I’ve been with DirecTV now for nearly all of their entire history. I signed up back just after it first became available and have been with them ever since. When I first signed on it was a simply an amazingly fresh experience. Nearly everything about it represented dramatic improvement.
The picture quality was exceptional. The number of channels dwarfed cable offerings. They were the first to offer the masses west coast feeds that made time-shifting of shows possible (C-band satellite had this but few owned it). They had set top boxes that were so much better than what cable offered. They were among the first to offer on-screen guides. Their pricing was also dramatically lower than cable as well. They had NFL Sunday Ticket. They were the hot property and, at the time, represented the fastest-growing technology out there.
Then DirecTV slowly morphed into just another cable company. They were driven to add programming beyond the technology of the time resulting in poor image quality often well below what cable offered. Cable also caught up and passed DirecTV in the number of channels available. Where we once had 3 times the number of movie channels, cable now offers twice the movie channels of DirecTV.
Several years ago DirecTV told its subscribers that they’d be the leaders in high definition television. They created entire campaigns around this and ran commercials calling themselves the HD leader. This, of course, was matched immediately by a fall to the bottom of the HD battle.
Just within the last couple of weeks all that has changed. Back in June DirecTV launched their latest satellite and it changed everything. We’ve now gotten over 30 HD channels with the promise of nearly 70 more by the end of the year. The picture quality of each has been, so far, exceptional and it includes new channels as well as HD versions of existing ones. Many I still have not yet gotten chance to watch. The Smithsonian Channel is a notable selection. I’ve yet to see anything on it that wasn’t at least interesting. Even The Weather Channel looks amazing. Every radar screen and forecast graphic jumps out of the set at you. There are some mixed bag offerings. CNN is here but it generally runs with side-bars showing that they haven’t quite made the jump fully over to HD yet. Other channels offer what we call “stretch-o-vision” where they take typical standard definition television and stretch it to fit the screen making everyone appear short, fat and generally distorted.
DirecTV also now offers a very competitive set top box and this is a nice return to the old days. Several years ago DirecTV decided it was a better idea to take over this portion of their business and things went downhill immediately. Boxes designed under their direction were immediately lacking in features and often were buggy. Their latest box, the HR-20 DVR, is well on its way to being a top offering. It still needs work and DirecTV seems committed to it at this point. They even offer a somewhat open beta program for those interested in testing the latest versions of software for it. Most impressive is that they very much seem to be listening to their customers on what this box needs to be competitive.
The big question for me, as a long time subscriber, is just how long will this last? I’ve been down this path only to be let down later. Will DirecTV lose this advantage by destroying the best things about it? Will that try to do more than the technology can bear, once again destroying the picture many of us have paid so much to see?
Time will tell but for now we’re enjoying the latest chapter in the story.