Buying a Packard Bell HDD DVD Recorder...

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Update 05/Jul/2007 - pabsdirect Named and Shamed (at end)
Update 01/Dec/2007 - Have They Finally Been Kicked Off eBay? (at end)

A Cautionary Tale

A friend wanted to buy one of those new fangled Hard Disk Recorders thingies to replace their old and tired VCRs and as they couldn't afford a new one I suggested eBay. Having a serious fear of computers they asked if I would look for them.

After a while I found a company selling a unit that seemed to suit their needs; 80Gb Hard Disk [ bit small, but big enough], DVD Writer [ only +R/+RW but most players read all formats], 20 event timer [ more than the minimum they required], and going for an average of about £100 with £20 P&P it was just within their budget. It even had PDC, not bad eh? The unit was a Packard Bell, a brand I was not familiar with, but a known brand.

The item was not new and appeared to be a customer return but the listing clearly stated " This item is professionally, factory refurbished and sanitised by ourselves (the only company authorised to do so by Packard Bell in the UK)" so my fears were allayed. Further down the listing it said " This item comes with the extra re-assurance of a 3 months return to base warranty" and I felt a bit better. It was from a "power seller" not bad, feeling better. With literally tens of thousands of points and a shooting star [no less!] this just had to be a good seller so I felt confident in placing bids on my friend's behalf.

Due to the seriously limited budget I had to wait quite a while before winning one but as the company had a seemingly endless supply that wasn't really a problem. Through a combination of skillful bidding strategies and sheer luck I Finally won one of the units, paid through the business PayPal account and sat back waiting for the unit to arrive.

It was delivered to my workplace and I checked the box to see if it was the one I had bid on. Packard Bell [ Yes ], 80Gb [ Yes], 20 event timer [ Yes], everything Ok there. I could hardly wait for the end of business to take it home, set it up and try it out before delivering it to my friend.

The time came and I opened it up and checked the contents off against the packing list; Unit [ Yes], Remote [ Yes], Batteries [ Yes], Scart Lead [ Yes], Manual/User Guide [ Yes]. All present and correct. A visual inspection of the unit revealed no damage so I skimmed through the meagre documentation and proceeded to set the unit up.

That was no problem [more than 20 years in the computer industry has left me with little fear of technology] and within 20 minutes everything was wired up to the television, all available channels were tuned in and a test recording was made and viewed. Everything was looking good.

Great. I phoned my friend [who was overjoyed] and arranged to take the unit over and set it up for them. A date was made and I left positive feedback for the seller.

Next evening I took everything down, packed it up, transported, unpacked and installed it, fully functioning, in my friend's living room in record time and set about transferring the events from their two ancient Matsui VCRs.

Programming the events was straightforward but severely hampered by the slowness of the interface, with a delay of about a second between pressing a key on the remote and seeing the cursor move on the screen. Painful was not in it. I would have been ashamed to have programmed that!

That issue aside, things went well and I transferred one, two, three, ... seven, eight of the programmed events from the Matsuis. And then the problems started.

We were at the bottom of the first timer event screen and I couldn't get the cursor to go down to the next event timer slot [presumably on the next page]. Looking at the screen showed a further problem, the little navigation icon at the bottom had changed. It only showed left, up and right as active, the down arrow was dimmed. My experience told me this was not something I was doing but a limitation of the machine. (For example, when you are at the top of the screen the up arrow dims showing you cannot go up anymore.) I told my friend " Houston, we have a problem" and went back to the seller.

The next bit is paraphrased from memory as the actual sale was back in April [it is now December].

  Me: Hi, I recently bought one of these from you and am having a problem setting the ninth timer event.
Them: Try harder.
  Me: Hi, Ive tried harder but it doesn't work. Does it have a 20 event timer or is it only eight?
Them: 20, look on the box and in the manual. It is 20.
  Me: Hi, the manual might say 20 but the unit will only let you set eight. When you get to the bottom of the screen the screen says you can't go down, only up. So how do you programme more than eight timer events?
Them: Read the manual.

The above dialogue took place over seven or eight days, they don't seem to regard customer complaints as a genuine priority.

Anyway, not satisfied with their " nothing to do with us, head in the sand" response I consulted google and after quite a bit of searching found something hidden away on the packard bell web site relating to the problem. Basically Packard Bell screwed up the software and even though the packaging and manual clearly states ' Set up to 20 time-recording events with three options: "Once", "Daily" and "Weekly"' the software only supports eight. It didn't do PDC either!

  Me: The unit only has an eight slot event timer.
Them: No, it's 20, check the box and the manual.
  Me: Packard Bell say that's a mistake, it's only eight.
Them: Really? I never knew that, never mind.
  Me: I want my money back.
Them: Post it back and we will refund your money.
  Me: Send me the return postage and I will send it back.
Them: We don't do that...

Well, to cut a long story short I mentioned the Trading Standards, a PayPal dispute was filed and, eventually, we agreed the following;
I would return the unit.
They would refund all monies paid on receipt of the unit.
They would refund the return postage at the same time.

A Happy Ending

Anyway, They got the unit back. Two days later I asked " Where is my money?" and they ignored me. It took a further two weeks before I got all my friend's money back. The return postage came shortly after that.

