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FiOS TV First Impressions

I switched one week ago from Echostar Dish Network to Verizon FiOS TV. Here are my thoughts after the first week of service.

The most important thing to say is that the picture quality is noticeably better with FiOS TV than Dish Network. Much less loss in the compression. That was the most important factor for me in switching, so I score myself happy. I also prefer the FiOS system's way of setting up and managing scheduled recordings. The search feature in particular is much better than Dish Network's.

The selection of HD channels is not very good today, but is supposed to improve very soon and supposedly reach 150 channels by the end of 2008. That will be nice when it happens…

I like the video-on-demand feature very much. I've looked at some of the free content but haven't purchased anything yet. It appears that if you get a movie channel package, you get access to a large library of movies through video-on-demand for free, which is an excellent feature. A shame I can't buy a la carte from that library, though…

The switch hasn't been seamless. Some things are annoying. As someone with a professional inclination toward validating computer systems, I feel obligated to report what I've found. Some of these things are usability issues that might be difficult to correct. Others are just plain bugs that I'm surprised escaped internal testing. If I can find them after a week of fairly light usage, a deliberate testing effort could easily find them too.

I have crashed the STB once already and had to reboot it. For reference I have the HD DVR STB, software release 1.5.0, build number 05.92.

I have two display-related disappointments with the STB. One is that the on-screen menu system only uses the regular 4:3 footprint for displaying information, rather than the entire 16:9 screen. It knows I have a 16:9 TV. There's no reason to waste all that display area, especially given the next problem.

The font size in the on-screen menu system is way too big. It may be correct for people with poor vision and old televisions, but some of us would like to use a smaller font in order to show more information on our 1920x1080 displays. The program guide is the most disappointing here, fitting only 90 minutes on-screen by using a large font in a 4:3 footprint. If I could tell it to use a small font and a 16:9 footprint, I would be able to see many hours.

I'm unable to change the STB's volume. (Main Menu --> Settings --> Audio --> Set-Top Box Volume) This control appears to do nothing at all. This is annoying because my STB is louder than any of my other inputs, so I have to adjust the volume whenever switching between them.

The remote's * button is supposed to toggle closed captioning. That isn't what it does. It actually does nothing at all. I can turn on closed captioning through the menu (Main Menu --> Settings --> Accessibility --> Closed Captioning) but in addition to being cumbersome to get to, it works poorly. The font is very bad and in some programs (e.g. Doctor Who) the caption is visible too briefly for most people to read.

Worst, the caption data isn't sent to my television through the HDMI connector, so I can't use my TV's own high-quality and very configurable closed caption display.

I'm not fully happy with the remote control. My Dish Network remote control was UHF, so I could use it anywhere and didn't have to point it toward the STB at all. My FiOS TV remote control is directional, and I have persistent trouble navigating through menus and options. It's difficult to tell whether that's caused by a sluggish interface dropping button presses, or by them not being received in the first place. This is a step backward.

My DVR documentation says I have four speeds for rewind and fast forward: 3x, 15x, 60x, and 300x. I do not have 300x. When I'm scanning at 60x and try to increase, it rolls over to 3x. I definitely miss having 300x; I used it often on my Dish Network STB.

I have trouble with the STB's front panel display. (Main Menu --> Settings --> Set-Top Box --> Front Display) I'd like it to display a clock all the time instead of the channel number I'm viewing. But when I select "Show Clock" and then press Exit, it immediately switches back to showing the channel number! At seemingly random times it switches back and forth between the clock and the channel. I want it to stay a clock! If it's going to be unreliable like this, I'd actually prefer to turn it off to avoid confusion.

The installers gave me a new router with a coax input, apparently necessary to connect the STB to the internet. The new router is an Actiontec MI424WR and I do not like it. The configuration menus are much less straightforward than my old router's (a D-Link DI-624). The most annoying trouble I've had with the new router is that it seems to be impossible to assign a static IP address to a computer on my LAN through the router's DHCP.

The router claims to have this functionality, but when I enter my computer's information it either fails telling me that something about that computer is already in the router's database, or it accepts the settings but then when I connect the computer gives me an ordinary dynamic IP address instead. It does give me the option to convert an existing dynamic lease to a static one, but in that case I don't get to choose the IP address, and in any event once the lease expires it reverts back to a dynamic lease!

I care about assigning a static IP address to my home fileserver. Thus far I've been lucky with my dynamic IP address not changing, but if I have any trouble with it the only solution appears to be reconfiguring that computer to ignore DHCP and just take an address. Not what I wanted.

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