Blog Post

Pushing Buttons: Comcast’s “Key Queuing”

The scene: You’re at home watching TV through your Comcast cable set-top box. You press a button on the remote to change channels. Nothing happens. Well, you think, maybe I didn’t press down on the button hard enough. So you do it again. Still nothing. Aggravated, you press a bunch of other buttons on the remote to see if it’s working. For a second…nothing. Then, as if a dam had burst, every command you punched in gets executed, unleashing a torrent of unstoppable channel flipping, fast-forwarding, pausing, and on-screen menu launching.

You’ve just been key queued.

1067bx3thumbnail.jpg“Key queuing” is what happens when your cable box hangs before implementing the commands you input. At the very least, it’s an annoyance, as you have to wait for your commands to run their course. At worst, it can ruin the endings of TV shows or possibly delete programs you haven’t even watched yet. So I talked with Mark Hess, senior vice president of business and product development for video at Comcast, to find out why it happens — and what they’re doing about it.

As with so many things, there’s good news and bad news.

First, the bad. There’s nothing you can do about key queuing. The fundamental problem is the inability of the set-top box’s processor and memory to keep up with the commands.

The less-bad news is that key queuing is relegated primarily to DVR boxes. Since video is constantly being played off the hard drive, the processor and memory are already tasked, so it can hang before executing an additional command. But even though it’s been narrowed down to DVR boxes, the problem is still random, affecting some worse than others, and a lot of it depends on how you use your DVR. If you’re just pausing live TV, you probably won’t experience the issue as often as someone who’s recording multiple HD channels while watching a third program from the hard drive.

The good news is that Comcast has identified the problem. It has to do with the “transport bar” in the guide software. The transport bar keeps track of where you are in a show. You see it when you pause a live recording. When it’s not on screen, it still runs in the background. Comcast noticed a big spike in key queuing issues after it implemented the latest version of the guide software this year.

The better news is that Comcast is implementing a fix; it’s being tested as we speak. According to Hess, the new software drastically improves the key queuing issues, and Comcast is aiming to have it rolled it out, nationwide, by mid-February of 2008.

Until then, don’t let the DVR push your buttons.

22 Responses to “Pushing Buttons: Comcast’s “Key Queuing””

  1. cameron

    Wow… can’t believe this problem is still going on. Key queueing used to be an intermittent issue that I just accepted. Never had it last more than a few minutes here and there. Now, for the last 2 days, the box has been continually key-queueing, and just lagged to all hell. The only button that responds properly is the volume control. It required a hard reboot to fix (power down and unplug, not just power down). This is really unacceptable. I wish they would fix things.

  2. Wow. Pushing two years since I poseted here.
    Looks like that key queuing issue still exists.
    Not long after my post, I picked up a refurbished Tivo Series 3 with lifetime service. Sure, it was expensive. But, my Comcast bill dropped so much that my ROI is only about two years.
    Kudos to Comcast for providing the cable cards with no monthly cost.
    I am truly amazed at how terrible the Comcast supplied DVR is when compared to the Tivo.

  3. I’ve had the Comcast key queuing problem for years. As of now SEPT 2009 it is still a major problem. The excuse that the processor is too busy to respond to the key presses is BS because I have seen the problem happen when I am simply watching a show in real time and had no other recording or anything going on in the background.
    I just saw a Verizon tech on my street and he said they are in the process of running FIOS to my neighborhood. I am so ready to switch.

  4. We live in a former Adelphia area. Have had the same DVR for years, no problems, until Comcast came in. This key queuing problem just started appearing on one of the DVR boxes after a Comcast firmware update. When Verizon quits astroturfing and starts installing FIOS to the masses, I’ll probably switch in a heartbeat. The prices have nearly doubled since Comcast took over, and the quality has nose dived.

  5. It is now December 2008 and I still get key queuing issues. A pain in the freaking ass. I once paid for a movie on OnDemand that I didn’t want to watch because of it. Thankfully I watched it anyway and kind of enjoyed it.

  6. lylehm

    Frederick, MD – Comcast DCH6416 sw-74.53, fw18.34:
    July 2008 and the key queuing problem still exists along with recording problems (hiccups and time synch only on recorded material, not live).
    This has been going on for years and continues to get worse. My guess is that Comcast executives don’t watch TV, or they have FIOS. No exec worth his salt would let this go on for so long.
    I have one friend that abandoned Comcast CATV and now uses his PC to stream the shows from the web to his TV. It won’t be long before I follow suit, or use the new TV/Movie service coming soon to my PS3.
    If they eliminated that annoying ad banner at the bottom of the guide (which I use to collect names of companies I will never buy from) I may give them an extra month before I jump ship.

