Tibs Manor

Monday, October 17, 2005

Mind Blowing HD-DVR

Saturday afternoon I had a cable guy come out to the new apartment to hook us up. I took the opportunity to take a trial run with the HD-DVR service now offered by Charter, so I had the tech swap out my HD box for the combo. My plan is to evaluate it for a few weeks and if all goes well, cancel my TiVo service and just use this. After two days here's my opinion:


  • Faster operations for channel changing and setting up recordings. Part of this is probably due to not having many season pass / wishlist type things set up yet.
  • Even standard picture quality is far superior to high quality TiVo recordings.
  • Recording HD is obviously good, I am more excited than ever for this week's episode of Lost. HD had much fewer breakups than usual also, not sure if the location helps, or the fact that I am doing less splitting of the signal now.
  • Automatic downconversion of HD signals. This is HUGE, because it means (once I fix the audio issue, see below) that I can always record the HD version of a broadcast. If I watch on my living room setup, I get it in HD. If I watch it over coax in my bedroom, I get the recording downconverted. On my old HD box, if you tried to watch an HD channel over anything but component video, you got nothing.
  • Dual-tuner support. Only two days in and already this has come in awfully handy, last night I got Simpsons and West Wing.
  • More finegrained options for manual recordings and padding (I can end a recording 7 minutes late for instance).
  • Slightly cheaper per month, both in service fees and in electrical bills.
  • One less box and set of wires taking up space in my rack.
  • No more worrying about my cable box turning off and screwing up my recordings.


  • No facility for remote recording scheduling. I don't use this feature of the TiVo often, but there are times it is a lifesaver.
  • No ability to play music stored on my computer. Since my computer will no longer be in the living room, this is significant.
  • Either due to a faulty box, or a weak signal, I currently do not get stereo audio on digital channels. This does not affect my living room setup in the least, but since I distribute the cable to my bedroom over coax, this means I get no sound on any cable channel over ~100. This means I get sound on basic networks and ESPN, but no sound for OnDemand, HD channels, and premiums like HBO. This should be fixable, I have an appointment soon to resolve this. Worst case scenario is I get some converters for the digital audio or something, one way or another I *will* have sound everywhere for sure.
  • No folders for organizing recorded programs.
  • No 30 second skip. I can probably macro a decent solution with the Pronto, but I will miss this.
  • Less ways to find shows. There is a "season pass" type thing but I haven't found the equivalent of a wishlist yet. It may be there, I just haven't found it.
  • No way to skip through chunks of a recording. On a TiVo you can fast forward or rewind, and hit quickskip to jump to the next tickmark in a program. Here, you are stuck fast forwarding the whole time, which is a real annoyance. ReplayTV still rules here, being able to jump N minutes forward and backward was truly a great feature that should be copied.
  • Limited memory in where you are in a program. If you stop a show and watch something else, then come back to the original show, sometimes it remembers where you were, and sometimes it doesn't. I'm not sure of the logic behind this yet, it is annoying but not a huge deal. I think maybe if you watch two more shows, it forgets the bookmark. More experimentation is needed.
  • While watching the Giants yesterday (recorded in HD, what a world!), I had an issue. Game was 10am-1pm Pacific, I padded 90 minutes. I was watching the game, maybe 45 minutes behind. While watching the recorded version, at 2:30pm (when the recording ended) I was knocked out of the recording and taken to live TV on the channel (which was baseball). This is definitely bad behavior. I think it only happens when I watch something that is simultaneously being recorded, but it is still bad behavior. Coupled with the "No way to skip through chunks" con, it left me pretty annoyed as I had to fast forward through 3/4 of a football game to see a disappointing ending.
  • Slightly worse interface. On a TiVo I can either select a show and hit play through the menus, or I can just highlight a show and press Play. No shortcuts like this appear to exist, there are several examples of this type of thing.

That's about an equal number of pros and cons, but I think I am pretty much sold on the HD-DVR. Picture quality is just too good, I can live with little annoyances. It is good to get such performance out of my TV, I knew the old girl had it in her.


  • When Michele and I get our new HDTV, we will definitely be getting an HD-DVR from Time Warner. Unfortunately, I am not sure we will be ready to cancel TiVo, mainly because of the music features that we use daily. I will definitely be looking for other hardware solutions to replace the Tivo music server, and I am betting that Apple releases something like this very soon. They have the software ("Front Row"), and I think they are heading in that direction by adding a remote control to the iMac. I think TiVo has been pretty bad in not upgrading their UI anyway, and I find Galleon to be much too buggy (although I am not running the latest version).

    I will definitely love two tuners (mainly so I can watch sports while I record regular shows), but also for the few conflicts I have. I actually sort of like conflicts these days because it allows me to cut back on my TV watching! I am ready for a world of HD glory!

    By Blogger Shawn, at 6:47 AM  

  • What's your layout, is it all in the living room, or do you have stuff split between living room and bedroom?

    By Blogger Sir Tibs Tibsford, at 9:16 AM  

  • We do not watch TV in the bedroom. I prefer other activities, if you know what I mean!

    I think we plan to just have TiVo and a DVR on one TV, the cable box associated with the TiVO will be out of view.

    By Blogger Shawn, at 10:12 AM  

  • If they add Front Row/remote support to the Mac mini, you could go that route. Pricy at ~$500 (it is a fully functional computer though, and a way to get your feet wet with the Mac world), but would fit in an awfully tiny space, and you could just get a composite video adaptor and hook it right into your receiver. Even without Front Row / remote, you could add Bluetooth mouse/keyboard for full use. The mini seems like a great fit (no pun intended) for home theater and car solutions.

    By Blogger Sir Tibs Tibsford, at 11:48 AM  

  • I have been eyeing the mini for some time.

    By Blogger Shawn, at 3:26 PM  

  • Interesting thought, could the XBOX 360 be the hardware I am looking for? Make the connection, and Xbox 360 instantly streams the digital media stored on your MP3 player, digital camera, Media Center PC, or any Microsoft® Windows® XP-based PC.
    Could be a contender ...

    By Blogger Shawn, at 3:36 PM  

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