Timer recording w/ DVR & Comcast digital cable (2011) - AVS Forum
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post #1 of 13 Old 09-12-2011, 12:50 PM - Thread Starter
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My apologies if this question is answered elsewhere. I did search but couldn't find anything current.

Briefly, are there any recorders on the market today (2011) - vcr, vcr/dvd, dvr - other than Tivo or the DVR boxes rented at outrageous prices by the cable & satellite companies- which can control, i.e. change channels, on Comcast digital cable boxes for timer recordings?

Setup:
3 old Trinitron TVs*.

We're using a Panasonic PV-VS4821 (the last barely surviving member of a triumvirate) on one, a relatively new Toshiba DVR (no HDD) DVR670KU, and a brand-new Magnavox 515**. All set up with splitters (cable from outside to splitter inside; one internal cable to recorder, one to cable box).

Prior to the digital disaster, we got 80-100 unscrambled channels from Comcast and the Panasonic was able to change channels on the Comcast cable box so we could record multiple channels over time. We only needed to use the L1 option for channels beyond the TV/recorder's ability to recognize or for pay services such as HBO. For a brief period, Comcast offered through its software an option to set the cable box to change to a particular channel at a particular time which made the L1 option easy to use.

Subsequent to the digital disaster, Comcast has scrambled all but a handful of local channels. Among the scrambled ones are such high premium services as PBS and C-SPAN. Comcast also removed from its software the ability to set the cable box to a particular channel at a particular time. (We assume it did both in order to force consumers to pay $16/mo for a DVR for each TV if they want to do timer recordings.)

So, although we can watch one channel with our setups while recording another, we can do this only if one of the channels is among the half-dozen unscrambled or DTV (does anybody watch any of these?) channels. This is rarely the case. Most often, we are likely to want to watch two different scrambled channels. .

And, since almost all of the channels we record from are scrambled, we have to use the L1 option AND remember to turn the TV set to the channel to be recorded. Needless to say, if we want to record two or three scrambled channels when nobody is home, we have to remember to manually set the cable channel on each TV. This is a pain.

So, to get back to the briefly stated question above: are there any recorders today (don't care if they are VCR, DVR, or DVR/HDD) which can change the cable channels on the Comcast digital cable box at specific times? Or is there some third-party device that can do the same? (And if there isn't, there should certainly be an entrepreneur somewhere who could seize the opportunity.)

RS

*The TVs work perfectly. The picture quality, after 8-10 years, remains so good we've been unable to detect any difference from that available from HDTV so we see no reason to buy what are still exceptionally expensive TVs.

**Setting up the 515 was a snap. We just swapped the cables from a dead Panasonic to the 515 in sequence. However, since the digital disaster, we discovered that reception of unscrambled channels on the Toshiba was of low quality (slightly snowy) and DTV channel reception was iffy. Same problem with the 515 which leads us to the conclusion that the combo of digital channels and a digital tuner is not good for reception. Following the recommendations in the 515 thread, we changed the cable setup so it goes from outside to the 515 and then from the 515 to the cable box. This markedly improved the reception of the unscrambled channels although it is still inferior to that of the analog Panasonic off a splitter.
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post #2 of 13 Old 09-12-2011, 01:08 PM
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Originally Posted by Remy Secor View Post


So, to get back to the briefly stated question above: are there any recorders today (don't care if they are VCR, DVR, or DVR/HDD) which can change the cable channels on the Comcast digital cable box at specific times? Or is there some third-party device that can do the same? (And if there isn't, there should certainly be an entrepreneur somewhere who could seize the opportunity.)

What you're looking for is a recorder with an infrared (IR) blaster. There were a number on the market that would work with TVGOS and change the channel on a cable box.

Unfortunately, I don't think any are left on the market anymore. You might still find some used ones. I don't know of any third-party IR blasters. They really needed TVGOS to actually know when to change the channel.

There's also the Moxi DVR, which you can buy outright and put in a cableCARD, enabling the encrypted/scrambled channels. Its cost is similar to a TiVo with the lifetime (onetime) fee, though.

Don't believe everything on the Interwebz! A duck's quack DOES echo!
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post #3 of 13 Old 09-12-2011, 01:17 PM
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You might also check out the Comcast competition. Here in my neighborhood I had the choice between Comcast and WOW. Comcast has some advantages, like a guide and some channels that WOW didn't get, but here in the Detroit area, WOW is sending out 66 channels in standard definition digital and the local HD channels without needing a box. The boxless setup is really good for the mag 515.
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post #4 of 13 Old 09-12-2011, 03:52 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Tulpa View Post

What you're looking for is a recorder with an infrared (IR) blaster. There were a number on the market that would work with TVGOS and change the channel on a cable box.

