Comcast vs TiVO Roamio

As most of the world knows TiVO released their new DVR called the Roamio. Which in all shapes and forms appears to be the most awesome DVR yet. With the ability to do 6 tuners and stream live TV to the TiVO Mini, it alone will save me hundreds of thousands of dollars in stupid hardware rental fees from Comcast. So before I put down nearly $1000 for the new Roamio and a lifetime subscription I decided to ask Comcast if their Morgantown, WV system would support it. (I had seen some people on the interwebs saying there were issues with some cable systems not supporting all 6 tuners yet.)

So the first place I went was to twitter to ask them (@comcastcares) if they supported it and if there were any hoops I had to jump through to switch it from my Premiere to the Roamio. Well they wrote back and said to contact comcastcares_support@comcast.com. So I sent them an email asking about the support for the Roamio and whether it was required for a tech to come out to do the install.

So I got the typical boiler plate email back saying they would review my concerns.. Pretty typical.

Today I got a call from their Executive relations group while I was at work. So I called them when I got home and here is roughly how the conversation went:

ER: Hello, I was calling to address the email you sent us.

ME: Ok, well I am looking at getting a Roamio and was wanting to make sure it was supported before buying it.

ER: Well does it support 3 cable cards? We only have cable cards that support 2 tuners, so if it doesn’t have 3 cable card slots then it probably won’t work.

ME: No it only has one slot for a M-CARD. (Thinking to my self, yeah if I had to get 3 cards that is extra money to you.)

ER: Oh, ok. well we didn’t even know that TiVO had a DVR that did 6 tuners. (Thinking well, they have had a 4 tuner one for a couple of years now.) I have some calls in to our warehouses to verify if we have a cable card that supports that many tuners, but right now the only thing we support is 2 tuners.

ME: Ok, well from what I was reading it is just a firmware issue.

ER: Hmm, hmm, hmm, ok, ok, ok (don’t have a clue what he was doing) {he then repeats about checking with the warehouse people}

 

He then addressed my issue with doing a self install and said yes you can do it, but you have to call them to activate it. (Which I knew but was confirming it again.)

I then brought up the issue where the website says that for each customer owned piece of equipment you should get a $2.50 credit to your bill. I told him I had 2 TiVO’s and therefore I should see a $5.00 credit on it. To which he explained that I do get the credit but it isn’t reflected on the bill. He then told me that the cable card fee is actually the same as the other box fees ($9.95), but they subtract the $2.50 from it (which is the “cost of the box”) to make it $7.45 (which is the cost of the “service”). I told him that the Comcast website doesn’t say that and even the paper that comes with the bill doesn’t show that the Cable cards are $9.95..

The funny thing was that I told him that my friend sees the $2.50 credit on his bill. He immediately said “well different parts of the country does billing a different way.” I sort of laughed and said “well, he lives 2 miles away from me. So your hypothesis doesn’t work.” He couldn’t figure out why mine didn’t show it but others did.

He ended the call with saying he would call me back once he hears back from the warehouse and whether they would or ever support a TiVO with 6 tuners. I said “well I sure hope you do as it is going to save me hundreds of dollars a year in rental fees.” He didn’t really say anything after I said that.

 

So long story short, TiVO has released something that is far superior to anything Comcast could ever offer their own customers. So now they are going to probably give out false information to make sure that customers don’t purchase the new Roamio. Just another reason why Comcast is evil, and making billions a year from people from hardware rental fees. Shit I have had 2 Scientific Atlanta 3100 standard def boxes since 2001. The interface is slow, they put ads on the guide screen, and I have paid probably close to $1,500 in rental fees on them since then.

ReplayTV, TiVo and the general state of DVR’s

I currently have 5 (yes 5) DVR’s for recording shows. This goes back some years, but I have 3 ReplayTV DVR’s (2 with 80 gb Drives, and one with a 200 gb drive that I hacked to get it to work after the original 40 gb drive died in it.). They were / still are great DVR’s. They were pioneers in many ways compared to TiVo. They have built in network connections long before TiVo did. They allowed streaming of shows between units, years before TiVo could. All around they are great little Standard Definition DVR units. Granted they could only record what was on the analog tuner, however they supported multiple inputs so you could hook a cable box to them or other device and record it.

