Curiosity is bliss    Archive    Feed    About    Search

Julien Couvreur's programming blog and more

Seattle Comcast DVR experience


Just got Comcast's internet and cable TV services installed, in the Seattle area.

Cable TV/DVR:
I was especially curious about the new DVR cable box, and how it compared to my previous beloved Tivo (at a friends house now, long story).
Some features could be improved (fast-forward overshoot correction, simpler remote, recommendations, more organized UI, not listing the channels you don't subscribe to), but overall I'm happy. The image quality is good (compared the low or medium quality setting I was using on a Tivo 1), the unit is rather silent and has two tuners.
I like that you can continue to watch a program while browsing the guide. You can search the guide using an on-screen keyboard, but I think a T9-like input method would be cool (although it might not be very discoverable).

The unit (DCT6208 from Motorola) has many intriguing i/o ports: Firewire, ethernet, USB and smart card reader. How can they be used (remote scheduling, movie downloading/uploading, cable modem, ...)?
Note: PVRCompare has a review/comparison of this PVR but it seems a bit outdated, looking at the screenshots.
Update: Here are some up-to-date screenshots (via Scoble).

For the internet part, the cable modem installation was easy, although it did require running the install CD, which runs you through a wizard (to activate the service) and installs some junk.

One thing that is pretty lame is that the computer's MAC address gets registered with Comcast and other devices (such as wireless routers) therefore aren't allowed in. It turns out this can be worked around: you can change the MAC address on most routers (to clone that of the computer you used during the install process with the CD).

Update: I started using the Video on Demand (VOD). HBO's VOD (a dozen movies each month, HBO series and some documentaries) comes free with the HBO package, other VOD programs come for a fee. It's pretty cool, compared to regular pay-per-view, since shows are streamed to individual viewers instead of broadcast on a schedule. It can be paused and fast forwarded (although one speed only), and put on hold (to watch something else) and resumed later (although the state for only one program is maintained), but it can't be recorded.
On the other end, I've run into a number of freezes and unresponsive remote problems, where the menus just won't appear.


I use(d) the firewire port to import the audio/video stream on my computer. Long story short, my front projector doesn't like the component output of the cable box, so I use VLC to play the stream from my cable box, and output on my projector.
And you get all the fancy de-interlacing of VLC ;)
And yes, it means you can record tv/hdtv programs on your computer. Only drawback is you don't get the menus on the output stream :(

Posted by: KiniK (November 23, 2004 10:32 AM) ______________________________________

Do you have a high definition television? If so how do the HDTV recordings look?

Posted by: Thomas Hawk (November 24, 2004 07:58 AM) ______________________________________

I just got the 4200 HDTV box and I'm liking it. I think I'm going to ask for the PVR box though as my replay seems way to outdated now... Guess I can take that 160Gb drive out of it now... :)

The HDTV feeds on this box are nothing short of amazing. Truly. I have a Daewoo plasma screen and SD looks good, DVDs are really nice, but HDTV feeds like 663 Discover Channel HD are just awesome. Now I just wish every channel was HD and all the content was HD widescreen.

Komotv broadcasts in HD but a majority of their content is still in SD 4:3 format wich leaves annoying black bars on the sides of my set. Oh well, it'll come.

Posted by: Jeff (November 28, 2004 02:14 PM) ______________________________________

I just recently got a DVR box from Comcast and I'm interested in connecting it to my computer so I can transfer the stuff I have recorded to the DVD burner on the computer. Best Buy, CompUSA, and Circuit City have all told me all I need to do is connect the back of the computer to the back of the DVR box using a crossover ethernet cord... but nothing happens afterward. Please help because I have programs recorded that I can't buy on VHS OR DVD. What do I need to do???

Posted by: Steffan (December 26, 2004 07:19 PM) ______________________________________

Actually, I don't know that you can transfer recorded shows from the DVR to a computer using USB or ethernet.
Try playing the show, with your computer plugged into the firewire connector, like KiniK (see his comment above) mentioned.

Posted by: Julien (December 27, 2004 12:09 PM) ______________________________________

Could KiniK or someone else give a more explicit and specific set of instructions on how to connect the DVR to a computer and transfer the files?

What file format is the result? Can they be read by a DVD player if burned on to proper media?



Posted by: Ben (December 30, 2004 04:50 PM) ______________________________________

KiniK is on vacation for one more week. I'll ask him when he gets back.

Posted by: Julien Couvreur (December 30, 2004 04:51 PM) ______________________________________

Thanks Julian. I downloaded and installed VLC but couldn't get my computer to connect to the DVR via Firewire. Win 2k really wants a driver installed and I have no clue how to proceed.

I look forward to KiniK's response. This toy will be MUCH more fun if I can archive the shows I record.

Great blog, keep up the good work!



Posted by: Ben (December 30, 2004 05:17 PM) ______________________________________

There you go, here's a link to my bible:

Posted by: KiniK (January 11, 2005 12:10 PM) ______________________________________

I wanted to correct you on something:

you said "One thing that is pretty lame is that the computer's MAC address gets registered with Comcast and other devices (such as wireless routers) therefore aren't allowed in."

This is NOT the case at all. Comcast will let you connect any router (or an alternate computer). The modem will give an ip address to a different mac address if you simply powercycle the modem, wait for it to connect, and powercycle the router.

Posted by: Chris (February 2, 2005 12:34 PM) ______________________________________

The Moto box Comcast uses doesn't currently have the software to use the USB or ethernet connections according to Moto as soon as they develop the software to support these devices cable providers will have the option to activate them on the box.

Posted by: senseless beating (March 2, 2005 05:43 PM) ______________________________________

Hi Julien,

concerning the cable modem:
The Modem learns the MAC-Address of the device it is connected to, when it is switched on (I had to learn the hard way).
So when you directly connect it to a router and then plug it in, everything is fine and you don't have to hack MAC addresses.


Posted by: marco (April 23, 2005 01:22 PM)
comments powered by Disqus