Goodmans Digital Box (or how to impress a potential customer).

Published on 15 September 2003 in , , ,

This is the rather long tale of how Goodmans turned a negative message board thread about one of their products, into a community of beta testers, recommenders and how that got me to buy their digital set top box…

Doing your homework.

After three and a half years, I recently decided to replace the rather slow and cranky OnDigital box that had been my way of viewing digital television.

Some research was required before purchasing it’s replacement – not least because a huge majority of the current digital set top boxes don’t have timer functionality. This rather useful feature will turn the digital box on at a set time, and change it to a set channel, and then turn it off when it’s done. It’s extremely important if you go out and want to tape programmes on several channels. Unbelievably the majority of set top boxes don’t have this function.

With the help of the incredibily useful I was able to locate the few boxes with timers, and decided upon two models – the Thomson DTI1000 and the Goodmans DB3.

The options.

I’d used the Thomson at work – it’s nice. It was £15 dearer but it’s a good box from a good brand.

The Goodmans I knew less of. As a company, Goodmans doesn’t much of a reputation in my mind. They’re known for well built, good value products and not much else.

Reading through the reviews archive of What TV, the mag had given the Thomson and the GDB1 (the original version of the Goodmans box) some good reviews, and the GDB3 is an enhanced version. There really seemed little in it.

An interesting discovery.

Then I heard about a thread about the GDB2 on Digital Spy‘s forums…

The thread in question had started this year by some people moaning about problems with the software in the GDB2.

It’s now nearly 90 pages long. Not because there are 90 pages of faults with the box at all. Far from it.

A customer alerted Goodmans to the thread, and their staff took a look. One man from the technical team started answering the comments that had been raised, letting the users know what was happening and when the updates to the software were due.

The discussion continued. Very quickly what had started off as a negative thread about Goodmans got less and less negative. As a public relations campaign (if nothing else) it was working.

And that was that… Well not quite.

Then something very interesting happened.

The DVB specification (which states how digital TV via an aerial should be broadcast) requires set top boxes to have a serial port on them. It was designed so set top boxes could have external modems plugged into them, but in reality, they’re rarely used for much.

So unuseful is this feature that Goodmans nearly ditched it regardless of the spec, but decided to keep it and added a small feature which allowed the box to be updated via the serial port.

It didn’t take long for someone to ask the obvious question – would it be possible to set up a site so that people could download the new software and load it into the box themselves.

Let the updating begin!

Under two weeks after the thread had begun, Goodmans staff member Mark Smith had written a guide to the process and passed the software over to a member of the forum who had offered to host it on a section of his site. And so the files and howto information appeared at Freddy’s Utilities. People started to update their set top boxes.

Importantly they were doing this before the main on-air download of the software. Every night the box turns itself on, tunes in and looks over the airwaves to see if there have been any software updates. It’s a rather expensive process (about £20,000 for a weeks broadcast) because the manufacturers have to pay for the airtime. And if a bug went in that was not spotted… Costly.

It didn’t take long for someone (not the Goodmans member of staff I hasten to add) to realise that here ready and waiting was a perfect group of beta testers. Well if you were in their boots, would you say no?

In return, the team have been mulling over the feature requests that have been made by the forum regulars – including a screen saver for the radio stations which made it into the software in a later update.

Turned out nice again.

The result has been good for Goodmans. They’ve turned an unhappy punter into a happy one, and as a by-product, now have a ready and waiting group of beta testers who want to make the set top boxes as good as they can be. Reading through some of the other forum threads, you’ll see a lot of Goodmans advocates, and it’s hard to imagine that advocacy not spreading outside of the internet too. A little goodwill goes a long way.

It even persuaded me to buy the box.

Why I bought the box.

Why? Well for starters, this is a box that’s had a lot of bugs fixed. I also know that when my box updates itself, it’s had a good bout of testing, meaning there’s less stuff likely to go wrong.

And then there’s the fact that Goodmans have put themselves out to help their customers. They didn’t have to go on Digital Spy, nor did they have to make their software available for downloading via the internet. But they have.

And the box itself.

And as for the box? I like it very much. It’s speedy and responsive, and the pictures are more robust than my old OnDigital box. Digital text pages load almost instantly, and installing it was just a case of turning it and letting it do its stuff. The on-screen menus are clean and the EPG is delightful to use.

This evening I even updated the software to the latest version – I bought the box a few weeks after the last on-air update. It worked perfectly. And even better, doing it doesn’t invalidate your warrenty.

Update 9 June 2004: Unfortunatly the Goodmans GDB3 has gone sour… Read the woes before buying one with caution!