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August 16, 2004 05:07 PM

Broken: Scientific-Atlanta DVR

Mark Frauenfelder posts about his experience getting a DVR from his cable company, Time-Warner. Instead of the TiVO Mark wanted, they delivered a Scientific-Atlanta Explorer 8000:

The first thing I noticed was the crappy user interface. Unlike TiVo, there's no audible signal when you press a button. And because it takes a couple of seconds after pressing a button for anything to happen on the screen, I often press the button twice, thinking the first press didn't go through. What happens when you press a button twice is that you see the result on the screen for a split second before it disappears, because the second press cancels the first press.
(read more)


I, too, have a Scientific Atlanta DVR.

The lag between button press and action is horrible. It's even worse in that the lag is inconsistent. Sometimes it takes several seconds for the button press to be regsitered.

Additional problems seem to be present in the software goverining the recording. I've preset it to record all broadcasts of a couple of favourite programs. Once in a while, these presets just disappear.

Posted by: Carlos Gomez at August 16, 2004 05:37 PM

We have the same DVR unit from Time-Warner for a couple months. The only lag we get is when watching streaming content from onDemand, or pausing live TV. And once you know to wait for the lag, it's fine.

It does a great job at recording either every episode or only new episodes of all the shows we set it to record (every episode of Seinfeld + South Park and only new episodes of the Daily Show).

Having two tuners is a huge bonus so you don't actually have to watch the show you're recording. It just sits on the hard drive until you feel like watching it.

And would you really want an "audible signal" everytime you press a button?? My cell phone does this when it's not on vibrate and it drives me nuts.

Posted by: Chris Stone at August 16, 2004 07:06 PM

The sounds a TiVo makes are subtle and somehow... reassuring (and anyway, you can easily turn them off). Seriously, Mark is right: TiVo is leagues beyond the S-A and it's a shame people are settling for second rate devices. No offense, Chris Stone.

Posted by: brian w at August 16, 2004 07:58 PM

_@_v - i wonder if programmers will ever wake up to the concept that when people push a button or click a mouse and nothing happens the natural tendency is to keep clicking until something happens.

_@_v - maybe it would dawn on them to put in some sorta code that when theres a lot of button click that the user doesn't want something done a thousand times but they want it done RIGHT NOW!

_@_v - but that would require innate intellegence, something sorely lacking in your average slug-brained computer programmer...

Posted by: she-snailie_@_v at August 17, 2004 12:15 AM

"We have the same DVR unit from Time-Warner for a couple months. The only lag we get is when watching streaming content from onDemand, or pausing live TV. And once you know to wait for the lag, it's fine."

That's the line of thinking that made Windows the predominant operating system on this planet.   ; )

Posted by: Rob at August 17, 2004 10:35 AM

One of the first DVRs, and THE first to be integrated with a satellite receiver, was the DISH Network DishPlayer (the model 7100/7200s of the late '90s, not the new DVRs that use the recycled "DishPlayer" name now). This unit also integrated WebTV into the box, and had an amazingly well designed interface. It was extraordinarily useful, and about the only annoyance was an occasional lag just like that described for the Explorer 8000.

That one downside really screwed up the experience that was otherwise exemplary and well designed. Just goes to show: Your engineers and programmers working on the back end workings inside the box have to be just as dedicated to the user experience as the UI designers making the front end all pretty and functional.

That said, you just might want to dump cable and get satellite. Both DISH Network and DirecTV offer superior experiences, from lower prices for greater channel offerings to better customer service, and their hardware is much better. DISH has award-winning dual tuner DVRs including HDTV capable, and DirecTivo integrates the Tivo service right into the satellite receiver.

Disclaimer: I no longer work in the satellite TV industry! ;-)

Posted by: Erich at August 17, 2004 12:22 PM

"Disclaimer: I no longer work in the satellite TV industry! ;-)"

I do :) Everyone buy DIRECTV from long-time This Is Broken reader tbdean...

