First Look: Comcast DVR

I’ve used TiVo for over two years now. I was wasn’t an “early adopter” for TiVo – in all honesty I was skeptical of the recording purposed and didn’t think I’d need to ever freeze live TiVo. Live and learn: I don’t want to live without it, even if I can do it. Recently I moved up to a Tivo2 box and have been less than impressed with the results… somethings were better but other things were lacking to the point of my signing up for the Comcast DVR service – I just got the box today…

You knew I’d have to have some comments on it!

With TiVo1 I had hardly any gripes: the guide was a little lacking, but that was about it. The TiVo1 guide only showed what was on for the current half hour, instead of the hour and a half grid that most cable boxes show. It was a minor gripe – obviously if I would still link to them – if only because I kept the service for so long.

When I saw that TiVo2 boxes had dropped to $99 (after rebate) I figured it was time to take a look at the new stuffs. I had a Sony branded box on the first go around, and now it looked like they were getting out of the PVR business; they had made a TiVo2 version about a year ago, but it’s long since discontinued. In fact, most of the boxes out there these days are produced under the TiVo brand.

The hook up was the same. The guide was vastly improved. The output was shitty. So much so that I posted a blurb on the TiVo forums and discovered two things: first, I was not the only one to notice and second, that the TiVo brand boxes had switched to a single decoder chip, which “might lessen quality for some people.” Consider me some people and I don’t think I’m all that observant of video quality. I even went so far as to get a new copy of Video Essentials, but after three hours of testing, nothing helped.

The day after I plugged in the new TiVo box, Comcast announced their new dual-tuner Hi-Def PVR box – this is typical of my life – but that’s OK… I didn’t have much interested until I heard what they were offering. On the surface it seemed that I would be getting the ability to record one show while watching another – and in HD quality – and their service was $10-ish a month [it gets confusing because I was paying $4 or $5 for HD and now that’s included in the PVR $9.95]. TiVo is $12/month (I think) and their HD box is $999 [satellite only]. Hah.

Then I started hearing about some issues with the Comcast box… typical 1.0 hiccups, but they sound uglier since TiVo has been doing this for a while and no one likes their TV recorders fecked off. I had also seen some screen shot of the guide and it looked like it would be the same as the current Comcast guide, which is ironically like TiVo1. But there was no long term commitment and no start up fee, so I figured I would run for a couple of months with both the new PVR and TiVo…

So here’s some first impressions of the Comcast PVR system:

The guide is much better than I expected. It does start with a “what’s on now” list, but if you hit the right arrow, it shows an hour and a half grid! Yay! The two tuners work invisibly: you watch TV like normal and the other tuner records when it needs to. What you’re currently watching can be changed, paused, etc. just like normal. The Rewind/Fast Forward modes have four speeds, which can be overwhelming. It does not give you an “auto backup” at high speeds like TiVo does – useful when skipping commercials, when TiVo would back off your stop point by a few seconds – but there is a “return” button that jumps back seven seconds… makes for a handy one press workaround.

The guide is also the foundation for searching for shows and right now there’s only about three days worth – if that’s normal, it’s lacking a good deal, but I’m guessing that there’s more info coming. It’s also got the same limitation that TiVo has: if a show isn’t listed you can’t recording… so I have to wait for the first show of The Sopranos to show up before I can add it to the list.

Since I hooked it up through DVI, my TV is always locked in HD/Full mode. This has its pros and cons… if I switch to a HD channel, I don’t have to change anything. If I watch regular TV, I still won’t have to change anything; I don’t mind the black bars. If I watch regular TV, and the show is in letter box, I might have a problem: there are now black bars on the top, bottom, and sides. This doesn’t happen often, but it does happen from time to time, and that’s when Wide Zoom comes in handy. Thankfully, the Motorola box has SVideo-out still, so I can plug that into the TV’s Video 1, too, which will let me switch to Wide or Wide Zoom mode.

Space wise, I saved a half hour show and it told me I had 1% of my space used. I’m guessing that means I have about 50 hours of regular TV. Or if my non-HD shows are saved as HD, I might have 50 hours of recording, over all! Won’t know about that until I play with it some more, though. Either way, I had a 30 hour TiVo for a long while and never ran outta space.

