After getting myself a new flat screen TV recently I decided to splash out get UPC’s DVR. I’ve had a MythTV setup in the past so I was keen to get back the features I got use to (pause live TV, easy to setup recordings, recording library, etc). Before I critize the DVR too much I should start by saying that it is a good product. It does what it says on the box and for the price (€5 per month) it’s well worth it.

With the niceties out of the was I’ll start off with my biggest complaint, UPC’s inability to deliver when they say they will. I’ve been itching to get their DVR for a while but I’ve been let down badly in the past. No doubt several readers will have had the experience of waiting in for a full day for the engineers to arrive. It’s extremely frustrating and after the the last episode I had with them I went so far as so cancel my broadband and move to a different provider. I had hoped that was a once off but my experience with them this time around was no different. I was told it would be delivered between 9am and 1pm on a Thursday. After about 10 calls they finally arrived at 6pm on Friday. Luckily my wife’s at home these days so she could stay in. I don’t know how anyone who has to wait home from work would cope. Needless to say my wife wasn’t very happy and after speaking to a supervisor she managed to convince them to credit our account with €160. I haven’t received our next bill yet to confirm weather we actually got it or not.

Anyway that’s enough complaining, on to the box itself.

The first thing I noticed was that the menu system is a bit slow. It takes a good two or three seconds from when you press the menu button until it actually appears. That mightn’t seem like much but when you’re watching a program and you just want to flick into the full EPG quickly it’s a little bit annoying (note, you can easily and quickly see what’s on now and next for every channel by hitting the OK and bringing up the mini-guide).

One of the main advantages of having a DVR is that you can fast-forward through the ads. This box does have fast-forward (and rewind obviously) but it’s very restrictive. MythTV has a really useful feature where you can key in the number of minutes you want to forward and then hit the fast-forward button. This means that when you get to an ad break you could just hit 4 and then ff and you’d be right up to the next part of your program. With this DVR you’ve only got five speeds of forward and rewind and the fastest is still very slow. It’s not too bad for ad breaks I suppose but if you’re watching a movie and you want to skip the first hour even the fastest fast forward speed will take about 5 minutes to get there.

The final criticism I’ll make is around recurring/repeat recordings. Setting one up is relatively easy, the only minor problem being that you have to know the channel number you want to set the recording up on, e.g. 101 for RTE1. The problems really start after you’ve setup the repeat recording. In the Digital Video Recorder menu there are two sub-menus, one called “My Recordings” where you can see everything you’ve recorded and one called “My Planner” where you can see what’s scheduled to be recorded. For standard recordings you see the program name, channel, date and time. For repeat recordings the channel name is given for the program name as well as the channel name. What that means is that when you look in your Planner or Recordings you can’t tell what the program is unless you know from the time or you start playing it.

Another two problems with repeat recordings is that you can’t edit one after you’ve created it and you can’t tell the difference between a repeat recording and a once off recording in the Planner. Not big problems but they do take away from the experience.

Aside from the negatives I do like this DVR. Given the choice I’d still prefer MythTV but the hassle of setting it up and keeping it up to date is just more time that I’m prepared to invest. UPC’s DVR does what it says on the box and it is relatively cheap. If you’re prepared to go through the hassle of getting it installed I would definately recommend it.

For a more indepth review have a look at this blog entry from Adam Maguire.