Posted by: T. Bradley Dean at August 17, 2004 03:17 PM

As a user experience designer, I like little more than to rail against a crappy design (there's a bagel place in my neighborhood that I could probably write a book about if it didn't make me too upset to think about) but I have to admit I like the SA-8000. I use it as a simple replacement for VHS recording--I record some programs regularly (automatically) and I go through the online guide flagging movies to be recorded (why do they always start Clash of the Titans at 3 am!?!). It works faultlessly for me. Never crashes, never losses a program. Perhaps if I had a Tivo and was accustomed to its functionality I would find the Time-Warner unit lacking, but I suspect the part of the problem for boingboing is not that the SA8000 is 'broken' as much as it's just 'not Tivo.'

Posted by: nick altebrando at August 17, 2004 03:33 PM

I have a Tivo and one of the Time-Warner units, and the Tivo is just much, much better. The TW unit is adequate, the Tivo is exceptional.

The one thing that the TW unit has on the Tivo is its double tuners, which really is a killer feature.

Posted by: Rafe at August 17, 2004 04:06 PM

I'd like to mention an issue I have with that Time Warner DVR/software/remote.

When doing a simple channel change, you hit the "up" arrow, (away from you) and the channel goes up one... ie from channel 2 to 3.

However, when you have the "menu" up, (the view where you can see several channels/hours at a time) if you hit the "up" arrow (away from you) the channel actually goes DOWN, ie from channel 3 to 2.

I'm not sure what would be better, but it sure took me a while to go "up" with one button, and "down" with another... 8-)

Posted by: Charlie at August 17, 2004 04:42 PM

Call Time Warner and tell them to flash your box. Here is my brief story.

Time Warner in Austin, TX recently flashed my SA8000 DVR with a new BIOS within the last week. It now has verion as well as the SARA. (Hold down the big round middle button on the front of the box until a light flashes by the mail icon. Then press INFO. Use the Right button to scroll to Page 17.) You can view your ROM version there.

Anyway, It no longer has that ANNOYING DELAY when you change channels. Also, upon pressing "RECORD", it brings up a screen so you can immediately modify the start and end times before you accept the recording. This is much better than before, where you had to RECORD, then go back and EDIT the start and stop times.

ALSO, after you hit "List" and "B" for preferences, it give you the "Recording Space Used" and the number of recordings you have.

It does not, however report the Space remaining in hours and minutes, but as a percentage.

I like the integrated DVR/Digital Cable so I can quickly record something that's on a premium channel. Having a standard Digital box, plus Tivo, seems like more of a hassle. Anyway, that's just my 2 cents.

Posted by: Mark Walter at August 17, 2004 04:42 PM

You wonder why Time Warner chose to give you a crapola DVR instead of a TiVo? It's because big organizations NEVER think about usability when choosing products or services for their customers. Usually #1 is price, and usability is always dead last.

Example: I live near Portland, Oregon and they installed fancy parking meters -- instead of one at every parking space, there's one on every block, it's solar powered, can accept credit cards, etc. etc., and it dispenses a little sticker that you stick inside your car window.

Sounds like a great idea, but everything about the process is much harder than it needs to be -- the poor UI on the machine, the poorly written instructions, and even the unintuitive stickers (the sticker has two parts and you're supposed to unpeel one part so that you can use it to stick the other part to the window) are all messed up.

Two minutes with a real human being could have uncovered all of these problems, but of course that was never even on their radar when they were designing (or purchasing) the system.


Posted by: Alex Benenson at August 17, 2004 06:16 PM

The SA PVR is what Alan Cooper describes in his book, "The Inmates are Running the Asylum" as a dancing bear. People are not in awe of how bad the bear dances, but rather that he bear can dance at all. We tend to put up with flaws (annoying lag) for the ability to record live TV at all.

I have the PVR and find the lag and menuing frustrating but something I am willing to put up with. Also, if I had the ability to offload video thru the turned-off ports, I would have more room for more Barnaby Jones reruns!

Posted by: Brooks P at August 19, 2004 11:48 AM

Hate the Tivo and its stupid sounds. Love the ReplayTV. Better display of channels and what's on, more sensical display of what you've recorded and when, and never had that stupid monthly charge.

Posted by: Ms. X at August 20, 2004 07:25 AM

Oh, thank you for bringing up my greatest annoyance in the world!

Right now, I am happily in the grips of DirecTV. I suffered the SLOW interface on the box that Comcast nee AT&T nee TCI nee Cablevision provided. But I drew they line when they updated the software so that the schedule displays became narrower, so they could put ad boxes in! You couldn't plan your TV viewing without some tricky typing on the remote.