Up until late last year, 2 of them were connected to a Comcast cable box so I could record any channel that I received on the cable box. The third unit was connected just to the cable, so it could only record the analog channels. Well as with the “rest of the world” Comcast decided to drop all analog channels from their cable line up, in favor of the “better” digital signals. (Which they compressed to hell and back….) Anyways, this would have made the one DVR a door stop. However, Comcast decided to give away 2 free “Digital Tuning Adapters”. So I thought this would be cool, I could just hook it up and put it in front of the DVR and be able to record the channels. Well, the DTA required me to “hack” the ReplayTV unit as it (the ReplayTV) did not have the IR codes to control the DTA. This took me a better part of a day one weekend to get working. So at least it is able to record the basic/extended cable line up.

So fast forward half a year, and I turned on the ReplayTV one night to watch a recorded episode of Top Gear [because Comcast doesn’t have BBC in HD 🙁 ] and I see a message stating that:

Important Announcement!

The ReplayTV Electronic Programming Guide (EPG) Service will be permanently discontinued on July 31, 2011. After this date, owners of ReplayTV DVR units will still be able to manually record analog TV programs, but will not have the benefit of access to the interactive program guide. Effective immediately, monthly billing for the ReplayTV service to remaining customers has been suspended.

The industry conversion to HDTV is complete and ReplayTV DVRs are unable to take advantage of the wealth of HDTV programming. Please contact your service provider for current offerings.

What pissed me off the most was the last line: “The industry conversion to HDTV is complete….” Wait just a minute, there are hundreds of SD channels on Comcast’s lineup, that aren’t available in HD. So now all of the sudden I go from having 5 DVR’s to 2. Granted ComCRAP just raised my bill by another $16 a month, so the saving in the lost of paying the ReplayTV monthly fee makes my cable cost go down a little, but this still makes me mad as the ReplayTV DVR’s are still useful and very much liked by their user’s.

Well it appears that some people are trying to get a fix to allow them to continue to work after the July 31, 2011 cut off. One of the workarounds is by using WiRNS and Schedules Direct. Since I had previously set up a WiRNS system to hack the one DVR to get the IR codes in it, I decided that it wouldn’t be too hard to set it up on the new VMware server I have at the house since it didn’t require much processor and disk space. Also the Schedules Direct method only charged $20 a year for guide data vs the $23+ a month I was paying now for the ReplayTV units. (So almost a $260 a year possible savings.)

This is all cool, however there is one thing that hasn’t been figured out yet. That is how to handle the encrypted clock connection on the ReplayTV unit. If this can’t be figured out, then the 3 ReplayTV’s, basically become the VCR’s of the 90’s.

So on now to TiVo. I have had one of my TiVo’s for a year now, the other for about 6 months. Over all it is pretty good, but there were items that the ReplayTV made so much easier that I can’t do yet with the TiVo. For example, there is a Java application called DVArchive that I run on one of my servers that “talks” to all the ReplayTV units and shows me a list of what all shows are recorded on them, what upcoming shows will be recorded, lets me transfer shows from the ReplayTV to the local server and lets me schedule recordings from one web interface to go to the ReplayTV’s instantly. This isn’t available on the TiVo. Yeah I can go to TiVo’s site, but it is some what of a kludge to see the entire ToDo list across both TiVo’s. Also the scheduling is based on the TiVo polling the Internet vs the push of the recording to the ReplayTV.

One of the big things that was missing on the TiVo side was the ability to “stream” between the two TiVo units. This was one of the reasons why I went the ReplayTV route instead of the “mainstream” TiVo route. Yeah you could “transfer” recordings between the TiVo’s, but this could only be done IF the cable company did not set the Copy Protection flag, which nearly every HD and SD digital channel has this set except for the local OTA channels. In the long run, this meant that if I recorded a program on one TiVo I had to watch it on that TiVo, instead of “where I wanted to” like with the ReplayTV’s. Well as of yesterday, this seems to have changed. It appears that TiVo with their latest software update has enabled “Streaming” between the TiVo’s (like the ReplayTV’s had probably a good 7+ years ago). Now you don’t have to “copy” the entire program to the other TiVo to watch it, in addition the Copy Protection flag does not apply to the “streaming” of the video between the 2 TiVo units.

This is excellent news as now I can record a movie on one and then watch it on the other and vice verse with my weekly shows that get recorded.

