10 August 2008 ~ 2 Comments

Why Can’t I Watch Tomb Raider?

Commenting on any dimension of quality of the Comcast/Motorola DVR feels lazy on my behalf.  It’s a product so riddled with usability and stability issues, I almost didn’t write this.  Nevertheless, frustration won out so here we are : )

Quick aside: One of the first things I did after “using” the DVR was pick up a universal remote.  When I say “using” I really mean “going to anger management classes after attempting to schedule a recording” but I digress.  My remote has one important button on it – “OK”.  Think of it as the “Submit” button or Enter key.

Last Sunday, I was killing time channel surfing and came across the quintessential time killing movie – Tomb Raider.

This is what should happen:

This is what actually happened:

“Oops, look like I pressed the “Info” button by mistake… although that’s pretty hard to do.  I’ll just back out and hit OK, correctly this time.”

“OK I KNOW I got it right this time, what the heck is going on?  No I don’t want info or to schedule a recording, I want to watch it!  Why isn’t it on?”

False Advertising.  The Ol’ Bait and Switch.

Tomb Raider isn’t actually on yet!  1-3 minutes before the next show starts, pressing “Guide” doesn’t show you what’s on now, it shows you what’s on next.

There are two fundamental issues here, revolving around the answers to these questions:

1. What is the Purpose of the Guide?

  • Rob – What’s on right now.
  • Comcast – Minute 1-25 (what’s on right now), minute 26-29 (what’s on next).

2. What Happens When I Press OK?

  • Rob – Switch to selected channel (can never “fail”).
  • Comcast – Watch selected show (“fails” during minutes 26-29).

Why would Comcast build in this failure mode?  Sometimes pressing OK does one thing and sometimes it does another?

Introducing Engineering Logic

To us developers, there are two states: true and false, 0 and !0, 0 and > 0, etc.

The engineers who built this device made no distinction between “a show starting 1-3 minutes from now” and “a show starting a week from now”.

In their world, the state of the guide is reduced to two possibilities:

  1. What’s on now.
  2. What’s in the future.

In our world, they represent the guide as having three states:

  1. What’s on now.
  2. What’s on 1-3 minutes from now.
  3. What’s on in the future.

It’s this second state, the “1-3 minutes from now” state that needs to be handled differently.

One Possibility

The last 3 minutes of any show are either commercials or ending credits.  Wouldn’t you really rather know what’s on next?  That seems to be the underlying assumption made when designing the guide to auto-advance like this.

That sounds reasonable, but isn’t there a better way to handle my OK press instead of showing me the INFO screen and leading me to believe I’ve made a mistake?

What if, instead of throwing up the info window, how about this?

Success!  2 minutes?  That’s enough time to use the restroom and get a bowl of pistachios to enjoy the 2001 movie of the year – Tomb Raider.

2 Responses to “Why Can’t I Watch Tomb Raider?”

  1. Mike 12 August 2008 at 11:05 am Permalink

    Nice post. If you’re up for a project, you might want to consider SageTV. It’s a pretty slick PVR system that’s (somewhat) flexible with design considerations. As a programmer I’m sure you customize it to your liking. sagetv.com

  2. Malber 2 January 2009 at 3:03 pm Permalink

    I really like this post.

    I’ve always been surprised at how clunky Comcast’s digital cable interface is, and how it seemingly hasn’t been updated for years.

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