to move it is enough to make many people keep using a computer that may be malfunctioning or cannot support current technology.

It’s kind of a paradox that the more complicated and awesome a technology is, that it can have the unintended consequence of tying us down to that technology as time goes on.  Luckily, part of the technological advances seem to be centered around this various obstacle, as there seems to be a bigger push toward seamless data sharing and device transition.  I would expect a lot of this is out of necessity, as the manufacturers want you to buy their stuff more often, so removing this is not only beneficial to you as a consumer, but to them.   Make sure you consider to whose benefit it is in favor of before making any upgrade decisions!

A Hopeful Update

In the case of our cable box, I made some changes that I’m hoping might alleviate our problems.  As I started jotting down notes, I did some checking not just on our box but also looking at anything that interacts with it. We have three things that ‘hook off’ of our box:

  1. A wireless signal booster – Our house is big enough that we had some dead spots along the edges, and one of the edge spots most frequently affected was our bedroom.  We added a signal booster which basically acts as a relay and provides coverage, specifically to the Apple and Windows devices.
  2. A second wireless router – We have a second wireless network running in the house.  Unfortunately, my Android devices would sometimes have issues with the wireless signal booster, so I keep the second wireless network alive.
  3. A Sprint Airrave – We have Sprint service and our house is on the fringe of having reliable service.  They provide a signal enhancer that uses your cable internet.  It’s basically a mini-tower in our house.

After doing some digging, I found that the third option, the Sprint Airrave, was a potential problem when hooking it directly to the media gateway.  People recommended plugging it in downstream if possible.  This was no problem for me as I wa able to plug it into our second wireless router.

So far, the Airrave works and the ability to remotely access our media gateway works, both immediately after making this change.  As it’s only been a couple of days, I don’t have enough information to see if it was also the potential source of the freezing up issues, but it’d be nice.

Readers, have you ever had a situation where cool technology is so involved that getting it upgraded or fixed provides more of a headache than it’s worth?  

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6 thoughts on “When Technology Backs You Into A Corner

  1. We used to have a multi-room DVR system – not quite like what you’re describing. It had one main DVR, and then every other room at a satellite box that could access the mothership (LOL). If one of the satellite boxes broke, just that TV was out, and even if the base DVR broke we could watch TV on the other sets, we just couldn’t access our recorded shows. I loved that solution though, because we could tape something and watch it anywhere in the house. The cable company has since discontinued and removed that solution from everyone’s homes. Now we have multiple DVRs – which allows us to record more stuff (like I need to record more stuff), but we are constraint to watching the show we recorded on that singular TV.

  2. I try to keep my technology simple. I own my own modem and router and the cable company like to point that out to me when there is a problem. It would be great to be able to transfer settings when you switch products similar to your contact list on your phone. Maybe someday technology will be actually interchangeable.

  3. I’m with ya…but it’s worse for me as I am a “tecnological illiterate”. I have put off buying a lap top to replace my aging “tower” because of all the new …”stuff”. And it may have paid off. 2-3 years back DW bought a lap top and paid about $2K. I can get that same lap top today for around $300 from HP. But do I take the plunge for a lap top…or just get a tablet….or go the $1500 for an Apple lap top or $3-400 for an I-pad. And then there is the discusion on “streaming” to watch programming. And then, as you point out, “you’re up the creek” when it fails. For this is basically electronic calculus and I missed that class…..

    • Depending on what you’re using it for the ‘same laptop’ for $300 could be just fine for you. Maybe somewhere in the middle between there and the $2k laptop would definitely get you through a few years of technology, from the sounds of it.

  4. Yup! What you said…

    Actually, as a confirmed cheapskate I can’t bring myself to pay that kind of money for “entertainment” — much of which is gut-wrenchingly violent or brain-fog stupid — when there’s so much good stuff to do for free. The whole cable thing escapes me.

    As for the laptop/desktop challenge: I store all my current work to the cloud, and also back up bookmarks the same way. Older stuff that’s stored on the hard disk is backed up continuously to Time Machine, but also has been stored redundantly on several flash drives. I back up everything on Drop Box to a flash drive, too. If one of my computers goes down, it’ll be a pain; if both go down at once, a real hassle. But neither event would be a tragedy.

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