I don’t hear this question much anymore, but for some reason I’ve gotten it twice lately, so it’s time for another installment in our popular “FROM THE FRONT LINES” series. A customer says,
I like to keep music on through my DIRECTV box. But I notice that from room to room the music is out of sync. What can I do?
Why sync issues happen
Sync issues with satellite TV have a lot of different causes, but it all boils down to computer power. A satellite receiver is a specific kind of computer. Satellite TV comes through the air as a digital bit stream. In other words, it’s very similar to an MP3 or video file that you play from your computer. It’s compressed and encoded and it needs to be processed in order to go to your TV.
Getting the signal ready for your TV takes computing power. Every different model of DIRECTV receiver or DVR has a different processor and a different path. This can lead to slight sync issues. Generally we’re talking about no more than a second or so, but it’s enough to create an annoying effect when you hear the sound from two rooms.
Sync issues also happen when you’re using a Genie client, DVR, and receiver together. These three boxes may act the same but they are actually really different. The Genie client is waiting for all the work to be done by the Genie DVR. This, combined with a tiny bit of latency from extra cabling, can cause sync issues. Any DVR whether or not it is a Genie is simultaneously buffering and displaying and this can cause issues as well. A receiver, on the other hand, is simply putting out what it receives. Plain old receivers usually put the signal out faster than other types of DIRECTV equipment
A note about DVRs
DVRs will generally be a bit behind live TV when you’re watching. Again it will only be a bit but it can be enough to annoy some people. There’s a lot more work going on with a DVR especially something like a Genie which could be recording 6 things at the same time it’s showing live TV, or sending video to multiple rooms.
Whether you are using a DVR or Genie client, you’ll find the worst time sync if you have paused or rewound the video stream you’re on. When you pause, rewind, or fast forward, the DVR seamlessly moves from live TV to recorded TV. This means you’re watching TV that’s gone to the hard drive and was retrieved from the hard drive. Even if you fast forward back to “live” you’re usually still watching the recorded stream rather than the purely live one. Changing the channel and changing it back will ensure you’re actually as close to “now” as you can be.
DIRECTV vs. Off-Air
DIRECTV local signals will generally be a second or two behind live TV. Remember that AT&T is receiving that live signal, sending it up to a satellite then down to a broadcast center. Then it is reprocessed and sent back up to a satellite again and down again where you receive it. All of this takes time. It’s amazing that it can call be done in just a few seconds but it does, really, take a few seconds.
What can be done to fix sync issues?
It’s very hard to fix DIRECTV sync issues and in many cases it’s not worth it. If you’re trying to sync up sound in multiple rooms, you might consider simply wiring the home for audio and getting the sound from a single receiver. This will guarantee perfect sync. If you’re worried about audio and video, it gets harder.
If you’re really worried, you can buy a digital delay device. You can usually find them at stores that sell musical instruments. With a little bit of work you can get everything under control. You’ll need one device for each of your receivers, except the one that will act as the “master” for all the rest.
Even if all your receivers are the exact same model, all your TVs are the exact same model, and all the cables are exactly the same length, sync issues are still possible. (Yes, the model of TV can make a difference too, because of the decoding needed for HDMI-carried signals.) A setup like that will have the best chance of being in perfect sync but even then, issues can happen.