I guess I should have known that something was up when the cable guy almost immediately started apologizing for the fact that there was no way I could have “the moxie.” At first, I thought that he was making aspersions on my personality, but I soon realized that he meant the “moxi,” a media center that did more than just cable that they just didn’t have, and anyways, weren’t able to support until the summer anyways.
And I didn’t care — a critical mass of cable channels had been hit, and I was going to converge two technologies that I had been using seperately for at least four years: the DVR and the HDTV. How could I possibly complain about a dual-tuner Scientifc Atlantic DVR that played shows back in gorgeous Hi-Def?
And indeed, there is nothing wrong with the output: it looks sharp and clear and strong. However, the input — the user interface — is another thing entirely. It totally sucks.
I should preface this by saying that I purchased one of the very first Replay machines — the Panasonic Showstopper 2000 — in 2000, and in early 2003, I bought the Replay 5080, the model with the infamous “commercial skip” and “internet sharing” features. I went with the lifetime subscriptions, so I’ve saved money over the years, and both still work fine. They just don’t do HD, and clearly never will, as Replay is finally getting out of the hardware manufacturing business. So when I complain about the UI for the HD DVR, I just want you to realize that my point of comparision is a three-year-old DVR. By the way, my assumption is that Tivo has all of these features, as well. As well as the recommendation service, which Replay never had (and wasn’t anything I ever wanted to use, in any case.)
Let’s start with the Channel Guide — that little grid of shows from which you select shows to watch and/or record.
- It only shows 5 channels at a time. This from a listing of hundreds of basic, digital, subscription, radio, interactive and on demand channels. And even worse:
- There is no way to hide channels from the listing. Not even channels that I don’t watch; don’t want to watch; and don’t ever plan on watching. This literally makes channel surfing an absolute impossibility, as I have to skip through 5 channels of just NASCAR pay-per-view on my way around the dial. Why? Shouldn’t I be able to have a guide of just the channels I want to watch?
- It only lists shows a week in advance. The Replay goes 12 days in advance; hell even the Showstopper went 8 days in advance. But this, just the next week. There seems to be no reason for that: you know that the information exists, just give it to me.
- There is no way to search for an individual show. No place where I can type in “Baseball Tonight” and find out if ESPN has started running it again. Replay
- No place that lists all of the upcoming air dates of a particular show. And if, by some chance, I just happen to discover that a particular show is back on the schedule, there is no way I can see all of the upcoming air dates to figure out when I want to to record it. To be fair, they do have a “Browse by Title” feature, that essentially lists all of the shows in alphabetical order, but it is tied to that individual day, not the the entire upcoming week, which means that I have to check every single day individually for the show instead of all of the showings at once.
So lets say I actually want to record a show: pretty easy right? Wrong.
- No way to specify odd types of recurrence. For example, there are shows — “The Daily Show” is a perfect example — where while it is the same time slot 5 days a week, it only has new episodes on 4 days a week. I cannot, for example, specifiy that I want to record the 10:00am “Daily Show” every Tuesday-Friday.
- Recurrance langauge is confusing. And when I tell it I want to record multiple instances of the same show, here are my options: “All episodes on this channel at any time” (the “Season Pass” option); “All episodes on this channel in the time slot” (but without the ability to specify days of the week); “New first-run episodes on this channel” (but not necessarily in this timeslot, which I only discovered by accident, and which means any time, so why didn’t they say that? Also, this could set up unintentional conflicts.)
- Shows disappear from the “to be recorded” list. If, in order to save space, you tell it to record “New first-run episodes on this channel” and you are fairly certain that there won’t be a conflict, those shows will disappear from your list if there isn’t a first-run episode of that show coming up in the next week. Are they going to show back up on the list? I dunno. This is lame beyond belief. If you choose the That means that there is no definitive listing anywhere of all of the shows I want to record, unless I tell it that I want to record all episodes in that time slot, but since I only have 20 hr of HD space, I’d rather not it get filled up like that.
But that’s all recording stuff, you say. Surely, there are no problems with the playing back of what you’ve recorded. Right? Wrong! Piece of cake, right? Wrong?
- No “Play from Beginning” function for shows that are currently recording. Sometimes there are situations where I want to watch a show during the same time that it is recording, but without all of the commercials. Lots of people I know watch sporting events that way. So for an hour-long show, I might want to start watching it 15 minutes into the show, and then watch it from the beginning. Only I cant: the show gets joined in progress, and I have to rewind to the beginning, possibly getting satanic backwards spoilers in the process.
- Fast-forward doesn’t show time in numbers, just a progress bar. Wanna know where you are in a show you are watching as you fast forward though it? Tough! Unless you are watching “24,” or hit the stop button.
- No commercial skip. I expected that, but there isn’t even any a 30-second jump forward, meaning I have to fast-forward just like a VCR from 1979, not only blipverting myself in the process, but inevitably zipping right past the beginning of the next segment of the show I’m trying to watch.
- Have to start at the beginning (almost) every time. Sometimes, you want to watch a show, pause it, watch another show, then go back and watch the first show right from where you paused it. Nope, once you start watching a show; it forces you to watch all other shows from the beginning. Except, of course, for shows you are currently recording.
So, as you can see, going to this DVR represented a real step backwards in terms of much of our experience. Except for the dual-tuner HD recording, of course. Still, it was such a disappointment that we actually discussed going from Charter to Direct TV, because their TiVo-manufactured HD DVR looked like it was much superior to what we are now using. We still might: the only reason I haven’t been a TiVo user all along is that I decided that Replay was slightly better for what I wanted from a DVR, but since everybody else I know has TiVo, I know that they understand how to make a decent UI.
Somehow I doubt that making long-term customers seriously consider switching to Satellite is what Charter has in mind when they decided to go the HD DVR route. Who knows, maybe I should have just told the guy I’d wait for the Moxi.