TV Toys: DVR from Comcast
I just got a DVR, yay! I've been wanting this for a while, as I have no working VCR and need some way to resolve the time-slot conflict between Alias and The West Wing at 9:00 on Wednesday nights. I'm also looking forward to recording some of the great movies shown on TCM in the middle of the night.
My investigation into DVR options started in earnest last fall with TiVo, which would have cost me about $200 for the lowest-capacity box (40 hours) plus either a $12.95/month or a $299/lifetime-of-the-box fee for the service. But since I don't have broadband Internet service at home, I would have needed to hook up a phone line to get the Tivo data feeds via dial-in, and that just doesn't sound very promising.
In mid-December I called my cable provider, Comcast, to ask whether they had some sort of DVR service in the works. The CSR said they were almost ready to roll it out they had the boxes but were sent the wrong remote controls, and had to wait for those before they could install. She didn't have much info on the capacity of the boxes (she thought it might be 30 hours) or any other details of the service but she did say they would work with the Comcast On Demand programming. This past Saturday night, I called to inquire again, and found that it was all ready! I was astounded to find that my net cost increase would only be $5/month there's no charge for the box, and since they were replacing my high-definition digital cable box, that $10/month charge would go away and be replaced with the $15/month charge for this new high-def/digital cable/DVR box. That beats the hell out of $500 for TiVo!
I scheduled installation for Monday, and they came out and replaced my cable box with the new DVR box. The DVR actually has about a 60-hour capacity (OR 15 hours of high-definition programming), and two tuners so I can watch one thing while recording something else, or even record two things at the same time. The remote control is almost exactly like the one I had for my digital cable box, so the learning curve there was small. And no phone line is needed, since the info just comes through my cable.
The new Comcast-TV Guide menu system is in use for this box, so I had to get used to that, but it's an improvement on the old one. The old menu showed eight channels at a time, in single half-hour increments, plus advertising on the left; it also completely covered what's on-screen. The new menu shows five channels at a time, but in three half-hour increments at a time, with no advertising; it also displays the live TV picture in the top-right corner. (So, all at once, you can see what's playing on channels 52-56 from 8:00-9:30, instead of seeing what's playing on channels 52-59 from only 8:00-8:30.)
You navigate through the times and channels on this menu, and then just select what you want to record with a couple of clicks. You get to verify your selections so there's no accidental recording, which I guess could be a problem if the box was nearly filled to capacity. I think the box starts deleting its oldest recordings automatically when it's full, in order to fit your newly scheduled recordings. I haven't tried setting up a series recording, where you can tell it to record one of every episode of a series; maybe I'll try that tonight. And I haven't tried recording high-def programming yet.
Hardly any documentation came with the new box I got a pamphlet that has some helpful pictures and numbered instructions, but hardly rises to the level of a "user manual." There is also an instructional sheet for the remote control, but those instructions don't necessarily match what the pamphlet says. One thing to look out for: the pamphlet refers to a "Swap" button, which is very important (it lets you go back & forth between Tuner 1 and Tuner 2) but there's no real "Swap" button on the remote, except it seems to have a tiny little "Swap" sticker under the "Input" button at bottom left, that was obviously applied recently. This is actually the correct button to use for swapping between tuners, and this is where the two sets of instructions don't match up.
Visit the Comcast site for minimal, high-level details on the service. One discrepancy: on their site, they say that On Demand channels cannot be recorded. But on the phone, the CSR I spoke to said they could. I need to investigate that further.
So far, I love this service -- it's a wonderful convenience. Call 1-888-COMCAST (1-888-266-2278) to get yours installed.
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