How do I keep cable companies from outsourcing my TiVo?
October 29, 2006 3:53 PM   Subscribe

How do I keep cable companies from outsourcing my TiVo?

My poor, poor parents. They just don't know. After much deliberation and persistence, I was able to rangle up a DirectTiVo two years ago around the holidays. Now after incessant ads on highway billboards, store posters, and those devilish salesmen at our local mall, my parents are near convinced to switch over to Time Warner Cable (we currentyly have DirecTV, which I love).

Now, before I sound ungrateful, and so I don't sound like I'm 30 and living with my parents still (I'm 17, it's still okay), we are very addicted TV watchers. If I forget to set a season pass for 'Project Runway' for my mother, it'll be hell for a whole week. I've tried to explain to them how simplistic TiVo is, how easier its made our lives, how they can fast forward. I've shared some of the various horror stories that come with cable company-provided DVRs, and the hassles that come with them. Yet I've failed to wear them down.

What are some key arguements (prefferably ones I could present with factual data) I could use to sway them? Am I asking too much (they do pay for it after all)? What can I do to avert a possible crisis?
posted by watch_alot to Technology (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Tell them your Internet friend kcm says that there's no reason to give up a working TiVo for a cable company provided DVR. I had a TiVo since the first one came out, and gave it up when I moved a year ago since I got a new HD LCD TV and wanted HD capability.

I regret it because the Comcast DVR is a nightmare hardware- and software-wise. For example, if you push Exit on the season pass management screen instead of clicking Confirm, you keep your changes but future management goes to hell when it messes up the indexes. You can no longer move some season passes into some positions because the software corrupts the numbering when you press Exit after changes instead of Confirm. The fix is to write down your settings, hard reset the DVR, and re-enter the passes. That's just one example. Like the other ones, the bug has existed forever without any word of a fix.. I'm not sure Comcast ever updates the software - though the hardware is very capable. The interface is terrible and completely non-intuitive, as is the remote. Etc.

I do not regret it since although the Comcast DVR is a nightmare, it is usable, and it was the only choice for an HD cable-compatible DVR at that point - plus I got dual tuners, I don't have to purchase hardware, and it's cheaper per month by a few bucks.

The HD TiVo is out now and it's very expensive. That said, it is a TiVo, and ergo it works well and it is simple to use. TiVo is a much slimier company than when I bought my first one years ago, and you need to sign up for a one year contract when you buy a new one (among other things).

If you've got a TiVo and it does what you need, keep it. If it dies or you find you need a cheap HD-capable DVR, try the cable DVR.. if you don't like it, you have no commitment and can buy a new TiVo after you discontinue the cable DVR service. That's my professional nerd opinion.
posted by kcm at 4:12 PM on October 29, 2006 [1 favorite]

Son, you need to wean yourself off the TV crack.

I would ask them what the benefits of a TWC DVR? Then I would show how TiVo can do the same thing. Why mess with what you have that already works? If you are the one programming it, tell them that you only can program the TiVo one.

As far as I know, you cannot transfer your recordings on the cable DVR to disk which you can do with many models of TiVo
posted by JohnnyGunn at 4:14 PM on October 29, 2006

You can have a tivo with time warner cable. You just need to pay your $11/mo tivo fee and no need for a digital box with TW.. I'm not sure that having a digital one would make tivo impossible though.
posted by shownomercy at 4:21 PM on October 29, 2006

another argument is that most cableco-provided DVRs have very small hard disks. it's well known how to upgrade a tivo with a big honkin' hard disk, but with the cable company DVR, forget it. and even their HD DVRs have ~60-80GB hard disks... which is good for about 10-14 hours of HD storage.
posted by joeblough at 4:22 PM on October 29, 2006

Best answer: Their HD DVRs do not have 60-80GB disks. The Motorola units, for example, have had 120GB disks for a long time and have recently been replaced by 160GB disks. The Panasonic units Comcast will likely move to 1Q07 has a 250GB disk (and three tuners, vs. two for the current units/Series 3 TiVos [and one for the Series 1 and Series 2 TiVos]).

You can certainly have a TiVo with cable service, as they will control most analog and digital boxes via serial or infrared signals.

