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Comments on the Verizon FiOS DVR user interface

Discussion in 'DirecTV TiVo Powered PVRs & Receivers' started by JoelGould, Sep 3, 2006.

  1. Sep 3, 2006 #1 of 31
    JoelGould

    JoelGould New Member

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    Nov 23, 2002
    If you are thinking of the Verizon FiOS HD DVR service as opposed to the Series 3 TiVo, you may be interested in this set of comments on the Verizon user interface.

    Introduction

    Earlier this month we made the switch from TiVo to Verizon's FiOS DVR. We had been using a TiVo Series 1 on Comcast's analog cable service, and when we switched to Verizon, we upgraded to digital cable and HD. Our main reason to change was to get two tuners and HD recording. I know that TiVo has announced its Series 3 (two tuner HD), but it is not available yet and it will likely be a much more expensive option than going completely to Verizon. We are paying 40 dollars a month for the FiOS TV Premier package (which, regardless of its name, includes no premium channels) plus 13 dollars a month for the DVR plus HD package. Since the HD alone costs 10 dollars by itself, it ends up that we are renting the DVR for only 3 dollars a month. It will be very, very hard for TiVo to match that price; which is why we switched instead of waiting.

    That said, having used a TiVo Series 1 for years and years, I want to rant at how much the Verizon FiOS DVR user interface sucks. Now this is probably not Verizon's fault, I understand (unconfirmed) that the DVR software was developed by Microsoft (the DVR hardware is a Motorola QIP6416-1). Now if you have never used a TiVo, you will probably not find much fault with the Verizon DVR user interface. All I can say is relish your ignorance. For the rest of us, here is a brief commentary.

    What's Wrong with the Verizon DVR User Interface

    How to read this commentary. Button names (like FAV) on the universal remote will be in all caps. LEFT, RIGHT, etc. refers to the arrow keys on the remote. Options on the screen will be in quotes (like "Erase Recording"). DVR revers to the Verizon FIOS DVR with HD. Remember that my family are long time TiVo Series 1 users.

    1) Verizon should have preconfigured the channel list based on my package. The DVR is from Verizon, the TV service is from Verizon. Yet the DVR does not know what channels are not active. This seems pretty stupid. You can change the channel list manually (which I did), but that leads to my next rant.

    2) The channel list does not impact searching. That makes searching useless. For example, I want to look at the list of upcoming movies. I have no movie package and do not have any of the premium movie channels in my channel list, yet the search by movie results is filled with the movies from the premium channels, so I can not find any available movies that I can actually watch (and there are some).

    3) The favorite list has no program information. If you look at your favorites (press FAV, then RIGHT), you see a four line video guide at the bottom of the screen. You can scroll around but see no dynamic description of the show. If you select a show and press OK, you can see information about the show, then you have to press LAST to get back to the list (see other rants about the LAST button). You do get program information when you are in the guide (GUIDE button), but then you see every channel in your channel list. Finding your favorite channels in that list is a real chore.

    4) The universal remote has programmed the wrong behavior for the LAST button. The LAST button should always go to the DVR, but when the universal remote is set in TV mode, the LAST button is sent to the TV (which ignores it). The LAST button is almost indispensable to use the DVR user interface, so you have to remember to keep your universal remote in cable (DVR) mode. The MUTE and volume buttons are still sent to the TV, even when the universal remote is in cable mode, but the power button is not. Thus it takes two button presses (TV, then POWER) to turn off your TV and three to turn it on (the TV button, just to be sure, then the POWER button, then the CABLE button to reset the universal remote into cable mode).

    5) The system sometimes lags behind your button presses, but it never forgets. Lets assume you are in some menu and you press DOWN to get to the next option. Sometimes the system is just busy thinking at that time and it takes a few seconds to respond. But if you are like me, you say to yourself, "maybe it didn't see that button press, I will press DOWN again". Do you press DOWN again, and maybe a third time. At that point, the recorder wakes up from its brief slumber and then executes all three DOWN actions. Whoops. There is no workaround. If the DEV seems to ignore your button press, you could just wait but you may wait a long time because it does sometimes ignore button presses. (When I disabled a block of channels in my channel list, I pressed DOWN, OK, DOWN, OK, over and over again. The DVR failed to register approximately 1 in every 10 button presses.)

