BitDepth 589 - August 14

After three weeks of testing, I offer the sum of all my sitting, an experience with DirecTV...
Going direc'

Balchan Mungroo installs a DirecTV dish for testing at casa de me. Photo by Mark Lyndersay.

"So is it worth it?"
That's the first thing that people ask when they see the big dish outside my house or spy the silver box on my desk.
For the last three weeks, I've been trying out the DirecTV Plus service from DirecTV Trinidad Limited at their invitation.
The correct answer, of course, is "it depends."
The DirecTV folks kitted me out with one of their higher end packages which the sales literature promises is a "premium VIP service that sets you apart from all other DirecTV subscribers."

One thing it will definitely set you apart from is a chunk of cash. The Plus package includes a Digital Video Recorder (DVR) which gives significant smarts to the signal that arrives via your dish. You can rewind live television, record up to 90 hours of programming on more than one channel and look forward through the onscreen cable guide for almost two weeks.
For that, you'll pay a dollar short of ten blue notes for hookup and part with another $500 per month to stay connected.
"So," I hear you insisting with growing impatience just over my shoulder, "is it worth it?"

Lots of movies
Well, here's the thing about DirecTV, you'll find lots of movies on the service. I like movies. They are a wonderful distraction when I'm doing repetitive, somewhat boring work and they don't even have to be particularly good, just new to me. In fact, I kind of like it when they are spectacularly bad.
Take HBO and Cinemax for instance. Now there's been a lot of press over DirecTV's efforts to have these channels yanked from Flow's cable lineup and having seen both products, in fact, having flipped back and forth between them for three weeks, I can't quite figure out what all the fuss is about.

DirecTV offers all the HBO and Cinemax channels available in Latin America, which makes for ten separate channels of movie programming and get this, it isn't even the same programming that Flow is currently offering!
If you have reasonably quirky tastes, you can probably find a movie to watch at any time of day on one of these channels without even moving on to the collection of channels that DirecTV describes as MovieCity, which tends to offer somewhat older, more mainstream movies, the sort of thing you'll find in the middle and rear rows of your neighbourhood video store. You can also buy premium releases for day-long viewing.

Most of the usual cable suspects are also here, with E!, TNT, National Geographic, Hitler, sorry, History Channel and BBC World putting in an appearance.
Sports fans will find ESPN International, Speed and The Golf Channel along with Spanish versions of Fox Sports and ESPN2 and audio buffs will almost certainly find something to listen to among the 43 themed music channels, helpfully titled with names like "Soft Hits" and "Modern Country."
When the guys showed up to install the antenna and DVR for my test unit, it took just seconds for the remote control that comes with the DVR to take over my television, which makes the exercise of switching channels and muting audio to take a call that much smoother.

There are, however, some gotchas with DirecTV.
For one, this service is a direct link with a satellite feed to Latin America from the parent company, so there is no local programming. If you want to view any free-to-air television, you'll have to switch to your regular TV's antenna. There's no way to view any local cable-only services such as CNC3 or IETV.
Then there's the Latin American part of the equation. Much of the programming is focused on folks who happen to speak Spanish, so you'll find that several channels offer helpful Spanish subtitles in type that's just a bit too big for ignoring.

Some folks have told me that they've taken the service for their children while they study Spanish at school with some success. As it happens, I also want to pick up some conversational Spanish, but for that, I'd need almost exactly the opposite, a Spanish speaking channel with English subtitles, but I couldn't find one of those.
I also had some hiccups with rain. Whenever there was a particularly vigorous downpour, the dish, which curiously enough faces away from the prevailing winds on my house, would sometimes lose contact with the satellite, leaving the DirecTV logo bouncing around the screen.

Conversely, if you happen to live somewhere where there is no cable access, poor reception for free to air television and no inclination to visit the smiling fellow with the sun-faded DVD boxes on the street corner who will let you test the disc on his battery powered mini player, remember that everywhere in Trinidad and Tobago is roughly equidistant from the satellite that delivers DirecTV's signal.
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