Pretty optimistic about it… so far, the only downside is a small window of guide information… I’m used to two weeks of data stored for browsing and three days seems too small. I also wonder if I’ll miss the TiVo-To-Go option that’s due this moth, if I drop them, but I don’t know how much I’d actually use that anyway. Oh, and the Harmony remote picked up the new cable box without a problem, so that too is working already.

I’m impressed so far: I’m used to cable companies charging twice as much for a quarter of what they should be offering and that’s not the case here!


51 thoughts on “First Look: Comcast DVR”

  1. I got my Comcast DVR a week or two ago, and am quite happy with it.

    If you’re up in Seattle, you may have a different guide/software than the rest of us, though — my understanding is that MS is piloting a guide just in that area with Comcast, while the rest of the country uses the TV Guide iGuide.

    Hmmmm … I haven’t checked, but I think I get more than three days out. Now I’ll have to go see.

  2. In Canada, most of the DVR platforms available from the content providers are woeful at best. Specifically, it’s difficult to find anything up here with enough smarts to act on a “Record every new episode of the Simpsons, regardless of time or channel” request. They tend to be more basic “Record this channel every week at the same time” type of logic.

    How does the new Comcast PVR fare in this regard?

    Pete

  3. @Dave – Yep, in Redmond I’ve got the Microsoft version… when looking at the still shots of the original Tan, the MS version (Blue), and the iGuide, I thought that the blue would be just like the tan and crap compared to the iGuide version, but I was wrong. The Blue version is just about on par with TiVo – at least for what I used TiVo for. I’m sure there are ppl in both camps that could argue that, but it lefts me find shows by title and set up a “season” pass for them… that’s good enough for me.

    @Peter – It will get every episode of a show, regardless of time, but it will stick to the one channel. Having said that, you could add an additional entry for the same show on another channel – I find that there isn’t too much that needs that, but it’s possible just the same. Also, it will capture either “First run”, “First run and Repeats”, “All showings” – the first two mean to me that if it has recorded a show before, it will not record it a second time, even if it’s a repeat. The last mode of All Showings means it will trap everything regardless of title and previously recorded settings.

    To all – as of midnight last night I had about 6 days woth of programming locally, so I’d say the window is growing… I’ll see what it’s at tonight – I’d like to see that be a 10-14 day window, but a week is OK.

  4. tivo is gay and expenive comcast is the way to go tivo is for assholes who waste money if you never wanna have sex again buy tivo but if you do get comcast thats waht the cool people get tivo is for an xcon that weighs 600 pounds only losers and weaklings get tivo comcast is what the real men get

  5. Quick Question, I’m moving and can get a great deal with Comcast for switching from DirectTV, with Tivo. However, right now I don’t have a HDTV, and wondering if I can get the Motorola 6412 HD DVR (2 tuner) without HDTV and hook it up to a regular tv until I get a HDTV?

  6. Um, I think so, yeah, sorta. The 6412 doesn’t have a Coax out: it has SVideo out (which most TV’s support), Composite and DVI, so you don’t need a HD TV to use it… my last Sony tube had all three inputs and wasn’t HD, so it depends on the TV you have. You’ll also probably have to pay for the HD channels that you don’t watch – part of the PVR fee includes the access to HD channels.

    Of course Comcast would have a better answer for it :)

  7. So, I have Comcast DVR in Seattle, and I’ve noticed something a little weird; Occasionally, with specific shows, it won’t reliably record the show. The Daily Show, for instance, I have set to record every night. Doesn’t do it. Sometimes if I hit record mid-show, it won’t do it. I’m curious if others have had similar issues with specific programs? I suspect Comcast may have made some copy-protection scheme built into its DVR, not SUPPOSED to be active yet, and its malfunctioning. (so, after everyone uses Comcast for DVR, when a cable channel doesn’t want to allow people to record the show, or wants to charge, then its built into the DVR to block us. Want the season finale of Sopranos? Click “YES” for an extra $3.99 to appear on your Comcast bill.) Paranoid? Sure. Doesn’t mean they aren’t out to overcharge me. Out to get me. Whichever.

  8. Whoa. That’s the first I’ve heard of that… I’ve heard of people seeing “changing this channel?” message like I’ve seen, but that’s easy to explain, even with 2 tuners. Haven’t seen anything about extra costs for special shows or things that refuse to record… I HAVE heard that if there’s a conflict that it doesn’t always tell you – I assume that nothing else is scheduled for then?