    6) It has no feedback when it needs to process for a while. As an example, I tried to record the series: Start Trek: The Next Generation. I searched for the series and navigated to screen where I could select "Record Series". When I press OK on the remote, the "Record Series" option flashed once then the user interface froze (although the TV show was still playing in the corner). It sat there for 22 seconds (I timed it) before it would respond to any button presses or change its appearance at all. There was no "please wait" message at all. If you are at all like me, after a few seconds you will start pressing buttons to get a response. Of course, the system remembers all those button presses and replays them later (see previous rant).

    7) When it is otherwise unused, the LEFT button should have the same effect as the LAST button. When you are navigating around, for example, looking at your list of recorded shows, you keep your fingers on the arrow buttons. You press UP, DOWN and OK. After pressing OK, you should be able to press LEFT to get back to the list, but instead you have to use the LAST button (and only when you are in cable mode), or you have to press the sequence DOWN, DOWN, DOWN, OK to go back.

    8) The fast forward option (while viewing a recorded show) is not smooth. Fast forward mode when using TiVo was like viewing your recording, well, in fast-forward. That made it easy to keep track of your progress. But fast forward mode with the Verizon DVR (for example, press FFWD twice) seems to be more like displaying a sequence of stills, and the forward speed seems uneven. This makes it hard to judge when to stop fast forwarding. A side-effect of this is when when you do press PLAY, you are usually past the point at which you wanted to stop. You then have to press REPLAY, and often more than once. (If I had to guess, I would suspect the problem was in the buffering logic between the disk drive and the playback circuit. The uneven jerkiness in fast forward mode seems delays in reading information off the disk drive.)

    9) There is no skip to the end, nor is there a go back option. Lets say you are watching a show and you get to the commercial break just before the ending. You use fast-forward to move past the commercials. If you fail to stop in time, the Verizon DVR will switch you back to the recording information screen. From there, your only option is to start playing the recording again. Of course, the second time you will use four-times fast-forward to get near the end fast but that always fails. Sometime around 45 minutes (in an hour long recording) it will spontaneously jump back to the information screen. There is no way to get to the end. This one really, really sucks. There is no workaround. If you want to see the last minute of your shows, do not use fast-forward at all in the last five minutes.

    10) Selecting recordings can be very tedious because the interface does not remember your previous state. Say you want to record a show by title. You press LIST then DOWN, DOWN, DOWN, then RIGHT, then DOWN then OK (really). Now you can enter the title using the on screen keyboard. Once you have typed in the prefix, you can press DOWN until you get to the list of shows. Say you see the show you want in the list, now you press DOWN until you get to the show and then press OK. But say you accidently pressed DOWN one too many times and you get to the wrong show (see rant on button press lag). Well, at this point you are screwed. You can press LAST to go back, but that does not get you back to the list of shows that match you prefix. It gets you all the way back to the top level search screen. You have to repeat the whole process again.

    11) The default options for recording a series cannot be changed, and manually setting options is very tedious. When the new TV season comes out, we normally record many of the new shows to see if we like them. We optimistically record new shows as a series, knowing that we can cancel the series recording later (this is safer than recording an individual show, and not watching for a week, missing the next show in the series). To record a show, use search by title and do not screw up (see previous rant). Then press DOWN and OK ("Record Series"). Now you have to change the options because the default options are wrong. To change the options right after you select "Record Series", you need to select the show and get to the option menu. This is three button presses (RIGHT then OK then OK again). This is another stupid user interface design choice, it should be one press to change the options after I decide to record the show. But wait, you are not there yet. You now have to press DOWN then OK since the default for changing recording options is to change options for "This Episode", you have to change the selection to "Entire Series".

