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Rant: The Comcast HD DVR Is Simply, Terribly Awful

By - November 02, 2006


This has been boiling in me for a long, long time, and I need to get it out. Why? Well, last night the power went out at my house, not uncommon here in Marin, where the homes are old and the weather rainy. It came back on in about five minutes, and nothing much changed in our world.

Until my wife and I got upstairs and snuggled up in bed, ready to watch our sacred 45 minutes or so of Tivo’d television.

Now, allow me to explain. I got Tivo back in the Series 1 days. I love Tivo. I have written about it here many times. I love its approach to user interface, I love its corporate attitude (I know it can’t keep it up given the reality of the market), and I even love its shortcomings. It’s the Macintosh of television.

And Comcast, Lord knows, is the Windows. And not Windows 3.1. Windows 1.0. Or worse, if there is such a thing. But back to the narrative. Or rather, the backstory.

A few months ago my spiffy Series 2 Tivo (my kids use the Series 1 downstairs) started sputtering and blacking out. It got so bad that I had to retire it to the guest room, never to be used regularly again. (I thought. But it turns out it was not working because I had turned it on its side, and the hard disk did not appreciate my realignment of its gravitational kharma. But I get ahead of myself).

Well, having put my second Tivo out to pasture, I thought I’d splurge. After all, I was having a good year – The Search was a bestseller! – so I bought my very first HD television set (on credit, natch, it takes years to see any royalties, and hell, who knows it they ever really come). And since I’m no fool (I thought), I ordered up Comcast HD service to go along with it. Even I know you need HD service to enjoy an HD set.

That’s when the trouble started. First of all, it took weeks to get the service hooked up, but as you are surely quite familiar with how hopelessly lame cable companies are when it comes to customer service, I won’t attempt to add to the literature in this post. The truly evil portion of the install process came when the cable guy unwrapped a new cable box for me – a box that I had to use in order to enjoy Comcast HD. It included Comcast’s very own DVR, their HD version of a Tivo. (That link, by the way, is to Comcast’s website. For a preview of just how lame Comcast is, try to use that site for more than two minutes.)

Now, I had read about Comcast and its ilk getting into the DVR game, and what I had read was not pretty. But I figured there was no point in buying another Tivo till I give this a test drive.


Good Lord, it doth suck. The interface is simply abominable. Unintuitive and careless, it copies the major features of Tivo’s approach but fails at every single detail – and in UI design, everything is in the details. No surprisingly, it utterly misses the core purpose of a DVR: to treat television as a conversation instead of a dictation. Without a doubt, this is an interface built either by Machiavelli’s cohorts, or by graceless bureaucrats, or both. No, wait, it’s worse. This is a product built by people who fundamentally don’t understand the computing paradigm. That’s it – they really don’t get television as a database. Imagine the folks at DEC trying to build a Macintosh. That’s Comcast’s DVR.

Not to mention, the damn thing is slow – beyond unresponsive. There’s no way you can accurately predict where and when the thing might stop and start when you are fast forwarding or rewinding. The Tivo is like an Audi, but the Comcast drives like a 1972 Gran Torino Station wagon. And the remote? My God, what a piece of sh*t!

But that’s not where the crappiness ends. No, not by a long shot. Turns out, the f*cking Comcast HD DVR *does not have a hard drive.* That’s right, when the power goes out, the f*cking box loses ALL OF THE SAVED PROGRAMS!!!! Are you KIDDING ME? The damn thing uses RAM instead of a hard drive!?

Yup. To close the loop on last night’s experience, that’s what my wife and I discovered when we turned on the television last night. Our entire lineup of shows was wiped out.

Those cheap bastards. Those unholy blasphemers! It took me about ten times as long as Tivo to use their crappy search to figure out how to program the damn thing to record my favorite shows, and in one five-minute power outage, I lost every single episode of Battlestar Galatica! Every Rescue Me! Every goddamn Daily Show, every Gray’s Anatomy, every random movie I thought “hey, I’d like to watch that sometime.” (I was halfway through The Guns of Navarone, for God’s sake! Oh, the humanity!!!!)

