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Most of the other discussions are a little to specific. Maybe there needs to be a Customer Experience discussion in general where these sorts of things can go...

Anyway, I have been a fan of Sony products going on 40 years. More recently my 20 year old Sony 36" TV died so I figured it was time to upgrade my technology. I dropped into my local Sony Store and attempted to purchase a new home entertainment system. While the sales consultant meant well, it took me almost an hour of waiting patiently while he tried to configure something for me and let me pay for it. I finally received my purchase on 2011-12-01 and things have been less than smooth since then.

My expectation is that you would buy something from the Sony Store instead of Best Buy or FutureShop because they would be experts on Sony products, especially putting a system together. I was mostly disappointed in this respect. It really took too much time and patience on my part waiting for the Sales Consultant to finish fighting with the Sony purchase system. I am a software developer with a lot of experience in designing and implementing user interfaces. I can definitely say that whoever designed and implemented their purchase system had little or no respect for either the customer or the sales staff. What seemed to take the most amount of time was for the Sales Consultant to struggle with the UI trying to get me all of the discounts he could. Basically the purchase system is not coordinated very well with the various day to day discount policies.

One of the things I got to take home from the Store was a Sony Tablet S. OMG was that thing ever frustrating to get working. I have a Motorola Milestone phone and that thing was way easier to get working than my tablet - and they are both Android devices. After a week of experimentation and help from the Android forum I finally figured out that the Tablet S has problems with multi-mode WiFi, and in particular it does not like 802.11b. This little design flaw caused me almost a dozen hours of intense frustration and I was finally able to configure my home router to disable the b-mode.

When my equipment finally arrived the following week the delivery guys set stand and TV, connected the TV to the cable box to prove it worked, and then wished me good luck with setting up the rest. Fair enough, all I paid for was the 'white glove' delivery and that's all. I have a MSc in Computing Science and have built my own computer systems so I certainly could figure out how to set up a home entertainment system.

I had almost everything set up when I realize - WTF - no speaker cables? Seriously, how could they sell me a home entertainment system with no speaker cables? It has been a very long time since I set up a sound system so I was unfamiliar with the cool connectors on the back of the speakers and receiver. I headed up to the local computer shop, but they were unsure of what kind of connectors these were for. I then headed back to the Sony Store to complain about the lack of speaker cable and what kind of connectors were required. A different Sales Consultant said there were no special connectors required, just bare wire. At least they were kind enough to give me some free speaker wire off of their spool. Very nice stuff too - heater cord - not lamp cord. Finally I got home and got the speakers connected. Some time later I went on-line and found out that what I wanted was 'banana connectors' and even found a nice video about attaching them. Pity that the staff at the Sony Store neither sell banana connectors or even know what they are.

While many things in consumer electronics get better over the years, many things continue to get worse. For example, consumer electronics engineers are myopically concerned with features and settings at the exclusion of simplicity, usability, or adequate documentation. Sony Corporation, please invest in hiring someone who knows something about human-technology experience.

After a few days of experimenting and reading manuals I discovered about ARC (Audio Response Channel) - a way for the TV to return audio through the HDMI cable to the receiver. This should be a no-brainer to set up, but in the long run it took over 5 hours to get it working, and ultimately two people from the Sony Store had to come to my home to figure it out because they could not talk me through it on the phone. There are about half a dozen different settings you have to get right to get ARC to work, and the printed documentation is not sufficient. While the manuals indicated this could be set up from the remote control, ultimately someone from the Sony Store had to come to my home and push the 'AFD' button on the receiver. His comment was "oh yeah - I should have told you to try that over the phone."

I must say, the techie from the Store was very helpful and gave me lots of very cool information that the sales staff could not. Seriously Sony, I would have easily paid $100 or $200 more for that kind of custom service and access to someone technically savvy. Even more important Sony - the most important thing the sales staff could have given me was a URL for a web site where I could go for such expertise. I can only conclude that the CTO at Sony Corporation is a moron and has never heard of the the internet. Sony needs to replace their CTO with a 17 year old nerd.

The other bad experience is trying to fathom the 'dark art' of media streaming. For the most part it works if you have a computer running Windows Media Player, and you are satisfied with Windows Media Player. After a little research on DLNA I tried setting up WinAmp remote to stream, but that didn't work. Then I installed a trial copy of Nero MediaHome 4 - nada. I tried installing the Vaio streaming software - nada again. Fortunately the techie from the store told me to try Vuze. It was able to see my home entertainment devices, and I finally figured out that you could right-click on a media file and select 'transcode' for a particular device. Turns out this works really excellent and am finally able to play some high def IMAX documentaries on my TV, that I downloaded from Vuze. Seriously - more people need to know about this stuff.

I have much more to say, but this has been a start.

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So the Audio Return Channel stopped working between my XBR-65HX929 and STR-DS3600ES. For such a basic function, Sony have really screwed up the implementation. It was a nightmare to get set up - myriad abstruse settings, and it never was clear what settings made this possible.

I tried the support chat, but the connection got dropped twice. After chatting with 3 different support people no-one could figure out the problem. The last agent asked me to go into the settings on the TV and enable the HDMI control - but for some reason this setting was disabled (grayed out) and when I tried to invoke it I get a message that says "Feature not available in this mode." Obviously the person who wrote this message was a complete mornon because the message is meaningless. What mode am I in, and where to I go to change the mode to something where this feature works? If Sony had anyone who knew anything about user interface design then that information would be right in the user interface.

It is such a shame because Sony used to be a great brand name - a brand that was recognized with quality and innovation. Sadly the company seems on hard times and both quality and innovation are sadly lacking, as is reasonable customer service.

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