I have Comcast at my house. I know, I know. It wasn't my first choice, but it was all I could have at my previous abode and I like CSN Houston. Plus, I'm a masochist.
For the most part, my Comcast service has been solid since I bought a new house and moved last summer. I don't complain too much, so maybe that's it, or maybe it is actually decent. Whatever the case, I rarely have to deal with customer support, so that's good, I guess.
Since Xfinity took over programming for Comcast's television division, there have been marked improvements in technology as well. The X1 is the latest of those changes, a significantly upgraded DVR set-top box with improved menus and an app-like interface that has received rave reviews from geeks who write about such things. It doesn't cost any more per month, but allows the recording of four shows at once and the playback of those shows on any of the satellite boxes you can scatter around your home. You can even talk into an app and it obeys you like freaking Hal, but without the attitude and the "Now, I'm going to kill you, Dave" thing.
I was on the road to a brand-new experience in TV watching that was wholly different from me parked on my ass on the sofa watching DVR'ed episodes of Game of Thrones. Now I also watch those shows from my guest bedroom! To quote The Jeffersons, "Movin' on uuup!"
This sounded like a great idea...until I had to get it installed.
According to the person who signed me up for this magical new platform, the install normally takes about three hours. Seemed reasonable enough given that the setup procedures for these boxes are so complicated; it wouldn't shock me if Gary Sinise's character from Apollo 13 showed up to help with the reboot sequence.
Comcast hires independent contractors to do installs. For the most part, this is good because it means they don't work directly for a monolithic, blood-sucking corporation. On the other hand, it's hard to know exactly what you will get when they show up. In my case, I got lucky. My installer was a nice guy and seemed to be good at his gig.
After installing a signal booster in my attic (or maybe an FBI listening device), he asked, "Where do you want your main DVR boxes and your three satellite boxes?" At the risk of over-referencing Apollo 13, "Gentlemen, I think we just had our glitch for the mission." See, I only needed two extra boxes. That really is a gluttonous number of cable boxes, but how am I supposed to enjoy watching reality shows comfortably if I can't have a damn box out by my swimming pool? What is this, the dark ages?
One call to customer service by my personal Ken Mattingly -- Sinise's character's name; try to keep up -- and all was resolved, or so I hoped.
During the install, my Internet was down. I couldn't do any work or surf porn or anything. I just had to sit there and try not to bother Ken too much while he was working. What did people do before the Internet? Read? Pfft.
The main DVR box installed, Ken was zooming along toward completion when the first satellite box wouldn't boot up properly. He called customer service -- the same number we peons call, ironically -- and spent nearly an hour trying to figure it out. Ken was frustrated. I was frustrated. The WORLD was frustrated.
Finally, the line went dead. "They hung up on me!" Ken said, startled.
I truly felt bad for this poor guy who was two-plus hours deep into an install that should have been easy. Turns out that when he called to remove one of the boxes from my install, the omnipotent customer service removed all of them. This felt to me like the technological equivalent of spitting in my burger because I sent it back when it didn't come out medium rare.
But Ken pressed on and, zip-boom-bang, we had box two working. I could see the light at the end of the tunnel and I was certain it wasn't an oncoming train. Unfortunately, the last box proved to be a problem. He got an error code he'd never seen before. I assumed this meant that the box still needed the detonator or more dilithium crystals or maybe just a whack from a hammer.
Ken was flummoxed. Customer service didn't know what to do. He called another installer, who showed up within minutes as if he'd been beamed to the front door. (Does Comcast have that technology, too?) I was hoping eventually a team of highly trained nerds would descend on my house like Geek Squad meets the Secret Service. After many calls to other techs, it was determined this error code meant the box was broken. I guess that's what they mean when they say "self-diagnostics." If only we had an error code that would appear on our foreheads for ailments, like 134 for the flu or 666 for demon possession.
With a quick swap of the box, the install was done. Five and a half hours, two installers and dozens of phone calls later, I had my new X1 installed. I didn't realize until later that my Internet was actually still down. It remained down until I called customer service that night to have my modem reset. By this point, I was convinced they were just messing with me, but my saga wasn't over.
Because two days later, I realized that my DVR would record and then the recordings would disappear. Also, the whole pause live TV thing wasn't working and, frankly, this is the most important feature to me because it feels like I'm freezing time, which is awesome. I assumed the lost recordings ended up in some place between the folds of time, like a temporal vortex or something only Stephen Hawking and Spock could explain. Maybe my episode of Grimm was being beamed into space, where it would be watched by aliens hell-bent on world domination until they saw this "reality" show I sent them. You are welcome, planet Earth.
I searched the Internet for answers, to no avail. Back to customer support -- now simply referred to as Mount Olympus -- but even they couldn't fix it. I had to go to (insert dramatic Darth Vader-y music) tier-two support. Supposedly, they would call me within two days (sure). I pleaded with my overlord to simply let me exchange the box at a Comcast store. She threatened to curse my entire lineage if I made an attempt. I was thwarted. And I waited.
Four days later, still no phone call. Was I being punished? I decided to take fate into my own hands, disconnect the DVR and go to the Comcast store. The very friendly woman at the store -- let's call her Glenda -- gently explained that the boxes were so new, even they didn't have any. A tech would have to be dispatched to my house yet again. It was then that Glenda pressed a damp cloth to my forehead to stave off the anger and urge to heave the amazing X1 through the plate-glass window. Back home I went...to wait.
On the off chance I might learn something new, I called Mount Olympus yet again. This time I got a super-nerd named, let's say, Ted. He was not in tier-two support, which I imagined looked like that room in the second Matrix movie with that confusing old guy and like a thousand TVs, but Ted was helpful. He explained that sometimes resetting the box was necessary to recover recordings. Eureka! Bones appeared in my recorded list. That was something.
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Still, he believed the box was toast and I should wait. I thanked him and felt as if progress had been made, my frayed nerves soothed by the repetitive but comforting episodic nature of Tempe and Booth solving crimes.
After a new box was installed, which took about 90 minutes on the part of another friendly tech, I decided to call the billing department -- which I'm pretty sure occupies a floor in Trump Tower with walls covered in gold and lamps made of diamonds -- and politely request that I not be required to pay an install fee, which would have been well over $100. As I explained to them, what I paid for was a three-hour install, not the two weeks filled with countless phone calls, trips to the Comcast store and techs galore.
Miraculously, they did waive the install fee. They even credited my account for $20 for a lost day of TV and Internet service. It was like they paid me to install their system. Maybe they spit inside the new DVR box, I don't know. Maybe the X2 box will be better and require another upgrade that takes weeks to install. Maybe this is all a dream and I will wake up with nothing but foil-covered rabbit ears on top of a 15-inch black-and-white from the '50s. I could be in the Matrix. But the birds were chirping and my new X1 was humming along, recording one inane show after another just for little ol' me!
Ultimately, it worked out in the end. And all the trials and tribulations I had to go through were worth it. Yes, those trials and tribulations were talking on the phone, sitting on a couch and driving about two miles, but pain is relative, my friends. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to watch Rockets versus Portland game six from my DVR. I haven't seen it yet and I'm crossing my fingers the Rockets bring it back to Houston for a game seven! No spoilers!