Grumble 52

Mid-May 2006

To test or not to test?

 I have this suspicion that to reduce the selling price of consumer electrical equipment a vital stage, namely testing, is being omitted from the manufacturers' list of tasks to be completed before the article is packed for despatch.
In days gone by, every colour TV had to travel along a production line in order to have its picture convergence adjusted by an operator. Clearly, this ensured that there was a good chance that every TV that left the factory worked.

In the past few weeks I have received from my wholesalers the following items.

Pillar drill, CDP5DD made by Clarke International

 This was removed from its package and assembled. Have you noticed how many things arrive in pieces, requiring to be assembled? This must save on manufacturing costs and reduce the overall size of the box in which the kit arrives… not to say making it impossible to test before it is sent on its way.
After assembling the drill, I plugged it in and pressed the green button. Nothing happened.

At this point one is puzzled. Are all the parts fitted together exactly as instructed in the diagrams or did I miss something?

There was one possibility. A safety switch under the top cover may not be in the correct position. The instructions go into this in some detail… but alas this is not the problem. The fault lies somewhere within the electrical assembly of the motor.

A telephone call results in a "Returns Number". A new one is ordered.

A replacement arrives promptly. I unpack it and discover that the delivery people must have been playing football with it and a vital part is bent out of shape and unusable. Fortunately the chap that delivered the new drill didn't want to take the first one, as the relevant paperwork hadn't been issued. I therefore swapped the bent part for an unbent part from the faulty drill and, after completing assembly, I plugged it in and it worked.


Two DVD/Hard Disk Recorders, Model R580 made by Mustek

 I ordered an expensive new DVD recorder. This is a model that contains a hard disk, giving a lot of flexibility over a straightforward DVD type. The brochure description promised the earth, but the instruction manual was horrendously complicated.

If you haven't used a DVD/Hard Disk recorder you may get a bit of a shock if or when you do.

For a start it's reminiscent of starting Windows. It takes forever to get going.

The remote control didn't do anything reliably either. In fact the handset was so bad I imagined it must be faulty. I tested it with my infrared sensor and found it rarely worked when the buttons were pressed.
I split it open. Not difficult as it's so flimsy. Inside I found it had been incorrectly assembled and the stresses had caused circuit board to be bent into the shape of a banana.

After several emails I eventually got a replacement from the supplier. I must say it didn't look pristine but in went the batteries and it worked. At least it worked when I first tested it, but not the next day, as the batteries were totally dead. I fitted a pair of new batteries… these lasted another day. I split the handset open and discovered the battery terminals were badly corroded and a near short circuit of a dark brown rusty liquid bridged the connections. I cleaned away the gunge, reassembled it and, after fitting a third set of batteries, the handset worked.

After about a week I'd learned enough about the R580 to use "Timeshift". This is a clever feature that allows one to pop out for half an hour and carry on watching from the point you left.

I pressed the Timeshift button and the picture froze. Confident that I could watch the end of the film when I returned from my taxi-run, I left to pick up my daughter.
I returned 20-minutes later and pressed "Play". Magically the film continued from where I'd left it. There was about 40 minutes or so to go.

I settled down and watched the film. Suddenly, without warning, with twenty minutes or so to go, the film stopped in its tracks. I never did find out who murdered whom.
Finger trouble, I thought and vowed to reread the instructions before attempting the procedure again.

A few nights later and, after becoming a minor expert on the features, I pressed "Timeshift" and departed. The results were just the same and I missed the end of a second film. Not earth-shattering perhaps, but very annoying.

After communicating with the manufacturer by email I discovered that there had been a "Firmware upgrade". This smacks of computers. How is the man on the Clapham omnibus supposed to deal with a firmware upgrade I mused? Still, I wasn't on a bus going to Clapham, and I had a computer, broadband for downloading the huge file, and a CD writer with which to prepare the disk for the upgrade.

I downloaded said new firmware and, following instructions, burned a CD and inserted it in the machine. All went as predicted except, of course I had to freshly install all the recorder settings. Very inconvenient.

By a day or two later I'd discovered that the German "Show-view" facility in the record menu had been replaced by the UK equivalent "Video-Plus" and no doubt, as explained in the answer to my email "Timeshift", had also been fixed.

That night another taxi-run was called for, so I pressed the relevant button and was rewarded with a frozen picture. I looked over my shoulder as I left the room and noticed the picture was no longer frozen…. Oops… I pressed the Timeshift button again. The picture froze for only five seconds. Clearly, "Timeshift" wasn't working.
I supposed I'd better wait for the next firmware upgrade, but not so, as the next day the sound began to get distorted. In fact, after about 30-minutes the sound was so clipped it was too distorted to bear.

