Unfortunately, job number two for Time Warner Cable may be sucking ass. That blog post gave me the most intense sensation of real-life deja vu I’ve ever felt. Not only have I had this exact experience with Time Warner (at least three distinct times: two moves and then the transition to HDTV), but I have heard this story almost word-for-word from virtually every one of my friends and relatives who uses the service. The only commonality I can come up with is that it take anywhere from one to three years to get initial service stabilized at a given address, and then once every one to three years thereafter you will experience some kind of massive failure that starts the cycle over again. Multiple calls to support, multiple visits from technicians, and multiple equipment swap-outs inevitably ensue. Eventually you get back to some level of stability (or is it simply fatigue?).
I can confirm, as this blogger says TWC told him, that the responsiveness, at least, is significantly better on Business Class. You still have the problems, but a technician shows up in hours instead of days, and for the most part you skip tier-one support. In at least one case I was involved with, TWC rewired half a South Austin neighborhood to provision the bandwidth for 20 static IP addresses to someone’s residential garage (it’s Austin, do you even need to ask?). Still, they’re a little too quick with that “if you want better service, upgrade to Business Class” line. When you’re one person working from home it sounds a lot like “screw the average customer.”
Frank, the local independent technician assigned by Samsung, showed up on Thursday. He first tried to replace the ballast on the TV–a procedure that can be accomplished through the bulb maintenance opening–but that didn’t improve the situation. He then proceeded to open the rear cover. A cordless drill with a long Phillips head bit is the only tool needed to service the HL-P5063W. Inside, there are only two component assemblies, both about the size of toaster ovens: the light engine (which contains the bulb, color wheel, etc.) and the motherboard (which has all the external connectors). The next step was swapping out the light engine, which Frank did. This seemed to fix the problem, so Frank reassembled the back of the unit. It seemed to me that a nice side benefit of this repair would be that replacing the engine necessarily replaces the lamp, ballast, color wheel, projector assembly and every moving part in the television.
Next came the screen. I imagined something a little more sturdy and modular, but in fact the screen is just a flimsy (about a quarter inch thick) laminate of a Fresnel lens (back side) and a polarizing filter (facing the viewer), both plastic. Most of the front parts of the TV simply snap off, and again a few Phillips head screws were removed. It was then a simple matter to lift out the old screen and place the new one. This middle part of the process is a little daunting, I must say, because when the screen is removed it exposes both the large mirror at the back of the case and the projector lens at the bottom, neither of which you want to get the slightest dust or smudge on. There was also a glitch when Frank mistakenly removed the screen’s bottom retaining rail. This part is meant to remain fixed during screen replacement on the Samsung, and when removed several snap clips for the speaker cover fall out. Holding these clips (at least 6 of them) while replacing the rail turned out to be a two-person job.
The unit reassembled, Frank then booted the television, accessed the service menu (I didn’t catch how he did this, but I assumed I could find it online, and I was right [for the brave: Power Off, Mute, 1, 8, 2, Power On]), and did some minimal calibration (I think two settings). He also reset the bulb counter, which stood at about 1600 hours on the original bulb. I find it interesting that the bulb counter resides on the motherboard and not in the engine. This means that a user replacing the bulb has no way to reset or even see the bulb counter without hacking into the service menu–the counter does not reset itself when the bulb is replaced.
We then moved the television back to the entertainment center. I reconnected it and left it running for a few hours with no problems. Unfortunately, later that night, after watching about an hour of television, green pixels began appearing. The situation worsened until almost half the screen was filled with green smears at any given time. I tried power cycling and then hard power cycling, but nothing seemed to improve the situation.
I talked to Frank again Friday morning. He said I most likely got a “bad engine.” He didn’t sound at all surprised. He was out of Samsung engines so he said he would order one and have it Monday or Tuesday. Until then we’ve been getting by. Usually the TV is fine for almost an hour before the pixels really begin to take over, and it’s never been as bad again as the first night.
