Scott Hanselman

Upgrades and problems with Comcast's Motorola HD-PVR

February 14, '06 Comments [14] Posted in Bugs
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CIMG4539When we brought HD (High Definition) TV into the house, we wanted to keep it simple. Sure, there's DirectTV HD and there's over-the-air HD and the Windows Media Center, but the absolute simplest thing we could get was HD through our local Comcast cable.

Our requirements were simple. We want HD and we want a DVR/PVR (Digital Video Recorder.) We just can't live without "Tivo"-like functionality. We don't want too much TV now, and we hate the idea of "appointment TV." I don't know when Will and Grace is on, and I don't care. We watch TV when we want to, not when it's on.

That said, the Motorola single box solution offered by Comcast served all my purposes and we've been happy with it for the last few months. It's not as shiny as my 2 Replay TVs, or my Media Center PC, but it has dual tuners and it does HDTV. Sold.

So, anyway, it started stuttering last week and that wife wasn't having that. I called Comcast and they send a fellow over and he replaced it.

The model he brought LOOKED identical on the outside and the software UI is identical as well. However, the BACK of the device is totally different. TOTALLY.

  • There's no DVI connector anymore. The guy was flummoxed and I was a little frustrated. He said, oh, well no one uses DVI, forgetting for a moment that I, the fellow whose house he was in, did in fact, not only use DVI but wasn't interested in changing. :) This box supports only HDMI or Component. I have HDMI input in my Sharp LCD, but the Harmony 880 Remote and everything else is entirely set up expecting the HD feed to come form DVI and I wasn't interested in re-programming. He didn't have an HDMI cable anyway. So, off to Magnolia Hi-Fi to buy a $25 female DVI to male HDMI adapter. If you upgrade, be aware.
  • The software interface continues to look like crap in HD. I output at 720p and the interface is clearly rendered internally at some non-720p resolution and the resultant anti-aliasing and kerning leaves much to be desired. My wife can't see it, but it bugs me.
  • More and more - I'm not sure if this is a result of the upgrade - I see the MPEG artifacts in HD feeds. I'm particularly put off my NBC's Winter Olympics feed. It is just me or is this thing compressed all to heck?
  • The new box includes an SATA adapter which makes me wonder if it'd pick external storage. Since it only supports 17 hours of HD, I may try it. It also has 2 Firewire points, one USB and an Ethernet. I'm going to poke around and see if they are turned on.
  • It adds an RF out that the previous model didn't have. Not useful for me, but would be useful if one were to chain a VCR in and wanted to avoid a Coax Y-Adapter.
  • There's also a slot called TV Pass Card whose function is unclear to me. Anyone?

All in all, this box is a little faster, snappier, than the previous one. This might be due to a lack of disk fragmentation and it might get arthritis later. We'll see. I know Omar hates his. I'm not too worried about it, but I do wish Portland's Comcast had CBS.

One other thing, has anyone else noticed that TNT's HD feed is just stretched 4:3? It's not 16:9 at all, they're applying some kind of fish-eye stretchy filter. It's hard to watch.

UPDATE: Interesting, according to the Wikipedia on the Motorola 6412, I've received a "6412 Phase III," the latest one. It has 12.x firmware, not the 9.x firmware and has better analog picture quality. I haven't noticed, as I don't watch analog, but I'll take a look, using Jon Stewart as my litmus test. Rumor is there's a 12.22 update coming out that fixes a number of issues.

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Tuesday, 14 February 2006 03:45:50 UTC
MPEG artifacts are very much dependent on many facts, but mainly how much re-compression your cable provider applies before leaving their head end. Some channels it is good (e.g. Discovery HD), sometimes it is real bad (e.g. NBC). But this is for Time Warner in NYC so YMMV.

My Scientific Atlanta 8300 box has eSATA port too but it is disabled :( I wish TWNYC activates it soon (or provides one that is activated) so I can add more HD space than the 20 hours of HD. When that happens, and if I am lucky, I may even get a box that has firewire builtin so I can use that instead of HDMI and freeing that port for my DVD.

