Friday, December 30, 2005

SIRIUS Satellite radio status: ACTIVATED

The search
It took a bit of hunting to find both a receiver and corresponding home kit. Online, Crutchfield had the tuner but was out of stock of the home kit. Circuit City had both the tuner and home kit available for in-store pickup, but not at the same stores. The tuner was only available at a Circuit City store over 50 miles away. Best Buy was a similar story with an online in-store inventory check. It appeared, though, that in-store, Best Buy had the tuner and Circuit City had the home kit at stores in close proximity to each other and not too far from me, so I set off.

First stop was Best Buy and sure enough, they had the tuner but not the home kit. I bought something else at Best Buy (to be written about in a later post) and decided to wait on the tuner to see if Circuit City might have both items in-store. Walking to Circuit City I came across Magnolia Audio Video, which is a somewhat high-end audio / video store. I went in and they had both items.

The setup
Setup of the tuner and home kit was straightforward, but antenna placement can be a problem. The home antenna is about the size of a pager and must be near a window with an unobstructed view of the northern sky. Depending on where you are in the U.S. your direction may vary. The antenna is all-weather so it can be mounted outside, but routing a cable through a window and attaching it to the structure of my apartment just aren't worth the extra hassle. I've found a decent spot inside that has a fairly consistent signal, but it does occasionally fade out.

The tuner also has a built-in FM transmitter that broadcasts the signal to any radio within about 15 feet. I placed the tuner right in the middle of my place so the signal reaches my bedroom and kitchen radios.

Upon initial power-up the tuner updates all of the channels and tunes to an introductory sample program that prompts you to activate your account. This can be done online or by phone. Naturally, I chose online. Easy to do, just enter the tuner's serial number, your user and credit card info (you set up an account), choose the subscription plan you want and that's pretty much it. Once you submit this info the tuner is "activated." I received a message on the tuner confirming activation within about 10 seconds of submitting my info online.

Activation issues
There were two:
  1. $15 activation fee - this wasn't obvious to me until my credit card had been charged and the transaction was broken down into its elements. It's possible that in my zeal to activate I overlooked the fact that there was a fee, but I don't remember seeing it. Going back to and looking at the terms and conditions the activation fee is right there. It's also in the FAQs. Always a good idea to RTFM, kids. Despite my zeal, I still feel that the activation process via the web did not make the fee or the agreement to the terms and conditions abundantly clear.
  2. Prorated balance due - This is kind of silly and likely the result of an unrefined billing system. After I paid everything for activation there remained a balance due of $0.84. I activated on 12/30, so I'm assuming this balance due is for the last two days of December that were not included in the quarterly billing I paid. An email has been sent to Sirius about this as the phone support was not immediately available due to high holiday call volume.
What I have
Tuner: Sirius Starmate Replay ($129.99, but $79.99 after the $50 rebate.). Pretty cool. It can be used both at home (with separate kit) and in a vehicle. It also has a DVR-type function that allows it to record up to 44 minutes of content that you can pause, rewind or fast-forward. Up to 30 presets are available, and you can have the tuner notify you when a particular sports team or song is playing. This tuner includes a car kit which I have yet to install. It also has a small full-function infra-red remote control. The remote is so small it needs a flat lithium-type battery. Battery life is unknown, but one is included in the package.

Home kit: The home kit ($39.99) is pretty self-explanatory.

Subscription: I currently pay $38.85 quarterly. Numerous choices are available. Pay-as-you-go is $12.95 per month. Prepaying larger intervals allows discounts, starting with an annual prepay giving you 12 months of service for the price of 11.

$129.99 - tuner, $79.99 after rebate*
$39.99 - home kit
$15.00 - activation fee
$184.98 - total one-time, $134.98 after tuner rebate

$12.95 per month subscription fee

*To qualify for the rebate the tuner must be purchased and activated between 10/30/05 and 12/31/05.

Still being evaluated at this point. My indoor signal is spotty, so I still have to experiment with antenna placement. Howard Stern's Howard 100 News is entertaining, but it is repeated throughout the broadcast day, so right now there's not much reason to keep it on channel 100.

The music variety is pretty awesome but I haven't had a lot of time to listen to things yet. All major genres are represented along with a lot of other more unique offerings. Also available is news (NPR, BBC, etc.), sports (ESPN, NFL Radio, etc.), weather and traffic. Traffic is only available for limited major metro areas and unfortunately Sacramento is not included.

Occasionally I'll hear words that would normally be "bleeped" on regular terrestrial radio. It's odd, but not distracting.

Overall things appear good, but I'm not yet overwhelmed by the awesomeness of satellite radio. Once I install the unit in my vehicle and have some time to really give it a fair listen I think that'll change. I've had XM Radio in a rental car before and it was great to have clear reception in areas where terrestrial radio broadcasts were nonexistent.

Related post: SIRIUS impressions

Update, 1/6: On my second activation issue, the $0.84 balance remaining after activation and full payment, I finally received an email response to my support request submitted online 12/29/05. Today is 1/6/06, so turnaround time is not the best over at SIRIUS support. I know it's the holidays and all, and there was a rush of new subscribers in anticipation of Howard Stern, but let's get those wheels turning, people. The meat of the reply is as follows:
Thank you for becoming a SIRIUS customer and welcome. Our records show that you activated a new SIRIUS subscription during the period of December 29-31, 2005. Since the first full billing period for your new subscription plan began on January 1, 2006, your account will be charged for the extra days of service you received in December, 2005.

As a result, on your first bank or credit card statement only, you will see two separate charges. One charge is for your regular SIRIUS Service, which began on January 1, 2006. The second charge is a one-time charge for the number of days in December your account was active.
Seems like it should be pretty easy to add on the prorated amount for the few extra days and just charge me once, but what do I know?


FLJerseyBoy said...

Have had similar issues with the home kit's antenna placement. Reception seems to work fine for a few minutes but the display then shows the dreaded "Acquiring Signal" message. The antenna (as you know) is kind of like a clamshell. It arrives flat, in the "closed" position, but can be opened up. Do you know if opening the antenna or leaving it closed is supposed to be better?

Kevin said...

fljerseyboy: I have since found a pretty good position for my antenna that provides a medium-strength signal almost all the time. My antenna is opened up at about 45 degrees and the side with the Sirius logo on it is facing out the window. The window has no outside overhangs above it and has a pretty clear view of the sky.

I think if your antenna is inside and it is in the flat, "closed" position you will have signal problems because it is aiming at the ceiling and roof instead of the open sky.

The antenna placement instructions say to aim the antenna as straight up as possible, so you just have to keep adjusting the angle until the signal is as good as you can make it. You might also want to check the unofficial user forum, Sirius Backstage, linked in the right margin of my blog for more tips.

Eric said...

Hey! I just got the same setup this past weekend. I'll let you know how it goes for me.