Editorial: The Trouble with DVRs


Sitting in the parking lot of our local WalMart next to my mother this afternoon, I listened to her have a conversation with my sister over the phone about the DVR. Both of my parents are NASCAR fans, and with my mom running errands with me and my father working in the garage on his beloved truck, both were going to miss the race. After they missed the last half an hour of the race a couple weeks ago, I showed them how to extend how long the DVR records. So here I sit, listening to her phone conversation. "Now what channel is it on....try 29....no...." I answered her with 726 - ESPN HD in our area - and it was correct. "Now arrow over. Yes, the right button. What does it say? Okay, hit..." She pauses for a moment. "Hit the record button. Okay now hit recording options..." You can see where I'm going with this.

In our cable provider's (Time Warner Cable) defense, I'm the only tech savvy one in our family. If it wasn't for me, they'd still be using the Windows 95 machine I grew up on. It was because of me we have the DVRs in the first place. Still, they are most certainly a pain to use and navigate around. 

To prove my point, let me try to DVR tonight's College Basketball game between Bowling Green and Georgia, on ESPN U HD tonight at 6:00pm EST. First, I have to click guide on the remote - simple for me, but there's probably 40 buttons on the remote, and if you don't know where you're looking, it might take you a minute to find it. Then you have to find the station - a 3 digit number you may or may not know depending on how often you go to the channel. After searching around on the yellow and blue colored guide for the channel, I finally found it - 725. This may sound simple, but the guide loads slowly, and even for me, it takes a couple minutes. I arrow over to 6pm and hit the center button - select. I get eight options - record this show, record show with options, record series, record series with options, all showings, set reminder, back to guide, and exit. I select record show with options, and am presented with three more options - change save time, adjust start time, and adjust end time. I arrow down to adjust end time and arrow over until it says "End 30 minutes later", just in case the game runs over. I hit the yellow 'A' button, and it's saved.


While not exactly the same, this image is very, very close to the TWC DVR guide.


It really shouldn't have to be a 5 minute process - and I know the method, for others it may take more that 10. In the era of voice commands - of Siris and Kinects - why can't we just say "Find Bowling Green at Georgia", "Record, 30 minutes over". The DVR market is currently at a standstill, and I blame the cable and satellite companies. 

However, this future may not be far off. Rumors of an Apple television with Siri integration abound. Microsoft is partnering with Comcast and Verizon to bring channels to the Xbox - however, proving that the cable companies are holding us back, Verizon is only providing some channels and Comcast is only giving us their on-demand channels. And content creators are just as much at fault. They hold content back from streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu Plus. But that's a post for another day.

Until the cable and satellite companies begin to innovate on their DVRs again, we're stuck with 5-8 year old UIs and six minute processes to DVR television programs. If cable and satellite companies really want to keep customers from dropping their services, this is a great place to start. Make the DVR simple.


(Edited to include photos)