    Very interesting.

  9. Hey,

    I just noticed that I COULD NOT Fast Forward, Rewind, etc. through “24” or “American Idol” when watching them via MyDVR last night. My neighbor reports the same thing… anyone got news on WHY Comcast is disabling this?! Thast’s a terrible move.

  10. If I had to guess, pressure from the advertisers. I don’t watch either show (nor much from regular TV these days but I’ll let you know if this happens for the Apprentice tonight) so I can’t comment for certain.

    This was a regular recording? Like “season pass” and it stored them?

  11. Yup,

    It was a regular recording… though not a “season pass” (I set it up ahead of time that day only). This doesn’t happen for all shows, just the ones I mentioned above. For example, “Law & Order” reruns still had functionality.

    Thanks!

  12. So did the Apprentice last night, but both of those are on NBC – I actually posted this into another topic here too, cuz I wanna see if anyone else notices it on either other networks or other FOX shows.

    Hell I might set up something on Fox to record now!

  13. what about Outputs to a computer’s video card?

    Is this possible with the comcast PVR? I would like to record simpsons, ect through a video input card or i/o and burn on dvd.

    does the comcast box have an ethernet or usb port, like tivo does?

    thanks.

  14. It has an Ethernet port which is “turned off by design and for future use”. It’s also got FireWire, that you should be able to get data off of – I’d check MSN Search to see what turns up there. And of course, there’s always composite, component, and DVI, but that’s mostly standard these days.

  15. I have the Motorolla HDDVR box from Comcast. It’s Ok, but the picture on the analog channels is horrid. So much so that I have to switch back to a direct cable connection through my PIP and skip the DVR functions. I was really disappointed. My non DVR HD box was pretty good, but this is so bad I might even send it back. Even the HD channels aren’t as crisp as they were on the other box. The genius Comcast guy said that the DVR box has a bad picture compared to the others, great service. :(

  16. I’m about to replace DTV w/ Tivo for Comcast HDTivo. Am I making the right call? DTV wants $900 for the tuner. Comcast wants nothing. Is the picture any different? I hear the local channels aren’t digital anyway.

  17. Well, there’s pros and cons to both… the biggest con being that TiVo-HD wants $1K for the box and is $12.95 a month; Comcast free and 1/2 the monthly fee (at least here it was $6/mo b/c I had HD already). Comcast’s also has 2 tuners which TiVo-HD does not offer. And there’s no need for a blaster, as it’s built into Comcast’s box (which it might be for TiVo via Direct TV). The downside to Comcast is you don’t own the box and there’s a lot fewer hacks available for it…

  18. I have had the Comcast DVR box for several weeks now and it is terrific. I have never had a Tivo and I am very glad about that, who wants to pay $12.99 amonth for the rest of your life just for the programming service. The quality of the picture thru DVR is very good, unlike another contributor my non digital pictures are vastly better than the raw cable signal.

    How can you compare Tivo with DVR when DVR gives you 2 digital tuners and the integration with the cable tuner makes the the DVR functions very user friendly. So you can’t get a season pass to the Simpsons, what are “The Simpsons” anyway?

    The HD recordings are superb they are impossible to tell from the original broadcast.

    My one beef is that it is kludgy to make a DVD recording from the DVR hard drive.

    I have also experienced the strange happenings when trying to fast forward through a recording. When I try it I get the “Delete, Don’t delete the recording” pop-up and then you cannot continue viewing the recording. I can usually start viewing from the beginning and I stay away from any FF, FR or pause functions. This only seems to happens on channel 129 BBCAmerica.

    Get the DVR, dump Tivo.

  19. To Comcast outcast: I have the MS Comcast DVR in Seattle, I have also had problems with my ‘season pass’ recording the daily show, sometimes it records it sometimes it doesnt.

    I’ve seen on some other sites people talked about programing their remotes to do other functions but not for the remote issued with the MS box: http://www.dslreports.com/forum/remark,11973771~mode=flat I would love to be able to do a 30 second skip and some remotes have a return button that rewinds 7 seconds, any info on that?

