Hewlett Packard Makes a Play for your Living Room PC

Yahoo! News – Hewlett Packard Makes Play for Living Room PC HP’s out touting it’s new MCE machines again. For what it’s worth, I think Hewlett Packard is one of the worst computer companies for making Media Center PCs in the universe. As an owner of a HP 873N (the first Media Center PC to market a few years back), I have been enormously disappointed with HP — mind you with HP and not as much with Microsoft who makes the software on the box.

The customer service is terrible (even after paying $99 for a warranty upgrade that supposedly gave me a special tech support number). The upgrade paths with the product have been downright juvenile and completely unacceptable, error prone, and quite frankly, I’d think, embarrassing for a company that promotes itself as a technology company.

The PC itself is riddled with crap software designed to cross sell and market other products — pure clutter. And at every turn modifications have been made to create a more HP centric interface while impairing important and needed resources of the PC and operating system functionality.

I cringed when I realized back in 2002 that I’d be forced to buy a HP in order to get the MCE software. I’m much more of an individual who prefers more serious computer manufacturers like Dell or, even better, a custom built box.

Although Microsoft has remedied this situation for now by allowing any OEM the software to build a MCE machine, it still sticks in my craw that I’m stuck with this crappy HP machine and especially bothers me any time I see them trying to promote their brand as a “beefed up PC” or “media center.”

Take my advice as someone who has put these MCE machines to serious tests. The HP machine is not the one to buy. The MCE software is fantastic and I completely recommend it to anyone looking to expand photos and music into your living room, but there are many providers better than HP.

Some specifics on my problems with HP:

1. After purchasing a $99 upgrade for lifetime telephone support on the product, every single time I’ve phoned them after one year rather than route my call to a tech support person, once I enter in my serial number or product model number I am instead routed to an upgrade sales department where I am told my product is out of warranty. This takes more of my time and is inefficient on their part. Typically I have to argue with a salesperson about having already purchased an upgrade. Frequently I am required to sit on hold for lengthy periods of time prior to getting this upgrade sales department — an unnecessary step prior getting to tech support. On more than one occasion I’ve had to actually talk to a supervisor to get my call routed on. Really bad for a technology company and completely inefficient. They have all of my data including my purchase in my record tied to my serial number.

2. The hold times are longer at HP than other technology companies, including Microsoft, that I’ve worked with in the past.

3. When I upgrade with HP it is not necessary to not only have my serial number, but to also be required to submit a “PC System Number” (whatever this is), my “Microsoft Product Identification Number (it would be better to call this an activation key). This information should be retained and tied to my serial number and record with HP. Further, it seems like bad programming for the upgrade site to not recognize a valid US postal address in the city of San Francisco and prevent you from upgrading because their faulty software doesn’t recognize a valid address. Further, when being unable to upgrade I was told that my “PC System Number” was invalid. After crawling around the back of my PC with a flashlight and checking and rechecking and rechecking and re-entering, I was later informed that (even though their upgrade system was telling me the product number was bad) that it was in fact that the variation of my first name did not match what they had on their system. So it seems that if you had previously registered under “Tom” then “Thomas” will not work, but rather than tell you this, the upgrade site tells you that your PC system number is invalid. Good thinking guys. To make matters worse there is no telephone support for the upgrade process unless it is during regular business hours when I am at work.

4. I have had calls into HP tech support before where the individual on the line did not know what a media center PC is — literally. The quality of the first line tech support is absolutely horrible. Some of the second level tech support individuals are better but there can be an hour wait on hold to get to them typically. There have been times in the past when I’ve been “accidentally” disconnected after a second level tech support rep could not fix a problem. When this happens it is frustrating to have to go through all the steps all over again: call in, be told my product is out of warranty, have someone try to sell me a warranty I already own, argue with a supervisor, wait on hold, get transferred to a first level tech support individual, be put on hold, be transferred to a second level tech support individual over an hour latter.

5. In terms of specific functionality impairment. When I open up Windows Explorer on a folder, I want my subfolders in the left pane, not a bunch of HP wizards, it’s annoying to have to go to “view” “explorer bar” and change the pane view to folders. HP wizards should not be the default and it should be customizable by user.

6. After spending many hours with HP tech support on the inability to watch television on their machine, they concluded that I needed another TV tuner and said that they would send me one out. The problem later that same day was fixed by me after online investigation. I called the tech support guy back who was dumbfounded that he had not thought of that. I wanted to make sure that they were NOT going to send me a tuner card and would cancel the order. He agreed and confirmed with me that it had been cancelled. Well it sure had. I never received it, but I did receive a charge for it on my Visa bill three weeks later. After calling HP I was told that this was a mistake and that they’d reimburse my Visa which they never did. Afer disputing the charge with my credit card company it was reversed. After it was reversed HP recharged my card. I called and explained to HP that not only had I never received the product that their tech support person assured me that the order had been cancelled. They said they would take care of it again and never did. I had to go through a lengthy process including defending my challenge to their charge in writing with my credit card company before finally getting it resolved.

Although I don’t own a Dell MCE machine, I will say that as an owner of another Dell PC the support has been dramatically and seriously much much better. Even the ACMA box which as a white box manufacturer is far better. The support I get from IBM on my Thinkpad T40 is outstanding in comparison to HP.