This post is a local public service announcement for my Finnish friends. I'm sorry if this comes off as whining - I just want to document this publicly, and, as you might notice, I'm a bit annoyed. Although I tried to do some research into this before subscribing to my Internet connection, and even asked my Facebook connections about it, I never realized ahead of time what a piece of crap Elisa Viihde is as a service. So, as a warning to others: learn from my mistake, don't touch this thing with a ten-foot pole.

Our apartment building has what apparently is a fiber optic link to Elisa's network, so their service (under either Elisa or Saunalahti brand) is the default choice, unless I want to depend on 3G only (which, given the number of Wifi devices in our household, would not be very reasonable). Since Saunalahti seems to max out at 50/10 Mbps, and Elisa Viihde was advertised as 100 Mbps, plus it comes with a cloud DVR solution that got a few not-negative references, I went the latter path. The package is a Cisco VSDL2/Ethernet router with a .11n Wifi base station and an Elisa-branded set-top box manufactured by Pace, plus of course the actual net connection, delivered through Ethernet (despite the fact our connection panel actually has fiber links coming up to the apartment, too).

The net is not 100 Mbps, it's 100/10. Might be a minor detail, but it's well hidden in their brochures. Okay, still presumably faster than the next alternative. It's more expensive, too, by €10/mo.

So, what does that buy in terms of TV services?

Simply, the worst set-top box I've ever had the displeasure of using. The piece of crap spends 1-2 minutes simply turning on, if it's been off for more than a couple of hours. It never responds to remote button presses in less than a second, and frequently takes 5-10 seconds to do so. If you mistakenly think it didn't see the remote and press again - it buffered all that, and does several things in a sequence. Irksome as hell. However, it doesn't stop there. It also crashes or freezes randomly, and does not recover without pulling the plug on its power.

Apart from the set-top box, you might expect the service itself to be pretty good. I mean, it does look good on paper: iPhone, iPad, Android apps for controlling the recording schedules, a web site for doing the same, ability to view recorded shows on a PC or with an iPad in addition to the living room (via the above box, when it works), 5 TB of online storage ("2500 hours", in standard def DVB, at least), and a few other bits and pieces.

However, you can not watch a recording while its still broadcasting, or in fact until about 10-15 minutes after the scheduled broadcast time. Forget about timeshifting, in other words. Or pausing TV. Oh yeah, you could pause, by plugging a USB stick or portable hard drive into the box. Er, what's that 5TB of online storage for? Besides, if I want to timeshift onto a local device, my Samsung TV has a much more tolerable UI and response and is also capable of that same thing. I don't want that. I mean, this is what the online service is supposed to do for me, right?

Oh, and sometimes the recordings aren't actually recorded. They'll show up in the browser, "this or that, 60 minutes", but when you try to watch it, it'll be 50 seconds of the ending titles of the show before, and that's it -- not what you actually wanted to see. Now, I may be spoiled by the rich recording capabilities of my previous solution, a PC running MythTV, but this is just ridiculously bad. No DVR is this stupid. Keep your old DVR box. It's probably prettier and/or easier to hide than the round white blob, anyway.

Oh, but there's the cloud video on demand rental, too! Never mind the price, typically 6€ per movie (making two movies a month more expensive than the just launched Netflix service). Or that the selection, while perhaps slightly better in the movie catalog side than that of Netflix Finland, is still not great (nor does it have any TV series back catalog, like Netflix). Or even the fact that its search sucks ass, and the browser shows every movie twice (once as standard def, another time as HD), so you're scrolling twice as much as you're supposed to. No, the by far most aggravating fact of it is, that if you happen to watch movies, oh, I don't know, in the evenings after your kids go to bed, it probably will not get through the viewing without sputtering to a halt.

You might think I'm exaggerating, but I'm not. They gave some promotional vouchers for the movie rentals in subscription welcome package, so we've tried it a few times. EVERY time, at approximately 22:30 (so somewhere between halfway and the end, if you begin around or somewhat after 21:00, as you might) first audio drops out, then the video starts breaking up, and then the movie just halts. After three such experiences and following some guidance from Elisa's tech support (such as, bypass the comes-with-the-package router and plug your Ethernet uplink straight to the set-top box, etc), I've learned that the problem will go away 15-20 minutes later, but in between, don't even try to continue with the movie. Hey, movies are designed to be watched in two parts, right? That's why they have an intermission in the theaters, too? Er... they don't?

The same problem affects all IP-delivered HD channels, too. While I can't completely rule out the possibility that it's the set-top box which just decides to crap out every evening at 22:30, my own experience building and operating Internet services leads me to suspect the fine folks running Elisa's data centers (hey, guys, long time no talk) simply have decided to run their backup scripts at prime time, have no monitoring for service quality, and overload their backbone capacity. Genius.

Top this off with a customer service which responds to questions, complaints, technical support requests etc with a 3-4 day delay, and you have what I would call a perfect package. Welcome to the market, Netflix. I'll forgive your lack of recent titles in the local catalog. At least your service is integrated directly to my TV (Samsung Smart TV, as noted previously), is also available over all the same mobile devices and shows me what I chose to watch in hi-def without forcing me to go in tech troubleshooting mode in the middle of every movie. You're SO going to win Finland.

Now, to find a way to cancel this subscription..