How to read this commentary. Button names (like FAV) on the universal remote will be in all caps. LEFT, RIGHT, etc. refers to the arrow keys on the remote. Options on the screen will be in quotes (like "Erase Recording"). DVR revers to the Verizon FIOS DVR with HD. Remember that my family are long time TiVo Series 1 users.
1) Verizon should have preconfigured the channel list based on my package. The DVR is from Verizon, the TV service is from Verizon. Yet the DVR does not know what channels are not active. This seems pretty stupid. You can change the channel list manually (which I did), but that leads to my next rant.
2) The channel list does not impact searching. That makes searching useless. For example, I want to look at the list of upcoming movies. I have no movie package and do not have any of the premium movie channels in my channel list, yet the search by movie results is filled with the movies from the premium channels, so I can not find any available movies that I can actually watch (and there are some).
3) The favorite list has no program information. If you look at your favorites (press FAV, then RIGHT), you see a four line video guide at the bottom of the screen. You can scroll around but see no dynamic description of the show. If you select a show and press OK, you can see information about the show, then you have to press LAST to get back to the list (see other rants about the LAST button). You do get program information when you are in the guide (GUIDE button), but then you see every channel in your channel list. Finding your favorite channels in that list is a real chore.
4) The universal remote has programmed the wrong behavior for the LAST button. The LAST button should always go to the DVR, but when the universal remote is set in TV mode, the LAST button is sent to the TV (which ignores it). The LAST button is almost indispensable to use the DVR user interface, so you have to remember to keep your universal remote in cable (DVR) mode. The MUTE and volume buttons are still sent to the TV, even when the universal remote is in cable mode, but the power button is not. Thus it takes two button presses (TV, then POWER) to turn off your TV and three to turn it on (the TV button, just to be sure, then the POWER button, then the CABLE button to reset the universal remote into cable mode).
5) The system sometimes lags behind your button presses, but it never forgets. Lets assume you are in some menu and you press DOWN to get to the next option. Sometimes the system is just busy thinking at that time and it takes a few seconds to respond. But if you are like me, you say to yourself, "maybe it didn't see that button press, I will press DOWN again". So you press DOWN again, and maybe a third time. At that point, the recorder wakes up from its brief slumber and then executes all three DOWN actions. Whoops. There is no workaround. If the DVR seems to ignore your button press, you could just wait but you may wait a long time because it does sometimes ignore button presses. (When I disabled a block of channels in my channel list, I pressed DOWN, OK, DOWN, OK, over and over again. The DVR failed to register approximately 1 in every 10 button presses.)
6) It has no feedback when it needs to process for a while. As an example, I tried to record the series: Start Trek: The Next Generation. I searched for the series and navigated to screen where I could select "Record Series". When I press OK on the remote, the "Record Series" option flashed once then the user interface froze (although the TV show was still playing in the corner). It sat there for 22 seconds (I timed it) before it would respond to any button presses or change its appearance at all. There was no "please wait" message at all. If you are at all like me, after a few seconds you will start pressing buttons to get a response. Of course, the system remembers all those button presses and replays them later (see previous rant).
7) When it is otherwise unused, the LEFT button should have the same effect as the LAST button. When you are navigating around, for example, looking at your list of recorded shows, you keep your fingers on the arrow buttons. You press UP, DOWN and OK. After pressing OK, you should be able to press LEFT to get back to the list, but instead you have to use the LAST button (and only when you are in cable mode), or you have to press the sequence DOWN, DOWN, DOWN, OK to go back.
8) The fast forward option (while viewing a recorded show) is not smooth. Fast forward mode when using TiVo was like viewing your recording, well, in fast-forward. That made it easy to keep track of your progress. But fast forward mode with the Verizon DVR (for example, press FFWD twice) seems to be more like displaying a sequence of stills, and the forward speed seems uneven. This makes it hard to judge when to stop fast forwarding. A side-effect of this is when you do press PLAY, you are usually past the point at which you wanted to stop. You then have to press REPLAY, and often more than once. (If I had to guess, I would suspect the problem was in the buffering logic between the disk drive and the playback circuit. The uneven jerkiness in fast forward mode seems delays in reading information off the disk drive.)
