Thursday, May 7, 2009

I hate my DirecTV DVR - TiVo save me!

Ok, I've given it enough time. I've patiently tried to adjust to its user interface and behaviors but I just can't stay silent anymore. I hate DirecTV's DVR. Please, please bring the new DirecTiVos to market ASAP. You're driving me to actually consider Comcast.

My original Sony DirecTiVo unit died a few months back and so I had to get a replacement. When DirecTV said they would send a refurbished unit I had hoped that meant a refurb'd TiVo unit but no, I got saddled with their DVR and, friends, it is a far cry from TiVo. As Apple has shown time and again, user experience is EVERYTHING. Here's just a few of the things I hate about this DVR.

1. Live TV when in the "My programs" window. It's the third quarter of the Lakers-Rockets game, you've been taping it while you were out and are looking forward to blasting through it in an hour or so. You slyly hit the "List" button on the DVR to bring up the menu of recorded programs so you can start the game and, "Ah! There's the live game in the corner and you just saw the score! Ah!" TiVo gets this. You hit the TiVo button and live TV goes away, replaced by its oh so user friendly menus that let you choose what you want to watch with no fear of seeing what's currently being taped.

2. Fast forwarding. You're watching that same NBA game, zipping through the commercials. You could have used the 30-second skip button but decide instead to hit fast forward four times to zip through them faster. You're watching for the game to return and hoping you hit the play button at the right time. But wait, you did! And it's still fast forwarding! You hit it again, repeatedly, and it finally acknowledges your request and jumps back a bit but not enough. So you hit rewind a couple times, commercials again. You hit play. Argh! It's still rewinding through more commercials. Ah! Fast foward twice. Ah! Same problem! I could go on.
TiVo has three fast forward speeds but gives you a nice verbal tone to acknowledge that it heard you and is responding. No need to successively pound the buttons hoping it picked up your command. Flying through commercials at 3x speed? Hit play and TiVo jumps back to the exact point in which you hit play. Nicely done.

3. Stop, does not mean stop recording. I was suffering through #1 the other night and really wanted live TV to stop so I could watch the program from the beginning (I really didn't want to find out who was next to be booted off Survivor before I'd even seen the opening credits). When you are watching a recorded program and hit stop, that program stops playing and you are returned to the list of recorded programs so you can pick another one to watch (of course with live TV playing in the corner. Grr!). So I figured I could hit stop on live TV and it would at least pause live TV so I could restart the current program. But no, instead it assumed Stop meant stop recording. Thankfully it asked me if I really did want to stop recording the current show before doing so, but while it was asking, live TV was still playing. Ugh.

4. Much worse than TV Guide. My wife and I really enjoyed So You Think You Can Dance? last year and during AI we saw a promo for the next season that starts in two weeks. Great. Let's record it. Pushed the menu button, went to "Search for Shows to Record" and started typing in "So You..." What? It's not there? The show starts in two weeks and its not in the list of upcoming programs? TiVo keeps a list of upcoming programs 4-6 weeks in advance. DirecTV's DVR only goes forward a week? How pathetic.

5. Repeat recordings aren't smart. Like most DVRs you can set up a recurring recording program that will tape all episodes of a show, skip repeats and prioritize one recording over another in the event of a scheduling conflict. But the brains end there. One of my favorite shows is Real Sports with Bryant Gumble on HBO. It's on several times each month and on each of the HBO channels. It was taping Real Sports when I came home one day but I really wanted to catch the news as a fire had broken out in Santa Barbara and I spent a summer in school there. So I stopped the recording and changed the channel. I won't be watching Real Sports this month, apparently.
With TiVo, if you stop a recording, it will search the schedule for the next airing of the same program and schedule that one to record. It will even search other channels for that same episode. Very smart. DirecTV DVR - not so smart.

6. Repeat recordings may drive you nuts. Case in point: Sportscenter. It's on oh, 20 times a day. I like to catch a late Sportscenter each day so I can either catch the highlights before going to bed or watch them during my morning workout. So I set up a repeating recording on the DVR, told it no more than 1 episode per day and listed it as the lowest priority recording so it wouldn't stop the recording of other shows. Two days later, nothing but Sportscenter had been taped. Oh I only had one episode per day, but it proceeded to record every episode; it just deleted the previous recording from an hour ago.

Now the DirecTV DVR isn't a total disaster. It has some nice features like one-button recording, two-click repeat recording, nice navigation buttons for jumping forward or back 12 hours at a time and the record quality is good. Really like the fact that it automatically downloads pay per view movies too so I don't have to wait for the next start time. But it pales in comparison to TiVo.

If you haven't used a TiVo box you probably think your DVR from Comcast, DirecTV or Dish is pretty nice. Here's what you are missing:

* Superior user interface: Apple is to the PC as TiVo is to the DVR. It's far more intuitive, easier to navigate, smarter and more responsive. It's also much more pleasing to the eye and consumer friendly. It also feels like TV the way it should be by providing several nice touches. For example, the background screen on all its menus are different and have a subtle iconic theme that denotes what functions you are looking at. And the backgrounds move the way a video appliance's UI should. Also TiVo has a cartoon mascot and he moves too. If you are sitting on a menu for a while, watch him and he's shift his weight from foot to foot, turn his body and his antenna will bobble around. While this has little functional value it's a nice touch that makes TiVo friendly. You want to interact with it.

* Recommendations: TiVo isn't just sitting there doing nothing when its not recording the programs you ask for, its scanning the channels looking for programs you might be intersted in based on the types of shows you have asked it to record. I can't tell you how many programs I've discovered thanks to this feature. Discovery, National Geographic, TLC, you all have TiVo to thank for my viewership. I know a lot of people don't like this feature because they think TiVo is judging them ("TiVo thinks I'm gay!" is a famous line from Sex in the City) but you gotta try this feature. Use the thumbs up and thumbs down buttons to teach TiVo your preferences and it will reward you with great TV discoveries.

* TiVo on the Go: I travel a ton and it irks me when I get four episodes behind on Lost. It irks me more that I have to sit in a hotel room without TiVo and pay $19 for a movie I don't even really want to watch. TiVo on the Go lets you transfer programs you've taped to your laptop and watch them full screen on the plane, in the hotel or anywhere else you go. Very nice.

* TiVo as media hub: While I'm not 100% sold on this concept, the fact that TiVo lets you use your TV as a slide projector of the summer vacation or as an MP3 jukebox is pretty cool. Now if only Apple would give up on the AppleTV and realize that TiVo is the real home entertainment center.

* 15 minute skip: Forget the 30 second skip button to jump through commercials (you get that with TiVo, too BTW) this little feature is a gem for watching sports. Hate to admit it but NBA basketball really isn't that interesting until the fourth quarter. Tape a game and this great little feature let's you pop through the game looking in on it periodically to see if its close, if a momentum shift has occurred or if you should really just keep moving. It works in reverse, too, so you can pop back before the momentum shifted and see how it played out. Much better than rewinding through it and covering your eyes. How annoying. This little gem works great for jumping back to the start of a program too.

There's so much more to TiVo you really just have to check it out for yourself. Hopefully Comcast and DirecTV will hurry up and bring us these wonderful boxes (and hopefully not cripple them or saddle them with shovelware in the process).

Need someone to beta test the new DirecTiVos? I'm your man.