More on Verizon Fios Triple Play

Now that I’ve had a couple of days with the Verizon Fios “Triple Play” (internet, TV and phone), I’m still convinced that it’s a good value. But, as with any product, there are some idiosyncrasies that I’m still getting used to.

For one thing, I’ve found a few quirks with audio when watching TV, especially when switching between DVR recordings and regular “live” channels. At one point, while watching a DVR recording, I switched channels, and the audio went out completely. I tried changing channels, but the only way to get audio back was to turn the set top box off and back on. I think this may be related to the software in the Motorola QIP6416, as I haven’t had problems with the standard STBs. I’ll be watching this situation closely, and searching the various discussion groups for clues about what may be going on here. I suspect that the Home Media DVR STB is still a work in progress, and that there are still a few kinks to iron out.

We’ve also noticed some quirks with the phone service. On one call, my wife heard a distinctive echo on the line (but the caller didn’t hear it). The echo may be related to our cordless phone, but I’m not sure. Long distance calls now require the dialing of a “1” before the area code (just like in the old days before VOIP and cell phone long distance). There’s currently no web interface for voicemail messages, and in order to retrieve voicemail, one must dial a separate number. This is more cumbersome than the simple * shortcut that we had with SunRocket, but at least Verizon is still in business!

The speed of the Fios internet is still good, but my speed tests at show some slight deterioration of download speed. Interestingly, upload speeds are as good if not better than before I had the triple play installed (when I just had the Fios internet service). I’m averaging about 70 to 80% of advertised speeds on the download side, and 90 to 110% on the upload side.

One disappointment I have with the multi-room DVR is that while I can watch recordings on any STB in the house, I can only program recordings from the DVR. This has prompted me to move the DVR once again, this time to the living room from the basement. Each time I move a set-top box, there is about a 10 to 15 minute wait while program information is downloaded. The main menu and program guides are unavailable during this updating process.

I’m also not impressed with the Media Manager software that allows you to share photos and music from a computer to the other STBs. The software interface on Windows is clunky and cumbersome, with rather limited functionality. It doesn’t even come close to the features available with TIVO or Apple’s AirTunes. It also seems to be a resource hog on the host computer. I’ll live with it for now, but if there isn’t some substantial development in the works for this software, I doubt if I’ll keep it.

All things considered, I’m still quite happy with the Verizon Fios package. The picture quality is amazing, the channel selection is unsurpassed, and the price can’t be beat.

Verizon Fios TV…It really is good

Today I had Verizon Fios TV installed in my home, as part of a “triple play” package of TV, phone and broadband service. After watching it for a few hours this evening, I’ve got to say it really is as good as the advertisements would lead you to believe. And it’s a lot better than the cable and satellite systems I’ve had in the past few years, including Comcast, DirectTV and Dish TV.

I’ve had the Fios broadband service for over a year now, and it has been fast and reliable. In fact the only real issue I had was with the D-Link router they originally gave me. Today I got a new router which has additional capabilities. Of particular note is the MoCA (Multimedia over Coax) functions, which allow me to distribute photos and music from a computer to watch on a TV. The router also enables the distribution of an extensive library of on-demand programming to any set-top box in the house.

The quality of the picture is excellent, in both standard and high definition. There is a brief moment of pixelation during channel changing, but the signal “locks in” at full quality within a second. My guess is that the pixelation is a trade-off for lower latency while changing channels; it reminds me of the interlaced GIF or progressive JPEG images that were common in the “modem era” of the internet, when it took a second or so for a web page to load. But the pixelation moment is very brief, and is quite tolerable. It certainly is no worse than the pixelation on digital cable, and much better than the pixelation I would frequently experience with satellite reception.

One issue that I still have to resolve is the location of the “Home Media DVR” set-top box. I had originally planned to put the box in bedroom, but I have already had to move it to another room. Like the TIVO and ReplayTV boxes I’ve had, the Motorola QIP6416 that Verizon provides is too noisy for a bedroom. The sound of the fan is noticeable in a quiet room, and the sound of the hard drive is even more audible during read/write operations. So I’ve switched the bedroom TV to one of the standard set-top boxes, the whisper quiet QIP2500.

I’m sure I’ll discover some other idiosyncrasies over time, but so far, I’m very happy with Verizon Fios TV. The picture quality is great, the channel selection is unsurpassed, and the cost is a good value compared to cable, even when factoring in the monthly equipment fees. I’m still not sure about the Home Media DVR, as it’s not nearly as user-friendly as TIVO. But I understand some interface improvements may be forthcoming, so I’ll wait and see what the future brings.

SunRocket’s sunset

What a difference a day makes. Just yesterday, I had mentioned to a friend that SunRocket was a great value for internet phone service. At just $199 for a year of unlimited local and long distance VOIP (voice over internet protocol) service, it was arguably one of the least expensive telephone plans available.

At least it was. This morning I discovered that SunRocket has gone out of business. Kaput. Belly up. Bye-bye birdy.

This was confirmed by The New York Times, which reported that SunRocket “has ceased operation and is moving its customers to one or more other companies.” Yet many SunRocket customers have posted on Digg that their SunRocket phone service has stopped working, without any warning.

My SunRocket phone service this morning is flakey, but not completely out, at least not yet. I still have a dial tone, but I’m finding that outgoing calls don’t always go through on the first try. I suspect that the various vendors that SunRocket uses to provision their VOIP service are staggering the service disruptions, and that in some states there may be regulatory roadblocks that are keeping some services afloat.

According to this Reuters report, SunRocket is “the second biggest U.S. supplier of Internet phone services,” with more than 200,000 customers. Only industry-leader Vonage has more customers, but they have been bleeding red ink lately, and their stock price has seen a persistent decline.

Thankfully, I paid for my current year of SunRocket service on a credit card less than 60 days ago. As a result, this morning I was able to request a charge dispute with my credit card company. The nice woman on the phone told me that she had been getting a lot of calls this morning disputing SunRocket charges, and she was able to issue me a pro-rated credit of the disputed amount.

My advice to anyone who has SunRocket service now is to call your credit card company. Calls to the SunRocket office won’t help, as they just have a recording stating that they are no longer accepting sales or customer service calls. Some technically inclined folks may be interested in these directions to unlock the SunRocket Gizmo in order to use it with ViaTalk or other VOIP services. But personally, I’m planning to switch my phone service to Verizon FIOS as soon as possible.

Update: Vonage is now offering a special deal to provide service to SunRocket refugees. See the feed from the PR Newswire below…