The DIRECTV app for the iPad is one of the most beautiful, futuristic apps available for the iPad. It’s more than the sum of its parts, astonishing, gorgeous and more than we might have expected from this company. But it has one flaw that is correctable.
This app was released by DIRECTV on February 28th, and TMO covered the news the next day. The full list of published features was covered in that story. I should reiterate here that to use this app you must have a a DIRECTV HD Receiver or DIRECTV DVR (like an HR-20 or HR-22) with an Ethernet port, and of course, a broadband connection. The DVR will, of course, offer more capabilities.
To recap, what you get is a gorgeous app that has several panels or screens. The home panel displays what you’re currently watching, your favorite channels, and what’s happening with your favorite sports team. Other display panels duplicate and enhance the functions of your standard remote control. These are enabled with the buttons along the bottom.
One thing I especially like about the Home panel is that you can specify your favorite channels. Once you do, the app will show what’s currently playing on each of those channels.
What it isn’t designed to do is display the current show, live, on the iPad itself.
The app’s Remote panel brings up a gorgeous remote that duplicates the functions of your white DIRECTV remote control. It’s a giddy feeling at first to be using your iPad to control your HDTV, and the response is fast enough that there no annoying lag time that would take the fun out of using this remote. Note that the “Exit” button at the bottom of the remote display doesn’t cancel the virtual remote control. Rather, it’s the equivalent of the “Exit” function on your current remote.
Two of the major, often used displays on a DIRECTV DVR are the Channel Guide, where you can browse and schedule shows for recording and the Playlist that displays your library of recorded shows. The Channel Guide can be sorted by channel number or channel name. Then, you can touch any show on the grid, get more info, select it for viewing now, or schedule it to be recorded.
Sub-commander T’Pol would be pleased.
The Playlist pannel shows what you’ve already recorded in either list view (below) or poster view. An especially nice feature is the ability to sort and filter that list by title, watched and unwatched, or by category. Just as with the DVR’s native Playlist, multiple episodes of the same show are collected into directories. One problem I noticed is that you can only have one directory open at a time as shown in the screen shot below.
Playlist (Library of recordings, viewed shows are dimmed)
The Movie Panel shows those that are available on demand. My readings of the TV industry suggest that DIRECTV has had trouble convincing customers to watch a lot of video on demand (VOD) for various reasons. One reason might be the purchase experience. Perhaps, curiously, DIRECT TV feels that buying the movie, in a nicely presented iPad app will be more like iTunes and seduce more people into watching its movies instead of Apple’s movies with an Apple TV. Along those lines, I found it interesting that the price of the movie isn’t displayed in the info panel where you elect to watch it. (The movie has to be currently available in the VOD channels.)
The Sports panel allows you to see what’s on, what’s completed, what’s coming up, and also allows you to focus on your favorite teams. A nice feature there is that you can suppress the live display of the current score if you’d like to watch the recorded game later and don’t want the app to spill the beans on who won.
Sports panel (w or w/o scores)
How it Works
As mentioned you must connect the DIRECTV DVR to an Ethernet cable connected to your home broadband connection. I got lucky in that regard; when we built this house I ran Cat 5 from my home office, in the ceiling of the basement, to the living room and had the electrician install an Ethernet jack on the wall where my TV would go. I connect an uplink 8-port Ethernet switch (that goes back to my home router) into that plug, and that allows me to connect all my TV devices that use Ethernet: Apple TV, Roku, Blu-ray, and the DVR.
When you first launch the DIRECTV app, you use your log on credentials to DIRECTV. If you haven’t done that, it’s easy to set up. When the app launches, it connects to your DIRECTV account and shows you a list of all the enabled devices associated with your account. Like iTunes, there’s a popup in the bottom left corner where you can select the device you want to control.
Your iPad app talks to DIRECTV over Wi-Fi, typically, in your house and then onwards to the DIRECT servers. They, in turn, send the signals back to your DVR to control it. It’s a bit convoluted, but also rather clever. Except when it’s slow.
However, you don’t have to be at home to use this app. Say you’re on vacation with your iPad and see a show in the Channel Guide you’d like to record. So long as you can get an Wi-Fi signal, you can log on to your account, see and select the desired show and schedule it to record. Your HD receiver/DVR doesn’t have to be “on” for that to happen. If it’s plugged in, the Ethernet connection is active.
In the daytime, I have no trouble using this app. It works beautifully, is a pleasure, and it’s fast. However, in the evening, when presumably everyone is home from work, I’ve had great difficulty connecting the app to the DIRECTV server(s). I’ve waited for many minutes, especially when trying to demo the app to my wife, and more often that not, I’ve had to give up. In the ten or so times I’ve tried to connect to DIRECTV in the evening, after 6 pm, I’ve only gotten a connection twice. I think DIRECTV needs to add some extra server capacity.
If you can’t connect, here’s what you’ll see.
Post Game Analysis
This is a fabulous app, and it’s gorgeous. The app delivers more than one might have expected from this company, and it also exemplifies what the Apple iPad was born to do. The app exploits the features of the standard remote control brilliantly to the point where you’ll always prefer to use the iPad as your remote control, just to feel like you’re on the bridge of a starship, commanding the viewport. The big problem is getting that initial connection to the DIRECTV system, at least for me here in the Denver region, in the evening. When that’s fixed, the app will receive a perfect 5 rating, “Outstanding.”