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“Innovation has nothing to do with how many R&D dollars you have. When Apple came up with the Mac, IBM was spending at least 100 times more on R&D. It's not about money. It's about the people you have, how you're led, and how much you get it.” - Steve Jobs

Why Comcast DVR Sucks! I mean REALLY sucks.

If you’ve been reading my blog, you know that recently relocated from Brooklyn, NY to Savannah, GA. With all relocations from one part of the world to another there are a ton of changes. Moving from NYC to Georgia is only 830 miles in distance but in many ways it might as well be a different continent.

As in all things, comparisons are not always about placing value, but just about describing difference. This article is NOT that.

One of the bigger changes in mine and my family’s lives is that we have switched cable TV providers from Time Warner to Comcast. All cable companies should basically be ashamed of themselves for so blatantly internalizing the worst of the organizations they claim not to be–utilities. The bureaucracies are unbearable and the customer service is backwards. What makes all cable companies exceptional in its lack of user-focus comes out of their many years of deregulation. Basically, their entire customer experience is about selling you. It is annoying as hell and Comcast does this to the nth degree of annoyance. In the end the message and even the user interfaces are set up to sell you, getting in the way of the primary reason I fork over some $150/mo. already which is to watch TV.

The Digital Video Recorder (DVR) is a completely different problem in and of itself. Now, before I continue, I have no idea what is Comcast and what is Motorola, and what is Time Warner and with is Scientific Atlanta (respectively the service provider and hardware vendor). I know with Cellphones that service providers like Verizon are famous for taking OK UIs and making them absolutely horrible!!! I also know that many hardware vendors know squat about interaction design and the serivce providers are somewhat at the mercy of hardware capabilities and software platforms. In the end, it is probably a mix. In the end, because, I barely notice the Motorola logo, nor can I buy a DVR through anyone else but Comcast, I’m stuck thinking as a customer that this is all about Comcast. So here goes!

All of this list is going to be about comparing Comcast to Time Warner, so assume if I’m complaining about it on Comcast it is because Time Warner probably does it alraedy. This makes the offense all that much more intolerable because it is sooo easy to just steal from existing systems. I’m not only going to complain, but I’m going to hopefully make suggestions. Unfortunately, doing screen shots is way out of my time commitment here, so you’ll just have to imagine what I’m talking about.

1. Navigation

Whether I’m navigating the OnDemand menu (Wow! that is a whole topic in and of itself) or my DVR options, history, series options there is one recurring theme. For the life of me, there are way to many points where it is near impossible to go 1-step back. You have to use the primar start button to get to the main menu and drill back down again. In some cases this even means exiting the administration screens completely and re-entering from scratch.

Now there might be a way to do what I’m saying, but if a professional UI guy like myself cant’ find it, how in the world can the average person do it.

2. Close captioning

We had to call customer service to turn this on, but even after we did, it barely performs at all. Now no one in my family is deaf, but having a little guy means that we have to keep the volume low and the CC adds as supplement to the low volume.

3. No recapture after fast forwarding

I Always took this for granted with Time Warner, but when you are fast forwarding and you decide you’ve arrived Comcast starts pu right where you click play again. Time Warner will go back a set amount of time in the recording.

To me this is just required feature. No one can on one shot get the exact play spot right when fast forwarding. The fact that they don’t do this is just ludicrous.

4. Doesn’t auto-capture what you’re watching

Well it does and doesn’t. If I want to re-wind a sports event. It does just fine. What it doesn’t do is this. I’m watching a show and I realize I have to head out. I want to capture the rest of the show for later viewing. It will ONLY record moving forward. Time Warner allowed for this scenario, or better I turn on the TV to see that there is something tre-cool on, but I meant to watch something else “now”. So I want to hit record and know I got it from the beginning moving forward.

5. Labeling

Ok, there are a few circumstances where I really have to challenge the choice of labels on the navigation. The one poster-child is that there seems to be no way to view the series recording options. There is an option called “Series Priority” and fortunatley I found that and it presents me a list of my series recordings for me. But really? you can’t just call it “Your Series” or something like that?

The other big labeling issue is that they don’t label the local channels with their relative network names. I mean do I care about WSAV or that WSAV is the NBC affiliate, right?

6. HD Management (TW didn’t do this either)

Ok, this to me is just obvious. If I’m looking at the non-HD version of a channel that has an HD equiv, shouldn’t you always just show the HD version. I understand that there are some channels that don’t have an eqiv like Universal HD, but most channels just mirror an existing channel 100%. So if I click channel 4, go to 404 (or whatever the HD equiv is).

Related to this, and this IS something that Time Warner did do is that their channel grid worked that if there was a channel 10 the HD channel was 710 (700 was all HD channels). Since they didn’t do interface suggested in the first suggestion, this was a nice try to help. I suggest Comcast do the same (or better just eliminate the concept of HD channels when they aren’t necessary).

BTW, I get that it means they cant’ say they have “X HD channels”, but they can still say they have “X HD Channels in HD”.

7. Not recording what I tell it to

This is the biggest grievance. I tell it to record and it doesn’t. I have stuff set in the series settings and then it doesn’t show up in “scheduled recordings” list. It isn’t 100% of the time, but enough that I have basically no trust in the system at all. Every time this happens I curse Comcast and I’m just that much closer to going the satellite route with a TiVo.

8. Search

The title search in the guide is missing an obvious feature that TW has. As I choose letters to search for using the 4-way to navigate the alphabet, the TW version of the search disables all letters that are impossible to be the next letter. This limits my options for where to navigate to. Also, by the letters being disabled I am auto skipped through the alphabet a lot more quickly.

