Dear Comcast, Why Is My DVR So Dumb?

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.

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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.

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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. [digg=http://digg.com/tech_news/Dear_Comcast_Why_Is_My_DVR_So_Dumb_2]
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.

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