So you are probably thinking if you are even reading this far, what the hell does this have to do with the “General state of DVR’s”? Well it just shows how some DVR’s are pioneers, some are the “popular” ones and then some are ones that people are just “stuck with”. What I mean by “just stuck with” is those people who are unlucky enough not to realize how good ReplayTV was, or how much functionality the TiVo Premiere’s have VS a “Cable company” DVR. Seeing how I have had all three now for a while, (although I did get rid of the ComCRAP DVR) I would still rate the ReplayTV as the best DVR that I have had. Granted it doesn’t do HD picture, but then again not everything on Comcast’s lineup is in HD. I still use them to record all my SD content and use the TiVo’s only for HD content.

Comcast’s DVR is just plain the worse thing I have ever seen. They only have a 160 gig HD in their HD-DVR which means that after a week of shows, it is usually out of space. Not to mention, there was NO way to schedule anything on it except scrolling through the on screen guide. There was no “searching” for items to tape. No way to save programs. No way to stream it to other units.. Think of it as the VCR of the 90’s with the VCR+ module added in.

Overall I think that DNNA made a bad move by discontinuing the ReplayTV EPG, but I guess in this day and age every one has to way the good vs the bad at some point.

WiRNS (the Windows Replay Network Server) URL: http://wirns.com/
DVarchive URL: http://dvarchive.org/
Schedules Direct URL: http://www.schedulesdirect.org/
ReplayTV announcement: http://www.digitalnetworksna.com/replaytv/

Yet another comcast visit

Well hopefully this will be the last post for a while about the problems with comcast… (Will see after next week when they post my new bill)… As I mentioned last time, getting a cable card installed seems to require an act of god when it involves comcast. The new contractor came out 2 saturday’s ago with a 3 more cable cards. (side bar/ I don’t know what it is about cable people, by why the hell do they always smell like they smoked a carton of cigs before coming in to the house? I have used an entire can of febreze in my living room after this tech and the two previous ones left.)

Anyways back to the story, the tech showed up, and and proceeded to put the cable card in the TiVO. It starts to do the firmware upgrade like the ones the other guys brought.. After it was done, he talked to the Comcast phone guy and then we found out that once again this card “was not in the system.” Is comcast / tri-wire’s inventory system so f&()’d up that they are not doing proper inventory of their equipment, but yet they can charge me out the ass for it?

So we pulled that card out and went through the others he had. The next one the phone guy said “should work”. Well put it in and then let it update the firmware. The guy on the other side pushed the right signals and my second TiVO is finally activated. So the tech got up and left, (and I had to completely soak the couch with febreze as it smelled so bad).

So now what can I bitch about with Comcast? The fact that they have had the ESPN’s screwed up for weeks now. The audio is so out of sync that you can’t watch anything that has close ups of people talking.

Comcast TV Funhouse

Since we last met, here is what is happening in the world of Comcast…

  1. They have started the compression of HD channels even more.. Now instead of having 2 HD’s per 6MHz, they are bunching 4 HD’s in the same 6MHz. Which makes watching anything with fast motion on it look horrible.
  2. The problem with the cable card flashing, has appeared to be fixed. Funny that the Corporate Escalation people don’t know it is fixed yet, or maybe the magic gremlin just hopped in the TiVo and did it.
  3. I decided to get rid of the Comcast SA 8300 HD/DVR box. The reason behind this one is that about 3 weeks or so ago, Comcast decided to move all of the HD channels from the 700’s to the 800’s (to be “grouped together better”, yeah what ever.) Well when this happened, my TiVo and ReplayTV DVR’s auto updated the scheduled recordings with the new channels numbers. However the crappy SA8300 box didn’t. So to my surprise when I got home and found it hadn’t recorded anything in a week or so I was pissed. See when you pay over $2600 a year to COMCAST for a service you should expect it to work as they say it should. So I decided to quit paying them the $15.95 a month for the DVR service and just switch to the TiVo. Well today was the day for the tech to come out and do the box/cable card swap. As usual Comcast has the wrong address on my account so the tech called me because they wanted to come early, well they were 3 miles away from my house on the other side of town. So after we got that straighten out they showed up. It was a contractor and a new employee he was training.