Another email winged its way to Germany and I was told that a fault had developed and I should send the recorder to the manufacturers in Germany, carriage paid, for repair. You must be joking I replied and contacted my wholesaler. You've had it for more than a week, I was told, get it repaired under warranty by the manufacturer, was the response.

You must be joking I said.
Returns Number or not, it's coming back to you. You can get it repaired if you wish but I want a new one. A number was duly issued and a replacement arrived. It even had a handset that worked. As the various menu screens showed "Show-view" on the replacement, I loaded the firmware upgrade CD and installed Video-Plus. I pressed "Timeshift" and the picture froze…. For 5-seconds
Another email and another "Returns Number" ensured its rapid collection.

This time I'd noticed a Philips DVD/Hard Disk Recorder offered at the same price so I ordered this instead. Not a bad machine, but definitely not for your average consumer… far too complicated by half.


DVD/Hard Disk Recorder, Philips HDRW720

 The day after I uploaded this page my brand new Philips HDRW720 decided to go wrong. I settled down to watch a new DVD and was two-thirds the way through when the picture suddenly froze and a noise like a demented woodpecker came from the recorder. I imagined that there was a blemish of some sort on the disk so went over and pressed eject. Nothing much happened. I pressed all the buttons on the front panel. Nothing happened. Then the front panel lit up like a christmas tree and the disk draw opened... I went to remove the disk but I was too slow as the drawer closed quickly. I again pressed eject and waited. The draw opened but closed almost immediately. After several attempts I finally extracted the disk and examined it. It was in immaculate condition with not a mark on it, so I put it back and closed the drawer. "No Disk" came up after lots of whirring noises. I opened the drawer and put in another DVD. "No Disk" came up on the display. I know enough about these things to realise that the machine was not going to get any better by itself. When a disk is drawn into a CD player the first action after the drawer has closed properly is that the laser illuminates the disk surface and a reflected signal is received. The laser head then positions itself for best focus and at this time a disk is recognised. If focus can't be achieved, for example if there isn't a disk present, then "No Disk" or similar is displayed. This, of course will also occur if something goes wrong with the laser or the control circuitry. What worries me is that the life of a laser assembly can be quite short, at least it can be in computer optical drives. Two years is pretty good for a recent type of drive, and I've handled lots that have a life of less than this.

This HDRW720 is only a few weeks old so it can't be overwork that's contributed to the demise of the laser. It must be poor manufacturing quality.

I checked on the Web to see if there were any reports of laser failure for this model.

Unfortunately there are... Amazon has a user report section and the HDRW720 is adequately served by complaints of poor lasers. I wish I'd read these before making my decision to purchase it. Now I suppose I'd better make sure that a replacement, when received, is going to perform properly. Maybe I should contact Philips to see if I can find out more about the problem?

As it's a weekend I haven't had chance to contact my supplier. I wonder what they know about this model ? I'll find out tomorrow....

Tomorrow arrived and the nice man at Farnell said he'd send me a new one and collect the faulty one. I asked him where they got the new machine from and he told from Philips. Lets hope the replacement uses more reliable parts. Maybe I'll drop them a line and ask them...

After I sent Philips the question on whether I can expect a decent replacement (as it was coming directly from Philips), I notice they've spelled successfully "succesfully" ... doesn't give one a lot of confidence to see this on a website that must be visited by tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of customers... I don't much care for the "four working days" to deal with questions either. I believe I've sent them five emails in the last month and, although receiving five confirmations of them being received, I've only actually had one reply... and that, I think, had wrong information.

There is one bright spot however...I understand Philips have increased their years' warranty to 2 years' for this model. I also understand that Philips will pay for collection and delivery to/from a repairer if necessary within this period.... and... the two years warranty starts afresh if a replacement machine is provided. The trouble is... if each subsequent replacement works for only a few weeks, Farnell will have to provide me with something like 17 replacements a year.

It's now nearly April 2006. Farnell didn't tell the carriers that I'd be out on 22nd March so of course that was the day the chap arrived to collect the HDRW720. It was eventually carried away a week later. I've rung to check on the availabilty of the replacement and they seem to think it will be despatched in early April.

After ten days waiting, Philips responded to my question about the HDRW720. A "System Failure" was blamed for the delay.

"With regards to your query we can advise that the HDRW720 is still in
production and the parts used in all of them are going to be the same.

We would advise that the replacement model is going to be higher
quality as the previous recorder was faulty and the current
replacement should not have the same problem."

