Rant: The Comcast HD DVR Is Simply, Terribly Awful

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…

Hdtv003

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.

Grantorino

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.

Author: John Battelle

A founder of NewCo (current CEO), sovrn (Chair), Federated Media, Web 2 Summit, The Industry Standard, Wired. Author, investor, board member (Acxiom, Sovrn, NewCo), bike rider, yoga practitioner.

235 thoughts on “Rant: The Comcast HD DVR Is Simply, Terribly Awful”

  1. I’m not sure who out there still has this ancient DVR. Comcast now gives out the Scientific Atlanta 8300HD, which is excellent. It’s fast, has an excellent interface (which I, and several of my friends, prefer over tivo’s), and has quite a bit of storage.

    That’s the whole point of renting equipment instead of buying it – if what you have doesn’t work (or even just if something newer and better comes out), you can take it to your comcast store and swap it out on the spot. My first 8300HD developed a bad drive about a year in (hardly comcast’s fault), so I took it in, swapped it out, and was done in less than 90 seconds.

    So take this whole article with a grain of salt. I’m not a huge comcast fan (no other options in my area), and I have no problem believing that their first model sucked, but the information here is certainly very outdated. Technology has improved, and so has the comcast HD DVR.

  2. Comcast’s DVR is the biggest piece of crap since the Chev Vega. If I worked for that company, I’d tell my friends I was unemployed. If I owned stock in it, I’d sell it short. My wife won’t let me have a sharp object near me when I try to fast forward the damn thing.

  3. I have had Comcast DVR for 3 1/2 months and have had the serviceman here 5 times to swap out the boxes because the sound disappears from my TV. When that happened the first time, I hooked up the DVD player and the sound came from the TV, so the problem wasn’t my TV. The repair guys say they have not seen this problem elsewhere. I guess I am just lucky. Has anyone else had the sound problem and what was the remedy short of replacing the box?

  4. I have a comcast HD DVR box…i have unplugged mine and moved it to another room and plugged it in and all my programs were still there. Now, i have though experienced power outages here where i live since i have had the box and whenever a power outage happens the box looses its programs….odd? yeah i think so…why when unplugged it doesnt loose anything and why when power goes out everything gone. messed up if you ask me…try doing this experiment and see what happens for u. maybe i just got lucky once or twice? or has to do with the amount of time the box is without power for?

  5. When I first had Comcast come to my home to hook up DVR, I was dissappointed that a motorolla product was coming into my home. This DVR is truly a piece of garbage in every way. My prior home had Charter with a MOXI DVR, which was way better then this shiterolla garbage. I hope VIOS comes soon, as the minute it comes, I’ll be switching to FIOS and cleansing my home of any motorolla products. One of my coworkers used to work for motorolla and said the entire comany is a joke, with engineers that have less intelligence than high school janitors.

  6. The new Motorolla box is better than the older model. My problem is that Comcast’s program listing guide is often wrong. I don’t know how often I try to record a particular show but it ends up recording a different program entirely. This happens VERY frequently. I have also noticed that descriptions are often basic information about a series rather than specifics about the episode in question. Items such as basic plot, episode title, and the year aired are simply left out. Why would I record an episode of a program without knowing if I have seen it? They need to address this problem if they would like to keep customers.

  7. I 100% agree with you about the crapcastic results of the comcast DVR I previously had a Dish DVR that thing was great after I figured out all the kinks like that my neighbor and I had the same remote signal after we reconfigured the signal I never once had to call them about another problem infact they even comped me for Showtime or HBO dont remember but one of the high demand channels to express thier condolences for the inconvenience that was really a minor problem compared to this and so far all Ive gotten from comcast is a cupon for a free movie from thier on demand which they charged me for and my wife through out the coupon whoohoo! thanks for the jester but no thanks. I would still have dish although I moved to an apartment where there is a tree blocking my view to get a signal with the Dish

  8. End of the saga.
    So months after I posted here, Comcast in WA got rid of the Microsoft Enhanced front end for something else. The box became stable and it did not spontaneously reboot any more.
    About 3 months ago they got rid of the ridiculous search mech and put a grid of character with a nice save feature.
    OK.
    But yesterday, I got FIOSTV. The settop is a very similar Motorola box but the software is quite a bit better.
    The response is snappier. There is not only an advance and rewind, but you can select the number of seconds: I set my advance to 60 seconds and my rewind to 15.
    And the grid is much nicer, no space taken for advertising, they use all the SD screen. The box provides for FAV1, FAV2, and HD versions of the grid. Nice.
    The picture… sweet. More continuous in the shaded regions, no artifacts (visible on a 50 in plasma).