Unfortunately, I don't think any are left on the market anymore. You might still find some used ones. I don't know of any third-party IR blasters. They really needed TVGOS to actually know when to change the channel.

Unfortunately the TVGOS signal is getting harder and harder to find, personally I would not purchase a product using TVGOS and assume it would continue to receive TVGOS into the future. Comcast(or any cable company) really has no incentive(and actually a incentive to NOT supply TVGOS) forcing users to rent their DVR
Note a Panasonic with TVGOS does not need a TVGOS signal to change the channel on a STB(you use whats called a manual event) but without TVGOS you won't get a grid to program from or program descriptions. Lastly the IR blaster will only work with a limited number of STBs, many newer STBs use a code not found in the IR table and their is no way to update the table which was last updated in '06 or older
Radio Shack use to sell a device called a VCR Co Pilot, it looked like a universal remote and could be programmed to change channels at a programmed time, although as you can probably tell by it's name(VCR) it's database is probably older than the one in the DVDRs database. I haven't seen a replacement for this device.
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post #5 of 13 Old 09-12-2011, 04:11 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Remy Secor View Post

For a brief period, Comcast offered through its software an option to set the cable box to change to a particular channel at a particular time which made the L1 option easy to use. Comcast also removed from its software the ability to set the cable box to a particular channel at a particular time. (We assume it did both in order to force consumers to pay $16/mo for a DVR for each TV if they want to do timer recordings.).

What Comcast cable box are you refereeing to? I ask because a few years ago my cable co. Shaw did the same thing, removed the software set channel for recording capability with the older DCT2000 / DCT 2224 Motorola boxes. But the slightly newer DCT2500 / DCT2524 and DCT 700 boxes still have the recording feature activated, at least with my cable co.

Here is a post I wrote a while back to another member with the same problem.

--------------------------------------------------------
I'm not with Comcast but here is my story.

The timer recording' feature is software based. I had the Motorola DCT2000-series for a decade and at one time my cable company offered the timer recording' feature with the DCT2000. A few years ago when my cable co updated the software (added multiple fav channel lists, better search function, etc) at that time the timer recording' feature disappeared. I was really mad and phoned the cable co - they told me that the new features are taking up too much memory and to try and find a used DCT2500. (my cable company lets subscribers buy and sell DCTs as long as they originally came from an authorised seller and the GI number is on their system)

Anyway, I got a used Motorola DCT2500 for $30 and the nice timer recording' feature is indeed there. Apparently the DCT2500 has more memory and is able to handle more software-based features
--------------------------------------------------------

If you have a DCT2000 / DCT2224 ask your cable co if the record feature is active with the 2500 and 700 boxes and if yes, see if you can swap your box for a DCT 2500 / DCT2524.

Please report back in order to help others.
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post #6 of 13 Old 09-12-2011, 07:38 PM - Thread Starter
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Thank you all for your very fast replies.

We have three Motorola cable boxes from Comcast all probably less than a year old since we had to replace each to solve one or another problem. The older replaced boxes had, at one time, supported the "set time/channel" function. These, which may be new or just refurbished, don't. We couldn't locate a model number. All are DCT with S/W 78.13 and firmware 8.16. I did notice that the configuration shows IR Blast = Yes.

We have no alternative to Comcast as we are renters in the SF Bay Area. Rental complexes, for the most part out here, use Comcast. A few small buildings may permit individual satellite dishes but we are not in that category.

We had pretty much guessed there was no solution but wanted to make sure before we bought another Magnavox 515. Although we have yet to play with all of its features, it beats out the Toshiba DVD/VCR because the hard drive is so much faster than the DVD recorder in the Toshiba. The Toshiba takes 30-45 seconds to turn on & load if there's a DVD in place, about the same amount of time to write and the same amount of time to delete a title & write the deletion - so if the channel is set wrong & we want to stop recording and start with the correct channel, it takes about a minute and a half. We had concluded that tape was infinitely more flexible.

I know this next question belongs in the 515 thread, but our one minor complaint so far is that the remote control is not very responsive. We put in our own batteries, based on something in that thread, but it seems to take an unusual amount of finger pressure and/or correct placement of one's fingers.