TNT HD on TWNYC is 16:9 for most contents (i.e. not really old stuff) and I haven't really spent time watching anything other than prime time programmes which are always 16:9. Again, it may be your cable provider doing some funky stuff to the aspect ratio.
Alex Hung
Tuesday, 14 February 2006 03:59:13 UTC
I would guess that the TV Pass Card slot is for a CableCard, see http://arstechnica.com/guides/other/cablecard.ars for a primer.
Bryan Bates
Tuesday, 14 February 2006 04:21:34 UTC
On the upside you actually get TNT HD. Do you get ABC? Not in Santa Cruz you don't.
I actually have a tivo and the Moto-comcast box.
I didn't want to pay for an HD Tivo, but I wanted some HD feeds for the plasma, and the extra $5 gave me HD recording of two channels plus my usual tivo.
you can totally see the difference of course (although the wife swears not) but the Tivo interface, and it's 'you might like this' recording is way,way ahead of comcast/moto's offering.
I heard rumors of Tivo blowing the comcast deal originally, but salvaging it so perhaps we'll see a comcast hd box with Tivo software soon. THAT would be sweet.
Tuesday, 14 February 2006 04:50:35 UTC
Oh man, reading my old post was HILARIOUS. I also have the stuttering, it's a firmware bug, so your new box will have the same problem... it's such a shitty product.
Tuesday, 14 February 2006 06:44:25 UTC
I've been watching the Olympics too and I'm kind of disappointed by the quality. I'm not getting any artifacts, but I find often times, it stutters is quick panning shots. I'm using OTA, but my signal quality is excellent, and never get it on any other station (or other NBC shows). The Olypmics in HD is cool, but so long as the camera stays still.
Tuesday, 14 February 2006 06:55:49 UTC
That is actually pretty funny. I just used the same item as an example on my blog.
http://captainirony.wordpress.com/2006/02/13/forgot-to-save-the-instructions-no-problem/

There is a new version of it, and I think that there are some firmware differences. The card is not in use for all providers, but, according to the Wikipedia page, you can SOMETIMES get a firmware upgrade if you do a manual reset, which will cause it to re-download the firmware. Might try that. Also, it is possible to change the audio compression level if needed.
Tuesday, 14 February 2006 07:36:04 UTC
> has anyone else noticed that TNT's HD feed is just stretched 4:3? It's not 16:9 at all, they're applying some kind of fish-eye stretchy filter

Indeed, some kind of fish-eye stretchy filter..

http://www.codinghorror.com/blog/archives/000418.html
Tuesday, 14 February 2006 15:15:49 UTC
I have the previous version of the box (with DVI out) but one of my coworkers has the new one and we compare notes fairly often. A couple of things:

1. The IEEE 1384 outs are protected by 5C, so only OTA content can be viewed/recorded. So, your ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX, and PBS stations might not be protected if they are broadcast in your area, everything else is blocked on those outputs.

2. If you go to the setup screen, you'll see that the ethernet and the SATA connectors are probably disabled (if not, try them and report back!). They are disabled on every box I've heard of in my area (SE Michigan). For what it is worth, my box has the coax out, it must have been on *some* of the previous version boxes...

As for the NBC HD looking like crap -- it is something with NBC's HD signal on Comcast, I get the same thing.
Tuesday, 14 February 2006 15:40:00 UTC
"One other thing, has anyone else noticed that TNT's HD feed is just stretched 4:3? It's not 16:9 at all, they're applying some kind of fish-eye stretchy filter. It's hard to watch."

I've noticed it too, but I have noticed occassional 16:9 programming on TNT. They showed Saving Private Ryan a few months ago in 16:9. I think I may have noticed an episode of one of their original series in 16:9, too. Some kind of counter-terrorism drama (24 ripoff).
Wednesday, 15 February 2006 20:04:25 UTC
Yeah, I've heard very few good comments/reviews about the Comcast DVRs. Hope you have better luck with your new model. I'll keep my 3 ReplayTVs until they either die or I make the move to HD.
Wednesday, 15 February 2006 21:57:20 UTC
The interesting and shocking thing about this entry is that you watch Will & Grace.
Robert
Friday, 17 February 2006 06:04:31 UTC
If you've got a display using DVI, it won't show future HD content.

Since DVI isn't encrypted, HD content in the future won't ouput through it. In fact, even if you have HDMI out on your current video card, it still won't work with future HD content.

http://www.firingsquad.com/hardware/ati_nvidia_hdcp_support/

Jon
Friday, 17 February 2006 16:26:01 UTC
The NBC Olympics HD feed has just been very inconsistent. I was actually watching at one point and they lost the HD camera entirely or something and the screen went to 4:3 SD for a few minutes. I just think their production on certain events is crap, they are using bad transmission techniques or bad cameras or something. For some events it seems flawless.
Friday, 24 February 2006 05:35:47 UTC
Hi Scott,

I'm going to be blogging about this tomorrow as we just switched to DirecTV today after getting fed up with the performance (or lack thereof) of our Motorola HD DVR boxes.

Oh and you can buy DVI to HDMI cables at places like BlueJeansCable.com or OutlawAudio.com
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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.