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 Friday, 20 April 2007
Friday, 20 April 2007 21:08:07 (Central Standard Time, UTC-06:00) ( )

We've had DirecTV with Tivo for a long time now - perhaps 3 years. Tivo is a life-changing technology, not unlike the telephone. And I'm not kidding.

We like a number of television shows, mostly science fiction: Stargate SG1, Battlestar Galactica, Smallville, Stargate Atlantis, etc.

It used to be that we'd schedule our lives around the need to be home for a certain hour of a certain evening. We passed up many other opportunties for fun or fulfillment just to meet the arbitrary schedule of the TV networks.

But Tivo changes all that. All of a sudden it doesn't matter when a show is on, we just watch it when we have time. And given how much I travel these days (around 40% of my time), I actually get to watch all the shows I care about. They are just waiting for us when we have time to watch them.

Even better, a 1 hour show is actually only 42 minutes long. A 30 minute show is just 21 minutes. The ability to easily fast-forward through commercials saves an incredible amount of time!

Unfortunately a few weeks ago the hard drive on our Tivo crashed. Remember, it isn't just a Tivo - it is a dual tuner box integrated with the DirecTV service. So I called DirecTV and they were very nice (we're essentially charter subscribers, so they like us quite a lot). As I knew however, Tivo and DirecTV had a falling out a while back, and so the replacement box is not a Tivo.

I figured that by now, nearly a year after the falling out, that DirecTV would have a DVR comparable to Tivo. But it is not so. Sure, the basic features of recording and watching shows is similar. But this new DVR is not even in the same league with Tivo - and that's very sad...

My primary issues:

  1. The user interface was obviously designed by a geek, not a normal human. Now I am a geek, and this is the kind of UI I'd create - and it sucks. Common features are buried in obscure menus, and little used features are easy to find. Many powerful capabilities are hidden behind arbitrarily colored buttons rather than behind buttons that have some intrinsic meaning. Even for a geek like me this UI is totally crappy.
  2. Any interaction with the video (fast-forward, pause, jump back 6 seconds) causes skipping and sync issues between audio and video. This makes it very difficult to skip forward or backward, or even to pause and resume, because the result is almost always odd skip/sync issues that last for a few seconds.
  3. Along the same line, but more irritating, is the fact that skipping forward 30 seconds a couple times, and then back 6 seconds a couple times, will often cause the DVR to think I want to totally stop watching the show. This happens a lot, because we use the skip 30 seconds button to skip commercials, and when we overshoot by a few seconds, the skip back 6 seconds gets us back to the resumption of the show. At least 1-2 times a day the DVR just decides that we've pressed the Stop button instead, and stops the playback. Serious PITA!!
  4. Numerous times I've had to turn the DVR off and on again to get it to play back a show. Otherwise when I try to start the playback I just get a black screen. Turning it off/on makes it work again.
  5. Last week Stargate SG1 totally messed with the DVR. The jump forward 30 seconds went in slow motion. Turning the device off/on had no effect - it still did the jump 30 seconds in slow-mo... No other show has done this, but that particular episode of that show totally fubared the device.
  6. Last night the Colbert Report also messed with it. The DVR did its "you pressed Stop" bug and so I was fast-forwarding back to the spot where we were before the foobar, and the fast-forward went into an infinite loop. Seriously. It got to a point in the video and jumped back about 10 seconds, then it got to that same spot and jumped back 10 seconds - over and over and over. I had to watch in normal speed to get past that point in the video, then I could fast-forward again just fine.

Tivo had none of these issues. Tivo's UI is elegant and clean and intuitive. Tivo never skipped in odd ways, or had sync issues with audio/video. The issues are almost certainly all software, and it is simply clear that DirecTV needs to find a new DVR software vendor that actually has a clue about things like quality, testing and usability...

It is sad that Tivo seems to be having a lot of trouble getting their business model under control, because it looks very likely that the best product will die, leaving us all stuck with a load of crap instead.

On the other hand, even with all the stupid issues this DVR has, the life-changing effect remains. We are still in charge of our own lives rather than allowing the TV networks to control our schedules. It is just frustrating that we had perfection, and lost it due to a hard drive crash and some poor business decisions on the part of Tivo and DirecTV.


Comments [2] | | # 
Tuesday, 24 April 2007 10:31:34 (Central Standard Time, UTC-06:00)
We certainly enjoy the power too. We were recording things on video cassettes for later playback at least 5 years before direct to disk recording was an option. But instead of going the TiVo route, we went with capture cards in PC's and Beyond TV software. It puts it in a very nice format on a medium that we can easily move around our home network.
Monday, 30 April 2007 09:07:35 (Central Standard Time, UTC-06:00)
The Comcast DVR we rent is terrible, too.

Remember how TiVo's interface has a delay timer built into the fast-forward button, so when you STOP fast-forwarding it goes back a bit to when you actually pressed the button? Great design. elegant, logical, and incredibly useful.

Not Comcast. Oh, no. The fast-forward feature is apparently designed to FORCE you to watch 30 seconds of some dumb-assed ad.

Screw that.

Of course, we're turning off our premium cable soon. I'm moving my XP-based Media PC to MythTV, and will be using the basic feed to record the now VERY few shows that I watch.

Anything else? That's why God created the Internet. With a capital "I", thanks.

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