Also, at the time I couldn't ban certain channels from my list -- like every Home Shopping channel and premium channels that I didn't subscribe to.

So, I switched to DirecTV. I got to CHOOSE which box I wanted, and I chose one that ran quickly. Now, they send me a mailing WEEKLY begging me to switch back to Cable TV. How do I get the message to them that I'm not buying till their UI sucks much, much less?

I'm an HDTV-owner who can't get Voom (all HD satellite provider). So, if I want local channels in HD, cable is the best choice. But there's no way in hell I'm sticking that dog of a box on top of my TV again.

Posted by: Michael Dwyer at August 22, 2004 02:49 AM

Just received my SA DVR from Time Warner, and I've been pleased. Having used the old Digital Cable box for a couple years, I was fed up w/ the delays when changing channels. But this DVR delay is nothing, less than 1/2 a second. But I guess I'm easy to please because I can get by just fine using Microsoft XP and Office (apparently unlike some on this board).

Recording is easy, and two tuners are awesome. I don't need any extra setup to use picture in picture.

Posted by: usanow at September 13, 2004 11:21 AM

I just bought my 2nd TiVo after my PIECE OF CRAP TIME WARNER SCIENTIFIC ATLANTA DVR dropped a whole night's worth of recordings for NO APPARENT REASON. I saw that it was recording Joey and knew it was scheduled to do Will & Grace, Apprentice, and CSI, so I went to watch them after they were supposedly done and there were NO entries in the list. They were dropped! BUY TIVO INSTEAD!!!

Posted by: Dan at October 8, 2004 04:20 AM

I too have a SA DVR, but mine is from Charter.

I have the delays as well, but other then that, everything worked fine up until last Friday.

I have no sound on any channels above 100(anything but basic service). Has anyone else had this problem with theirs?

Posted by: Bruce at November 1, 2004 10:38 AM

Does anyone know why my Explorer 8000 DVR appears to copy to my VCR but the tape has nothing but static recorded???

Posted by: Ken at November 2, 2004 01:47 PM

Yes I know why its not copying to your VCR. Say thanks to SA for giving us a product that doesn't work totally. How hard can it be to make the VCR outputs work when you deliver the product to customers???

From their Explorer FAQ:

Q: I have the VCR Commander from a previous cable box from your company. There is a VCR output plug on the Explorer 8000. Is it possible to use this function in addition to the internal drive for recording?

A: The VCR Commander is not supported on the Explorer 8000 home entertainment server. The VCR outputs will be activated in a future software download to your set-top and you will not need the VCR Commander. It will be a direct coax connection.


Posted by: wayne at November 3, 2004 03:09 AM

I have both a TiVO and a S-A Explorer 8300. The Explorer is laughably inferior to the TiVO. I can't search for shows; cannot create a wish list; etc. The 8300 probably works better than your 8000; I do not have a time lag between remote press and operation. The Explorer's user interface is HORRIBLE. It is NOT intuitive. It is geared towards couch potatoes who sit in front of their TV sets all day and might want to record something while their out at the liquor store or buying lottery tickets. It is not geared towards the viewer who wants to schedule TV around his schedule. It's too bad my TiVO can't receive the digital signal. At least I can still use it on the analog cable shows.

Posted by: TheDogfather at December 9, 2004 10:04 AM

I'm wondering if I have my DVR hooked up wrong.

I have a SA DVR 8300HD recorder. However nothing is being recorded as of last friday. Everything is set in the list and I ever SAW the record button. When I went back to the recorded list, nothing is showing after last thursday.

I can't find anything in the instructions or the FAQ on what happens when you see the record button but it doesn't show up in the recorded list.

The box is not even 2 months old. It was just installed on 11-30-04

Should I take this back to the CATV company and exchange it?

Or did they shut off my Record capabilities?

Posted by: Chris at January 12, 2005 12:34 AM

Is there a monthly fee attached to your cable service for the VCR Commander? The information that came with the service says

Cablevision offers the VCR Commander service to all IO Digital

Subscribers who have SA digital cable boxes ( which I have, it stands for Scientific Atlanta).

Then it says You can purchase the VCR Commander cable for a one time fee at your local Optimum store. No additional service fees apply.