    And for a year all this with roughly the same channel line up and it is about half the price with internet/phone package.

    WIN,WIN,WIN

    So next week after we finish watching the accumulated shows, the box goes back, bye, bye Comcast.
    The settop box changes were improvements, but too little, too late.

    ddt

  9. Maybe someone can help me. I have the Comcast DVR. After reading some of this blog I figure maybe I am not the only one with this problem. A month back I DVR’d an infomercial during the night when I was up. I watched it a week later and went to delete it and it won’t go away. I have tried everything and it just sits there. I have not had any problems deleting anything else. I record shows on a daily basis, watch them, sometimes weeks later, and delete them. It is only a 30 min. recording, so not really taking up too much space, it is just annoying. Anyone have any ideas on how to get rid of this without loosing the rest of the movies my kids have taped? I appreciate any input. Thanks and Happy Thanksgiving to all.

  10. Just moved from Dish to Comcast because the bundled price with Internet was enticing but sure wish I had seen the comments posted here first. In summary, my experience:
    * Box is unresponsive – hit ff then stop and you never know when it will stop.
    * Sometime it doesn’t record (it will show the ‘record’ icon with slash) but you can’t tell why – (duplicate, old episode?). This was a nice feature on the Dish system.
    * Doesn’t show episode number on recorded episodes (or on Comcast guide). If you have recorded lots of episodes and want to watch them in the order they were initially broadcast there is no way to do that.
    * If you start to watch a program then stop and delete it – it takes you all the way out of the DVR menu rather than back where you were.
    * Not enough disk space/memory with HD.
    * Haven’t had the experience of losing power and recordings yet – guess if I keep this should have a backup power supply.
    All are features on the Dish network DVR. Interesting that the Comcast system appears to me to be the same one as described from the Nov 2006 comments. So what happened to the ‘new, improved’ DVR?

  11. i dont know why you guys have so much problems mine has alwas worked fine and i have lost power like 100 times with it and have never lost my recordings or any sort of information

  12. My prior home had Charter with a MOXI DVR, which was way better then this shiterolla garbage. What you have does not work or even just if something newer and better comes out, you can take it to your comcast store and swap it out on the spot. The Beijing closing ceremony turned my big screen into an expensive kaleidoscope for minutes at a time.

  13. “It’s the Macintosh of television.” When the guy said that I instantly knew I wasn’t reading from a credible source and bought said DVR.

    A year later and I couldn’t be any happier. Thanks for nothing 😉

  14. Personally, I cannot stand the Comcast Set top box interface either, HD or Non-HD. The interface is the worst I’ve seen, or used. Its slow and laggy, not user intuitive and ugly as sin. Comcast listens to no one and will probably never change the UI. Software bugs have remained for years. Another thing that really gets on my nerves are the so-called “blackouts” when TV and Internet signals just stop for a period of 10-30 seconds.

    Like many others, I solved my comcast user interface issues by building a vista media center PC and attaching two HD set top boxes to two ATI 650 Theater TV Tuner cards. I can’t stand MS either, but I love the Vista MCE interface. No comcast on demand though, but its a joke anyway. Picture quality for digital and analog is better through these two cards than the comcast Set top box. And I actually full screen non-HD standard def. channels, what a concept. HD signals, not so much…so i switch over to one of the Set top boxes, using my receiver to watch an HD channel.

    I HATE not having a choice.

    I’ve wanting comcast to do something right for 5+ years and I’m still stuck with this crap. Some pay a premium and are delivered poor service, horrible hardware and ugly & buggy interface and an extremely high bill.

    I live in downtown portland oregon. I want FIOS but can’t get it. I’m not sure if I want it. When i talk with the reps, 1 rep told me “it will be available soon.” 2nd rep told me “about two months” 3rd rep told me (same day) FIOS will NEVER be available in downtown portland oregon…hahah a sign of things to come…

  15. This month’s Comcast DVR issue (in addition to EVERY single one that you all mention above) is random reminders popping up for shows/movies that I did not set and that I have absolutely ZERO interest in watching. Are they trying to make recommendations on shows that could be of interest to me? If yes, they got that all wrong too! Of course, they know nothing about this “problem” (I could actually hear the CS person do the finger quotes when he dismissed me and my “problem”). Arghhh!!!!