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  • http://livlab.com/thinkia Livia Labate

    Hey Dave,

    Good points there. I definitely see a mix of UI challenges, feature challenges and legacy set-back challenges there. Stau tuned for improvements through this year ;)

    By the way, the series priority section isn’t just a display of the stuff you scheduled to record.

    In the event two or more of your scheduled recordings are happen at the same time, you’re prompted to pick which one should take precedence. By using the Series Recording function, you can determine how the DVR should deal with this kind of conflict resolution by default.

    When in Series Priority, select the show you want to change position and use the arrow keys on you remote (page up, page down) to change its order on the list.

  • http://livlab.com/thinkia Livia Labate

    So here’s another note on what I know about the stuff you described:

    1. The OnScreen navigation for OnDemand, Guide and DVR makes me want to puke. The whole navigation metaphor is dreadful. The worst part is that it will only get worse with the growing number of content offered. I see this problem being overcome not by fixing the interfaces on the STB, but replacing it with the web interfaces (and by that I mean, user bahavior evolving to use web interface first to do these things and reserve the tube for the watching experience). This whole topic deserves a few beers next time I see you ;)

    2. I thought CC was a TV setting, not DVR related. Correct me if I’m wrong; I don’t think I have CC.

    3. Yeah, I wish there were better ways to do that. You can (as many do), use the button to the left of the [My DVR] button to rewind just 10 seconds, which usually does the trick in this case. Also, there’s a remote hack to configure a key to fast-forward 30 seconds, which should help. I found it online (it works on the silver remote a Motorola DCT3412 box)

    a. Choose an unused or unneeded button on the silver remote to be the 30-second skip command (I use the “move” button in the Picture-In-Picture area, other people use A-lock – don’t use something important, I don’t know how to reset!).
    b. To start, press the “Cable” button at the top of the remote to put it into Cable Box control mode.
    c. Press and hold the “Setup” button until the “Cable” button light blinks twice.
    d. Key in the code “994”. The “Cable” button will blink twice.
    e. Press (do not hold) the “Setup” button.
    f. Key in the code “00173”.
    g. Press whatever button you want to map the 30-second skip command to (like the “move” button).
    You’re done. Playback something recorded and try it out.

    4. I agree, at the same time, the DVR function records live TV, so there is no function to retroactively capture something that’s on. Even pre-scheduled series, all it does is turn on the recording at the time set. Now, it would be really really smart and cool, if you were in a situation like that and if that program was available On Demand, that it would just pull that from OnDemand and place it on your recorded shows. That would at least overcome the problem you identified.

    5. I believe having the original/actual name is really important so it can be accurately linked to the right programming (data and presentation are not separate like on the web) but… once we’re able to overcome platform/device constraints to improve the experience, there should be no reason we couldn’t make the labeling more friendly or even customizable.

    6. I agree with you on this one. Easy enough to do online, but platform/device constraints to improve the experience.

    7. check your series priority (ha!). you might be missing stuff because of conflict situations that the DVR had to decide on its own (still, sucks that there isn’t anything to tell you if that’s the case). If that’s not the case, call Comcast because if it’s not recording at random, it’s a decide problem

    8. platform/device constraints to improve the experience.

  • dave

    Thanx Livia!

  • http://www.robfay.com Rob Fay

    I made the mistake of switching from DirecTV (using Tivo as their partner) to Verizon and it’s horrible service. I have similar complaints, but my biggest complaint is with regard to responsiveness. If I choose a channel, I have to wait at least 2 seconds before the television responds to the command. This means that sometimes when I make a nested selection or begin scrolling the guide, I either overshoot or make a selection that goes too deep into the breadcrumb.

    So, I can forgive some of the incorrect interaction design flaws as long as I can make commands that respond immediately.

    If I had time, I would love to blog about providing a heuristic analysis of various provider DVRs as well as various online tv watching experiences (i.e., NBC.com, ABC.com, CBS.com, Fox.com).

  • Comcastcares1

    Thank you for the valuable feedback. I will make sure that your feedback is passed on to the appropriate department for evaluation.

    Please know that we are continuously working to improve our DVR. Hopefully, you will see the improvements as soon as possible.

    Best Regards,

    Mark Casem
    Comcast Corp.
    National Customer Operations
    We_Can_Help@cable.comcast.com

  • Marty

    You keep saying you are continuously making improvements to the DVR. Where are they? What improvements have been made in the last year? Do you publish them? I switched from DirectTV to Comacast a couple of years ago in order to bundle services. All is good EXCEPT the DVR and navigation system which really does not compare to DirectTV. I would switch back in a minute if I could get a bundled service and better DVR.

  • comcastsuck

    I also switched from Direct TV with a old Tivo to the Comcast w/Motorola DVR. Every day I think “What a POS”. My Tvio was at least five years old and was hit by lighting and still works ten times better the this pile. All of your points are on the money, Comcast should be ashamed of itself releasing such a POS to its users.

  • Jesus

    That’s exactly why I went with DISH Network! The DVR works like its suppose to…like a DVR. No issues just does all that I need record the shows that I can’t watch when I’m at home. I can even set a timer from work online. I absolutely love DISH and as a DISH employee and consumer, I recommend it to anyone.

  • Eric O.

    Tivo has done all of this stuff for years. Like the original poster said, all of this should be obvious and standard. Did you really have to read it here to realize it? Lol.

    Oh, and I see this was from 2 years ago. The same complaints are valid with a stupid Comcast dvr I just got myself, so it looks like the appropriate department didn’t make the simple improvements yet.

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