WSJ’s Walt Mossberg: Comcast DVRs Suck Ass

Personal Technology – WSJ.com:

“So, why not just stick with the high-definition DVR supplied by the cable company? After all, while it isn’t free, it’s cheaper than the TiVo.

The answer is that, at least in my recent experience with the nation’s biggest cable company, Comcast, the high-definition DVR it supplies is just awful. If cable boxes were sold at retail like consumer-electronics devices, the Comcast DVR I tested, built by Motorola, would get creamed by better competitors.

My Comcast box, a Motorola DCT3412 I, which Comcast rents for about $12 a month, holds a maximum of 15 hours of high-definition programming or 60 hours of standard programming. The TiVo holds up to 35 hours of high-definition programs or up to 300 hours of standard.

Also, the user interface on the Comcast box is crude and confusing — nothing like the elegant interfaces people have become used to on their personal computers and devices like iPods. The TiVo interface, by contrast, is effective and attractive.

The worst problem is that the Comcast box flubs the basic functions of a DVR. It is maddeningly slow at responding to commands sent by the remote control to pause, play, fast-forward and rewind. You press pause and nothing happens. So you press it again. You try to return to normal speed after fast-forwarding through commercials and the unit takes so long to obey your command that you badly overshoot the resumption of the program.”

Mossberg does mention the TiVo/Comcast deal which is supposed to provide a TiVo option for Comcast users in 2007. I’m hoping to get to try this out at CES this year.

Mossberg’s criticisms of the new TiVo Series 3 by contrast include that it doesn’t provide show portability (the TiVo2Go functionality on earlier Series 2 generation boxes — you can thank your friends in Hollywood for that one) and the higher price.

Still, if money is no object for you (yeah, right), there is simply no comparison between the crappy generic DVR offerings and the Series 3 TiVo right now.

The new Vista CableCARD Media Center PCs will likely give the Series 3 a run for it’s money but those won’t be out until later this month. I probably won’t buy one right away because I already upgraded to a Mac last month and all… (well unless one shows up on my doorstep without a return address, Microsoft, Edelman, are you listening? — just kidding of course) but it will be interesting to see how they compare with the Series 3.

For another classic rant on the Comcast crappy DVR check out John Battelle’s from a few months back.

Having people like John Battelle and Walt Mossberg call your DVR a smelly pile of poo just can’t be good for Comcast. Now, if Comcast was smart, maybe they could just contact a bunch of bloggers and offer them free high def units and free service for a year to… uhhhh… check out… ummm.. their new HD “review” box. (again, just kidding, seriously, Comcast, don’t do it, you’ll get creamed).

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9 comments on “WSJ’s Walt Mossberg: Comcast DVRs Suck Ass
  1. kip says:

    Great post and fantastic title. Never had I thought I’d see suck ass in a headline from you! Please add Cablevision to that same boat. Their interface is so clunky and tired, with HD channels being few and far between. Conversly , when is Tivo going to get someone who can negotiate to get those boxes out to the cable companies? I would kill to get a new HD box but I’m not going to do it based upon the up front cost.

    -KIP

  2. Steve H. says:

    Great post and a good summary of all of the issues. One point I haven’t seen brought up anywhere else – I have a Comcast DVR, and its horrendous UI is made by TV Guide. (Thats what is says in the About… section). Guess that’s how Comcast can offer TiVo — the Motorola box is capable of running the cheap TV guide thing and the more elegant TiVo interface. Can anyone confirm this – that this blue UI (with the banner ad underneath every page of the channel lineup) is a TV Guide software creation?

  3. Bucs Fan says:

    It’s common knowledge among geeks that the cable company’s box sucks, but the average consumer has no idea that you can buy your own or what the differences are. As much as I absolutely abhor the Motorola boxes, as long as consumers don’t understand the difference, cable companies have no reason to offer better equipment.

  4. Dave Zatz says:

    I think the Moto boxes are serviceable. I’ve had a handful of 6412s in my time. You have to click a ton more times to accomplish things but the speedy GUI probably makes up for it. It’s not as nice as TiVo, but $600 versus $0 is a hard argument to make. I assume Comcast (and Motorola) will get better press in 2007 when that hardware is running TiVo software.

  5. Aaron says:

    Is there really a story here?

    The Comcast DVR, which costs $12/month with no commitment and no need for CableCARDs is inferior to the $800 Tivo which adds another $13/month with a 3-year requirement and a few bucks more per month for CableCARD rentals. The Tivo is more expensive in every way and it’s better so I suppose you get what you pay for.

  6. Anonymous says:

    I have a Dish Network DVR and I like it a lot. Probably not as many features as a new Tivo, but still very user friendly IMHOP.

  7. Anonymous says:

    WOW!! Where do I start in support of bashing Comcast?? I too have the Motorola 3412 DVR, and the analysis was right on. Slow, locks-up and Comcast telephone support services by and large “Sucks Ass” as well. I own Motorola stock and still find their cable box is maddeningly horrible. Maybe it has something to do with the Comcast staff and programming behind the box?? Bucs Fan points out I can buy my own box, but offers no suggestions that work well with Comcast service. Other than Tivo – any options? We rarely watch the free On Demand shows, but we do occassionally purchase pay-per-view movies. I have a Mitsubishi WD-52525 HDTV, which is CableCARD capable. Again, any suggestions?

  8. Jesus says:

    I have DISH, and my DVR is what it is, a DVR. I records what I want it and I can pause and rewind live TV. I cannot ask for anything more, because now I can set a timer online when I’m not at home. Its awesome, check it out at dish.com!

  9. Elias says:

    I have to agree, as both a DISH customer and employee…DISH’s DVR receiver is award winning, having won CNET’s Editor’s Choice Award and won PC Magazine Editor’s Choice for Best DVR…it also has the largest DVR hard drive in the industry.