With all that settled, the only thing left was to update the feedback. The original feedback was positive because the item came straight away and it appeared to be an excellent unit. If I had had the money [which, thankfully, I didn't] I would have bought one for myself. So, being an honest chap, that's what I wrote.

Well, things change and I updated the feedback to leave a warning for others to the effect that the item was not as described, they ignore emails and were slow in refunding the money even though the unit had been returned.

And that was the end of that. Or so I thought...

The Plot Thickens

Recently [Nov 2006] in an idle moment I searched for a similar unit, even though I know I couldn't possibly afford one [you can't stop a lad from dreaming], and came across the very same seller selling the next model up; 250Gb, DVD, DivX, USB, 20 event timer blah blah blah. All the same claims, an almost identical listing. My hackles rose...


So I did a bit of digging and, guess what? The Packard Bell website says this one has the exact same problem, advertised as having a 20 slot event timer when, in reality, it only has an eight slot event timer. And that one doesn't do PDC either! Check out this URL "http://support.packardbell.com/uk/item/index.php?i=topic_02367&pi=platform_ehr2080&dhepn=C041920001".

Ok, so it looks like you MIGHT be able to update the firmware on this unit to increase the event timers to 20 but PDC is still a big no no.

To check out my suspicions I sent them the following eBay message two and a half weeks ago and, as yet, they have not bothered to reply.

This message was sent from my personal eBay account whereas the previous transaction was under my boss' business account so I can see no reason for them to ignore me. As far as they knew I was just another customer with a question about an item they are selling.

eBay Message:
=============
1. Will you please confirm the number of events that can be scheduled for recording on this unit?
2. Does this unit support PDC?
3. What is the Packard Bell Model number?
=============

All the units they sell are refurbished customer returns and I suspect the biggest reason for a customer returning the item would be " it only has eight timer event slots not the 20 stated on the box".

If the units they are selling have had their firmware upgraded to support the advertised 20 slot event timer why haven't they replied to my message?

This seller advertised tens if not hundreds of the previousPackard Bell units as having a 20 event timer when it only had eight.
That is a fact.

They claim in their listings that they have a close relationship with the manufacturer, Packard Bell, and I quote; "This item is professionally, factory refurbished and sanitised by ourselves (the only company authorised to do so by Packard Bell in the UK)".
Given their claims I would have expected them to be aware of such an obvious fault in the product.
Wouldn't you?

Now, to the Guide part.

When buying a Packard Bell HDD DVD Recorder;

  1. Make sure you check out the manufacturer's website thoroughly.
  2. Check with the seller using eBay messaging if you have any questions.
  3. If they don't reply to your message - don't buy from them.
  4. If they reply but don't actually answer your questions - don't buy from them.
  5. If you are still unsure check their feedback. Pay extra special attention to negative feedback or positive feedback that has been update with negative comments. If someone claims the item is not as described CHECK IT OUT. No seller would allow false feedback to go unchallenged.
Above all else remember it is your money you are spending, you are the customer, if the item is not as described you have a right to your money back.
Very often the seller will not want to give you a refund or will only offer to refund the price minus the P&P or require you to pay the return postage. If this happens and the item was falsely advertised stick to your guns. Demand a full refund of all monies paid and make them pay for return carriage. Anything less would mean you are out of pocket because of their actions and that is just plain wrong!

Updates

05 Jul 2007
I have received a number of requests to identify the seller concerned and, after careful consideration, have decided to do so. The 'dodgy dealer' referred to above is PABS Direct and I wouldn't go near them for love nor money.

Forget all about their 38,000 Feedback rating, just click here to check out their 600 negatives! It makes for interesting reading on these wet evenings...
The 500 Neutral and Withdrawn feedbacks are just as damning.

Damn, you couldn't make this stuff up! Yet another unsatisfied customer has filed negative feedback since I started adding this update 15 minutes ago!

Caveat Emptor: Let the Buyer Beware!

01 Dec 2007

During a routine check of my eBay Guides I discovered something interesting - pabsdirect appear not to be trading on eBay any more. They have no active auctions, nothing in their eBay shop and as far as I can tell it is almost a month since they sold anything at all. Yet, remarkably, their negative feedback STILL stands at over 600 for the past year! Plus they have over 400 neutral and 24 withdrawn (which I am sure I don't have to tell you almost certainly means very, VERY negative).
Think about it, they received almost 1100 non positive feedbacks in only 11 months, that's approximately 98 negatives per month or five unsatisfied buyers for each and every working day of the year. That's a hell of a LOT of seriously p!ssed off people!

Their eBay account is still active as is their eBay shop but their website [www.pabsdirect.co.uk] is currently non operational. All in all things are looking up and I do hope they have gone for good because their abscence would make eBay a much nicer, much safer place for everyone.
Hopefully they won't be screwing up anybody's Christmas this year.

The only black cloud on the horizon is another eBay seller appears to be selling the same old defective dross as pabsdirect used to and their eBay listings have a a disturbingly similar style. I will monitor the situation and let you know my findings as soon as I have any...

Regards.
tbod
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