Review: Comcast DVR – Skip it (Updated 3x)

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Date: Tuesday, April 26th, 2005, 09:49
Category: Consumer Electronics

Motorola DCT6412 PVR on ComcastThe Comcast DVR (a Motorola DCT 6412) has more bugs in it than a picnic basket left out on a summer day. And I left TiVo for this?!


Motorola DCT6412 PVR on ComcastThe Comcast DVR (a Motorola DCT 6412) has more bugs in it than a picnic basket left out on a summer day. And I left TiVo for this?!
I recently converted from a TiVo DVR to a Comcast DVR when I upgraded to digital HDTV. I couldn’t stay with TiVo because; a) it can’t record shows broadcast in High-Definition and b) it is far too clunky and slow to control the TiVo from the Comcast box (infrared transmitters, anyone?). My hands were tied. Because I wanted HDTV and a DVR I have only one choice – Comcast. (Before you ask: I have a collection of 100-foot trees obscuring my southern exposure, so satellite is not an option.)
In March the company automatically downloaded a software fix from Motorola to all of their customers using Motorola DCT 6412 DVRs. I can confirm that, not unlike Apple’s Mac OS 10.3.9, the Comcast DVR update has only made it worse. Now I can’t record a single program reliably enough to watch and have reverted back to watching (shudder) live television. Some of the problems I’ve had:
Freezing. 75% of recorded shows on my new Comcast DVR are interrupted by heavy digital artifacts and pixelization, what’s worse is that the audio drops out every 15-20 seconds essentially make the recorder useless. Unless you like to play “guess the missing word” every 15 seconds.
Spontaneous auto-shutoff. Imagine you’re watching a really dramatic show (like Fox’s 24) and you’ve paused it a few times so that there’s program stored in the buffer. Last night my Comcast DVR spontaneously shut down at 10pm erasing the program buffer I had been saving the end of 24 on. Buh-bye.
Missed recordings. Shows scheduled to record never do, or record the wrong channel, or programs can’t be found in the guide to record. There’s nothing worse than checking to see who was on SNL the night before only to find out it didn’t record at all.
Mute bug. The Comcast DVR will often be stuck in permanent “mute” mode preventing you from getting audio. The only fix it is to reboot the DVR and this is inconvenient if you are in the middle of recording a program.
Update:
I spoke with a Comcast engineer that explained that “Volume Lock” is a feature and not a bug. This thread on SatelliteGuys.us discusses “some speculation that the “mute” function is to protect people who might turn their DVR off but leave their audio system on from being blasted when a show comes on at off-hours… (the) sure fire work-around is to simply leave the 6412 box on all the time.” A better fix is to simply turn off the Volume Lock feature. You can do this by pressing the “Cable” button (on the DVR remote), then hold the “Setup” button until the Cable button blinks twice. Then enter 993 and click Volume Up.

Comcast claims that the problems are in Motorola’s software and that there’s no ETA for a fix. If you call them to complain they’ll credit you the US$10 monthly DVR fee, but that doesn’t help much when you just want to watch a recorded episode of 60 Minutes or 24.
I can honestly say that I initially enjoyed the ability to record HD programming on my Comcast DVR but that was its only real benefit over my TiVo. The program guide, scheduling, user interface are all far inferior to TiVo. Comcast’s lack of wish lists, season passes and suggestions is woeful in comparison. Since the Motorola DVR Comcast is supplying can’t seem to record a program without errors, it’s essentially useless.
Comcast: clean up your act and recall these defective Motorola DCT 6412 boxes and give customers a full refund. If you’re having issues with your DVR call 1-800-COMCAST.
Update: I swapping out my cable box for a new one and the audio and video dropouts have all but stopped – at least in my first day of using it.
Update: Thanks to PowerPage fan GardnerMan for sending me a MPEG of 24 from last night which he recorded on his Elgato EyeHome Macintosh-based DVR.

Read more on Comcast’s DVR bugs in Bigger glitch with Comcast’s DVR service (San Jose Mercury News).
Update:
Comcast and Tivo announced recently that TiVo will make a custom version of its product for Comcast. Financial terms of the multi-year, non-exclusive deal with the Philadelphia-based Comcast were not disclosed. Out with DirecTV and in with Comcast.
Your comments:

Comcast DVR software is from Microsoft. Explains the bugs doesn’t it. There are more problems. Try to record The West Wing on NBC in HD and also off Bravo to keep a few old episodes around. It can’t tell the difference between the two channels.
I’d like to set different recording options for the two channels. Since they have the same title you can’t.
Also, do you like The Daily show and want to record it? Well it will record the Daily Show every time it is on. I’d like to set time windows for the recordings since the Daily Show does not tag its stuff with repeat tags. You can’t do that either. (Jeff Adams)

Atlantic Broadband recently offered DVR service and as my best friend warned me. It sucks. Similar problems and such as you mention.
I have both Tivo and Replay at my home and they both have their merits. Tivo has more glitz but it operates much slower than the Replay. Networking on the Tivo is pittyfull at best compared to the Replay. If I had to pick one over the other right now it would be the Replay. Not sure on HiDef. Will try to find out.
Pros on the Replay are it’s networking. Out of the box and set up in 10 minutes. Networking built in. Ability to transfer shows to the Mac with mReplay very easily. The program guide is quick and easy to use compared to the Tivo. Response to the cable box is a bit slow as the same as Tivo. I have on Replay on basic cable (very quick) and one on the Cable Box (Slow). Viewing a show recorded on one Replay is transparent. It is like viewing live TV or a show recorded on the local Replay. Selecting a show to record much quicker than the Tivo and making changes to your selected shows much quicker. Its also much easier to upgrade a Replay’s hard drive.

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