I'm not exactly convinced by this response. I'd have preferred the words "will not" rather than "should not have the same problem", if you see what I mean.

I'm now waiting for a detailed explanation of the fault, which I requested after getting the above reply. Is it a Philips manufacturing problem, a sourced part problem or what? I'm more than a little annoyed by the whole saga as all of the recordings I made have been lost.

Watch this space...

A bit of an anti-climax really... no sign of the replacement recorder so I rang Farnell and found the order for the replacement had been cancelled. It would have been nice if someone had told me this I remarked.

It seems "CPC didn't have any".

"I was told the replacement was coming from Philips not CPC", I said... clearly not so... "they are no longer being manufactured", the young lady says...

"Philips advised me that they were still in production", I answered...

"anyway what about my money... my £246 that I paid for the HDRW720?"

That will be credited to you when you return the faulty one I was told... but you had it back weeks ago.. a chap that obviously hadn't read my accompanying letter rang and asked why I'd sent it back...

Hang on while I speak to Fred in accounts... hold on I said I've been paying for this call for nearly 30 minutes... ring me back when you know what's going on...

After an hour or so a young chap called me back... you can't have a Philips recorder but you can have an equivalent... a Yamada... OK I said send me a Yamada..

What's your card number he said... why do you want my card number it's a free replacement I asked?... Funny thing he said... if it's a different code number you' have to buy it and we'll credit you with the sum for the Philips... Not funny when it's my money we're discussing, I remarked and anyway why haven't I already been credited I asked.. I sent the Philips back weeks ago..?

You probably have then he said... I looked on my on-line bank account statement, while he waited but there was no sign of my £246... Let me have a credit and I'll order a Yamada I said.. call me back when you've sorted it out...

He rang back a hour later with the news that my account had been credited... unfortunately I'd by then discovered that I could buy a Yamada for £175 plus carriage..I don't think I want your Yamada I said... its £60 dearer than I can buy it for from another supplier...

We still don't have a DVD recorder after nearly 5 months of trying...

And... by the way... I asked Philips for some details of the fault associated with the optical assembly... but they never replied to my letter...

You just can't get the staff these days!

A few days later CPC had reduced the price of the Yamada model by £20.. I was tempted... but I spotted one even cheaper being offered by a dealer through Ebay. I asked him the question... what happens if I bought one from you and it went wrong?

Send it back at your expense and if it's really faulty I'll send you a new one.

He reckoned he'd sold 50 and only had one that was faulty. Think about this... 2% are faulty... not a big sample I admit... but not very reassuring. I remember the days in Industry when, if a single sample failed in a batch of say 100, then the whole manufacturing run would be rejected. Now a 2% failure rate is treated as jolly good.

I bought one from CPC and, touch wood, it's been OK. At least the recorder was OK. When I tried to switch on the new Philips Freeview box so I could record baseball on Channel 5 it played dead and I had to unplug it and replug it before it came on.


Freeview set-top box, DTR200 made by Philips

Is this the worst Freeview Set Top Box ever produced?

 Our old Pace Freeview box didn't have a pair of SCARTs so I couldn't easily connect it to our new DVD recorder. I scanned the pages of the wholesaler's catalogue and noticed a Philips model. This will match our new DVD recorder I thought, so promptly placed an order.

It certainly looked the part when it arrived. Much nicer looking than our old Pace receiver. The Pace had been working well after a bumpy start but I needed a second SCART connector.

When I first bought the Pace box and installed it, after a day or two of reasonable results, it had updated its firmware all by itself one night. After this the sound and picture were hopelessly out of sync and Pace had told me they were very sorry but a mistake had been made in the code and I'd have to wait several weeks for a further upgrade… unless I wished to return it so they could turn back its clock as it were but I wasn't prepared to spend money on getting it put back to the state I bought it in.

After following the instructions for installing the new Philips box, it turned on and gave a good picture. I read the instruction manual. As usual one needed a degree in electronics to understand it.
Later that day, while watching a programme the box suddenly turned itself off. The red light came on. After a minute or so the green light came back on and all was well. Very odd.

The next day I was exploring the features when, try as I might, I couldn't get the handset to work. I looked in the manual. The nearest solution listed in the fault guide was to unplug the box, then plug it in again. I did this and it started working properly. Unfortunately, over the next day or two I had to repeat the performance several times.

I have a simple rule of thumb. It's this… I ask myself the question…"If the Queen owned a Philips Freeview set-top box and this sort of problem happened, would she be happy (or Philip even) having to climb behind the TV and unplug the power supply?" I think not.

An email later a Returns Number ensured a new box was on its way.