Again, thank you all. The FCC really missed the boat on the digital conversion rules.
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post #7 of 13 Old 09-12-2011, 09:05 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Remy Secor View Post

I know this next question belongs in the 515 thread, but our one minor complaint so far is that the remote control is not very responsive. We put in our own batteries, based on something in that thread, but it seems to take an unusual amount of finger pressure and/or correct placement of one's fingers.

I've been reading a lot of posts in other threads where people complain about poor response with remotes and much of it is from a "light sensing" feature on many HDTVs today... it interferes with remote sensing or something.

You might look for some setting on your TV about adjustment for ambient room light or such and turn it off?

Another thing might be pointing accuracy... one of my remotes "shoots high" so unless I point low I often miss a command. Test your remote by moving it around to diff. angles to see if it works better high, low, etc.
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post #8 of 13 Old 09-13-2011, 01:01 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Remy Secor View Post

Briefly, are there any recorders on the market today (2011) - vcr, vcr/dvd, dvr - other than Tivo or the DVR boxes rented at outrageous prices by the cable & satellite companies- which can control, i.e. change channels, on Comcast digital cable boxes for timer recordings?

No: nothing, nada, nohow. You are part of a rapidly dwindling minority that even remembers such a thing existed, never mind wants a new version. The problem you face is that only one in ten cable subscribers considers the rental PVR an "outrageous" ripoff: the overwhelming majority are happy to pay up, and think YOU are the oddball for wanting to deal with a separate recorder, a blaster, a pilot signal, or separate timers. If necessary they'll skimp on baby formula, heating oil or medication to pay for their integrated PVR rental and avoid any real or imagined hassles. They want HDTV-quality recording (because they kicked their Trinitrons to the curb and bought a 42" Vizio at Wal*Mart years ago), and they don't care about recording to DVDs at all: easy temporary timeshifting is all the mass market is interested in. You can argue the feature advantages and cost savings of a non-subscription recorder until you're blue in the face: it falls on deaf ears, they don't want to hear. The Magnavox is the last of its kind.

Quote:


(And if there isn't, there should certainly be an entrepreneur somewhere who could seize the opportunity.)

See above: there is no sustainable market for such a device, if there was Radio Shack would be selling it right now. Non-subscription recorders are deader than non-digital televisions: even the lovely Magnavox 515 is limited to Wal*Marts web site because they can't give it away in their retail stores: it just takes up valuable shelf space. With no significant recorder sales, there's no significant market for a blaster accessory. It would be tough to keep current, anyway: ComCast alone is hellbent on blanketing the country with multiple incompatible decoder boxes using new, hard to emulate IR codes. Other cable systems are following their lead.

Quote:


The FCC really missed the boat on the digital conversion rules.

They did- and they didn't. Technically many of the cable companies had already thumbed their noses at previous regulations designed to create a consistent tuner signal for consumer-bought TVs and recorders. The digital QAM conversion gave them carte blanche to reinvent the wheel and render nearly everything but their own hardware incompatible while still obeying the letter of the regulations (if not the intent). If cable could bypass the TV altogether and force you to plug their proprietary wire directly into your eyeball, they would do it tomorrow.

Quote:


I know this next question belongs in the 515 thread, but our one minor complaint so far is that the remote control is not very responsive.

The Magnavox remotes can be spotty unit to unit. The recorders themselves are consistently good but some of the remote batches have been painfully bad. Changing your aim angle and which finger area hits the buttons can help. wajo's tip about the TV room light sensor could work, tho your Trinitrons may use an older sensing system than the new flat panels. The biggest negative influence on remote performance is the new "green, energy-saving" CFL light bulbs: if you have one of these ugly curly-cue bulbs in a lamp near your Magnavox it can kill the remote signal nearly dead. Ditto a fluorescent desk light or overhead. Try turning these off, dimming them, or replacing with halogen or LED lighting. If you have problems even with all room lights off the remote may have a defect: switching to a universal or learning remote often helps in such cases.
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post #9 of 13 Old 09-13-2011, 04:59 AM
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Originally Posted by CitiBear View Post

The biggest negative influence on remote performance is the new "green, energy-saving" CFL light bulbs: if you have one of these ugly curly-cue bulbs in a lamp near your Magnavox it can kill the remote signal nearly dead.

