Thursday, March 05, 2009

Computer Frustration
Why Tech Support SUCKS

Ever Been Frustrated with a Windows Issue?? Read On!

For those who read my post on February 22, 2009, the preceding Friday I built a new Home Theater PC (HTPC). I had two problems, one with memory (fixed and perhaps I'll post a short blurb about that later) and one where the audio coming over the HDMI output of the HTPC was only in Stereo.

This is how I felt after two weeks of trying to fix the issue

And this is why. As I mentioned, the HDMI port on the HTPC was delivering only stereo sound, not Surround Sound, nor would it output DTS or Dolby sound. The card in question with the HDMI port was a VisionTek Radeon HD 4870, a high end 3D graphics card that also has an HD audio processor.). I tried everything. First I went into mega research mode spending many hours and days searching for any problems with the HD 4870 line of cards in the area of audio problems.

Many, many hits were returned providing many threads to chase down. All were around the sound not working at all coming off of the HDMI port, not just it putting out a stereo signal. So far as I could find after two weeks of research was that I, lucky me, was the ONLY person to have this issue! I actually took a lunch break every day at work to search further on this issue....I rarely take lunch breaks (yes, I am strange, what can I say....)

This is about how I felt at this point in time!

I tired different version of the drivers for the video card from VisionTek, different versions of the RealTek driver that goes with the HD audio processor on the video card. Different combos of the two of them! Nothing! Sometimes it was a battle just to get stereo out of the system. I had the motherboard's sound device disabled in the BIOS, I re-enabled it, tried combinations of settings around the RealTek HDMI device and the devices offered by the motherboard. Again, nothing!

I pride myself of being very knowledgeable around computer hardware and the Windows operating system. Sure, there are many people that know more then me, like my friend Mike who humbles me with his expansive knowledge, but there are many more than do not. I was upset because with all my years of computer expertise I could not fix it.

I e-mailed VisionTek, the maker of the little to no help at all from them and it's been a week as of today since they replied to my last message to them answering one of their questions about my problem, plus two subsequent requests for help.

I e-mailed RealTek, the the maker of the HD audio driver...twice, they did not reply to either of my messages.

I posted on 6 technical forums, including one specialized audio/video forum that also had a section for computer audio video.

I posted on Microsoft's own Vista forum. Since the problem was manifesting in Windows as having the Surround Speakers option grayed out in Control panel it was conceivable that it was a Vista issue. Not a single answer from there! Never have I had such a horrible technical support experience in my life!

You did not want to be around me at this point!

I was very close to returning the card, getting a different one that just put video out over the HDMI connection. Since the motherboard of the system has its own surround sound capability I could just run an optical cable to the computer system and plug that into my Sony AV Receiver. But I had researched this with great care before buying the video card. I wanted to have all my devices connected via HDMI cables! I did NOT want to run a separate cable when the HDMI one should be supporting my audio. I did not want to BUY a 20 foot optical cable either for that matter! I wanted the ^%$*!#&!!!!!! board to do what it was advertised to do!!!!

When I installed the new receiver after Christmas I had three devices connected to it and I was using 14 audio/video cables. With the new receiver I have four devices and only four HDMI cables! It is so much less cable clutter, so I made sure when I spec's out the parts for the new computer that I had a card that could do audio/video over HDMI.

ANYWAY....last night I removed all the drivers from the manufacturer of the card and went to the chip set makers site and used their drivers. Typically it is best to use the drivers of whoever made the board so you take advantage of any customizations they may have added. This was an atypical case. Not only did it fix the audio issue (I screamed out YEA! at the top of my lungs scaring the kitty when the blue Dolby DTS indicator lit up on the receiver after the PC was rebooted), but it also increased my graphics score from 15,200 3DMarks to 16,000.

3DMarks are a graphic measurement system devised by a company called Futuremark that makes graphics benchmarking/testing software. Complex animated scenes are rendered in real time and the higher the score the better. My previous Home Theater PC scored around 4.400 3DMarks.

So, as I said quite the atypical case here, with an atypical solution, using the chip set drivers which fixed the audio issues and increased my graphics processing power.

In closing I can't say a single good thing about VisionTek's support group or their business either. In my last message to them seeking help I also copied the sales department and their general information address. Not a peep back from any of them!

To VisionTek, who makes the card, I say YOU OWE ME TWO WEEKS OF MY LIFE BACK!!!!

While I realize RealTek did not make the VisionTek card, it is their HDMI device driver that provides the audio functionality. They could have at least replied to my e-mail which was a plea for help mentioning VisionTwek was unable to help me.

There is no excuse for this in a tech support environment.

I'm disappointed in Microsoft for not answering a question in their forum. Sure, it's a user forum but I know there are Microsoft people there!

I really do thank those few in the other forums that did try to help, and I thank Newegg where I bought the card from for the offer of returning it for another model card. These were the only only bright spots to this tarnished experience!


David Louis Harter said...


That is an excellent tale. It kept me perched at the very edge of my chair throughout!

I am pleased you corrected the problem. I wish it had been something more technologically intricate.

- David

Bev from PA said...

Your situation is quite complicated compared to my two month loss of internet due to Vonage and Verizon who I take every opportunity to speak my mind.

I recall the anguish.

Hope you can relax and enjoy the system.

Chris said...

David - You should see the e-mail I sent VisonTek this morning condemning their Tech Support - Short, sweet, and to the point!

I am glad you enjoyed my recanting of this Tech Support Tale or Terror!!

Chris said...

Bev - I am certainly enjoying the new system though it will be a cold day in hell (pardon my french) before I EVER buy anything from VisionTek again!!

Barry said...

At least there was a happy ending to all that frustration!