I must say the new box is better. Not perfect though, as it sometimes refuses to respond to its remote control for a minute or so…. And it did turn itself off and on once.

After using the DTR200 for a couple of months I now know that it has some consistent, really annoying, problems.

As my new TV has an integrated Freeview front-end the Philips DTR200 is now used solely for recording. The box is therefore in standby for weeks on end and is sometimes difficult to turn on, needing to be unplugged and replugged before it will work. In other words we've wasted all that standby power and got no return from it.

The next problem I noticed was that it would suddenly lose its picture. This would occur after changing the channel to the one we wanted to record. The box would then refuse to respond to its remote control handset and need its power lead unplugging and replugging. Not very convenient.

The killer problem however is the Software Update Feature.

We invariably record baseball on Channel 5. This usually starts around 1am and continues for some 3 or 4 hours.

However we don't consider watching baseball is more important than getting a good nights' sleep, unlike Philips, who expect their customers to sit with their fingers poised over the remote control handset so they can switch off the daily automatic software update.

A few days after I first recorded a baseball match using the DTR200, I confirmed that the recording was indeed 4 hours, and my wife settled down to view the game. After an hour or so I was called into the room. There was a large rectangular block almost entirely covering the TV screen giving the option of cancelling a "Daily Software Upgrade". I was puzzled and tried to deal with it by pressing the "OK" button on the DVD Recorder handset. Nothing much happened so we abandoned the recording and I contacted Yamada. Nothing to do with us they said, we don't have such a software upgrade feature.

Clearly the upgrade must be concerned with the DTR200, so I looked in the user guide but drew a blank.

Tomorrow being Sunday the next recording was due and I set the details and duly made a recording of the next baseball game. The same thing happened after an hour, and again the disappointment of viewing only half a game. I contacted Philips and received the following....

"With regards to your query we can advise that unfortunately the
nightly upgrade cannot be switched off.

We apologise for the inconvenience this may cause you."

I'm afraid this isn't good enough Philips. As 90% of our recordings will be made between midnight and 4am, the freeview box is useless!

A Returns Number was duly supplied and the box is going back to CPC.

I now have to choose another type of box.... NOT from the Philips range I might add as User Reviews (easily found on the Net) amply describe the problems to be found on all their models.


DVD Player, Model 5520 made by Yamada

 I used to get at least one CD player a week for repair. Mostly a quick wipe of the laser lens sufficed, at least if one could get to the lens… sometimes it was necessary to completely dismantle a hi-fi unit to do so.
Occasionally a new optical unit was needed to restore operation, and in the early days, a rash of faulty motors required either a new motor, or more economically, a complete deck before reliable operation could be expected.
At first the price of a new optical unit was high, some indeed extremely high, but as time passed the price of a new unit dropped to single figures… at least if it was a common type.

The other day an early Technics arrived for repair. The price of a new optical assembly was astronomic so I suggested a new player. Not only would the new player deal with audio CDs I said, it would also play DVDs and even CDs carrying family photos.

I spent about thirty minutes answering questions before ordering a new Yamada DVD player. At my hourly rate that accounts for all my profit on the player.

It arrived the next day and I called the customer who promptly arrived to collect it.

As he still hadn't yet grasped the fact that it should be connected, not only to his old hi-fi equipment but also his TV, I offered to demonstrate it before he departed.

I plugged it into my workshop TV SCART lead and turned it on.

Nothing happened.

I waved the remote control around and confirmed that a little red light came on when I pressed standby and it went off when I pressed it a second time. Nothing happened on the TV screen however so I checked the SCART lead for firmness as these sometimes work loose. Nothing. I switched the TV to AV1 and saw… nothing. True the shade of black did actually change slightly when standby was pressed but little else.

I felt somewhat disgruntled. It looks as if something's wrong with my TV I said half-heartedly…. Maybe we'll do better in the house.

We left the workshop and went indoors and, after rummaging round in the miles of cabling behind the family TV, produced a SCART lead, which I plugged into the new DVD player and pressed standby...

Nothing… and inserting a DVD had produced "NO DISK" in a kind of hieroglyph on the display, I declared the new player to be defunct and I'd send it back. I'll let you know if I can get another make, but I'm not going to buy another of these I said.
I couldn't and I'm glad I couldn't… I'm not going to bother with that sort of business again… I'll stick to repairs…

It had taken 30 minutes to fault-find the Technics, 30 minutes "hard sell", 15 minutes to pick out and order the Yamada, and another 30 minutes to discover it was useless...

Maybe I should send the bill to Yamada whoever they are?

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