The following appeared in usa paper today:
DirecTV's DVRs run into snags By David Lieberman, USA TODAY
Thu Dec 22, 7:27 AM ET
DirecTV appears to have hit some speed bumps with the rollout of its new digital video recorder - one of the company's most important initiatives.
Following at least dozens of consumer complaints to the company and on Internet sites about sluggish and occasionally idiosyncratic performance, DirecTV on Tuesday upgraded the software for the second time since the DVR was introduced last month.
"Some things are not as intuitive as we thought, and we're polishing it," says DirecTV Chief Technology Officer Romulo Pontual. "It's the kind of thing we do for a living."
It's important for DirecTV, which is controlled by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., to get things right: The new DVR - with software from Murdoch's NDS Group - will enable the No. 1 satellite company to offer video on demand and other services that it considers crucial to help it compete with cable.
But sales could stall if consumers still prefer the models it has marketed for years featuring TiVo.
About 15% of DirecTV's nearly 15 million subscribers have TiVo-equipped receivers.
DirecTV has stopped marketing those units - and is offering a full rebate on the $100 new receivers with the DirecTV Plus DVR.
Sanford C. Bernstein's Craig Moffett says DirecTV should sell at least 500,000 receivers this quarter with either TiVo or its own DVR.
Yet several people who have used both say that DirecTV still has to work out some kinks.
The interface "is not intuitive, and it's not consistent in the way it performs," Gartner analyst Van Baker says. "There's a 'back' button on the remote, but it doesn't always go back. Sometimes, it takes you to a screen you haven't seen before."
And Jim Jeffrey, an information technology manager in St. Paul, says he finds it hard to use the fast-forward feature. "I can't figure out how to skip through commercials," he says. "When I hit 'play,' I'm either too fast or not fast enough. So I go back and forth and waste a lot of time."
Others say that the DirecTV units failed to record shows they had scheduled.
DirecTV says it hasn't found that problem: "We do not have this bug in our system," Pontual says.
He adds that the new software download should make it easier to control the fast-forwarding. But it won't mimic a TiVo feature which goes back as much as a second when users stop fast-forwarding.
"Some people want it to stop where they press and not try to read their minds," Pontual says. "It's a choice."
Despite some of the early problems, Pontual says, DirecTV's DVR launch is "an outstanding success" and should gain momentum in early 2006. That's when DirecTV will automatically place movies, sports clips and other forms of programming onto the DVR for viewers to watch when they want.
"If you're new to DVRs, you'll love this product," he says.