January 16, 2006

While watching the season premiere of 24 last night, my Comcast cable box (a Motorola DCT6412) froze up on me. This is not new behavior, and it is not behavior that Comcast's support staff knows how to fix without simply advising a reboot. I let the episode record to completion and watched the rest of it today. I then wrote the following letter to Comcast regarding their lousy cable box.

To Whom It May Concern:

I have been a subscriber to Comcast Digital Cable (account number XXXXX) for about four months now. I originally signed up for Comcast service in early 2003 at my apartment. After moving to my current home in May 2005 I decided to try Dish Network, but quickly grew dissatisfied with the quality of Dish’s service and switched back to Comcast in September. Because I have a high-definition television, I signed up for Digital Cable and obtained a Motorola DCT6412 dual-tuner cable box with Digital Video Recorder (DVR).

Although I have generally been satisfied with Comcast’s video quality, my Motorola DVR has been problematic. Comcast’s customer service agents have been unable to offer any advice beyond resetting the DVR; this usually alleviates problems in the short term but causes a recording in progress to be cut off. Frequent problems include:

  • I see programs in the “My DVR” screen which have no title or description; which appear to be zero minutes in length; which show a recording time of December 31, 1989; and which cannot be deleted. Attempting to delete such programs results in the DVR locking up until I reset it.
  • Immediately after turning the DVR on, changing the channel, starting a recording, or after a recording has finished, I see a message box which reads, “We have detected a service problem. Please call (an 800 number) and refer to code HW.” I can close the message box or wait a few seconds for it to close on its own; the message appears to have no impact on my ability to record programming or watch live programming, but its mere appearance worries me.
  • While recording a program, particularly when the hard drive is nearly full, the video display freezes. I can still navigate through the menus, but trying to play any other program or view any live broadcast results in a screen that is black except for a bar that would normally display the playback position of a recorded program. Fast forwarding, rewinding, or pausing either displays no message or a “no” (Ø) icon. After I turn the DVR off and then on, a message reading “Unable to process request. Cannot delete while file is in use. Close file and try again. Code CIU” is displayed. After dismissing the message I see the same behavior as before the power-cycle. At this point I must unplug the box and plug it back in to force a reboot.
  • While watching live television, especially when the hard drive is nearly full, trying to pause the broadcast shows the “no” (Ø) icon where the “pause” icon (||) would normally be displayed. The time bar, instead of showing the correct time, displays the current program as “To Be Announced” and the program’s end time as 4:30 AM. Power-cycling sometimes fixes this problem; at other times I must reboot entirely by pulling the plug.
  • I am unable to raise the recording priority of several of my series recordings. In the Series Priority List screen, some of my series recordings have the same priorities although they are still displayed in the correct order: 10, 11, 12, 12, 14, etc. When I try to move a series lower than 14th higher in the priorities list, the highlighted series suddenly changes when I reach the duplicate 12s. Deleting a series causes the remaining series to be reprioritized, but there are still duplicate priority numbers.
  • While recording one program, a message appears that a recording is soon scheduled to begin on another channel. My choices are “Change channel, record as planned” and “Do not change channel, cancel recording.” Because the Motorola DCT6412 has two tuners, I am able to record two programs simultaneously. I expect to see an option “Do not change channel, record as planned” so that the other show records in the background.

I have been satisfied with the breadth of Comcast’s offerings and I appreciate the convenience that comes with having a DVR. In most cases my programs record as I have planned, to Comcast’s credit; my Dish Network DVR was far less reliable in that regard. However, I am not alone in noting these problems. On the BroadbandReports Comcast forum (http://www.dslreports.com/forum/tvcomcast) I have read problem reports from many cable TV subscribers around the country regarding the Motorola DCT6412 and DCT6408. Comcast’s phone support is usually unable to suggest any resolution other than rebooting the DVR, which is not a viable long-term solution and does not resolve all the bugs listed above. In the interest of providing a quality viewing experience, I strongly suggest that Comcast resolve the above-mentioned software problems or find an alternate DVR vendor.

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Jason Weill