I read an article about DVRs, Digital Video Recorders, in the New York Times this weekend. Like most of the New York radio and television stations and the major news networks, I get many of my best ideas from the Times. Unlike them, I admit it.
The article, like so many on this subject, talked about how DVRs are. I have one and I do enjoy it. Unfortunately, I am nowhere near the TV nirvana experienced by the writers I’ve read.
The concept behind TiVo, Replay TV and the others is pretty simple. Record everything on a hard drive instead of tape, and use computer technology to make it easier, yet more powerful than an old school VCR.
The problem is, all DVRs are not created equal. I think mine, A Scientific Atlanta Explorer 8000 that I rent from Comcast¹, is somewhere near the bottom. This is not the device people are clamoring for, though it is marketed in the same way.
I often hear about how TiVo will ‘learn’ about what you watch and then record programs based on your likes. This SA box doesn’t do that. It is the featured I would most like to see.
The menu system within this DVR is disjointed, non-intuitive and difficult to learn. I have programmed recordings based on time, but I couldn’t tell you how… and would have to hit a bunch of dead ends before I did it again.
Recording scheduled programs is easier, but still not simple. The program guide is two clicks of two separate buttons away. Why? Isn’t this the most used feature? It should be directly accessible.
Working back ward through the guide is nearly impossible. Going backward in time through midnight just doesn’t work.
The guide itself is sorely lacking. Movies and programs on some channels don’t show. Channels that I don’t subscribe to do show, adding an extra layer I have to move through before setting the recorder. The text information describing the programs is sparse.
In using the video-on-demand features, the same function on different menus uses a different keystroke! That violates one of the most basic rules of user interface design.
Possibly the most frustrating problem is the propensity of the 8000 to accept a key press from the remote control, but do nothing for a few seconds. Most likely during that time you have decided the machine didn’t get the first press and have pressed again. Now you have screwed up whatever you were attempting.
If Comcast or Scientific Atlanta asked, I’d tell them. I did once send a note to SA, using a form on their website. I never received a reply.
¹ – As part of my retirement account I have Comcast stock. So, I am not a disinterested party here. However, since I’m talking down their product, you can see that hasn’t affected me.