My NTL digibox is a goddamn piece of crap

I don’t watch TV very often – news programmes, the odd bit of MTV2 and re-runs of Have I Got News For You – but when I do, I’m struck by a very important truth: my NTL digibox is a goddamn piece of crap.

The box – branded NTL but actually made by Pace – is a masterpiece of bad design. The user interface is horrible, it’s desperately slow, the remote is uncomfortable… but all of these things are dwarfed by the fact that my NTL digibox is a goddamn piece of crap.

I’m a simple soul. If I’m watching TV, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect the “change channel” button to, er, change the channel. But not with my NTL digibox. When I turn on the TV, I’ve got a 50/50 chance of actually getting a picture. Half of the time, I get a blank screen and blank channels that can only be fixed by physically unplugging the digibox, waiting ten seconds, plugging it back in and watching a “please wait…” message for 200 years. If I don’t get that, every few days I’ll get a mystery error: I can’t change channels because the digibox can’t access programme listings for anything. It then tells me that I need to press Select to fix an “error” – a mystery error, for which there’s no explanation – and then watch the “please wait…” message for another 200 years.

Even when it works, that doesn’t mean I can expect my NTL digibox to do anything useful. Let’s say I’m on CNN and want to switch to MTV2 during the commercial break. I click the channel button, channel button, channel button, and then the channel option disappears and takes me right back to CNN. So I get smart: I click forward three channels and then click “OK”, before trying again. That does mean I end up watching the Watching Paint Dry Channel (or worse, Men and Motors) while I keep clicking the channel button, but it does save me the anguish of clicking through ten or eleven channels just for the NTL box to decide to reset itself back to the channel I started from. There’s no other explanation: my NTL digibox is clearly a goddamn piece of crap.

This is why I’ve yet to embrace the digital hub, the Media Center PC or the personal video recorder. Thanks to technology I’ve gone from something simple – a handful of channels that I can click through by pressing “up” or “down” on a remote control – to something complicated, that doesn’t work and that needs rebooting more often than the most virus-riddled, spyware-infested Windows PC. If hardware and media companies want us to embrace the digital home, they could make a start by creating technology that means I don’t have to reboot my television whenever I want to watch a programme.

Update, 18 November

The NTL engineer is in my living room and has identified three possible problems: insufficient ventilation, so the digibox may be overheating; a potentially cracked cable, that could affect the signal; and that my NTL digibox is a goddamn piece of crap. There will apparently be a major software update on 15th December to address the third problem.

In the longer term, it seems that NTL will be replacing Pace boxes with Samsungs, which are currently being trialled in belfast and whose failure rate is a fraction of the Pace boxes. No word on when we’ll be able to get them, though.

As for the weird behaviour of my remote control, it seems that my lightbulbs are the problem. Because I use low energy bulbs in the front room, apparently they interfere with the frequency of the remote. It’s a known issue with NTL boxes, apparently. You learn something new every day.

7 thoughts on “My NTL digibox is a goddamn piece of crap

  1. Stephen says:

    Couldn’t agree more. I had a housemate who is paid by the BBC to develop interactive content for these terrible machines, and he didn’t even own one! He used to borrow mine to inflict his dreadful creations on people, until I put a stop to it. I never asked him what the point of developing advanced functionality was when they couldn’t even function as well as, say, the Sky box (no model of rock-solid stability itself) for basic channel-changing duties, but I should have. To say nothing of trying to explain to girlfriends etc that some of the TV functions are controlled by one remote, while others are controlled by a different one. And why does it take seconds to react to a button press? It’s a good thing I got mine for free, because it’s certainly not worth anything.

  2. Gary says:

    > I never asked him what the point of developing advanced functionality was when they couldn’t even function as well as, say, the Sky box (no model of rock-solid stability itself) for basic channel-changing duties

    You’ve hit the nail on the head. I lose track of all the gadgets or programs with pointless bells and whistles that haven’t bothered to get the essentials right. You even find it in games – sure, those FMV cut scenes are impressive, but when the player camera makes it impossible to see what’s going on the disc is still going to become a frisbee.

  3. David says:

    My box obviously isn’t as bad as yours. I do lose all the channel listings every day, anything interactive fails 9/10 times and I have to reboot it every 3 or 4 days (this is more an ntl: broadband thing)

    I was watching something the other day. (Top Gear, I think it was) At complete random the channel suddenly changed to one of the history channels, despite the box telling me it was BBC 2. The only way to fix it was to turn off the power (at the wall, no less) and wait awhile. It seemed to work – I soon got the closing credits of the show on screen. Ruth tried to buy a movie on it the other day and it started asking for a PIN number. We don’t have a PIN number. We’ve never had a PIN number.

    Overall, I would agree that the NTL digibox is a goddamn piece of crap.

  4. Anonymous says:

    MY NTL BOX IS NOT A GODDAM PIECE OF CRAP. I prefer to call it a f***ing hump of s***. I want to get rid of it but I’m put off by the thought of having to actually talk to NTL, who are a bunch of dickless, spineless c**k munchers. Please excuse the foul language…

  5. Gary says:

    Heh.

    David – who commented earlier in this thread – tells me that he was talking to an NTL rep today who informed him that the Pace box is indeed a goddamn piece of crap. However, there is a newer box which – and we have to take the rep’s word for it – *is not* a goddamn piece of crap. I will investigate and report back…

  6. Anonymous says:

    My NTL box was fine for months, but now every few days all the program information disappears.. and wont come back until the thing is rebooted.

    I’d go back to sky tomorrow if it wasnt for broadband

  7. Anonymous says:

    I had an engineer around to investigate my goddam piece of crap a few months back. “Yeah well, they tested the new software on a dozen employees and then rolled it out to all customers. Apparently it can’t cope”. (I’m a telecoms software engineer. We call companies that do things like that cowboys. Yee-haa NTL).

    I decided to be rid of it last October, but the bastards are still billing me each month. Back in December I was being hounded by a debt collection agency for £65.50 that I not only didn’t owe NTL, but that they had taken from my account anyway! The amount they owe me is now up to £95, but they’re still trying to get me to pay for a service they stopped months ago. Personally, I think it’s all a ploy to frighten me off cancelling my phone and broadband.

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