    OK, now we get to the options. For us, when we record a new series, we need to change at least two options. We want to record new episodes only (the default is All & duplicates), and we want to record at anytime (the default is only a specific time). Changing an individual option is painful; here are the steps just to change one option. Down four times to get to the "Record at" line then OK. Now the "Done" option is highlighted -- what a stupid default. Press RIGHT to get to the list of options, now press DOWN once to get to the "anytime" option. If this was TiVo, I would just press the RIGHT button to select this option and be done with it. But in the Verizon DVR, I have to press OK to select the new option, then RIGHT, which stupidly selects "Cancel", then UP to select "Done" then OK. Did you count those presses? I need 11 presses to change a single recording option. And now I am on the "Save Changes" option on the series option screen. To change a second option, I need another 11 presses. The user interface needs to be fixed in two ways. One, changing options needs to be streamlined, and two, there needs to be some way to set the default options for all subsequent recordings.

    What's Right with the Verizon DVR User Interface

    Although I ranted quite a but about some really bad user interface design in the Verizon DVR interface, to be fair I should point out a couple of its good features, especially compared to our experiences with TiVo.

    1) The Verizon DVR has two tuners (out TiVo had only one), so getting recording conflicts is less likely but they do happen. If you press LIST then DOWN, you see a list of the scheduled recordings. This is comparable to TiVo's todo list. But the Verizon DVR list includes recordings that that will not happen because of a conflict, clearly indicated with the word CONFLICT in red. This makes it very easy to look for conflicts and resolve them. With TiVo, you had to use another list (from the todo list) to find all the shows that would not be recorded. Trust me, it was a lot more work.

    2) The Verizon DVR seems to record shows for an extra 3 minutes with out you having to set this up. Granted it is a little weird to see that you show is 01:02:57 long, but it seems to be a nice way to ensure that you never miss the very end of a show. I assume (unverified), that the Verizon DVR will still record two shows back-to-back on two different channels by not recording an extra 3 minutes, if necessary.

    3) The Verizon DVR list of saved recordings batches instances of the same show together in one listing. So if you have three recordings of the World Poker Tour, you will see "(3) World Power Tour". I think that this is a big advantage over TiVo, which lists each recording separately in reverse chronological order.

    4) The Verizon DVR is much faster than our old TiVo. We had a TiVo Series 1, and on top of that we added a second hard drive to the unit. That meant that many maintaince operations took a long time. For example, if we reordered the priority of shows in our season pass list, it would usually take TiVo around 15 minutes to do its processing before we could do something else (this was the worst case). So far we have seen no significant delays in any of the Verizon DVR operations, although we still working on filling up the series manager and the hard disk.

    Conclusion

    I do not think that we will be switching back to TiVo. Even though the Verizon DVR user interface has some poorly designed features, having two tuners and the ability to record and watch HD shows far outweighs the disadvantages. When the TiVo Series 3 comes out, we might consider it. But it will be more expensive than the Verizon DVR (the best plan for an existing two-tuner Series 2 TiVo is $46.95 initial fee plus $16.95 a month).

    If you are thinking of making the switch to Verizon DVR, here are a few other differences that need to be aware of. The Verizon DVR does not have the thumbs-up/down features of TiVo and it will not record random shows that it thinks you may like. Not everyone likes this feature of TiVo, but we thought that it was nice. It ensured that there were always some recordings to watch, and sometimes it would pick up something that you really liked, but did not know to record. Also the Verizon DVR has no wishlist feature. This feature of TiVo allows you to, for example, automatically record all the movies that feature your favorite actor. We never used TiVo wishlists, but if you like this feature and make the switch, you need to aware that Verizon does not have it.

    In our area, Comcast also supports digital TV, with HD channels and a DVR solution. I have never evaluated the Comcast DVR user interface. I have never been told that it is good (only the opposite), but with no hard evidence one way of the other, I cannot form an opinion. That said, Comcast is currently more expensive than Verizon (isn't competition wonderful). In addition, we have had trouble with Comcast's Internet reliability in the past because we are the last house before a cable repeater, and as Comcast had gotten more popular in our neighborhood, our service had gotten worse. (We switched to Verizon FiOS Internet service a while ago.)
     
