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My Comcast + TiVo box may soon become Comcast - TiVo

A CNET editor reflects on his first month with Comcast + TiVo service.

What I didn't see yesterday: the end of the Wimbledon men's final. CBS Sports

It's being hailed as the greatest Wimbledon final in history. This is a tennis tournament that has been played since 1877, and supposedly yesterday's five-set match between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal topped them all. I say supposedly because my Comcast + TiVo box decided that midway through the fifth set was a good time to stop recording the match. This is merely the latest but--since I'm one of the 12 tennis fans left in this country--certainly the most annoying of the bugs I've encountered with Comcast + TiVo service over the past month. If the promised software update isn't rolled out before the fall TV season, I'm going to return to the old Comcast DVR service.

Back to yesterday. I picked up the action in the fourth set (my tennis fandom is offset by fatherhood) and starting recording at the beginning of the fifth set with the intention of watching the conclusion at my leisure--after dinner was consumed and kids put to bed. I actually recorded the program after Wimbledon since the match had been delayed earlier by rain. I padded the recording with an extra 2 hours, knowing that one does not play fifth set tiebreakers at Wimbledon. I was confident I had given myself more than enough space to capture the end of the match. Later, I returned to my 2 hour and 28 minute recording to watch the exciting conclusion only to find the recording cut out after about 10 minutes--at 3-3 in the fifth set. The green status bar at the bottom of the screen showed I had more than two hours remaining on the recording, but it wouldn't move past 3-3 in the fifth set. I reset the box--something I've done regularly the past five weeks--hoping it would allow me to access the rest of the recording. No luck.

In the two years using Comcast's own DVR service, I never had a recording fouled up like this. Comcast's DVR had its problems, but it proved to be a reliable recorder of shows--a key element to any digital video recorder in my estimation. Comcast + TiVo suffers from the same bugs as my old DVR service but adds new and interesting bugs. Like Comcast DVR, Comcast + TiVo freezes, stores up the 18 commands I entered in frustration on the remote during the freeze before unleashing a fury of rapid actions. Like Comcast DVR's series recording, TiVo's Season Pass also records three Daily Shows and three Countdown with Keith Olbermann shows per day, even though I set it up to record first-run only in both cases. (Comcast + TiVo does automatically create a folder of any show of which you have more than one episode recorded to help keep things organized.)

On to the new and interesting Comcast + TiVo bugs; let me tell you about them.

Turning on the TV has become a thrilling roll of the dice. Aside from the expected picture of live TV, the many outcomes upon powering on the set include a blank, black screen; a frozen screen--often of a channel I never watch or one that I don't subscribe to; a blank screen with the message "Cannot display live TV"; and a tiny image of live TV in the upper-right corner of my screen.

Big TV, tiny image: one of the many bugs with Comcast + TiVo service. Matt Elliott/CNET Networks

This last outcome is most intriguing. I can change the channel, and receive both audio and video, but the picture remains stuck in the tiny preview box from the "TiVo Central" screen--which is even smaller than the preview box on the channel guide. It defeats the purpose of owning an HDTV, to be sure. Starting an On Demand program and then returning to live TV sometimes fixes the problem; failing that, I must reset the cable box by unplugging it and plugging it back in before I get a picture. The reverse of the resizing problem also crops up from time to time, where the TV picture gets stuck in full-screen mode. It's less of a problem but means it doesn't resize itself to fit inside the preview box of the channel guide.

Unplugging the cable box to reset it corrects the blank and frozen screens, too, but it also means I must reprogram my remote each time I do. I've committed the 30-second skip code to memory at this point: Rewind > Slow > Fast Forward > Play > 3 > 0 > Advance.

Two things I don't like about the remote: there are no one-day forward and back buttons, and the Select and On Demand buttons are too close to one another. The Comcast DVR remote had buttons that let you jump forward (and back) 24 hours, which was convenient when hunting for a show or confirming that I did in fact have Lost set to record on Thursday. You can jump forward to a particular time and day and channel with TiVo, but it's not as simple as jumping forward 24 hours at the press of a button. And with the On Demand button located in the center of the remote and directly below the select button, I frequently enter the On Demand screen by accident. The slowness of the TiVo interface only exacerbates this error.

... and wait... and wait... and wait... Matt Elliott/CNET Networks

As I discovered on day one, the Comcast + TiVo box is painfully slow. Navigating the channel guide requires a large dose of patience, and setting a recording takes roughly a minute for the command to register. In one case, the "Please Wait" screen lasted 2 minutes, 14 seconds. With my old Comcast DVR, you could set a recording in less than 5 seconds.

My contacts at Comcast and TiVo tell me that a software update is in the works, but they've been vague on timing. "Coming soon" is as close to a date as I've received. I hope it arrives before the finals of the U.S. Open in September.