9) There is no skip to the end, nor is there a go back option. Lets say you are watching a show and you get to the commercial break just before the ending. You use fast-forward to move past the commercials. If you fail to stop in time (see previous rant), the Verizon DVR will switch you back to the recording information screen. From there, your only option is to start playing the recording again. Of course, the second time you will use four-times fast-forward to get near the end fast but that always fails. Sometime around 45 minutes (in an hour long recording) it will spontaneously jump back to the information screen. There is no way to get to the end. This one really, really sucks. There is no workaround. If you want to see the last minute of your shows, do not use fast-forward at all in the last five minutes.
10) Selecting recordings can be very tedious because the interface does not remember your previous state. Say you want to record a show by title. You press LIST then DOWN, DOWN, DOWN, then RIGHT, then DOWN then OK (really). Now you can enter the title using the on screen keyboard. Once you have typed in the prefix, you can press DOWN until you get to the list of shows. Say you see the show you want in the list, now you press DOWN until you get to the show and then press OK. But say you accidentally pressed DOWN one too many times and you get to the wrong show (see rant on button press lag). Well, at this point you are screwed. You can press LAST to go back, but that does not get you back to the list of shows that match you prefix. It gets you all the way back to the top level search screen. You have to repeat the whole process again.
11) The default options for recording a series cannot be changed, and manually setting options is very tedious. When the new TV season comes out, we normally record many of the new shows to see if we like them. We optimistically record new shows as a series, knowing that we can cancel the series recording later (this is safer than recording an individual show, and not watching for a week, missing the next show in the series). To record a show, use search by title and do not screw up (see previous rant). Then press DOWN and OK ("Record Series"). Now you have to change the options because the default options are wrong. To change the options right after you select "Record Series", you need to select the show and get to the option menu. This is three button presses (RIGHT then OK then OK again). This is another stupid user interface design choice, it should be one press to change the options after I decide to record the show. But wait, you are not there yet. You now have to press DOWN then OK since the default for changing recording options is to change options for "This Episode", you have to change the selection to "Entire Series".
OK, now we get to the options. For us, when we record a new series, we need to change at least two options. We want to record new episodes only (the default is All & duplicates), and we want to record at anytime (the default is only a specific time). Changing an individual option is painful; here are the steps just to change one option. DOWN four times to get to the "Record at" line then OK. Now the "Done" option is highlighted -- what a stupid default. Press RIGHT to get to the list of options, now press DOWN once to get to the "anytime" option. If this was TiVo, I would just press the RIGHT button to select this option and be done with it. But in the Verizon DVR, I have to press OK to select the new option, then RIGHT, which stupidly selects "Cancel", then UP to select "Done" then OK. Did you count those presses? I need 11 presses to change a single recording option. And now I am on the "Save Changes" option on the series option screen. To change a second option, I need another 11 presses. The user interface needs to be fixed in two ways. One, changing options needs to be streamlined, and two, there needs to be some way to set the default options for all subsequent recordings.
12) When you try to record a show and you are already recording two other shows in that time slot, the Verizon user interface clearly indicates a conflict and gives you a option to resolve the conflict. Unfortunately, when you resolve the conflict it only tells you about one of the two shows that are scheduled to be recorded. You are not given the choice of which show to cancel. If you want to cancel the second show being recorded in the same time slot to resolve the conflict, you have to go to the list of scheduled shows and manually find the conflict.
13) The is some weird bug in the recording. Sometimes (maybe 1 show in 10), it becomes impossible to fast forward past a certain point ("glitch point") in the show. For example, we had an hour long recording. At the 54 minute point was one a glitch point. If you are fast forwarding at any speed, and it gets to the glitch point (54 minute mark for this show), you are kicked out to the information screen. If you then select "Resume Recording", you are back at the beginning. You can use normal speed to get past this glitch point, but you first have to get there. Remember, you can not use fast forward any where near one of the glitch points because of you overshoot (very easy to do -- see rant 8 above), you are back at the information screen and have to start again. (See related rant 9.)
14) When you search for a show, it finds all the recordings for that show and displays the recordings in a list. Unfortunately, it shows the recordings by day and when a show does not appear on a day, you get an entry that says there is no recording on that day. If you pick a show that will not be broadcast for over two weeks, you get at least two full screens of this message about no showings on each day. At least once, we pressed the page down key a few times and never say the show, or even the screen change (just a long list of no showings on each day).