  2. Sep 3, 2006 #2 of 31
    bkdtv

    bkdtv New Member

    7,902
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    Jan 9, 2003
    DC Metro Area
    FiOS DVR Screenshots


    Good writeup. I have FiOS and would agree with most of what you wrote.

    I would add that FiOS DVR service isn't quite as reliable as the Tivo. My FiOS DVR has missed more recordings in the past two months then my Tivo missed in the past four years. This is due to errors the guide data. For example, until recently, episodic programming on HBO wasn't marked correctly; my FiOS DVR was setup to record new episodes of Deadwood and Entourage, and the box missed a few episodes because it thought they were repeats. It also recorded past episodes of The Wire, even when "record only new episodes" was selected. The DVR recorded older episodes of Stargate: SG1 on SciFi, even when "record only new episodes" was selected. A few weeks ago, when FOX showed two episodes (part I and part II) of House, the DVR only recorded the first episode because it thought that the second "conclusion" episode -- which had a similar description -- was a duplicate.

    Verizon has addressed some of these issues. Recording has been more reliable the past few weeks.

    Tivo has offered this feature for years on the Series2. The Series2 organizes season pass into folders. The Tivo implementation is superior because it lists all the episode names in the folder. In contrast, on the FiOS DVR, you click the heading for House and you see five recordings titled "House." You have to select each one and hit the Info button to see the episode name.

    The Tivo Series2 (and Series3) does the same the same thing for wishlist recordings as wel. If you create a wishlist to record all Washington Redskins games, regardless of date, time, and channel, it organizes all the Redskins games into a folder, and in the folder, you see all the games listed by date with the team they were playing -- i.e. Redskins vs. Cowboys. It's very easy to pick exactly the game you want to see.

    This isn't quite accurate. All the HDTV channels are included as part of FiOS TV Premier. There is no extra cost for HDTV. The HDTV STB is $9.95/mo and the HDTV DVR is $12.95/mo. If you drop the FiOS DVR, you save $12.95/mo and can still get all the HDTV channels with the Tivo Series3.

    As far as pricing goes, FiOS TV Premier includes 180 digital channels and ~20 HDTV channels for $39.95/mo. If you subscribe to FiOS Internet for $34.95/mo, they take $5/mo off your bill, so TV service is $34.95/mo. In addition, FiOS is currently running a promotion whereby you get an additional $5/mo off or one free standard digital set-top box (normally $3.95/mo) when you commit to a year of service. Verizon FiOS charges $2.95/mo for CableCards, with multistream CableCards (for Series3) slated for November availability.

    The Verizon FiOS DVR is limited to 160Gb and is not expandable. That gives it capacity for 18-24 hours of HDTV. The Series3 has a 50% larger hard drive and is easily expandable with external SATA drives. On the Series3, you can add an extra 500Gb of storage for under $200 -- increasing its high-definition storage to 90-120 hours (depending on content), or about five times the capacity of the FiOS HDTV DVR.

    The Tivo Series3 is less than two weeks away, and I intend to purchase that unit provided it features the latest technology from Broadcom in the box -- to ensure a high level of responsiveness now and in the future. Verizon has no plans to use SDV, so the Series3 will support everything you get on FiOS, except for VOD.
     
  3. Sep 3, 2006 #3 of 31
    SC0TLANDF0REVER

    SC0TLANDF0REVER I Love my TiVo!

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    Dec 9, 2001
    Raleigh, NC
    Thank you for that very lengthy and informative write-up.

    I am completely fed up w/ the Comcast DVR (8300HD from SA) and miss all of the TiVo features like search, *real* Season Pass, etc.
    I still have the S2 TiVo in the bedroom, so not all is lost.