    My least favorite thing about the DVR is that it records a minute and a half on both sides of the show, this is annoying if say you record 2 shows from 8-9 and then another form 9-10, the later shows won’t start recording until 9:31:30 or so. There is a nice setting to set programs to start early or end late which makes thing easier if you have a sports show or 2 programs consecutive on ths same channel, but you cannot set them to start late or end early and it is only 5, 15, 30, 60,or 90 minutes not 1 or 2.

    One other peave, not sure if its just the broadcast, but I dont have an HD set and thus dont watch the HD channels cause sometimes there is noise on top of the screen, yet the regular broadcasts don’t support surround sound.

  20. I’ve had the same problem with the Comcast DVR (Motorola), where it for whatever reason won’t record shows. There are no conflicts shown for the series that I try to record.

    I haven’t figured it out yet. Even if I delete the series, then recreate the series and tell it to record anytime, it still won’t. Sometimes it will record a series for awhile, then it just stops recording that series and I can’t get it to record the series again. They still never show up in the conflicts list.

    I also have the problem where when the Comcast Motorola DVR is recording a program, and you are watching a recorded program at the same time, using the Rewind or Fast Forward is just about useless. The box seems to get overtaxes and can’t stop fast forwarding. If I hit Play over and over for a couple of minutes, it may start playing again. Usually it will just go all the way to the end of the recording that I was watching.

    Other than that, it’s a good DVR, heh.

  21. Ya know? I dunno. It should be. I mean, if the monitor can handle the output from it… I’ve never tried. It’s a standard DVI plug tho – might be flooky resolutions on a regular LCD monitor, though.

  22. I just got the comcast HD DVR and I can not understand, why when you record a show sometimes it wants to switch to that channel or when you start recording a show mid show you can not switch channels away from the one you are recording and watching. Any ideas on why this is?

  23. There’s only two tuners… it will always use the “second” tuner, meaning that it doesn’t have to change channels, but if that one is already used, the main tuner (that you use to watch TV with) will change the channel to record.

    I find this happens if I have either two things being recorded at the same time or *near* each other. If you record a sitcom from 8-8:30 and another from 8:30-9, there will be an overlap since the shows get some padding at both ends: 7:59-8:31 and 8:29-9:01.

  24. Twice now, with no conflicts (nothing recorded at all in the timeslots) I have had the Comcast DVR not record a show I programmed. Both were basketball games on ESPN2.

    Never had that problem with Tivo and DirecTV. In fact, if something DIDN’T record I could always find out WHY from the history log. No such logs on the MS Comcast DVR. It also ignores the remote during playback quite frequently and once was so screwed up it FF’d through a whole show then tried to execute all the remote requests I had tried while it was in FF mode, and then there was no sound on any of the existing recordings. I had to pull the plug to get the audio back. Again…NEVER had that problem in 3 years with my DirecTV Tivo.

  25. So from what everyone says, I should go with Comacasts DVR over TiVo?? And yes, I live in Seattle, Ballard to be exact. I have never had any sort of demand tv or TivO. I am a newbie to all this :-)

  26. There’s pros and cons to both systems… depends on what you’re looking for. I wanted to be able to record HD, have the flexability of having two tuners, and got annoyed by TiVo not changing my channel accurately enough (which is a problem I didn’t have with my old cable boxes).

    That was more important to me than being able to own the box or access video content over the ‘net (which TiVo lets you do).

    The fact that Comcast was cheaper per month than TiVo was a bonus.

  27. I have a Comcast HD dual DVR. I just connected it with a dvi connection and now am getting closed captions. I heard to disable closed captions, that I need to turn off the box and hit menu to get user settings and then disable closed captions. However, I do not get a menu. I see that it can be an incompatibility with my HDTV. It also says if this is the case, to do this at the little front panel on the box. I can’t do this either. I need to know if my dvr is faulty. Has anyone had either of these problems?

    I was told that the box might be faulty and that I should go trade it at Comcast for another one.

  28. I can honestly say that I’ve never seen CC on with this box… I’d trade it into Comcast if they’re offering already – might be the path of least resistance.