And when those programs were lost, Comcast, you lost me. I will never, ever use your box again. Tivo HD, here I come. And not a minute too soon.

There, I feel better already. Thanks for listening. Now, back to watching TV the old fashioned way…shiver. At least until I get my new Tivo HD….

Update: Hey guys, I NOW KNOW IT HAS A HARD DRIVE. I was wrong about that, I thought maybe it was some kind of client server thing with a bit of RAM inbetween. Still and all, it blows….thanks for all your great comments, and your helpful advice.

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The Searchblog Human Detector

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Due to the spam issues I reported on earlier, we’ve added a “human detector” to comments. This is a test, please do let me know what you think. I hope it won’t mean fewer comments…but I do hope it will mean fewer shiny trans gender fetish spams….

Google On CIA: Untrue

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“The statements related to Google are completely untrue.” That’s Google’s response to the assertions from this story, which I posted about here.

Update: Sorry folks, to clarify: This was an official Google spokesperson’ statement.

Reader Bryan Writes…

By - November 01, 2006

< ![CDATA[ Reader Bryan Writes: Who’s to say Panama will fail? What Google did was not rocket science. All they did was realize that CTR is an important consideration for monetization.

Yahoo has learned, and is taking corrective measures. The only difference is that they inherited Overture’s antiquated infrastructure. Panama is their ticket to a higher yield.]]> Read More Read More

Amazon's ClickRiver

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And the monetization ideas keep coming. This from A9, which we thought was on death’s door…

What is Clickriver Ads?

Clickriver Ads is an advertising program — currently in beta — that allows businesses to place sponsored links on®, next to search results and on product detail pages. Clickriver Ads presents a unique opportunity to advertise services and products that complement the selection on, an online marketplace with tens of millions of active customer accounts.

From Resourceshelf.

YouTube Was Going To Use FAST Technology, But Will It Now?

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Fast-1A trusted source pointed me to this tidbit, which I did not know. It’s dated 2 August, 2006:

FAST signs contract with YouTube, Inc

Fast Search & Transfer ASA (FAST) today announced that YouTube, Inc. signed an agreement to deploy FAST for Site Search, based on the FAST Enterprise Search Platform (FAST ESP) to power the search for

Clearly YouTube was focusing on how to scale its service and deal with its rather limited search capabilities. FAST, which I have covered here, is well known for powering large, database- and structured-search-driven sites.

According to folks who would know, the FAST deal has not yet been implemented. I wonder, will Google use FAST for YouTube? Will it just pay out FAST? Can it do what FAST can do for YouTube?

I have notes in to folks asking…will let you know when/if I do.

Yahoo's FailOver Strategy: AdSense?

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Eric speculates on a Wall St. analyst’s speculation. Man, I could not see this happening.

Now here’s an idea I hadn’t heard before: Rob Sanderson, an analyst with American Technology Research, asserted in a research note today that there’s an easy fix for Yahoo (YHOO) if its Panama search platform doesn’t succeed: revert to being a Google (GOOG) affiliate, as it was before the company bought Overture. Throwing in the towel on Panama and becoming a Google affiliate could allow the company to capture at least a portion of the 66% gap in search query monetization begtween Google and Yahoo, Sanderson asserts.

He contends that, while a black eye for management, such a move could be a “financial boom” to Yahoo investors. He says EBITDA could be at least 35% higher that current forecasts at Google’s rate of monetization, especially given lower costs.

Update: Doh. Of course I knew this and should have noted it, but Yahoo did not get its paid search results from Google, it got organic results. Overture, which it bought, provided paid search results. The analyst got that wrong.

Spock, Find My Lost Love

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Matt reports on Spock, a search engine for people. From his post:

From a demo we’ve seen, we think it could be a powerful addition. Spock could take this in some interesting directions. Its main challenge will be to wean users from Google as a first stop, though more on that in a sec.

When Spock launches, it will have 100 million profiles of people in its database, by far the largest open repository of profiles anywhere. Spock delivers a mixture of facts and research on a people, but also opens a profile to social input, giving it a touch of Wikipedia.