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Summary:

At the risk of sounding like an infomercial…”Has this ever happened to you?” You set your Comcast DVR to record only new episodes of your favorite TV series, but it winds up recording every…single…showing, including all repeats? The problem is especially bad with a show like […]

At the risk of sounding like an infomercial…”Has this ever happened to you?” You set your Comcast DVR to record only new episodes of your favorite TV series, but it winds up recording every…single…showing, including all repeats? The problem is especially bad with a show like Project Runway, which Bravo seems to run on a continuous loop, clogging my DVR and requiring constant deleting. So I called Comcast to find out what the problem is. Turns out there are two main reasons, and neither of them are really excusable.

new_eps_runway.jpg

The first concerns the cable provider’s Interactive Programming Guide (IPG), the TV listing you interact with as a Comcast subscriber. It’s called the i-Guide and it was developed by Comcast and Gemstar-TV Guide.

Networks provide all the data about each show for the i-Guide to Gemstar-TV Guide — things like episode synopses and whether each airing is new or a repeat. But sometimes networks forget to provide this information, which means your DVR can’t differentiate between what’s new and what’s old. “[The networks] are not malicious, not irresponsible, they just haven’t provided this data historically,” Todd Walker, Comcast senior vice president of product management, told me. Walker said that when a network is alerted to the missing data, they are generally quick to fix it. (A Bravo spokesperson assured me that it provides all the correct data to its cable partners.)


For comparison, I talked with Clent Richardson, TiVo’s chief marketing officer, who said his company’s DVR does not experience the same recording repeats problem that Comcast does. TiVo gets its TV show information from Tribune Media Services, which TiVo claims has better data. But since I don’t have TiVo, I can’t independently confirm this (any NewTeeVee readers out there care to pipe in?).

Once Gemstar-TV Guide collects all the network information, it stores it in a database. The company recently switched to a new database system and in the process, according to Walker, the “original air date” field was dropped. With no air date associated with each program, DVRs were recording every showing. But the problem was apparently fixed on Feb. 21, so it’s not supposed to be affecting Comcast customers at this point.

repeat_runway.jpg

The key word there is “supposed.” Whether I’m still suffering from a database problem or incorrect data, the screen grabs embedded here show that while I have the proper settings, the DVR keeps recording repeats. So it looks like Comcast has more work to do.

According to Walker, Comcast is rolling out tweaks to its DVR over the coming year. He said that new functionality will include a recording history to keep track of the shows you recorded, advanced search, and remote DVR scheduling.
Granted, if having multiple Heidi Klums stored on my cable box is the worst of my problems, life is pretty good. But I’ve had the Comcast DVR for two years now, so I’m getting weary of all the bugs. Speaking of which, Comcast still hasn’t fixed that pesky key queuing issue, either.

  1. i have TimeWarner here in SoCal and it’s the same story with my DVR. Not only will it record billions of episodes of a show, even though i set it to NEW only… it also has this bizarre freezing problem where the unit no longer responds to remote-control commands. Grrr… I love my DVR, but boy do I dream of going Office Space on it sometimes!

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    1. All other cable companies let you simply select “this time slot only” It is a very simple solution to a very simple problem. Time Warner (Comcast) can’t figure this out.

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  2. Time Warner = Same story. The Daily Show and Colbert Report are the worst offenders. I get 4 or 5 of each per day. Very frustrating…

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  3. And…am I surprised? No…

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  4. Thank you for writing this up. It drives me absolutely crazy. It is, in fact, the worst of the Comcast box’s 3,000 bugs.

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  5. We switched to Tivo. Saved our sanity. You really don’t realize how much the Comcast box and software suck until you’ve experienced how this technology should work.

    Spend the cash – get the Tivo

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  6. Chris Albrecht Friday, February 29, 2008

    Hey Paul,

    Thanks for commenting on the Time-Warner. I don’t have that option here in the Bay Area, and when I contacted them, a spokesperson said he hadn’t heard of this problem with their system.

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  7. I have the same problem with my Comcast DVR, and did not have that problem with my previous ReplayTV DVRs although I don’t know where they get their program data.

    It was particularly bad after Law&Order:CI switched to USA. Since reruns of L&O:CI play approximatly 127 times a week on USA, the inability of the DVR to pick out the single new episode a week was galling. I was forced to do a time period recording.

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  8. I love my Tivo, but its not perfect either. Let’s say that you are taping Jim Cramer’s show “Mad Money”. It runs live at one point in the evening, then the taped repeat airs later in the evening. It’s the same show, but it’s labeled as New each time. Now, it most certainly is a repeat, but since its targeted at the west coast, its “new to them”. Since it’s labeled as New, it gets recorded twice, wasting space.

    But here’s the thing: A show like Mad Money rarely reruns, like a pre-taped show might. Instead, the only person or thing looking at the New and Repeat labels for shows like this (live broadcasts) are DVRs. So, the right thing to do is to label the live broadcast as New and the taped repeats as, well, repeats. Because I Tivo a collection of CNBC live shows, I wind up with multiples of each of them due to this mislabeling.

    BTW, the simple use of the Show ID/ep # would eliminate this problem. Most every show broadcast has an ID of some kind which can be used to identify the episode, even live shows like news or sports. DVRs are computers; perhaps they should use the “metadata” the way other computers do.

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  9. TiVo suffers the same problem, with different shows. Michael Wexler described what happens — I see this happen with the Daily Show. But with TiVo, you can limit the total number of episodes of a given show it can store, which keeps repeats from filling up your drive.

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  10. I have Tivo, and suffered the same problem with The Daily Show and Colbert Report (multiple showings per day, all considered “new”).

    I finally gave up and created a day-and-time subscription. In this manner, Monday thru Thursday, I record the 10PM hour on Comedy Central (I run into too many conflicts with the 8PM hour).

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