The venerable AM21. Introduced in the late ’00s as a companion to DIRECTV’s then-new HR21, it formed a critical part of the satellite TV ecosystem. But is it still doing the job today?
A little bit of history
In the mid-2000s, high definition was still a “cutting-edge” proposition. Most TVs out there couldn’t support it natively. Broadcasters were slowly rolling out their HD broadcasts, but it was happening on a one-by-one basis. As for satellite TV, most cities didn’t have HD coverage. That meant if you wanted HD locals, you needed to get them off-air.
Most DIRECTV high definition receivers and DVRs of the time included HD tuners. These were expensive to put in, but necessary as the company wouldn’t roll out national HD channels until 2009-2011 in most markets. So, you hooked up your antenna to your HD DVR or receiver, and used that feed for locals instead of the satellite-delivered one.
Until 2007, DIRECTV receivers were money-losers for the company. Even though they priced out at $300 or more to the end user, they often cost more than that to make. It was worth it, though, because the company made the money back eventually in monthly service fees.
However, that wasn’t going to work on a long-term basis. 2007 brought a whole new perspective to hardware. The HR21 was intended to be the first DVR that was revenue-neutral, and that meant cutting costs. As DIRECTV was adding high definition locals to new markets all the time, the decision was made to ditch that internal HD tuner.
For those who wanted the tuner, it would be an extra cost add-on, and the AM21 was born.
The market speaks
The original AM21 still cost a bit more to make than the company could sell them for. Later revisions got costs under control, but the module was never a runaway profit center for DIRECTV. Eventually, they decided to discontinue the part, and for several years, there was no off-air product for DIRECTV.
Later, a dongle-sized product called the LCC took the place of the AM21. It was based on existing technology but was still not designed as a moneymaker. AT&T held onto their small production run of LCCs, only doling them out to areas where there were long-term channel blackouts.
Today, as it was five years ago, there really isn’t a good solution for over-the-air recording within the DIRECTV ecosystem. There’s a small but vocal group who still nurse old AM21s. Occasionally a software update will disrupt them, but these volunteers get to work thinking about workarounds.
I’ve been told officially that AM21 support for DIRECTV has ended. The product won’t work with Genie 2, and that won’t change. If at some point a future software permanently breaks AM21 support, that will be that.
Still an AM21 lover? Sound off
That’s the plan I’ve heard over and over. But, since AT&T has decided to spin off DIRECTV from its corporate umbrella, nothing’s off limits. So if you’re an AM21 fan, if you like getting over-the-air locals in your DIRECTV guide, sound off! Leave a comment below and let the DIRECTV folks know where you want things to go! Who knows, you could be the one who changes their minds. Why not try?