  29. I think it is a joke that all the input ports on the motorola box are ‘for future use.’ Why even put them there in the first place? I know the technology is there to have them function…

    When I picked up the box for the first time I thought, sweet I can have my computer hooked up to one input and my playstation to the other, and switch between three inputs. But nope. This would be cool because my tv only supports 1080i input from component (not composite) cables.

    If it did work this way, I could use the box to recieve 1080i from the ps2 (for gran turismo 4, for example) and transfer it to my tv via the components. I would also be able to use my 30″ HD flat screen as a kick ass monitor for computer gaming. Oh well, guess I’ll just waste some money on a home theatre reciever and do it right!

  30. From what I’ve seen EVERY cable company has the OEM mark their ports as “for future use”… I’ve seen it with Comcast, Charter, and Adelphia on Motorola, Scientific-Atlantic, and I forgot who made the other one… just seems to be a trend :)

  31. I’ve had the same problem with my comcast DVR. Sometimes it doesn’t record the Monday night Daily Show. Also I tried to record 24 on Monday for a friend and it didn’t. I even saw the red record light on while it was doing it and the program just wasn’t there when we looked the next day.

    I don’t get it, but I dont like it. I’ll call Comcast next week and let people know if I find out anything.

  32. Motorolla box has problems. I am not sure if it is Comcast, or the box, but recently I have set my DVR to record a 2 hour program (such as Boston Lefal finale or LOST finale), yet the box seems to only record one hour. I have some emails into comcast about the problem, so who knows. I even checked the program before I left on Wednesday night and it said it was a two hour show, yet when I watched it, it cut off after 60 minutes right in the middle.

    Very irritating and completely suspicious.

  33. I guess I’m chiming in a little late here, but I did want to comment on the dvr not recording scheduled shows. I have had that problem a few times. In fact, I found this thread because I was searching google for why this might happen. Tonight, it happened once again. For some reason, the show that should have been recorded (Medium) did not record. I have the dvr set up for a series recording for this show, but when I looked the red dots that appear for a series recording weren’t there for this episode. However, they were there for other upcoming episodes. I cannot understand why the series recording only caught certain episodes? This hasn’t happened before. I went into setup, and changed it from “record all episodes” to “first run and repeats” and it started recording the episode and the red dots appeared. Which was worthless because by this time there was about fifteen minutes to the episode left. I have also had problems recording 48 Hours Mystery, but I solved that by only setting it up to record 48 Hours and it for some reason records 48 Hours Mystery as well when I do that. I do love the DVR when it works correctly, but there are definitely some glitches that need to be worked out. Can anyone clarify exactly what the difference is between “first run and repeats” and “all episodes” ? It seems that they would be the same thing, but apparantly it does make a difference.

  34. i like comcast dvr more than tivo. and i am looking into buying my own comcast dvr, and i know its 10 doll hairs a month but how much $ is the comcast box?

  35. So, here’s a weird one. I had an issue with my 6412 box rebooting itself out of the blue, so I exchanged it yesterday for a new one.

    Both today (new box) and last Sunday (old box), I had issues recording the Seahawks football game. In both cases, the box seemed to think the show ended earlier than it actually did, and in one case it seemed to recognize its mistake and start recording again later.

    Last week, the recording showed it was a full 4 hours long (I set up the recording to end 60 minutes later than scheduled). But about 1 hour into viewing, the playback went all pixelated, then suddenly jumped to about the 3-hour mark, where it continued normally. No amount of FF or REW would access the material in the middle – I don’t know if it was (a) there, but corrupted or (b) not there, but I couldn’t play it back. Note that this was not a power fail or spontaneous reboot incident – in those cases you see two recordings, one from before the reboot and one from after. This was a single, full-length recording with a portion of it unplayable.

    OK, got a new box, no reboots seen yet. Looking good for today’s game. We started watching while it was still recording, and at some point after the 2-hour mark I noticed that the end-time on the progress bar wasn’t changing anymore. Sure enough, when we hit 2:35, the playback just stopped with a pixelated freeze-frame. The red record light was still on, so the box thought it was still recording, but I couldn’t playback past 2:35. Now that the game is long over, I looked in My DVR, and the recording is shown as 4:03 long, but when I try to play it back, it jumps from 2:35 to 3:12.

