Monday, September 15, 2008

Verizon FIOS DVR : Needs Work

I never liked Comcast.  I just don't like monopolies in general, I think it gives them too much freedom to just charge whatever they can get away with.  So when FIOS came to my town I was quick to get on the list and switch over. 

I love the service.  Love the technology, love the customer support, love the whole experience.

Except the DVR.  The DVR is not quite done.  I came from years of Tivo, and begrudgingly tried Comcast when I went to HD and didn't want to get a new Tivo box.  Verizon offers some things that sound like good ideas at first, but when you look under the covers, there's a problem.

The big feature of FIOS is the "home sharing" option.  This is what they hype in commercials - that you record on one tv, and you can play back immediately on any other tv in the house.  This is true, as far as it goes, but it's true like a political commercial is true.  It's not long before you learn the real details behind the scenes.  For instance:

* When playing back a shared program, the response of the controls on the box goes through the floor.  Don't even think about fast forwarding through your commercials, because by the time you get the Play button to register you'll now have to go backwards a minute or so because it fast forwarded so far when you didn't want it to.

* You can't "downscale".  So if the box you're recording on records a HD signal, and you have a standard tv in the other room? You're out of luck.  So for all of your programs you have to decide whether you want to share them, or use HD, because you can't have both.

* Last but not least, here's the big one.  You can only have one sharing DVR in the house, because it has to be the hub.  It is NOT true that you can record on any tv and playback on any tv (note how carefully they do not say this in the commercial!)  You can record on *one* tv and playback on any tv.  So that means if it's 5 minutes before you want to go to bed and you remember something you want to record (Saturday Night Live, for example?) you've got to get up, go to whatever room has the DVR box, and set up your recording there.  Even though you can remotely play programs, you cannot remotely record them.  You can't send a signal from a standard box to a DVR box saying "Record this."

None of these things makes me want to go back to Comcast, but they were certainly disappointing.  If I get another HD tv then maybe I can stream HD content (the tech told me that can't be done, but he also told me that you can't record two programs at once, and that is not true).  But the response time thing is pretty painful, and the "Can't record from any room" is really annoying, especially to those of us that used to have a couple of Tivo boxes. 

There are other little things that are annoying - the guide, for instance, is almost unusable with so many channels moved around, and there is no graphic bar like Tivo had to tell you how far along you are in your program (nor, as far as I can tell, is there the equivalent of a "15 minute skip" when you want to jump to the end of the program).  But it's still the way to go technologically and I expect most if not all of these problems to be fixed in no time.


steveo said...

Thanks for the review. I've been thinking of ditching the TiVo for Verizon for a while. Does Verizon have 30 second skip and 8 second replay?

Duane said...

Verizon remote has both back and forward skip buttons, and the settings make it configurable for however many seconds you want. On the main DVR box it works instantaneously, and on a box you're streaming to it works horrendously. Like, if you jump back 10 seconds expect to spend 3 or 4 seconds waiting for the stream to redraw itself back to normal.

I have not yet found the Tivo equivalent of "This is an hour long program, so skip ahead in 15 minute increments".

steveo said...

And how about channel surfing? Last time that I tried a digital cable package (several years ago from comcast) it took over a second to change the channel. With analog cable, I can change about five to ten channels per second. Having such high channel changing latency really killed the deal for me as you couldn't channel surf like that.

Duane said...

I'm not really much of a surfer, I'm far more likely to bring up and scan the guide and then just jump to whatever looks good. The guide, as I mentioned, is not great. Other than maybe the basic half dozen channels I can never remember where anything is.

radosh said...

Sounds like you can advise me on something... though I'm afraid I have to give you some long-winded background first.

My first DVR was a ReplayTV (remember them?). I loved it, but by the time it died, Time Warner was offering its own service, so I switched to that because of the price. It was much less elegant, but it worked well enough.

Last week, my TWC HD DVR died, and when they installed a new one, it came with the new operating system (I've since learned that they switched me from Passport to Navigator, if that means anything to you). Holy crap is it garbage. Not only is it ugly and slow, but it's missing a number of essential features:

* When setting to record multiple entire series, you can't prioritize which show gets recorded. You have to manually resolve conflicts each week, which means you have to be around to keep an eye on them.

* When setting to record a series, there's no option to choose "save until space is needed" vs. "keep until manually deleted." Instead you have to wait until each episode is recorded before you can select "keep until deleted" for that one episode. If you think about that for a few minutes, you'll see that weekly series will be rapidly bumped to the bottom of the list by shows with multiple broadcasts each day -- and erased if you don't get to them quickly enough.

* There's no option to record only episodes that start at a certain time, which is necessary because it incorrectly tags all episodes of, for example, the Daily Show as new, so when I select "record new episodes" it actually records the same episode several times throughout the day. (See previous point)

* There's no option to record all episodes of a show regardless of which channel it's on.

* You can't choose to save fewer than 3 episodes of each show.

All of these were options that the Passport DVR had. Why TWC switched, I have no idea. But I'm not here to vent. Or not just to vent. My point is that I'm seriously considering switching to FiOS when it's available (which could be anywhere from four months to four years). Can you tell me if the FiOS DVR has any problems like the ones I just mentioned, or any others not related to the home sharing? I only have one TV, so that's not an issue for me.

In the meantime, I'm thinking about buying an HD Tivo to hold me over until Verizon gets to my neighborhood. Do you think it's worth it? Does Tivo play well with HD cable? The little bit I've heard about cable cards and tuning adapters worries me a bit. (Though the new Netflix partnership might be enough of an incentive).


Duane said...

Hi Radosh,

I am pretty sure that the Verizon DVR covers all of the issues you mention. Some of them are tricky to manage - for instance, if you say to record a show no matter what channel its own, will you get both HD and standard versions? You may not want that. LIkewise, if you said "record whenever it is on" then you might end up catching a bunch of reruns that end up scrolling off the new episode you really wanted to see.

My only real problem with the FIOS DVR is the streaming between boxes, which as I've mentioned I think is horrendous. Next year I may alleviate that by simply getting more than one DVR and no longer doing the sharing thing.

radosh said...

Thanks. Makes my decision about whether to go with Tivo harder, but good to have the details. I didn't want to get sandbagged the way I just was by TWC.

Duane said...

Though I love Tivo, they have one big thing going against them - the cost of the box. My Verizon FIOS box comes free (relatively) with the hookup. HD Tivo costs what now, $200? $300? That's per box. I have about 4 active tv's in my house, depending on how I count. I can't afford to shell that out for each television, and I don't like having to say "Oh, wait, I can't watch that in the office, that one doesn't have a DVR on it." That is very much the GOOD thing about the Verizon option.

Anonymous said...

DirecTV beats all the comments seen here! And they don't need to tell you one thing & deliver something else! After viewing all these comments on FIOS I am so glad I have stayed with DirecTV for so long I am now seeing my bill go down each year with rewards for customer loyalty. And this from a service that doesn't cost like FIOS would for the programming I receive!