It’s been almost a year since I signed up for the Bell Entertainment Service, now called Bell Fibe. During that time, I’ve been writing about the service and sharing my experiences with people I know.
Given the popularity of my “How Bell’s IPTV Service Works” and subsequent post detailing the Internet speed test performance results one can expect, I thought it would be appropriate to talk about the features I like, what I don’t like and what I’d like to see in upcoming software releases.
Given the underlying technology of the service (DSL), I didn’t have high hopes for a reliable service. In the end, the DSL portion of the service is less then a couple blocks away from my house. After that, the pedestal on the street is connected back to the Bell CO using fiber (that’s why they call it a fiber-based service, even though houses are connected via traditional copper).
Reliability is a big thing for me. If the service wasn’t reliable, nothing else would really matter. Despite the fact that the service has been in beta for the past year, I’ve been very impressed with the reliability and service from Bell’s support reps on the phone and their technicians in the field.
In the past year, I suffered only one outage (that I noticed) and that was due to my PVR console suffering from a faulty hard drive. My two other TVs worked fine during this time, although I was unable to record any shows. I was very surprised when Bell scheduled a technician the very next day so I was back running almost immediately.
I have zero complaints abou the reliability of the Internet service delivered by Bell’s Entertainment service.
What I like about the Bell Entertainment Service.
Whole home PVR service.
Since the consoles are all networked together using Ethernet or Coax (using HPNA), shows recorded on the master console (aka the PVR, aka the Motorola VIP1216) are viewable from any console in the house. Want to watch a show you’ve recorded in the living room from your bedroom? No problem!
Great looking program guide.
I’ve used all of the consoles from the cablecos and the satellite providers. I also have a lot of experience with the FTA (free to air) consoles for satellites. None of them come close to the ease of use and clean display of the Motorola 1200 and 1216 consoles and PVR.
Simple to use.
For the first time, I find myself actually searching for content to watch and record. The input and realtime searching of shows is super easy and intuitive.
Resume show watching in another room.
All too often I’ll begin to watch recorded content in my living room and then wish I was in bed. With the Entertainment Service, all I have to do is pause the show and when I go up to bed and turn on the TV, it remembers my position in the show and I can resume from there.
Super fast Internet, especially useful for VPN.
I hear that Bell has been changing things, but at the time of installation, my Internet speed was 22Mb downstream x 9Mb upstream. A typical DSL service from most service providers is 6Mb x 800Kbps. Having 9Mbps upstream means that I can do a lot more when connected to my office VPN, where upstream speeds are important.
XBOX operating as a media console.
I haven’t heard whether or not Bell will be doing this, but AT&T’s uVerse service announced the Motorola consoles will support the XBOX 360 as a media extender. This means that in some cases, the XBOX can be used in place of a Motorola 1200 console.
What I don’t like about the Bell Entertainment Service.
Despite my overall satisfaction, there are some areas of improvement that I’d like to see addressed by Bell Canada and Motorola.
External USB connected hard disks for additional storage.
The internal hard disk that comes with the Motorola 1216 is 160GB. It’s ridiculous to think these consoles don’t have the USB ports enabled for additional storage capacity. I’d have a 1TB drive connected in a heartbeat. Bell already supports this function on some of their satellite PVRs so I’m not sure what their plans are to enable additional storage. If they don’t plan for this soon, I’m going to seriously consider modding my PVR (which I’d rather not do).
Pause live TV on all consoles.
Right now, you can only pause and rewind content on the master PVR (the one with the hard drive in it). This should be an easy one because I can already do this via a workaround. When we’re watching TV from a regular console, we tell it to record the show. Once the recording begins, we then go into recordings and watch the show from there. Tada! We now have full pause, rewind and fast forward capabilities. This should be a standard feature.
Audio occasionally cuts out when using HDMI cable.
Occasionally, the audio will cut out when using HDMI cables. This is a known problem. Bell places the blame on the HDMI spec itself which doesn’t make any sense to me. It’s not a huge deal since it doesn’t happen often and when it does it lasts for less than 15 seconds.
60GB monthly data transfer cap is too low for today’s Internet-connected families.
I don’t have a problem with data transfer caps in general. They’re designed to keep a certain kind of network user from monopolizing the resources of the network. That being said, 60GB is NOT a sufficient cap for an average home. This cap should be at least 80GB – 100GB. If you exceed the cap, Bell will charge you an additional fee per GB, up to a $30 maximum. Although Bell hasn’t officially billed me for my overages, you should expect that you’ll be paying at least an extra $30 per month if you’re an Internet-type person.
A feature for copying settings from one console to another.
I went through considerable effort to create a favourite channel lineup, remove channels I’m not subscribed to or that broadcast in a language I don’t understand. Why should we have to do this for each TV? All of the consoles are networked together anyway, so there should be an option that lets be copy over the channel guides and favourite channels.
No support for playing UPNP video content from networked storage.
I have a two DNS323 storage devices on my home network with about 4TB of video content. Today, I watch this content from a PC using XBMC connected to my TV, or from my PS3 (which supports UPNP video content). It would be great if future versions of the Motorola consoles supported playing UPNP video content from other storage devices.
Maximum of 4 consoles per household.
I only have 3, so this isn’t a big deal for me. But there will be households where this will be a problem.
Support for user profiles.
With networked consoles comes additional challenges (and opportunities). There are three people living in my house. I’d love to see user profile support. This way, I could see my own channel guide, shows that I’ve recorded, etc. Another reason for user profiles: recording quotas by user. This way, parents could assign a storage limit to their recording-happy teenagers.
Certain versions of Slingbox won’t work in conjunction with an HD-connected television
If you have a standard definition (ie non-HD) version of Sling Media’s Slingbox, you won’t be able to use it if you have the Slingbox connected to a Motorola console that’s connected to a TV via HDMI cable. When the Motorola console detects an HD output source, it stops sending video to the standard defintion SVideo and Composite output ports. This is a big downer for me since it means I can’t use my slingbox to watch my Entertainment Service on my laptop while sitting in my backyard, out on my porch, or in my home office.
There is a workaround: disconnect the HDMI cable from the Motorola console when you want to watch Slingbox… but this isn’t really a workaround in my opinion. I hope that Motorola addresses this shortcoming soon in a firmware update.
I had a conversation with a good friend of mine last week and he asked me what I thought about Bell’s service. I told him that I was very happy with it, but that I feel like we’re still just now starting to catch up with what digital technologies can do for us in the home. I really hope that Bell and Motorola are paying attention to what’s happening because the possibilities are endless in this area and I’m just now starting to get excited about the future. I hope they don’t let me down.