One final upside is that you don't have to deal with the terminally stupid Comcast customer service, like I just tried to on the phone. 20 minutes on hold just to get to a representative that has no idea what you're talking about, won't transfer you, and treat you like an idiot when you ask to speak to someone else.
posted by kcm at 4:46 PM on October 29, 2006

Best answer: Cable DVRs are also really not smart. They cannot learn your preferences and record shows automatically for you like TiVo. They also don't have the "record any show on any channel that has X in the details" function, so there's no setting that will allow you to, for instance, always have Leno, Letterman, Conan, etc. recorded if your favorite band is making an appearance, or every movie that your favorite actor is in.

Also, if you tell the DVR that you want every episode of a show (the equivalent of a "season pass") even if you specify "only new episodes" be recorded, if the show airs multiple times a week (like Project Runway) it will record each airing. And if you tell it that the particular show should only be deleted when you delete it, not when space is needed, you could come to your TV after two or three days and find that 25% of your measly hard drive space is taken up with repeated recordings of the exact same episode of a show. And even if you watch it and delete it, if it comes on again, it'll be recorded again.

The DVRs also seem to have a hard time remembering not to record things when you go through the "scheduled recordings" menu and manually cancel a recording to prevent the numerous recordings of the same show issue.

If it were my choice, and I had a working TiVo, by no means would I downgrade to a cable DVR unless the cost difference was so great and my need for that savings so impossible to duplicate elsewhere in my budget that there was just no avoiding making the change.
posted by Dreama at 4:49 PM on October 29, 2006 [1 favorite]

If they insist on switching to TWC you could persuade them to opt for an additional standalone TiVo to control the cable box. The best argument for this route is that the menus, interface, and remote control will be identical in the new setup. Nothing is more frustrating than learning new buttons and menus, it can take weeks before you're really controlling the TV without thinking too hard.
posted by dendrite at 5:02 PM on October 29, 2006

Why do they want to switch? Your issue with the change seems to be out of sync with theirs.

Personally, I think DirectTV is trash, and there's a lot that cable is doing these days that can make it better. They may be thinking about one of these other real advantages and just aren't interested in getting into it with their kid. If you really want the most out of your TV viewing (and how dorky does that sound), politely find out why they want to switch and then you'll know how/if you can actually persuade the conversation.
posted by pokermonk at 5:11 PM on October 29, 2006

Response by poster: This is all great advice, thank you. I'm going to print this out for them. Also, I was wondering if anyone knows of any published (whether it be online or in print) cases that pertain to issues with cable company provided dvrs. That, along with your comments would be a nice, hefty arguement I could bring to them - and hopefully succeed.
posted by watch_alot at 5:26 PM on October 29, 2006

You will lose functionality. If your mom freaks out when one season pass is lost, ask her how she will feel when several programs a week don't get recorded, how she will feel when the box reboots itself randomly for no reason and loses 5 min of a show, and how she'll feel when there is little to no customer service for cable company DVRs (since they didn't write the software or create the hardware).

Trading a DirecTiVo for a Time Warner DVR is like trading in a hot new 17" macbook pro in for a packard bell running win95.
posted by mathowie at 7:20 PM on October 29, 2006

My comcast cable DVR, a Motorola, has weird problems. A show is set to record, there's the little red dot on the listing indicating it's going to record, show starts, and... it doesn't record. What are you supposed to do with that?! KCM's explanation is the first one I've ever heard, so I guess that's a start. You don't know when a show will decide not to record, though.

Also, if the cable box has to turn itself on to record, and you then turn on the TV to watch something, it's stuck on mute. You can flip your mute button on and off but it has no effect. WTF?! Grrr.

The interface does kind of suck. Just doesn't seem intuitive, and seems like it could be much better optimized. My buddy's Tivo interface looks slick and he reports no bizarro problems.

The thing is always rebooting itself. I'm never sure why. For a while after reboots, all shows on the guide are titled "To Be Announced".