    Between reading your experiences and my own w/ the Comcast DVR, it's a safe bet that I will purchase a HD TiVo around the XMAS time frame :)
     
  4. Sep 3, 2006 #4 of 31
    Don in Virginia

    Don in Virginia New Member

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    Jan 20, 2004
    Thanks for the cautionary detail. Verizon mails me info every 2 weeks to switch to FIOS but I will stick with Directv and the HD Tivo. Your personal experience is important to my decision.

    Don (Centreville, VA)
     
  5. Sep 3, 2006 #5 of 31
    bkdtv

    bkdtv New Member

    7,902
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    Jan 9, 2003
    DC Metro Area
    As a credit to FiOS, their SD and HD is much better quality than you get on DirecTV. These aren't trivial differences either -- the PQ improvement is obvious with just a few seconds of viewing. FiOS probably has the best quality SD and HD in the United States right now. At $34.95/mo for 180 digital channels and ~20 HDTV channels, they are very reasonably priced as well.

    The Tivo Series3 + Verizon FiOS looks to be the ultimate combo for high-def television timeshifting.
     
  6. Sep 3, 2006 #6 of 31
    Bernie33

    Bernie33 New Member

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    Jun 24, 2006
    How do you get it to do that? I have a Tivo Series 2. When it has saved several episodes of a show there is a separate line each episode in "Now Playing".
     
  7. Sep 3, 2006 #7 of 31
    bkdtv

    bkdtv New Member

    7,902
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    Jan 9, 2003
    DC Metro Area
    Bernie,

    On the Now Playing screen, press ENT to see the display options. Enable folders.
     
  8. Sep 3, 2006 #8 of 31
    JoelGould

    JoelGould New Member

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    Nov 23, 2002
    I will take your word for it on the price. The published Verizon pricing plans are confusing on this point. They never say that the Premier plan includes any HD channels, but they do describe the HD add-on feature as $9.95 for the HD set-top box. If it is true that Verizon Premier includes HD, the fee we need to compare against TiVo would be $10 per month (the DVR rental fee less the cost of the cable card).

    The extra space is a big advantage. I had hacked by TiVo Series 1 to add an extra disk and loved it (except for the longer delays). Although I am not holding my breath, I understand that the Motorola hardware does support adding external drives on Firewire. Its just that Verizon does not allow this.

    If you believe that Verizon wants VOD revenue, then they better get their act together and improve their DVR interface and expandability. I guess I will live with the Verizon DVR until the cable cards become available and then re-evaluate. Since I only rent the Verizon box, switching is easy (except for the fact that I lose the saved contents of my DVR disk and my settings).

    Joel Gould
     
  9. Sep 3, 2006 #9 of 31
    JoelGould

    JoelGould New Member

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    Nov 23, 2002
    By the way, what is "the latest technology from Broadcom"? And what is "SDV"?

    Joel Gould
     
  10. A J Ricaud

    A J Ricaud Active Member

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    Jun 25, 2002
    Hacienda...
  11. fastep

    fastep New Member

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    May 21, 2004
    annapolis...

    I believe verizon will connect with no contract. If this is true, why not try fios tv and see if having better pq and content with lower pricing offsets the quirks of the dvr.

    If it really isn't worth switching, then cancel and keep their hardware for the future when new dvrs / software become available. You might be pleasantly surprised to see what you've been missing! I switched to comcast seven months ago and have seen the MAJOR differences in pq as well as more than doubling my HD channels.

    Fios has just been approved in my neighborhood and I can't wait to compare it to comcast (it helps that I own 2 sony cablecard hd dvrs in case I don't like the verizon UI although from the screen shots the verizon UI looks good to me).

    I just want the BEST HD and SD picture and the MOST HD channels I can get!!! I'm not a genius but I do know that I will never get that from D*! (at least not anytime soon).
     
  12. teasip

    teasip Member

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    Aug 24, 2002
    For me, getting FiOS TV has been a no brainer. No, I don't have TiVo software, and yes, the TiVo was more intuitive, but I can certainly make due with the Moto box for now. Plus, I'm able to watch Auburn/Wash. St. on one tuner while the NASCAR race gets a buffer built up (recording). With D*, I would have had to purchase the Sports pkg. whereas ESPN U is standard with FiOS.
     
