Videotron Illico and Bell ExpressVu: a review

Summary: Do not buy Videotron's PVR 8000, it's so buggy it's almost unusable.

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1. Introduction

1.1. Background

Up until about two years ago, I had been a long time subscriber of Videotron's cable modem service but never considered digital TV. One of my roomates at the time brought his ExpressVu PVR, Personal Video Recorder (en français RVP: Récepteur Vidéo Personnel) with him and it didn't take long before we all got hooked. He eventually moved out about two months ago and after some thinking, I decided to give Illico's PVR 8000 (en français ENP: Enregistreur Numérique Personnel) a shot. As you can see from the rest of my website, I work in the IT/Telecom field but I am not affiliated in any way to neither Bell nor Videotron.

A word about my usage pattern: NBC, Fox, Comedy Central, Space, Showcase and Bravo account for about 80% of everything I watch. I don't watch many movies and I never ordered Pay-Per-View myself.

2. The Hardware

2.1. General comments

I am amazed to see how the developpers of these machines can miss such totally obvious features as:

Also, there's a fundamental difference between the way these two units handle non-live content. My observations lead me to believe that the 5800 decodes whatever you're watching (be it a live event or a recording) into a 60 minutes frame buffer. You can watch something live, press "Instant playback" and you're instantly 8 seconds earlier. The 8000 on the other hand lets you tune into a particular channel, one of which is the "PVR" channel. The problem arises when you're watching something live on channel 123 and press "Instant playback". The unit has to change its viewing tuner to the PVR channel and the context switch takes about a second. Same thing when you're watching something buffered, then fast forward to a point where you're live: the unit has to switch from the "PVR" channel back to the source channel.

2.1. ExpressVu's PVR 5800

Bell's official page

Note: The model I've used for about a year had a capacity of 25h. As of this writing the unit ships with a 50h hard disk.

I have no particular beef with this unit now, but to be fair, up until a few months ago, it used to crash regularly for now reasons and everytime you request a program schedule update. This issue has been fixed since, though.

I liked:

I didn't liked:

2.2. Illico's PVR 8000

Videotron's official page

2.2.1. Summary

Lots of potential, but just so buggy it makes you wanna cry.

Let me start by saying that switching from ExpressVu to Illico was a terrible mistake. Since I've bought the unit and subscribe to the service, I've spent countless hours with as many as a dozen Videotron technical support representatives, three technician came to my house and still, most of my problems still aren't solved.

My feeling is that Videotron had been loosing a lot of customers to the dish because their decoder weren't competitive enough, so they quickly pushed the 8000 on the market while it was clearly not mature enough (alpha quality by my own standards). This is especially frustrating since this is a very expensive piece of equipment ($600+ Canadian) and that lower, non-recording models are apparently lot more stable.

Main features include dual tuner, IEEE 1394 (aka Firewire) and USB ports.

2.2.2. Pros

2.2.3. Cons

There are some features that would be nice if they weren't so completely buggy or misdesigned:

2.2.4. Resources

3. The Digital Providers

3.1. ExpressVu

Bell's official page

Billing options:

Channel packages:

Reliability: Very reliable. We got very few but long (5-10 minutes) outages during thunderstorms, but appart from that, no complaints.

Technical support:

3.2. Illico

Videotron's official page

Billing options:

Channel packages:

Reliability:

Technical support:

Video on demand: VoD finally became available in my area. I haven't tried it yet because the choice of movies is terrible. Anyways, if you order one, you buy the right to view it for 24h. You'll have to use a completely different set of commands to play, rewind and fast-forward it, as the service is geared towards Illico users who don't own a PVR. Moreover, the 8000 will not let you record the show you've bought ("This feature is not available on this channel").

4. Conclusions

Illico's dual-tuning capabilities sound great, especially if like me most of what your show conflict during prime time, but in the end, you can work around that problem by getting the ExpressVu's West coast feed on all major networks for an extra buck a month. But overall, the 8000 unit is so unreliable, I would not recommend anyone to get it.

Actually, I'm now trying to get rid of that lemon and I will be building my own PVR with the open-source MythTV system.

Last modified: $Date: 2004/02/24 23:56:45 $