  7. gonavy

    Prior to Comcast (Chicago), I have Wide Open West (WOW) in Detroit Metro area – Same box, but much faster response and far superior in service. Been thinking about switching to Direct TV

  8. John B.

    I have had my Motorola 6412 for over 4 years. During ~2 of those years my cable provider was Adelphia. During that time the DVR worked fine and we never had any key queuing problems with the box. Once Comcast took over and actually changed to the Comcast lineup (I miss HDNet and HDNet Moveis) the DVR exhibited this behavior and other “bugs” that we never had before. Same box, different company, new problems. Clearly there was no hardware problem. If only I could get FiOS in my area :-(

  9. James Whitney

    I’ve had Comcast for about 6 months now, and have had this problem way too many times. The only reason I even got Comcast was because I moved into an apartment that faced north, otherwise I would have kept my Dish HD DVR. I had no problems with my Dish hardware, not to mention the the Hard Drive was bigger and I could store more stuff.

    To me, this just has to be a software problem, and makes me wonder if the got any tips from Microsoft in making unresponsive bloated software.

    If it weren’t for the On-Demand content for my kids, i would have dropped Comcast a long time ago. I’m looking forward to moving into a place that I can get my satellite back.

  10. James Cates

    Before we moved to PA and got Comcast, we lived in SE Virginia and had cable service from Cox. We had the same Motorola 6412 DVR in VA, but Cox’s software at the time was FAR superior – it was by Star something or other. Each episode and run of a show had a code like a TV Guide code; every showing was unique and the box just worked fine. The software was much more responsive, as well.

    For about 6 months, before we got Comcast at our home in PA, we had Dish and their HD DVR. I have to say that we miss it terribly. That was the best box and software we’ve ever used.

  11. I’ve noticed the same issue one venings when I’m watching live TV or when I’m watching DVR’d stuff. I’ve had stalled OnDemand movies or glitches in video and audio. I’ve turned on my TV to find that, of the three pages of stuff I had recorded and was saving to watch, all but one have been deleted. I’m thinking of just hooking up an AppleTV to my TV and getting NetFlix and Hulu running.

  12. PLEASE. This started in November 2006 when they released the advertisements into the guide. I remember the day that the ads (they are at the bottom of each page in the guide) popped up was the same day the queueing issue started.

    What kills me is every time you call about it, they act like it is something they have never heard of before.

    The BEST part is that Comcast had the BALLS to increase their rates. On top of that, everyone they got into their “”bundle”” package of phone/internet/cable they were trying to nearly TRIPPLE their rates after one year. They tried to force me into the next higher package. I told them to disconnect all of it and suddenly they found a lower rate.

    I don’t have movie channels, all I see is more and more infomercials, more crap nobody watches, more advertising right overtop of shows and all the while, next to my car payment and mortgage, it is my highest bill. I am just about done. Somebody will buy them out and we’ll have yet another new cable company again soon.

    Comcast sucks. NEXT!

  13. Rick, Comcast has a rollout underway of the TiVo software in the Boston area, but as of their last investor conference call in early Nov, they wouldn’t admit to anyone actually having it in their homes except Comcast employees.

    It’s taking a ridiculously long time, which indicates to me that there are problems.

  14. Rick Dias

    (Wasn’t comcast supposed to start using the tivo UI at some point?)

    Next they need to give us a way to only ever see our favorite channel listing, never see ppv fight ads as ‘messages’, not have closed captioning stomp all over the guide and get rid of those giant ads that occlude 2-3 channel rows in the guide.

  15. This has been a problem in the nearly 3 years that we have had the Comcast Moto 6412 HD DVR boxes.

    I’m not sure I’ve noticed it get worse recently because of any software change, but that may be because I try and have a Zen moment when it happens, because it is beyond frustrating.

    Those boxes are buggy crap. The only reason to get them is to be able to use On Demand, which I find essential for kids shows. Otherwise, get a CableCard ready HD-TiVo and be very, very happy.

  16. FIOS uses the same hardware and it works fine. It’s the Comcast software, not the hardware that is to blame. I suspect when the Tivo software ships for the same Motorola box on Comcast it will work fine too.

    It take about five minutes of using the Comcast HD DVR to know that there is something wrong with it. You have to wonder how much they have spent on support calls over the bad software. I switched to FIOS because it and a friend switched to satellite.