"DirecTV fails (miserably) to emulate TiVo"1.0 starson by flanjerka
Pros: Pause live TV, record 2 shows at once, record PPVs b4 you buy them
Cons: Slow response time, recording errors, poorly designed remote
Summary: OMG. I can't believe how bad this DVR is! If it weren't free from DirecTV (with programming commitment and rebate) I would NEVER have bought OR kept it. To be fair, the R15 has gotten SLIGHTLY better with a couple firmware upgrades, but overall, it's a disgusting excuse for a DVR. Picture a TiVo mating with a toaster oven and begetting this hunk of crud.
Ok, so it does what it says: It records live TV, lets you rewind or pause what's onscreen and you can record two shows at once (so long as you're watching one of them or a pre-recorded show). Other than that, the R15 is AWFUL! The remote is the clunkiest most un-ergonomic thing ever. It has WAY too many buttons, most of which are in bad locations or could have been eliminated altogether by giving double-duty to other buttons. For example, when pressing the numbers keys to change the channel, the 'enter' button used to confirm your channel choice is a small unmarked button in the farthest bottom right corner of the remote beneath the number pads, which is nearly impossible for a right-handed person to reach. However, the large, bright-yellow 'select' button is right in the middle and easy to get to, but it won't confirm your channel choice - only 'enter' will! That's just the tip of the iceberg for how badly designed the remote is...
The remote will perform reasonably well as a universal remote for DVD players, stereos, TVs, etc, but the switch used to change between each 'mode' is nearly impossible to use. No matter how hard I try, I can't get it to stop in the correct detent for whichever component I'm trying to control. Also, whenever you change the 'mode' switch, instead of simply controlling the device you've chosen, the first single out of the remote goes EXCLUSIVELY to the R15 INSTEAD of the component you want to control and pops up a message that reads "The remote is in AV1 mode." I KNOW THAT!!! I CHANGED IT ON PURPOSE TO TURN ON MY STEREO!!! Why DirecTV did this is beyond me. If I'm watching TV and want to turn on the stereo, I have to CAREFULLY change the switch on the remote to AV1, then cover the IR transmitter on the front with my hand and push 'power' once (to avoid the annoying message from popping onscreen) and then point it at the stereo and push 'power' again. All this just to turn on the stereo without interrupting the program... it sounds like I'm being OCD here, but the pop-up message stays on the bottom 1/4 of the screen PERMANENTLY until you switch the remote back to DVR mode and then press 'exit.' With a remote so BADLY designed, I'm starting to eye something like the Harmony 880 from Logitech which should help with some of my complaints, but why couldn't DirecTV just make a better remote in the first place?
The actual tuner and menus in the R15 are HORRIBLY slow. No matter what button you push on the remote, there can be anywhere from a 3 to 8 second delay before the DVR responds. Most times you won't know if the unit received the command or not and end up pushing the button again only to get some undesired result 15 seconds later. The program guide is terribly slow and difficult to navigate. Plus, instead of the 'guide' button on the remote going straight to the program guide, it first takes you to a sub-menu asking to filter your guide (which can already be pre-filtered to your favorite channels with other setup options) by categories like All, Movies, News, etc. This is the worst feature ever! When I press 'guide' on my remote I just want to see the program guide, not a 'filter by' menu!!!
Lastly, the actual recorder is spotty at best. I've set it to record an entire season of a show only to find a handful of episodes were 'blank' when I went to play them back... the R15 recorded 30 minutes of black screen with no sound. I was so MAD when this happened the three times I called DirecTV to complain but all they could do was apologize. Rewinding live TV (to replay a goal being scored or someone getting punched in the face) RARELY works... that is, I'll press the 'rewind' button to go back 10 or so seconds while watching live TV and then press 'play' hoping to relive that great moment for all my friends and pets to see only to have the R15 stop altogether, think for a few seconds, then jump right back to 'realtime' - completely ignoring the fact I wanted to rewind 15 seconds. This happens EVERY time!!! The only thing I've found that works for rewinding live TV is rewinding the R15 a MINIMUM of 30 seconds before you try and press play. Any shorter period of rewind time and the R15 will simply skip back to where you were last watching.
