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Cable Company DVR vs. TiVo

I’ve got some positive news—my television picks up over-the-air content quite well, so I now have about 25 channels (everything from G4, HGTV and Animal Planet to local programming). I was thinking it might be time to consider getting a TiVo DVR. Then I started thinking it might be worthwhile to compare the features of TiVo to that of Comcast’s DVR.

I believe in this day and age, everything should be about HCI—Human Computer Interaction. If you don’t have an awesome, clean, intuitive user-interface, your product and user-base will eventually disappear. I firmly believe that Comcast’s DVR’s, if they weren’t subsidized by the cost of cable, would all be headed to the landfills because no one would want to pay for such a clunky device (even though most people do, they just don’t notice it popping up on their cable bills).

I’ve played with three DVR devices: Comcast’s HD-DVR, TiVo’s Series 2-DVR, and TiVo’s HD-DVR. There are pros and cons to all of them, and it’s notable that all devices have dual-tuner capabilities, but one device has a warm spot in my heart…

I’ll first mention why I do not care for Comcast’s HD-DVR. I don’t like monthly bills—and when a monthly bill is absolutely necessary, I want it to be as low a fixed cost as possible. I pay $40/month for internet via Comcast, which is quite speedy, and when I had the HD-DVR, that cost went to $90.00 for the first six months. Six months later, I saw my bill jump to $120.00, and being a person that doesn’t watch a massive amount of TV, I called and cancelled. The actual DVR lacked many capabilities, and was annoyingly complex. I was paying for HD-service and DVR capabilities, yet when searching for programs 1/2 the screen is taken up with the Comcast logo and new movies available for purchase. I’d prefer to see a full-page listing of as many channels and programs as possible, but the capability to remove advertising is nonexistent. Further, I don’t want to manually delete every show just to free up space on my box. I’m slow at watching programs, and 2 weeks is often not enough time to get me caught up on my shows, and so I get far behind on my DVR. It fills up, and in order to free up space, I have to go through and punch delete (a 3-step, slow process) on every show I decide I can do without seeing.

TiVo HD and Series-2 DVR’s have the same user interface, but their hardware specs differ. One can do HD, the other cannot. One has tons of storage space, the other has 80 gigabytes (which is still alot!). One costs $300.00, the other you can snag used for $30-40 bucks on eBay. After toying with the HD version, I decided on the HD box because of my interest in watching HD content.  There is one caveat with my choice—I had to get a cable card from my local cable company.  When I inquired about the little cards, I had some interesting responses from Comcast—I told them it was going into a TiVo, and that I wanted the “M-Series” card (M-Series = Multi Stream, I believe).  An “M-Series” card allows a user to watch one channel and record another at the same time.  The “S-Series” cards (or Single-Stream) only allow for one channel at a time.  The difficult part of this situation was that, in requesting the “M-Series” card, the phone support tech at Comcast was convinced that I’d have to pay to have a tech come out and do an “advanced install.”  I asked if I could just pick up the card and put it in myself (it really can’t be that hard, can it?), and was told that it was out of the question.  I caved and paid the one-time set-up fee for the tech to come out.

When the Comcast technician arrived, he had an M-series card in hand, popped it into the back of the TiVo, made a phone call to send an “Init” request to the mothership, and left.  I know what you’re thinking, and I blame Comcast (not the technician) for believing that I was too inept to plug in a card and make a phone call.  After reading the forums online, I found out that maybe it was best to have the technician come after all because there are users having great difficulties with CableCards in some cases.  Ah well, at least I got my HD service and TiVo up and running in under a week.

Well, there you have one more rant. Eventually I’ll find time to go back and proof read one of these, but that day is certainly not today.