    The “problem” really became an issue when I wanted to set a reminder and I got a msg saying I had too many reminders set up – please delete some. Ok, it would be great to have a screen I could go to and see all of these so called reminders – especially since I am maxed out b/c of the random reminders they are pushing out to my DVR! And what is the max?

    So WTF!?

    Also, my DVR telling me I am at 100% and nothing else records. I delete a 30 minute show not recorded in HD and it drops to 39%…

    Again, WTF!?

  16. To add this Comcast DVR horror, try thier cablecards on a tivo HD. I have to call them at least daily to reset the cards so my channels will come in.

    You never know if your programs are recording or just recording a gray screen.

    God, we need competition in the cable industry bad….Why can;t TIVO buy Comcast and be done with it!

  17. Let me just clarify something. to the immediate poster prior to me. You pay comcast money AND call in daily to have your cable card replaced? heres a real test in logical thought. If comcast can provide a product that doesn’t really work, and you are so dumb that you pay astronomical rates EVEN THOUGH it doesn’t work, why or what would entice comcast to fix it?

    same as the original poster. you’re both just full blown morons. most people who have cable are. you can download ANYTHING or stream for those of you afraid of big brother.

    if you weren’t bound to having tv to rot your brain, and could occupy your mind with your own personal creativity, comcast might actually have reason to provide good service, just a though.

  18. After reading the original article, and all the comments, I have come to the realization that people don’t know that service is different in different areas.

    I’ve had Comcast digital cable here in Baltimore county MD since 2000. I’ve moved twice in that time, taking the cable with me, and once upgraded to HDTV. At no time has the cable service been a problem. When I moved from Owings Mills to Pikesville, and plugged the cable box in, it recognized my account and was instantly up and running.

    When I bought an HD TV and had the Comcast tech come out with the HD DVR box, it took up about 10 minuted to set it up and i was good to go. the Motorola box itself had a problem about 6 months later, and they replaced it quickly with no issues.

    I actually like the Comcast interface here. I visited my in-laws up in Connecticut, who are also with Comcast up there, and their interface is COMPLETELY different looking, and quite un-intuitive. Don’t know why Comcast would be different in different locations, but I’ve come to find out that another friend on Comcast in another state has a completely different interface yet.

    Yeah, occasionally it’s hard to predict the stopping point after fast forwarding. But there’s a little return arrow that backs it up a couple seconds if you’ve FFwd a tiny bit too far. Still takes vastly less time than watching the ads. 😉 No different than the days of the VCR, really.

    I really think people simply love to complain.

  19. Comcast HD-DVR … NO SOUND on CERTAIN channels????

    After several calls to tech support and power-off reboots, the problem went away following each reboot then re-occured within 5 minutes. I discovered the HDMI cable (or circuit) was bad. Quick switch to component cables fixed the problem. (I did not have another HDMI cable so I’m sure if problem was the cable or HDMI circuit of DVR unit.

  20. I wish I would have read this blog a few months ago. I got my first HD plasma TV and wanted HD service. I was with Dish Network but they wanted a 2-year commitment to get a HD DVR. I don’t like long-term contracts. I got Comcast installed with no contract. When the guy installed it, I discovered it didn’t even have a HDMI….only component. He said some units had it, some don’t. Dumb! Anyway, he left after a VERY basic explanation of the remote. I received no manual either. What a terrible remote…very unintuitive. And the response time is AWFUL! It takes so long to act after I press buttons. VERY frustrating! And you have to point it right at the box. I could use my Dish remote from another room. I’m switching back to Dish (or Direct) as soon as I possibly can.

  21. I’m on my third Comcast DVR. The first one seized up in it’s channel switching and switched channels like molasses.
    My second one had the sound keep crackling and going off. I’d switch channels and the sound would come back on. Now my third box is doing the same thing with losing it’s sound. What’s up with Motorola? Can’t they develop thier circuits right? What a P.I.T.A.!!!!

  22. After the new software upgrade that added folders in the dvr list of recorded shows, my dvr have been acting funny. whenever i fast forward a program and then press play, it does not play the show at the specific point i pressed play. It jumps back 30/60 seconds (varies) and plays the show from there.

    Comcast says its a feature. A feature for people with slow hand-eye co-ordination. Are you !@#$ kidding me? If its a feature give us people who has nothing wrong with hand-eye co-ordination a feature to skip this feature.