    Since this has happened with two different boxes, I assume it’s not a hardware problem. Has anyone else seen something like this? Is it the “end 60 minutes late” setting that’s causing this? Does Comcast have something against the Seahawks? :-)

  36. I’ve had the 6412 for a long time now. Only issue I have is Closed Captioning. My Sony TV has the closed captioning button to turn on captions, and turn them off. But I get nothing when they are turned on. I have to go into the 6412 menu, enable CC, then exit. After that, when I turn on the TV, captions are ALWAYS on, and again, my Sony remote turning captions on or off does nothing! How can I get CC enabled, yet have the ability to show them only when I want to? There’s got to be a happy medium between always on or off.

  37. I’ve had the Motorolla dual tuner box for several months and have at one time or another experienced almost everything from my show not recording at all, my recording stopping in the middle, the middle of my recording being inaccessable, the box recording a blocked channel with a blue screen that says something about the FCC blocking the programming. So far the absolutely most annoying thing is that about 3 weeks ago I stopped being able to FF or RW any of my recorded shows. Even the ones that have been saved for months and had ff’d and rw’d before just fine. This isn’t just with Fox, 24 or AI. This is every show that is on the hard drive. When I hit ff or rw it acts for a second like it’s going to work, then goes into a frame by frame sloooooowwwww motion. I get it back easily by continuing to hit ff or rw until all five arrows go back to play.

    So frustrating! I’m seriously ready to dump the whole dvr thing and just buy an old fashioned VCR. Anyone else have this problem? All the other problems have been spotty, but this one isn’t going away. I don’t want to get a new box unless I can save my episodes of Good Eats and Grey’s Anatomy! :(

  38. I am having the same problems as Dawnn and charie, plus a few more.

    I’m on my forth box and it’s worse than ever.

    I happened to be at a party with a comcast tech and he told me that the comcast boxes with the micrsoft software arer shit. He spens most of his tiome swapping them out.

    I told this to the person at the counter and all I got was a blank stare and a new box witch is worse than the last one.

    Unfornunately i live in an area with a lot of tall trees, and can’t go back to diredt tv.

    I have had tivo, replaytv and others and i really like the comcast setup IF IT WOULD WORK.

  39. I’ve seen Comcast’s alternative to the Microsoft software – it’s far worse from an end user’s point of view. I’ll take my chances with the MS Software. Especially since I haven’t had the problems people here have had.

  40. For those of you that are torn between the Comcast DVR and Tivo, go for the Tivo really!

    I had the Tivo before with direct TV and it was so much better..Sure there was pixelation and sometimes it would record just a black screen, but it did record shows consistently and it knew the difference between a new show and a re-run.

    I got the Comcast DVR just before Halloween and I have had so much trouble so far!1)It shows a number of shows as scheduled but just won’t record them (no conflicts listed!!!) 2)Like others here that black close caption box comes on for no reason, I have to dig out the Toshiba TV remote to turn it off. 3)Seems to get stuck in fast forward a lot. 4) Wont let me view a recorded program or on demand when something else was recording. 5) Last night it was set up to record 2 shows at the same time, it recorded one, and when I tried to change the channel to manually record the other it would not let me.

    After waiting 20 min. on hold with Comcast I had the rep. just say “it sounds like something is wrong, we’ll send a tech out to fix it or replace it” For some reason I have a feeling a new one will do the same thing, when I had reg digital cable that box messed up all the time too (cutting off the last parts of movies, error messages,unavailable on demand, menus that went nowhere, the close caption box popping up, delayed remote response)

    Oh and that 30second skip hack that is listed on a bunch of sites does not work on my DVR. It shows a forward loop arrow icon (think the 7 second rewind in reverse) but it just skips you back to the same second you are on.

  41. I had to plug my component jacks into the second set of component connectors, video 5..At that point I got a menu offering the option to shut the Closed caption off..This fixed the problem.

  42. Help Please:

    I have Comcast Digital Cable, (Motorola DCT700 cable box) and my problems is I get a black box that comes up on the screen. The only way I can get it off is by turning the box and tv off and turn back on.

    Called Comcast and they keep telling me my tv does not have the feature to turn off the closed caption, and I have to deal with it. I have tried all of the closed caption settings with my tv and the problem never goes away. I have never had this problem with any other cable box before this. Any suggestions would be great thanks.

    Jason Hayden

    hayden_jason@hotmail.com


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