DirectTV DVR says there is a $4.99 a month fee . I am not quite understanding this so if anyone out there is good at explaining these things to a dummy, I would appreciate it.

Posted by: maria at January 24, 2005 05:38 PM

I thank you all for posting, as I thought my problems with the 8300 were my fault, or that I was alone in my dislike of this machine. I'm a Canadian and this SA machine is the default PVR for my cable company. My first PVR lasted a month or two, my second less than a month - it died last night, so back to the depot I go, to get a new one.

I'm not sure what other PVRs are available to me in Canada. Certainly my cable co only offers this one. I know one thing, I'm going to be looking right now for something better, even if I have to pay for it myself....and letting the cable co's management how I feel about their less than stellar PVR...

Posted by: Maxine at January 27, 2005 10:24 AM

We also have a SA 8000 HD DVR. We absolutely loved it until it puked on us, twice in the past month. When you pulled up your list, it would say, "there may be a problem with your hard drive." The only way to fix this is to reboot your system, if that doesn't work then you have to switch it out for another dvr and the added bonus of losing everything you've recorded.

Posted by: Sandra at February 13, 2005 04:31 PM

Just got an 8300 HC PVR...the output signal strength of the component video is not enought to drive my Toshiba MT850 HD projector..I need a componet video amplifier between the HD 8300 and the Projector...any body else experiencing this, and is there a mod to the 8300 that would boost the component video output?

Posted by: Bob at May 16, 2005 08:29 PM

can you unlock an explorer box, i need all my south park?

Posted by: laidback162 at May 23, 2005 09:50 PM

I have a Tivo Series 1 (old timer) and an Explorer 8300. To reiterate, the interface absolutely blows on the 8300. I would love to have the Tivo interface (though I disabled the annoying beeps on Tivo). Even my Series 1, which is 4 years old, is more advanced than this machine.

That being said, I want to mention something that nobody else mentioned. With my Explorer 8300 HD, I can record HD content, I have two tuners, and I don't have to change inputs to watch HD on my TVs. This is a huge piece of functionality that changes the landscape. If I could buy a standalone HD Tivo which had dual tuners, I'd definitely consider it. Right now the only HD Tivo that goes with DirecTV is $1000. I pay $6.95/mo., and when the new MPEG format comes out, I dump my 8300 and get an 8400 (or whatever). There's something to be said about that. There's also something to be said about having direct control of my DVR with my cable box - no annoying lag when the Tivo has to send the IR signals via IR to the cable box, which THEN changes the channels.

So to sum up:

Tivo interface is awesome. It's the best of its kind so far and they do even better things with the Series 2 (Network connection, picture access, offload shows, share between DVRs, etc).

Explorer 8300 has a poor interface but has a lot of hard to overlook features - HD recording, dual tuner, direct cable box functionality, and low price tag ($3 more than a cable box monthly). Plus, when new hardware comes out, it's extremely easy to upgrade.

I wish there was a combination - but my guess is that they'll start to converge. Tivo will get the HD/Dual Tuner/Accept CableCard setup and the Explorer will update their interface to be more user-friendly.

My eighty five cents.

Posted by: pappy at June 2, 2005 08:19 AM

Time Warner here in triad flashed new bios on our 8300 this morning.Several new improvements were added.The conflict management system was upgraded.You can now see your shows being recorded outlined in red in the recorded list as they record.Also you can rewind to beginning of a show being recorded and watch it without being knocked out when recording ends.It is now easier to erase shows in conflict management.I understand first run ipg will be added in a couple weeks.You can now have true season passes.Also to report i had a all episodes show that conflicted with 2 shows already set to record.The 8300 erased that show but picked up a later episode.Must be a new feature it's never done that before.Also has a fourth fast forward and rr speed that blasts thur commercials.Also channel changed speed has been improved over last upgrade maybe half of second now.SA must be serious about going after Tivo cause these upgrades rock.