+1
I have a florescent light near one of my stacks of DVDRs and if I forget it on I get terrible IR response from my equipment, turning it OFF and everything works fine
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post #10 of 13 Old 09-13-2011, 06:15 AM
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If you have comcast internet and cable, there is a Pioneer Unit that is of Tivo branding. It is the DVR 810H, and they pop up on the Used Recorder Deals "thread" quite often. These units have a three day guide that is free from Tivo and there are IR cables that will change the channels of the Comcast DTA. It may take a couple of hundred or more to get it up and going. Having a network setup also helps in that it will not tie up your phone line during the night, but will use the connection through comcast internet. I would be glad to offer any help needed.

Citibear will probably say it is a Gamble and that these units are getting too old to bother with unless you have already been using them, but it is still a solution that does not involve monthly fees, other than the one time setup. You can wait though for Funai to bring back the IR capability that is on the wish list, but waiting is also a gamble.

The only other solution is to slave several 515's to several DTA's and just record one channel per setup. Trying to remember to manually change channels can become a drag.
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post #11 of 13 Old 09-13-2011, 01:19 PM
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If you have comcast internet and cable, there is a Pioneer Unit that is of Tivo branding. It is the DVR 810H, and they pop up on the Used Recorder Deals "thread" quite often. [...] Citibear will probably say it is a Gamble and that these units are getting too old to bother with unless you have already been using them, but it is still a solution that does not involve monthly fees, other than the one time setup.

The ancient Pioneer TiVOs are an option for some who might be desperate enough (or tech savvy enough) to try them, but there are pitfalls. These units date from 2002 going into 2003 and are long past their expiration date in terms of power supply, DVD drive and hard drive durability. The most common failure point is the DVD drive: most second-hand Pioneer TiVOs have dead optical drives. The second most common failure point is the HDD, many of these are shot. Since these models combine the proprietary bugaboos of both Pioneer and TiVO, they can be a royal pain to service. Tracking down a still-functional spare DVR-106 optical drive is very difficult, and installing it requires the obscure Pioneer service remote and service disc. Replacement hard drives are somewhat easier to install, depending on the unit, but you'd need an EIDE-connection hard drive which is becoming difficult to find at reasonable prices (some geeks have succeeded with an EIDE to SATA conversion adapter, but this is dicey). Note also the newest ComCast DTAs are remarkably resistant to IR dongle control: a lot depends on whether your particular Pioneer can be successfully updated with the new codes.

If you're handy with electronics repair and know where to troll for cheap replacement parts, a broken Pioneer 810 or Elite 57 bought for under $100 can be a rewarding DIY experiment. But "fully-functional" units fetch anywhere from $150-350 on Craigs List or eBay with no realistic expectation they will continue without a breakdown: a risky purchase. I would not hold my breath that the three-day free lifetime TiVO service will be available indefinitely, and it is bare-bones featurewise: research this before purchase to be sure its an adequate solution for you.

While we're on the subject of "antiques", there were a couple of TiVO-knockoff DVD/HDD recorders that used the MicroSoft EPG system (invented back when MicroSoft deluded itself it could succeed in consumer electronics). Look for models such as LG LRM-519. The MS free guide service is still available, and the machines have a fairly unique ability to play WMV files and network with computers for transparent video sharing. Unfortunately almost all of these MS-compatible DVRs ended up as landfill because they were notoriously failure prone. Proceed at your own risk.
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post #12 of 13 Old 09-13-2011, 09:01 PM - Thread Starter
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After the posts about IR blasters, I Googled and found a product called a Vulkano from Monsoon Multimedia. shop.monsoonmultimedia.com. There are several versions but it is not clear to me if either of the DVRs (Blast or Deluxe Pro) would do what we want. All the emphasis is on access from a PC and various mobile devices. We, of course, just want to be able to schedule recordings and have the cable box change to the appropriate channels at the appropriate times then play back on our venerable Trinitron or transfer to DVD for use on other devices.

Also, Amazon offers the Magnavox 515 from a number of vendors. We ordered direct from Beach but probably won't buy from them again. They shipped the Magnavox in the manufacturer's box! (as opposed to packing it inside a suitably sheltered outer box.) I'm surprised it wasn't stolen.

Appreciate the info re lights. Yes, all the lights are CFLs. But we'll play around with the lighting and see if it helps with the remote.
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post #13 of 13 Old 09-19-2011, 05:49 PM
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Remy, my solution to this problem was to get a second Comcast DVR dedicated to my DVDR. I use dummy programs to get the program I want to record on my DVDR on the displayed tuner. I created a thread about this, and just bumped it up for you.

http://www.avsforum.com/avs-vb/showthread.php?t=1192691
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