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Dear Comcast, Why Is My DVR So Dumb?

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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.


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.


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=]
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.

116 Responses to “Dear Comcast, Why Is My DVR So Dumb?”

  1. The exact reason I’m likely going to drop Comcast — that and the ongoing problems with lag. I’m SO tired of spending time deleting episodes and the DVR ruining shows when it plays catch up and fast forwards beyond a critical point in a show (something I don’t want to see).

  2. T Shane

    My sister has Comcast (Sacramento, CA area). Their DVR sucks for this reason, as well as many others. I have Direct TV (San Francisco, CA) and do not experience any of the issues that Comcast users seem to have. Direct TV isn’t perfect, but it beats the heck out of Comcast, IMHO.

  3. Hey Morons,

    I don’t like comcast any more than you do but if you think ComCast either makes the DVR’s or the firmware they operate with… You should trade your DVRs for a more simple device like a VCR…

    BTW they’re made by motorola…

  4. Same here in MN with Mediacom. I get like 4 Daily Shows a day if I do a series recording of “only new episodes.” I’ve resorted to manually setting up the recordings for every day instead of a series recording.

  5. This is so true.

    The comcast DVRs are WAY behind my first generation TiVo in pretty much every way.

    A few more things for your list:

    If you start a recording, then accidentally stop it, you can’t restart it again.

    There is no way to skip ahead. You recorded 7 hours of tennis on USA and you want to skip ahead to the last match, it’s going to take you 20 minutes of FFing.

    Lag… My parents is way worse than mine, but somehow all ours end up with this lag between clicking the buttons and anything happening. So you click FF… nothing happens… try it again, and again and again… nothing. 30 seconds later your 4 FF presses all hit at the same time and the thing zips forward while you frantically are hitting the play button to no avail.

    FF?? Next time you are watching HD, try hitting the FF button and notice that the first spedd FF is actually the exact same speed as normal play, just choppy as if it were FF, but it isn’t.

    These things suck.

  6. Bender

    I have a Comcast box here in SoCal – even though it is now Time Warner.

    I have the same problems as others have – multiple recordings, the box freezing up (mid ff – so annoying)…

    I just moved so I am waiting to have my service hooked up…maybe I will get a newer cable box?

  7. THE reason I switched to Dish Network, their DVR recordings are exactly as programmed. Still have the issue with late running sporting events running into recordable shows…

  8. The answer to your question is easy. They don’t care. DVRs are killing the existing model, even for Cable Companies who make a ton of cash selling advertising that they then play OVER THE TOP of time already sold to other advertisers.

    Buy a TIVO, and send a REAL paper letter to your cable company, telling them that their business model will fail, eventually.

  9. I have a TiVo series 1 for analog channels and a Comcast DVR for digital. Plus it’s greater storage capacity. But on top of all the problems I have in common with other Comcast and TW posters here is:
    When I go to “Scheduled Recordings” on the Comcast unit and tell it NOT to record a scheduled show, it records it anyway and deletes a stored show at the bottom of the storage pile I wanted to keep.

  10. The one common thread I think everyone is missing is that all the issues we are all having are the sole province of CABLE networks, not broadcast ones. Since cable networks repeat their shows upwards of 12 krillion times per day to fill the gaping 24-hour maw, the problem is more acute on the Bravos and Comedy Centrals of the world.

    Coming from the cable industry, the Comcast explanation, while lame, is actually accurate. I have DirecTV and Tivo and I have to periodically check the “To Do” list to make sure that only the 11pm Eastern Daily Show gets recorded. It’s a flaw, but it will never get fixed because they have more important priorities. Like figuring out how to keep raising your rates for crappy channels.

  11. These types of problems generally don’t exsist with Tivo. The only time I have come across this is with shows that are run as new and rerun the same day…possibly a few times…such as the mentioned above with CNBC…or in my case Larry King on CNN.

    However, Tivo offers a qiuck fix to all of these kinds of issues. It just requires one to know the features and how to use them. I haven’t found Dish or Directv DVRs near as friendly and they don’t offer the “work arounds” that Tivo does. I have tried most DVRs out there and haven’t found any that compare to Tivo.

  12. Actually, the problem with TiVo isn’t as quite acute as some earlier commenters have said, at least with our setup (series 2 180GB dual-tuner). It’s gotten much better at picking out new airings of the Daily Show and Colbert, although it still barfs on some Mondays and whenever the shows go into repeats during regular airings (though not, oddly, during the writer’s strike reruns).

    But the gripe about TiVo picking up every episode of the endless marathons on channels like Discovery and Bravo is spot-on. We ended up limiting the number of shows the TiVo would keep on these channels to five, which at least keeps the problem manageable.

  13. Andrew S.

    Comcast is full of it. The issue is that its DVR does not have a way to keep track of what has previously been captured, like TiVo does.

    What this means is if your Comcast DVR records a new episode of The Wire, or Project Runway the first time it airs, and then you watch it and delete it from the hard drive, the Comcast DVR does not remember it recorded the episode already, and then records it the next time the episode appears in the program calendar.

    I guarantee that for as long as you leave the “new” episode on the DVR, it won’t be recorded again. The second you delete it, you’ll get another copy recorded the next time it comes up on the program calendar.

    With Bravo and VH1 and MTV in particular — networks that run the same episode a few times a week for a month after it airs — the DVR gets schizo and frustrates everyone!

    It is infuriating!

  14. Also just to add in, TV networks and cable companies have nothing to loose with the disparity of consumer electronics being as bad as it is, eg Cable cards vs a cable company provided DVR.

    If the DVR doesn’t function properly eg, skipping commercials and fast forwarding through boring parts of a show, the advertisers and networks based around the industry gain involuntary viewer ship further beating lame slogans into our heads.

  15. Even a TiVo will get clogged up with assorted duplicate programs when networks like TLC take two 30 min programs and make the program guide display the show as being an hour long.
    I still think the TiVo is the quickest, easiest to use DVR around.

  16. Reece Shiloh

    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).

  17. 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.

  18. 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.

  19. 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.

  20. Chris Albrecht

    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.

  21. 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

  22. 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!

    • patvideoguy

      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.