15) When a test of the emergency broadcast system happens, the DVR will kick you out of playback mode and let you see the emergency broadcast. This is, of course, a good thing. The problem is that it does not remember where you were in your playback. When the emergency broadcast (test) is over and you go back to your recorded show, the DVR starts you back at the beginning again.
What's Right with the Verizon DVR User Interface
Although I ranted quite a but about some really bad user interface design in the Verizon DVR interface, to be fair I should point out a couple of its good features, especially compared to our experiences with TiVo.
1) The Verizon DVR has two tuners (out TiVo had only one), so getting recording conflicts is less likely but they do happen. If you press LIST then DOWN, you see a list of the scheduled recordings. This is comparable to TiVo's todo list. But the Verizon DVR list includes recordings that that will not happen because of a conflict, clearly indicated with the word CONFLICT in red. This makes it very easy to look for conflicts and resolve them. With TiVo, you had to use another list (from the todo list) to find all the shows that would not be recorded. Trust me, it was a lot more work.
2) The Verizon DVR seems to record shows for an extra 3 minutes with out you having to set this up. Granted it is a little weird to see that you show is 01:02:57 long, but it seems to be a nice way to ensure that you never miss the very end of a show. I assume (unverified), that the Verizon DVR will still record two shows back-to-back on two different channels by not recording an extra 3 minutes, if necessary.
3) The Verizon DVR list of saved recordings batches instances of the same show together in one listing. So if you have three recordings of the World Poker Tour, you will see "(3) World Power Tour". I think that this is a big advantage over TiVo, which lists each recording separately in reverse chronological order.
4) The Verizon DVR is much faster than our old TiVo. We had a TiVo Series 1, and on top of that we added a second hard drive to the unit. That meant that many maintenance operations took a long time. For example, if we reordered the priority of shows in our season pass list, it would usually take TiVo around 15 minutes to do its processing before we could do something else (this was the worst case). So far we have seen no significant delays in any of the Verizon DVR operations, although we still working on filling up the series manager and the hard disk.
I do not think that we will be switching back to TiVo. Even though the Verizon DVR user interface has some poorly designed features, having two tuners and the ability to record and watch HD shows far outweighs the disadvantages. When the TiVo Series 3 comes out, we might consider it. But it is much more expensive than the Verizon DVR (see note 2). For now, we are hoping to convince Verizon to put pressure on Motorola to improve the design of their user interface.
If you are thinking of making the switch to Verizon DVR, here are a few other differences that need to be aware of. The Verizon DVR does not have the thumbs-up/down features of TiVo and it will not record random shows that it thinks you may like. Not everyone likes this feature of TiVo, but we thought that it was nice. It ensured that there were always some recordings to watch, and sometimes it would pick up something that you really liked, but did not know to record. Also the Verizon DVR has no wishlist feature. This feature of TiVo allows you to, for example, automatically record all the movies that feature your favorite actor. We never used TiVo wishlists, but if you like this feature and make the switch, you need to aware that Verizon does not have it.
In our area, Comcast also supports digital TV, with HD channels and a DVR solution. I have never evaluated the Comcast DVR user interface. I have never been told that it is good (only the opposite), but with no hard evidence one way of the other, I cannot form an opinion. That said, Comcast is currently more expensive than Verizon (isn't competition wonderful). In addition, we have had trouble with Comcast's Internet reliability in the past because we are the last house before a cable repeater, and as Comcast had gotten more popular in our neighborhood, our service had gotten worse. (We switched to Verizon FiOS Internet service a while ago.)
More to Come
As we learn more, I will post additional details here. I also hope to add user interface pictures in the future.
Note 1: I have been told that HD channels are included in the Verizon Premier package. If this is true, and if you were to use the TiVo Series 3 box instead of the Verizon DVR, you would need to pay two times $2.95 a month for two cable cards, but not $9.95 for the HD channels. So the correct cost of the Verizon DVR, to compare against TiVo, is no cost for the unit plus $7 dollars a month.
Note 2: The TiVo Series 3 is now available. The price (September 2006) is $800 plus $8.30 per month (if you buy three years in advance). You will need two cable cards from Verizon, which are not scheduled to be available until November (date unconfirmed). The TiVo Series 3 has a much better interface than the Verizon DVR, since the interface is basically unchanged from the TiVo Series 2, and I have been told (unconfirmed) that it will also feature disk drive expandibility -- which is a really important feature.