  13. harley3k

    harley3k New Member

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    Jul 19, 2006
    Yep, when you consider the overall savings in the sub price for Fios over D*, that subscription fee for the Series 3 when it comes out will be a wash (even if its $19.95/month)

    Just got to get over that rumored $799 price, which if you consider D* is charging $399 or supposedly $299 now for their new HR20 HD-DVR that will be released nationally soon, doesn't look so bad - considering you'll get all the Tivo features including Home Media Features, internet content, etc. Oh and the Fios Home-Media-DVR is $19.95/month, so if you compare your Tivo sub to that, S3+Fios is looking real good now...

    Also I have 3 HDTVs in the house, and want HD-DVR on all of them... The D* solution is to "lease" HR20s for $299 for each of them, and sign a 2 year committment to boot. With S3+Fios, I can buy one S3 for the media room and just lease the FIOS DVRs for the other 2 rooms at $12.95/month...then with the S3 price drops to a more reasonable number, I can upgrade those rooms and have Multi-Room Viewing between all my S3s!

    Oh, and I'll also have more HD channels than D* will have a year from now.

    -h
     
  14. soulposition

    soulposition New Member

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    Dec 8, 2004
    Reston, VA
    Great reviews from all.

    I switched from TiVo to FiOS in Feb '06 and have been waiting for S3 in hopes it would take me away from the hell that is this Motorola Box. I've replaced my original hardware because the drives go bad or something. I constantly loose program data and recordings. I don't even record any seasons anymore since I know they will be lost in a few weeks. I'm giving it another shot in hopes that the S3 drops sooner then later so I can send all my boxes back to VZ.

    The only saving grace for the Moto box is the dual tuners and HD recording. Other then that there isn't much more that I can say is good about it. Don't get me wrong, my only gripe with FiOS Tv is the hardware. The PQ on SD channels on my Fuji 50" and my Front Projector are superb and it only get's better when viewing HD content.

    I'm probably going to be first in line when the S3 drops and then I'll be calling VZ for a CableCard.
     
  15. teasip

    teasip Member

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    Aug 24, 2002
    I lost a portion of the Miami - FS game last night toward the end of halftime through midway in the 3rd quarter. Other than that I haven't noticed any other "quirks" as of yet. If one does return a FiOS box how does one do so? They pick up, you drop off, etc.?
     
  16. harley3k

    harley3k New Member

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    Jul 19, 2006
    I have friends and neighbors with Fios that have had a DVR go bad. They called and Verizon scheduled a tech to come out onsite - which means there had to be someone home. The techs activate the DVRs with software they carry on their panasonic tuffbook laptops...

    One of my neighbor's DVRs just went dead and a friend's DVR was showing video stuttering on HD channels, like it was dropping frames or something. They fixed them very quickly though... Nice when you don't have to BUY the DVR.

    -h
     
  17. harley3k

    harley3k New Member

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    Jul 19, 2006
    Or 2 cablecards :D

    I'm sure I'll be on hold with them that day too ;)

    -h
     
  18. Jonathan_S

    Jonathan_S Well-Known Member

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    Oct 23, 2001
    Northern...
    I only played with a friends Verizon FIOS DVR for a few minutes, but the thing that struck me first was how annoying their page up/down functionality was.

    Unlike the vast majority of recent devices, the channel up/down buttons don't double as page up/down, there are separate (very small) page up/down buttons.
    And IIRC if you did hit channel up/down it would drop out of the menu to liveTV and change the channel.
     
  19. bkdtv

    bkdtv New Member

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    Jan 9, 2003
    DC Metro Area
    That's the way just about every non-Tivo DVR works. :)

    My Comcast DVRs worked the same way.
     
  20. soulposition

    soulposition New Member

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    Dec 8, 2004
    Reston, VA
    hahaha.. oh yeah, I guess I will also get 2 of them.
    :up: :up:
     

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