The thing has two tuners, so you're supposed to be able to record two shows at once. Usually this works, but sometimes you have one show already set up to record, just 1, and you go to set up the other one, and it says there's a conflict, and that something else was already scheduled. It's only supposed to say that when both tuners are already set to record something. I haven't figured out what series of events leads to this but it's annoying. You have to cancel them both and start again.

Also, you're supposed to be able to watch one thing while recording another, but sometimes when you go to change the channel from what you're recording, it says something like, "if you leave this channel, recording will be cancelled." And you're like, yarrrrgh! And you cancel and re-set everything up again, losing some of your recording.

Also there are shows that just won't delete. No clue why, but you hit delete over and over and they won't go anywhere. Sigh.

Also, recorded shows sometimes have inexplicable glitches in them. Maybe the sound drops out for a second every 15 seconds, or there are visual hiccups every 30 seconds. You can watch a show and have no problems, but the recorded show somehow has problems. Annoying.

I'm glad to be able to record two things at once, and to record HD, but Tivo sure looks better than what I've got. Don't do it, Mom and Dad!
posted by kookoobirdz at 8:45 PM on October 29, 2006

Oh and the "if you leave this channel..." message should legitimately happen when you're recording two shows and try to watch a third, but sometimes happens when you're only recording one.

I think I need to get outside more.
posted by kookoobirdz at 8:48 PM on October 29, 2006

kookoobirdz writes "Also, if the cable box has to turn itself on to record, and you then turn on the TV to watch something, it's stuck on mute. You can flip your mute button on and off but it has no effect. WTF?! Grrr."

Motorola DVR boxes were apparently designed by morons. It's a dual tuner box, yet it does this shit. Even better, despite being a dual-tuner box, if you press "record" while watching a show you're stuck on that channel until it's done. Also, no ability to shut it off when it is recording, unless you want to cancel the recording.

The flip side? Unless you want to shell out major money for an HD TiVo, you either need a bastard combination of TiVo + cable DVR box, or resing yourself to giving up all the digital channels. We were just bought out by Time Warner, we needed digital cable to save any money at all on the bundled internet, and our TiVo now lives in our bedroom so that we can watch the digital channels in our living room.

On the plus side, no worries about losing shows - the "important" season passes are set up to record on both boxes. However, if I had the cash to upgrade to the HD TiVo when they offered the "transfer your lifetime membership" deal, I would have done it in a instant. That goddamn cable DVR annoys the piss out of me! On top of the awful interface and the dumb recording features, it seems to include stuff that makes it look more useful than it really is. It has a network jack, multiple USB ports, and apparently they do nothing at all with them - so why the hell are they there?
posted by caution live frogs at 9:18 PM on October 29, 2006

I think you can use the Swap button with the Mot boxes to get around that dual tuner problem, although the most up to date software should give you the option as well (as well as mucking with the Mute-while-off behavior).

But good lord do they suck, and god help you if you ever have to call your cable provider if they're anything like Comcast.
posted by kcm at 10:15 PM on October 29, 2006

I regret it because the Comcast DVR is a nightmare hardware- and software-wise

oh shit, I couldn't agree more. basically any dvr made by motorola is a giant POS. the software is slow, the thing overheats when you put a vcr on top and did I mention the hard drive is so loud you can't put it into a bedroom? absolutely unbelievably bad.

make sure you get a dual-tuner tivo.
posted by krautland at 11:06 PM on October 29, 2006

There's also the non-tivo related issue of the switch - cable company pricing is often crappier with a sketchier selection. Comparing price is often difficult because unlike a DTV bill which comes in with the lines PRICE, TAX, and TOTAL you also get a bazillion little lines for various local taxes and fees on a cable bill.

Personally I despise paying those little bits of extortion and love the simplicity of sat pricing, even beyond the fact that I've never dealt with a cable company that didn't have crap customer service and a total fuck-you-we're-a-monopoly attitude.
posted by phearlez at 10:01 AM on October 30, 2006

sorry for the bad info on disk capacities, i was just going off of what friends who are suffering with the moto boxes said.

at any rate, 120-160GB is still too small for HD content. that's ~26 hours. i upgraded my hdtivo to 400GB and i still think it's too small.
posted by joeblough at 3:08 PM on October 30, 2006

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