Without a Guide a DVR is just a VCR

Verizon LogoIn my opinion, the biggest difference that a DVR makes in your viewing habits is that it allows you to ignore when a particular show airs and instead just indicate the shows you want to watch. This is often called time-shifting in the industry, shifting the time that you watch a particular program, but I’d argue it’s more than that. This article discusses the Verizon interactive program guide that is key to a DVRs ability to operate.

A VCR can record a show at a particular time and let you watch it later. But my Tivo does more than that. First, I tell my Tivo to record a program, not to record a time slot. There’s a lot of benefits to that. If the show airs multiple times a week it catches them all. If the show moves it’s time slot for a special event, it handles that. If the show airs multiple times it knows which ones I’ve seen and which ones I haven’t. If it airs multiple times and can’t record it the first time, it can catch it the second. All of these are critical features of a DVR.

All of these depend on having good and accurate guide data. Unfortunately, the FIOS guide data doesn’t meet the basic requirements to work with a DVR. With my Tivo it was common for me to tell it to record only the new episodes of a program. My FIOS DVR had the same option, but I found that was a really bad choice. Several of the programs I wanted to record showed up as repeats when they were new. In fact, in one case it was the series debut! So I decided I really can’t use the record only new episodes option.

They give you three options for recording programs. 1) New only 2) New and Reruns 3) New and Reruns with duplicates. Since new only doesn’t work, I fall back to option 2 and record new with reruns. Then we run in to the next problem. If a show airs multiple times during the week, it is marked as a rerun, but the DVR doesn’t recognize that it’s a duplicate. So the show gets recorded again. I have to manually delete the scheduled recording or erase the recording. Since the space on the DVR is limited to begin with, it really is better to remove the scheduled recording if you can catch it.

Another one of the recording options they provide is whether to record the show only at the specified time or any time it airs. In theory the later would be a useful choice. If I want to record a program, but there are higher priority shows that are keeping the DVR busy, then the system could record it when it aired at some unusual time. That would be nice, but it’s practically unusable because of the poor duplicate detection. Many of the shows on the smaller networks are aired 10 times in a week, and the DVR would record all 10 episodes. Since it only holds 20 hours of HD, that’s half the disk space.

Then we move to another guide issue. The guide should not only track new and repeat episodes, but it should tell me what the show is about. This is particularly useful for news programs which have a single name “Dateline”, “20/20”, or “60 Minutes”. Instead they some wisecracker has written the guide entry that is used many of the times the show airs. For example:

60 Minutes — The granddaddy (and the Rolls-Royce) news magazines, it set the standard for all that followed, and has kept on ticking on CBS since Sept. 24th, 1968, with its familiar format of three stories (most of them hard news) and a commentary or two.

Dateline NBC — NBC’s ubiquitous prime-time news magazine, the one that finally succeeded after more than a decade of attempts (and the one that has aired in many time slots on the network).

Thank you guide writer. Knowing the history of the program really doesn’t help me decide if I want to watch that particular episode. Frankly the tone of some of the entries is quite obnoxious. If I worked at Dateline I’d be upset. From the point of view of a user, these guide listings are virtually worthless.

Without good guide data, most importantly the unique episode numbers and the new/repeat flags, the FIOS DVR loses a lot of value. It’s a frustrating experience getting it to record the shows I want.

There is light at the end of this tunnel. Verizon is talking about their new interactive media guide (IMG) becoming available this summer. Since it’s August, I hope that means this month. I’ve looked at their website and the new IMG looks impressive. If it is backed with better data, then there may be hope. If not, the fancy glitz is just going to make me more annoyed. I also have to point out that it is possible that the guide data is perfect and it is actually the DVR itself that is misinterpreting the data. From what I’ve seen, it doesn’t look that way to me, but if that does turn out to be the case I’ll owe Verizon an apology.

The next installment, is on the DVR itself. Another stumbling block to FIOS’s TV service.

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