To be fair, I have to list some good qualities... It IS free. That's good. Umm... the R15 lets you record DirecTV pay-per-views and only pay for them if you decide to watch them later. The video can be sent to a TV with an S-Video connection for higher clarity over RCA, while audio can be sent to a stereo over Digital fiber-optic (TOSLINK). There have been some upgrades to the firmware (automatically sent over the satellite feed) in the last six months that have improved some of the problems I originally had. One nice feature that DirecTV added was a 'skip 30 seconds ahead' button that helps skip quickly through commercial breaks during playback. There are two USB ports on the R15 which are non-functional (but do provide 5 volts DC current!), and I can only hope that sometime in the future, DirecTV activates them to allow you to move your favorite shows to some other medium or share them over a home network. I'm sure this will cost another $8 a month and require a 5-year programming commitment, but why not? It's only money!!!
In a note about the firmware, DirecTV seems to have gone to great lengths to prevent their R15's from getting hacked, going so far as to have the software written in Israel (not joking - I did research). This means owners cannot activate the USB ports to transfer recordings nor can they upgrade their R15 with a larger HDD. While this secretive nature protects DirecTV's profits, it makes it nearly impossible to give them suggestions on the R15. I've called DirecTV's customer line several times with what I think would be helpful changes to the interface, but none of the operators had any idea how to get comments to anyone in charge of the R15's development. I write software for a living and cannot believe how poorly built the GUI is for this DVR or that DirecTV is completely unprepared/unwilling to take customer suggestions on making it better.
Overall... it's free. It records your favorite shows (most of the time) and performs basically well. But it's NOT a TiVo. It doesn't always record scheduled shows, it has a terribly slow response time and the remote and user interface are some of the worst designs I've ever seen in my life. DirecTV may be canceling their contract with TiVo in a couple years, but trust me - you're better off paying a little for a real TiVo until then.Updated
After a year with the R15 I got for free from DirecTV, I have to say it's gotten significantly better. DOZENS of firmware updates have added some good features (like an 8 second "quick replay" button and slow-motion by holding down the play button for several seconds). Most noticeable improvements are the quicker response times of the channel guide and recorded show list.
DirecTV still hasn't given the USB port any usability (it appears as "locked" by any USB interfaces or programs) which just seems dumb... maybe it's licensing problems, but they could easily sell proprietary HDDs to connect to your R15 and move recorded shows around. In some forums I've read trying to hack into this DVR, it seems that DirecTV used some little-know Israeli firm to write the software, and focused very hard on some serious encryption. Maybe that was another problem early on, too much focus on security. It hasn't been hacked so-far, so it seems to have worked for them.
Programs seem to record without fail now. I can't remember the last time a recorded show played back as 30 minutes of blank screen.
Again, it's still not a TiVo, but it functions like it's supposed to and has a decent HDD and good basic functions.Updated
This is probably the most positive thing I have ever had to say about the R15... replacing my HDD was a snap.
The original HDD in my R15 started to fail (bad sectors according to Seatools), so I replaced it with a new one. After plugging the power cord back in with a new, unformatted 160 gb Seagate installed (a 7200rpm, 2mb cache model #ST3160212A was $35 on ebay), I formatted the drive by holding "Rec + Down Arrow" during boot-up and the thing worked perfect! Every function I lost before with a failing HDD was back (live buffer, pause/rewind, scheduled recording - everything).
I bought my R15 in Jan '06 when the firmware was horrible and I hated everything about it, but now I have to admit that I'm pretty impressed I was able to install a blank hard drive so easily. If you've lost record buffer, test your HDD on a PC with a Seatools bootable CD. If it's failing, replace it with a similar 160 gb drive. This may not work for everyone, but I fixed my R15 for $35. If you lease your R15 or it's under warranty, of course try to get it replaced through DirecTV first. And as always, unplug the R15's power before opening it.