Comcast DVR

Locally in Seattle, thanks to a Comcast/Microsoft deal, Comcast has begun a broad trial of a digital cable receiver that's also a DVR (a la Tivo). I'd always wanted a Tivo, but the addition of another remote control, the cost of the service, and the fact that it couldn't record high-def TV left me in the cold. So when I heard that Microsoft employees could get a free trial of the Comcast DVR box (granted, I heard about two weeks after everyone else at Microsoft) I leapt on it. Here are my observations:

  • It has two tuners. You can watch one station and record another or record two stations.
  • The DVR experience is quite good. High-definition recording, pretty smart conflict resolution features, a good understanding of channels and programs, and so on.
  • Playback from DVR is great. It doesn't seem to lose any fidelity.
  • The EPG (electronic program guide) experience is much nicer. Picture in picture of the show you're watching, much more flexible ways to search, etc.
  • Pause live TV. Whatever you're watching, it's caching. Hit the pause button and you can come back and it will read off the internal hard drive.

And there some things to improve:

  • Navigation is funky. Some pages have a "last" menu option to back you out of the menu system, some don't, and the "Prev Ch" button on the remote control doesn't navigate channels, so sometimes you have to exit the EPG entirely and go back in.
  • Recording is not smart enough. The box understands show titles and channels, but it doesn't understand that you can have a show that's on multiple channels (e.g. new CSI episodes on CBS and reruns on BRAVO). Plus, though you can set it to record only new episodes, I'm not sure how it defines "new," since it was recording reruns and even rebroadcasts of the same show.
  • Performance is not snappy. It's OK, but especially for things like pausing live TV, there are stutters in the UI. It's much worse when it's downloading something like an OS upgrade or new EPG data.
  • Setup is non-intuitive. The box comes configured for 480i; my set understands only 480p. Not sure how to resolve that, but it required a call to Comcast to get it set up right.
  • Disk fills up fast. It can record a lot of normal-def TV (like 30 hours or something), but high-def just eats it up. Since this is a major feature, I'd love a bigger hard drive.

I'm now wondering what Windows XP Media Center Edition would do to improve on these...

Comments (20)
  1. >I’m now wondering what Windows XP Media Center Edition would do to improve on these…

    Or you could just get a TiVo.

  2. Why bother? I’ve seen it in action and I can’t say it’s substantially better (or worth the fees).

  3. Ed Kaim says:

    Does it record stuff so you can watch it on a PC? For example, I’d love it if I could record TV in WMA to a network share (or just somewhere on the DVR I can access) and then watch it later in WMP on my tablet. I think Media Center supports this, but if the set-top does too then it might be easier to work with.

  4. It doesn’t seem to have a way to get the recorded shows off the box. It has several USB ports, an Ethernet port, and a smartcard reader, but I’m not sure how I’d pull things off.

  5. Matt says:

    After reading about it’s release on the BBC website, I called Comcast and had it installed about 2-3 weeks ago. I found it rather funny that I learned about it via the BBC and not our local news, anyway.. $16 install fee and $5/month is unbeatable for TiVo like functionality. My only gripes so far are:

    1. Sound missing from HD recording (happened 2x)

    2. On Demand menu freezes up occasionally while scrolling through shows

    3. The new universal remote, while a big improvement over the older one – controls one fewer device (3 instead of 4).

    4. Having to press OK before using the nav buttons to browse other shows that are currently playing in the mini-guide, I am constantly rewinding live TV because I forgot to press OK first, or the mini-guide disappears right before I press one of the nav buttons(after the x second delay) and I rewind live TV. Pretty annoying…

    Other than those gripes, it is absolutely awesome.

  6. John Dilley says:

    Google search on "Motorola DVR" to get the box specs and user manual, their FAQ has information on recording from the box and links to sites with information on digitally transferring the data.

    My only issue is I’ve been unable to get the S-Video connection to work going to my recorder, the HD output is working, so might be something that needs to be configered.

  7. Years ago, I worked with John Montgomery at Ziff-Davis’s PC Computing. Now, he’s a mucky-muck at Microsoft. And he has a very entertaining blog, in a geeky sort of way. I liked his comparo on the new Comcast DVR. I’m still deciding whether I like the Cox/Scientific Atlanta combo. The HD is awesome, the DVR software is, well, frustrating. Most importantly, it is in imminent danger of failing the WA (Wife Acceptance) test. The Media Center PC continues to impress. It is on the verge of moving into the den, to take over standard-definition TV recording duties from the Tivo. Although I would be much happier if I could get a Media Center Extender instead….

