Saturday, October 22, 2005

RCN HD-DVR Sad

Technology / Platforms

This is a quick list of issues I found with the RCN HD-DVR (October 2004). From my understanding the Comcast HD-DVR uses similar if not the exact same software.

1. Ports on the back of the DVR are not labeled at all

2. Remote has a large number of buttons (62) many of these are modal and only work in certain modes, many other buttons have no action at all.

3. When viewing the channel list I’m able to see every channel, even the ones I don’t subscribe too. This ruins the TV browsing experience since most people won’t memorize the list of channels that they do subscribe too. So if I see something in the TV guide I can’t easily tell if I’ll be able to watch the show.

4. There are two menu modes, icon mode and full menu mode. You need to use two clicks to bring you to the main menu.

5. Menus are not linear they are two dimensional so you have to use full up/down/left/right navigation to find the right menu item. (Tivo navigation is by contrast linear)

6. There is no easy way to return to the previous menu, this often means you need to start over.

7. When searching for a show there is no clear way to move between entering letters and selecting a show, this makes the process of finding a show slow and cumbersome..

8. When searching for a show there is no way to ‘type’ you need to scroll through each letter.

9. There are two ways to view show listings by time or by channel. You are forced to make this choice every time you want to see a list of channels. Once you make a choice the only way to change that choice seems to be to return to the top menu.

10. Remote control has to be pointed directly at the cable box. There is little forgiveness on this.

11. Remote control has a “HELP” button that doesn’t do anything at all.

12. I can schedule a show to record and when I turn the unit off it asks me if I want to cancel my recordings. Of course I don’t want to cancel my recordings, that’s why I scheduled them.

13. When I change my aspect ratio to ‘zoom’ or ‘full’ then the HD-DVR user interface is shown off the screen so only part is visible.

14. When I hit the pause button the screen stutters as it figures out what I wanted to do

15. Three large buttons right in the center of the remote labeled A B C, the A button on the remote is also labeled ‘Tv-guide.’ All three buttons don’t do anything

16. There are two menus a ‘quick menu’ and a ‘main menu’ if you click the menu button once you see the quick list, if you click it again you see the main list. The quick menu uses icons to hint at the functional pages. These same icons aren’t used in the main menu to reinforce their meaning.

17. If you browse into a sub-menu of the main menu and you press the menu button again instead of bringing you back to the main menu it shows the ‘quick menu’ as an overlay on the ‘main menu.’ This seemed really awkward.

18. If you’re watching a show it’s not obvious how to record the entire series of the current show. Pressing the record button will start recording the current show but to record a recurrence you need to press the the ‘info’ button twice. This is hard to find.

19. Video on demand – sigh. Great idea, poor execution. Again the categories and shows that are listed are not necessarily available for me to watch so it’s impossible to tell what is actually available.

20. The controls to play, pause, skip and fast forward video on demand are not the same as for watching TV.

21. Using the menus I select “Search” then “HDTV”. I’m thinking I will be able to search HD shows by title. Nope. I get taken to a list of shows by time or channel. This is not searching this is called browsing.

22. I started playing a recorded movie and hit pause. I later return to the movie and instead of resuming where it left off it resumes from the very beginning so I have to fast forward to the time I left off at.

23. The fast forward button has five speeds. When fast forwarding at high speed and I press play I end up playing 10-15 seconds later then when I wanted.

24. I was unable to get any on demand music to play. This seemed completely broken. The music would start to load and occasionally I would hear a second or two of music before it would cut out.

25. When searching for a show to record by DVR there was no way to find the equivalent show in HD. The channel numbers and listings are treated separately. 

26. Different channels may send different HD signals. This requires you to adjust the zoom/aspect ratio manually to compensate and make the signal match the screen.

27. Shows don’t seem to expire automatically. If I tried to record a new show and the space on the DVR was filled I would get a message asking me to delete something first.

28. Many other misc, problems.

I will probably cancel my HD-RCN service. The problems with the unit don’t compensate for the benefits. DirectTV does have a Tivo enabled unit but it costs $700 for new customers and I hear that DirectTV is moving away from Tivo. Tivo on the other hand has yet to announce a date for their cablecard enabled box or standalone HD unit. The other option to consider is a HD Media Center PC. The entry cost for media center pc is much higher ($1500-$2000) and from what I understand HD support is only over the air. Hmmm. That deadline to convert to HD is a little over 3 years away.

To date I have never seen an HD solution that would be usable by a child or a senior citizen. These devices are not usable and even for people who understand technology they are not friendly or easy to use. My wife, (I recently got married) tells me that the little Tivo is sad when I switch and use the RCN box. I would imagine the little RCN box is sad as well.