    Reading through the forums I find that I can reprogram my remote to do a 30 sec skip. But since this ‘feature’ also affects the rewind function and the time it skips varies, its really annoying. If this is comcast’s idea of copying similar functionality from TiVO DVRs they really need to double check how TiVO does it (at best, it skips by 8 or so seconds not 30 and 60 at the highest FF speed)

  23. funny, I loved my tivo just like you and hate my comcast DVD box I have now, but I would call my tivo my windows and the comcast the apple…but hah thats just I guess we’ve had different expereinces with the two…..I’ve NEVER had issues with my PC and my g/f’s mac has been through 2 HD’s, 2 keyboards and 3 mice in 3 years……but yeah, never had a virus!! hah neither has my PC.

  24. Huh, funny… mine works just fine for the past year. Never had a problem. Even after power outages my box comes right back on. Comcast has treated me pretty good for just being another customer. I work for Verizon FiOS, and I think our boxes have more than any I’ve ever worked with. Than again, I may have just got lucky and got the golden box.

  25. Wow… I really dislike the comcast dvr. I have had comcast dvr service for about a year now. The program search functions are horrible and sometimes recorded programs crash (REALLY??) I used to have a Replay TV dvr and I’ll tell ya, It was dependable and had very good search features. WTF Comcast??? Do you really care about your customers?? If you did, we wouldn’t be bitchin’ about this, would we?

  26. and I thought it was just me! so glad for this post, it’s like a support group! 🙂
    I found it trying to Google “how to recover deleted programs on Comcast DVR”. Loved my TiVo to death, but when I upgraded to Comcast extended basic, only 1 tuner worked on Tivo!!! The other tuner is analog. I felt lost without my 2 tuners so I decided to try the Comcast DVR. Talk about an ADVERTISEMENT for Tivo!!! I may bite the bullet for the second series of Tivo, but I do like a couple of things about the Comcast DVR – it goes back about 2 hours instead of just 1/2 hour on Tivo and it had a “jump” ahead 5 minutes button. Many shows I watch have a 5 minutes of commercials, so that button is pretty cool. Everything else is a poor rendition of Tivo though.

  27. Unfortunately, I’d have to agree 100% with this posting. I was a long time Comcast customer and I was very loyal to their service until I got an HDTV and they made it incredibly hard to upgrade. I was somewhat confused why they didn’t appreciate me. Soon after, I began working at DISH Network and I decided to subscribe to their service. I can honestly tell you that I will probably never go back to cable, Comcast in particular. It was easy for me to use and even easier to get used too. I’ve had DISH for quite some time and I don’t intend on switching service now. I invite people to come and check out the endless possibilities and continuous value they will receive with DISH Network!

    *Danielle

  28. Such a situation although I never met before, but it should is a
    very depressing thing , especially the rare leisure time with his family
    watching television together , but encounter such a situation , it should be the
    most annoying thing .
     

  29.  I recently switched to Comcast and Im very dissapointed. Its bad in every way.  ATT Uverse DVR service runs circles around Comcast Infinity DVR service. Actually ATT UVerse is much better in many aspects, from ease of programming to the aesthetics of the menus and guides, to the fact that you can record up to 4 programs at one time. Unlike Comcast where you are limited to two programs recording at one time and then can only keep the tv on one of the channels you are recording. 

  30. LOL, it certainly does not use RAM, a cute thought though, I wouldn’t expect hardware knowledge from a Mac user so I don’t hold you accountable for anything you have written, technical or not. It uses a form of volatile, NAND caching with a hard drive supplement, your box had a common error caused by corrupted data, the hard drive clears to avoid issues later on. Enjoy feeding the beast countless thousands.
    -Cheers

  31. It’s years later, and frankly, your analysis still rings true. Just switched from uverse to Comcast… I’m now longing for my old 1990’s VCR instead. Somehow, this garbage is unable to recognize sporting events as a series… Think NASCAR and its 30-plus races as all individual Manuel events… Where are my VCR tapes again? And worse, if u use the smart search recommended, you get the 30-plus races, plus the accompanying 30-plus time trials, the hot laps, the after race recap…. I end up with 60-plus events in one week.

  32. I hear you The Comcast boxes are pathetic. I so far have went through 5 cable box and all have the same shitty performance. Unfortunately Comcast has a monopoly in my area.

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