Posted by: woody at September 13, 2005 06:12 PM

Re: my SA Explorer there any way, other than buying an expensive external drive, of saving my recorded shows off of the SAE 8300 on to my laptop. I'm sure there's all sorts of copyright infringement protection but I would like to view the recorded content on my laptop when I am travelling for business...which is *alot*. Any creative solutions;-)

Posted by: andycapp at February 3, 2006 09:57 AM

I have seen the Tivo vs Explorer 8300 comments.I have had a series 2 tivo which after 3 years went kaput.Have switched to Time Warner 8300hd dvr.My impressions are tivo has a nicer interface and couple better recording options.Time warner 8300 beats tivo in several ways also.I have the sara 1.88 software.Tw has a fuel gage to let you see how much recording space is left.The first run option works great.Only new copys of Daily show,Stargates ect.One new copy only no repeats or duplicates.You can now watch a recording show while recording without being kicked out when recording ends.A fourth fast forward speed rips in 2 seconds thru commercials.We still have time/channel recording option,all episodes includeing repeats and first run only and it does work great.Manual recording of daily weekly or once a week is available.The sara hardware has come a long long way and is now close to passport and catching up to tivo.The service guy said a keyword search feature and more bookmarks will be added on next software update.If you do not have sara 1.88 you have a real treat comeing.The improved first runfeature is better than my old tivo in many ways.

Posted by: Carl at February 21, 2006 07:24 PM

how do you know if your dvr has received a software update, other than obvious improvements???

Posted by: J.R. at March 25, 2006 09:14 PM

I would like to know the same thing as below....

Is there a monthly fee attached to your cable service for the VCR Commander? The information that came with the service says

Cablevision offers the VCR Commander service to all IO Digital

Subscribers who have SA digital cable boxes ( which I have, it stands for Scientific Atlanta).

Then it says You can purchase the VCR Commander cable for a one time fee at your local Optimum store. No additional service fees apply.

DirectTV DVR says there is a $4.99 a month fee . I am not quite understanding this so if anyone out there is good at explaining these things to a dummy, I would appreciate it.

Posted by: Joanna at April 10, 2006 10:18 AM

I just installed the io cable box (Scientific-Atlanta) and now my vcr only tapes a blue screen. The TV, VCR, and io box is set up exactly as the manual says and I even called io to make sure all the wires were correct. But costumer service was no help why my vcr now is not working correctly.

Posted by: joanna at April 10, 2006 12:40 PM

I just installed the io cable box (Scientific-Atlanta) and now my vcr only tapes a blue screen. The TV, VCR, and io box is set up exactly as the manual says and I even called io to make sure all the wires were correct. But costumer service was no help why my vcr now is not working correctly.

Posted by: joanna at April 10, 2006 12:40 PM

My 8300 records great to my vcr.Try checking if your vcr is set tt the correct channel.I had that problem at first but i switched my vcr to channel 3 and presto problem gone.I have been impressed how the season pass first run feature works.It works as good as my old series 2 Tivo.I had read online it recorded all showing of say Deadwood or Sopranos.NOT TRUE-I get one fresh show no duplicates or repeats when set on first run only.I can record only one first run episode of the Daily show and none of the numerious repeats.My 8300 is running the 1.82.27 sara software.There is no remote lag what so ever.The Time Warner serive has just switched to all digital so i can get over 50 hours of shows on my dvr.It's mssing some Tivo features bu has other features such as dual tuners,faster remote,better first run to compensate.To me the 8300 sara is a winner i love Tivo but I love my 8300 also.

Posted by: Roger at April 18, 2006 05:29 PM

Correction-My 8300dvr runs sara 1.88 software not 1.82 (my typo error)#note both my 8300 units still running in spectucular fashion.

Posted by: Roger at May 13, 2006 08:38 AM

Get ready for a treat long suffering Time Warner cable customers.In the next 6 months TW will be loading the new Mystro Digital Navigator into our 8300 dvr's.It.s now beta testing in Gastonia NC market and Green Bay.I have seen it visiting a friend in Gastonia and look out Tivo.This ipg will repace both sara and passport echo and from what i have seen blows both away.Very Tivo like conflict management,one touch recording,perfect first run filter and yes super search engine.Some of this could change on final release i know.The gaphics are fantastic and 2 many features that in a short period remember them all.I understand it will put a uniform guide on all TW systems and they own their on software just like Tivo.I live in Greensboro and cannot wait.It seems our patience has paid off.I guess this fantastic guide is why TW did not license Tivo but came out with there very own guide.Wait till you see it and all the new dvr features and you will say TIVO who.It's comeing and comeing soon.

Posted by: Calvin at June 24, 2006 05:40 PM

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