So overall this is an improvement from where we were last weekend. But the clock is ticking on the Samsung warranty with only about a month left. After that, if there’s a problem, the process starts all over again with Mack, the extended warranty provider.
I’ve been getting a lot of traffic off my original post, so I thought I’d update. The local Samsung tech called me at 9am Monday morning as promised. He indicated that he needed to order a screen, which would take three or four days to ship from California. I didn’t mention it in the original or follow-up post, but we also had a problem with smudges inside the screen. Again this seems to be a common Samsung problem. The technician knew immediately what I was talking about and even asked if the problem went away temporarily if I rubbed the affected region or waited for the TV to warm up for about 15 minutes. This has definitely been my experience.
In any case I called back today. He said he hoped the screen would be in tomorrow, but that if it wasn’t he’d come by and address the bulb/ballast/controller board problem to at least get the TV working again for the weekend.
There were some comments on another blog about my “complaint” about the dynamic setting burning out the bulb more quickly. Though I was not aware that dynamic mode shortened bulb life, I wasn’t really complaining. I set dynamic mode originally because I felt the picture was too dark. Once the TV is working again I’ll go back and see if other adjustments improve the situation without having to over drive the bulb. Because of the subjectiveness of calibration–and how often I’ve seen it fail to deliver optimal results on computer monitors–I was hesitant to tweak too much, but I suppose that’s the next logical step.
So it wasn’t the bulb. DHL delivered the new one before 10am on Saturday as promised, and after some coffee to steady my nerves I performed the surgery (nitrile gloves and all). Same behavior–multiple power cycles resulting in the three flashing lights. So what this means is it’s a bigger problem, not a user-serviceable part, probably the ballast or a controller board. Occasionally I can still get the set to boot, but an hour later it won’t.
I checked the file again and due to “what year is it now?” confusion I discovered that the TV is only one year and one month old. Of course it had a one-year warranty. We have an extended warranty (take that, Consumer Reports!) from a third-party company, but I decided to try Samsung first. After only about 30 minutes on hold, I got Alisha, who I have to say gave me the best telephone customer service since Gateway was called Gateway 2000. To make a long story short, she extended my original warranty to 15 months and a technician should be calling me tomorrow.
The withdrawal symptoms though intense were surprisingly brief. Since the DVR down converts HD to composite video, I’m still technically able to watch HD programming, albeit deeply letterboxed on a worn-out fishbowl 25″ CRT. In fact, I’m starting to see the appeal of being able to watch video on a cell phone. Not.
Since I know you’ve all been tempted to upgrade (yeah right), I’ll mention that the bulb went out in our Samsung DLP TV last night. While this was something we knew would happen, there was no warning, and the behavior of the unit after the failure was somewhat more bizarre than the “three flashing lights” indicated in the manual. And of course the most shocking part was learning we had already had the TV over two years! With a 2000-hour bulb life expectation (Samsung says 5000-8000, but no one is achieving this, probably because you’d have to be watching in pitch dark all the time), that works out to about 2.6 hours of TV per day. Frankly, I’m sure we exceeded that, and that’s not even counting all the times we’ve accidentally left it on overnight and intentionally left it on for 16 hours for weekends, parties or whatever.
Also, according to this knowledgebase article, we probably cut the bulb life in half by running “dynamic mode” all the time and unknowingly overdriving the bulb by 20%.
Note: If using the dynamic setting in the picture mode of the menu, this can affect the life of the bulb. When using the dynamic setting the 100 watt bulb operates at 120 watts causing the picture to look brighter. This will shorten the life of the bulb by about 2,000 hours.
Perhaps if we had ever gotten around to watching Blade Runner on the thing–and really, what’s the point of having an HDTV if you’re not watching Blade Runner? Doh!–we’d have remembered that the ultra-high pressure lamp that burns twice as bright burns half as long!
We’ll have the new bulb tomorrow, at the cost of buying only a “normal” TV all over again, but this has meant a full tear-down of the entertainment center (once again) and cracking open the case on the TV itself. I’m not complaining, just caveat emptor, as always.