    So in goes the first cable card, and it comes up needing a firmware upgrade. So we let it go, it kept flashing saying it was going to take an hour, but ended up only taking about 20 minutes. After the update, he called the Comcast number, where we hear that the card that we just spent 20+ minutes updating, is “not in their inventory” and therefore can’t be used. F’ing great. So luckly they had brought 3 cards with them. That is where the luck ended, as the other 2 cards “were not in inventory” either. So basically some one dropped the ball at the warehouse and was watching tv when they should have been doing work. So they left saying that they were going to try to find some more cable cards so they could come back.

  4. After they left, I bitched and it got escalated to Corporate again. Well the tech called back around 4 and said that since I called corporate that there was nothing he could do. I told him it wasn’t his fault that some one else screwed up, and I can’t tell if his phone died, or he just hung up.. Anyways, Comcast Corporate called me about an hour after that and wanted to talk. So I talked to her and they said they were going to try to get some one out on Tuesday. I told them that I had already scheduled it for Saturday as I wasn’t going to waste my time again and take off work to sit around while they play “lets try this one”.
  5. So as it sits now my adventure with TiVo has in total been 6 techs since June, and 9 cable cards… Out of the 9 cable cards, only 2 of them have ever worked.
  6. Hopefully after all of this is done, I will save over $200 a year on my Comcast bill. Or I may save more if I just drop them and go with Dish network.

Comcast appointment #whoknows

I had another Comcast tech appointment today. See last weekend TiVo called me to work on the problem with the Comcast Cable card and the “flashing” that was occurring on about 25 channels. I talked with them for a while and then they conferenced in Comcast Phone support. The first thing out of Comcast’s “mouth” was “We need to have a tech come out and look at the lines in your house”. I was pissed, I spent the weekend before that with one of their tech’s who basically did absolutely nothing besides changes the ends in the house and replace the cable card. Neither of which fixed the “flashing” problems. So the phone guy, said he couldn’t do anything until a tech came out and did a in detail inspection of the lines. Haha what a freaking joke. So I had them schedule the appointment for 10AM today, preparing to waste the whole day on waiting for them to show up.

Like normal, 10AM came and past, around 11:15AM I get a call from a Comcast 866 number. It was one of their people calling to say that they ran out of cable cards in the area, and the warehouse was closed, and if I wanted it replaced I would have to schedule it during the week when the warehouse was open. I told them that I couldn’t and replacing it wasn’t going to fix the problem. I then explained what was going on and that the only real reason the tech was supposed to come out was to meter the equipment. She then said “Well the tech is running behind and won’t be there till after 12PM, is some one going to be there then?” I said I would and she hung up.

About 12:30 or so the Comcast guy showed up. Basically said “I know there is a problem with the cable card’s and I can’t fix it.” We then talked for a while about what the problem was and he said that there has been people calling in reporting it, but not one really took it seriously until Milan Puskar called in. It seems he had 15 TiVo’s at his place and ALL of them were doing the exact same thing as everyone else who had been calling in. That is when they finally started looking in to it. Go figure it takes a millionaire to get Comcast off of their ass to start looking in to the problem. The tech said that it is happening all over Morgantown and Fairmont from what he can tell, and every one is having the problems on the same channels.

He basically said there was nothing he could do except for pass it up to the supervisor for handling.

Here is a video I made of what it is doing. It is called “Flashing” by some of the Comcast phone people. I call it “Cable not working”. The funny thing when the tech left, was he said he hated working on cable cards because they don’t work. I was like hmm then make the channels unencrypted and you wouldn’t have this problem.

Since Comcast has not publicly admitted to what the problem is any place that I can find, here is something that I got from some one at comcast:

Only encrypted programs would be affected.  More specifically, only programs associated with segments that are part of more than twelve packages would be affected.  This is because the ECMs required to carry the entitlement IDs for up to twelve packages will fit into a single MPEG packet.  If more than twelve entitlement IDs are required, however, two MPEG packets are needed to fully encapsulate the ECMs. Not all two-packet ECM programs are affected by this problem.

The customer impact is further narrowed by the fact that only devices that specifically check the payload flag of the adaptation_control for ECM packets will be affected.  At present, and based on customer reports, this seems to be only TiVo devices.

Basically, there is an issue with decryption.  This will cause tiling, missing channels and not authorized errors.