  8. josh ledgard says:

    Do local channels come across as digital or only analog. The analog cable signal was so bad in my neck of the woods that it forced me to get satellite. 🙂

  9. Thomas Hawk says:

    "I’m now wondering what Windows XP Media Center Edition would do to improve on these…"

    Ahhh.. the billion dollar question.

  10. erin21gobra says:

    We just got it, only downfall I saw was that you can only record two shows one time? Cant record a whole season of two shows because it would never be free to record anything else…

  11. Shawn Burke says:

    I switched from DirecTV+TiVo to the new Comcast DVR. It doesn’t have the usability of the TiVo but the price is right (an HD TiVo is $1K), and I don’t need a phone jack for it, which saves me another $25 bucks a month for a landline. Overall, I’m super-happy with it.

  12. ginswizzle says:

    I’ve had my Microsoft TV dual tuner HD DVR for about a month now, and while the Ux is definitely lacking the polish of Tivo I was generally impressed and almost ready to end my Tivo subscription until… it lost all my recorded shows and all my scheduled series last night.

    It maddeningly still shows the hard drive as 66% full, but there doesn’t seem to be any way to surface my recorded programs or restore my scheduled series. If anybody has any suggestions for recovering from this, I’d be thankful for the help. If I can’t recover from this, the box will go back and I’ll return to Tivo and never look back.

  13. Let me check with the Microsoft TV folks to see if this is a known problem and if so, whether we can fix it. I’ve heard of one other person who had a similar experience, so I think it may be part of working the kinks out.

    I was more surprised to find out that Comcast was charging me $10/mo to beta test their product. That kind of stinks.

    I also have become somewhat annoyed that the intelligence in the box only understands the concept of a TV show as it is bound to a particular channel, so if I want to record all "This Old House" episodes (which are shown on about 6 channels) I have to set it up for each channel. Plus I have to set the options for each series to record only new shows — there’s no way to set that as a global option.

    In all, however, I’m still happy with the box.

  14. Talked w/the TV team. There is an interim solution to recovering lost recordings: try unplugging the box and plugging it back in after a few seconds. A few minutes after the box reboots, you should be able to view your recorded shows as before, delete them, etc. One caveat: all of your scheduled recordings, including series requests, will be lost so you’ll have to reschedule them.

  15. Jon T. says:

    1. Presumably the unit is the Motorola DCT6412; it only has a 120GB hard drive, thus the very small amount of HD recording.

    2. Losing all of your schedules on a reboot is a nasty bug. Hard to believe the schedules aren’t in the 16MB of Flash RAM.

    3. From looking at the manual and back panel picture, it appears that you can’t hook up an antenna to pick up any local HD OTA (over the air) broadcasts. It would be interesting to hear how quality and availability of HD content from Comcast compares to the OTA channels.

    4. If anyone has switched from DISH Network satellite service to Comcast, that would be good to hear about. For comparison, DISH recently cut the price on their dual-tuner HD-DVR to $549, and it has 250GB disk and an OTA tuner. The recent automatic software update adds OTA channels to the EPG, but they still don’t have name-based recording.

  16. Anil says:

    Anyone knows where I can find the manual to reprogram the remote that came with the DVR, the tech doing the installation did the initial programming for my TV and VCR but I need to reprogram it and haven’t been able to figure out how thru trial and error.

  17. j says:

    To do an auto programm of dvr remote for tv..first press tv one time then hold setup down till tv light blinks. Enter 991 then press power then tv putton do it back and forth untill tv turn on or if tv is on already do it untill it turn off do it slow.Once you find the code press setup again to lock it to remote do the same for vcr but use the aux putton instead

  18. I had the strangest experience with this beast yesterday. My wife and I were watching a saved episode of "Desperate Housewives" and she fast-forwarded through a commercial when the remote control just stopped working. It was sending signals, but the box wasn’t receiving them. The face controls didn’t work either. I had to unplug it and plug it back in a couple of times before it seemed to work right. My theory right now is that it had over heated.

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