Comcast HD DVR vs. Tivo

Posted on Monday 6 November 2006

Over on John Battelle’s Searchblog, is a post about the new Comcast HD DVR and how it compares to a Tivo. Some of the commenters have mentioned a few other technologies in their comments. One is the Windows Media Center-based Home Theater PCs. Another is the Macintosh computer. I commented on his blog, and this is what I wrote (slightly revised):

I’ve used the Comcast and the Tivo, and have to say that the engineering and UI on the Comcast box is pretty pathetic. In defense of the Tivo team, they are trying to re-engineer their code for foreign hardware, that is most likely very different from the custom linux configuration that they have in the Tivo units.

As for the anti-Mac comments above. I’d like to point out that at the recent “Black Hat” hacker conferences, over 60% of the laptops present were either PowerBooks, iBooks, MacBook Pros or MacBooks. There are reasons serious computing experts use a Mac. First, they have a very usable UNIX-based OS, that allows them to use the mainstream software, like MS Office, Photoshop, Dreamweaver, etc. Second, they have full access to the command line and to all of the Linux-based opensource hacking tools, many of which do not really have a good affordable analog in the Windows-based world.

Many Mac users are very technically astute people and have chosen the Mac for technical reasons. I have been using them since the “Fat Mac” days, and stopped for a brief period, while they were trying to replace OS 9, and came back to using them with the advent of OS X. I prefer to work on my work, and not spend a day a week or so working on keeping my machine running, doing anti-virus scans, spyware scans, system patches, and such.

The fact is very simple… the hardware is elegant and the OS simply works—this seems to be something that Windows fanatics can’t understand. One other point… the OS has been getting faster as it has been upgraded, rather than slower. Tiger is more usable on my older Powerbooks, than was the older versions of Jaguar and Panther. This is not the case with Windows, where the older hardware simply cannot handle the excessive bloat of the newer versions of Windows.

While Windows Media Center may be a good solution for some, the price of it and the “incurred expense” of maintaining it and keeping it running is something that many are not capable of doing or unwilling to do.

A DVR should be an appliance, that is simple to use and does what you want it to easily and quickly. The Tivo fits this description. It is much like a microwave oven most times… just set it up, and you’re off and running… no constant futzing with it… The Comcast DVR and the Windows Media Edition PCs do not fit this description at all. Most users don’t care how the technology works, and the more invisible the technology is, the better.

I don’t believe that all Mac users are technically adept, but many are, and have chosen the Mac for the reasons I’ve stated above, among others. Likewise, many technically adept people love the Tivo, because of the elegance and simplicity of the user interface. Like the Mac, it just works.

Most people, including my less-than-technically-adept brother-in-law, that have used a Tivo, wouldn’t give up their Tivos until you pry the remote from their fingers. In my sister’s house, it is a tool in keeping the two nephews happy. Some days there is nothing on that they are interested in watching….so all hell breaks loose…then she pulls up one of the archived shows they love on the Tivo and peace resumes. Magic.

P.S. John—The Torino station wagon was a very good product for what it was…a vehicle to move mothers and families around before the advent of the minivan. Comparing the Comcast HD DVR to it is unfair and insulting to the Torino station wagon—the Torino did what it was supposed to quite well, which can not be said of the Comcast HD DVR.

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