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:
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/