“This system sucks!”
Those were the actual words that came from the other room when my wife was trying to watch a show that she had recorded. As integrators, we often subject our families to all kinds of experimental setups, demo gear, or incomplete installs. In my case, at that current time, I had nothing crazy going on with my AV system or network. All looked good, and the system should have been stable. The issue that was driving my most important client crazy was that she was unable to watch a recorded show on a DirecTV receiver.
The issue: The video and audio of the recorded show were freezing and dropping portions of the program.
The setup: A DirecTV HR44 in the master bedroom connected thru Wi-Fi to my network; an HR22 located in the basement, connected via Ethernet to the network directly; a few other DirecTV Genie clients installed on other TVs around the house, but they weren’t experiencing this particular issue, so we’ll leave them out of this equation.
Now, before I get roasted on the installation errors that are obvious, I know that the Genie server should not be connected using Wi-Fi and that the HR22 should be using the DECA box. I’ll admit that the current configuration got this way because of poor service practices on my part. I didn’t take the time to properly troubleshoot and solve smaller problems as they happened, and my system just ended up this way. Almost every integrator has actual paying clients who have installs in a similar state as my home, so don’t throw stones.
I immediately blamed the equipment, pointing to a perhaps a failing hard drive, temperature issues with the box, etc. But once I dug into the issue, the problem had nothing to do with the DirecTV service or the hardware. The problem was that the HR44 receiver (Genie server) had a poor Wi-Fi connection, and because recorded shows are distributed over Ethernet for viewing within the home, packet loss was to blame for the interruptions.
How did I figure this out? My Ihiji monitoring appliance. I also have other companies monitoring devices on the same network, but the Ihiji Invision interface is the only one that showed me my problem, as the others don’t report packet loss as an issue. Also, the packet loss was not a prolonged problem that would have caused the device to appear offline. When I looked into the monitoring details of the HR44, I saw it there, staring me in the face: 70-percent packet loss intermittently being reported. The timeline even lined up with when my wife reported the issue to me.
While online and offline status is clearly important, it’s not the whole story. Being able to see packet loss, latency, and other extended services are great ways for integrators to identify problems that are not always consistent or obvious. In fact, it’s why Ihiji started as a company—integrators trying to identify intermittent issues. The ability to identify firmware mismatches, device temperature, processor or memory utilization, and all of the other bits of information that can be collected is necessary to get to the root of the problem faster. But with the right tools, you can identify device configuration issues, programming bugs, and possible installation issues before ever setting foot in the house.
With my particular problem, I was able to solve it with no additional hardware replacement costs. I was able to relocate the Genie server to the basement and move a Genie client to the master bedroom so that Ethernet was delivered over coax. Now the missus can watch her “stories” on any TV in the house without frustration and peace has returned to our home.