Warning - LONG Post
OK, I've spent the weekend with the 6412, some observations:
In many cases I'll be comparing the 6412 to the stand-alone Sony Tivo that I've had for about 3 years.
For someone who has never owned another PVR, this box will be the coolest thing since ...well, since you got a TV in the first place. It will completely change the way you watch Television.
Although two tuners isn't supported yet, it will be great when it comes out. Standalone Tivo's only have one, Directv Tivos have two.
1. HD recording looks excactly the same as live HD - simply stunning! It is fantastic to now be able to timeshift HD and to record some of great shows you always wish were on when someone comes over and wants to see what HDTV looks like.
2. Recorded Digital Cable Channels(100+) also look identical to the live program and looks better than what I get with the stand-alone Tivo. In the interest of space I won't go into the technical reasons why this is the case.
3. Analog Channel(1-100) recording quality on the 6412 is different but roughly equivalent to the Tivo best quality setting. In either case, the box(6412 or Tivo) tunes the channel, digitizes and MPEG compresses it before writing it to disk. They do look different, Tivo seems to be sharper, which also makes pixels more visible, where the overall look with the 6412 is kind of like soft-focus. No visible pixels, but a softer picture. Which is better is pretty subjective.
Recording Playback & control of live TV
1. The 6412 has nice graphics which are newer/cleaner graphics than the Tivo, i.e. the time bar when you pause/rw/ff a show.
2. I'm used to the audibe beeps & sounds from the Tivo interface, so I miss those on the 6412.
3. The 6412 does not have the "auto backup" feature that the Tivo has when doing highs-speed rw & ff. Basically with the Tivo, you can do high-speed ff through the commercial, when you see your show come back on & press play, it automatically starts back a few seconds from where you pushed play, which, after a little practive is always right where your program starts. I live by this feature and really think it's better than the 30-second skip hack that many other Tivo users swear by. Bottom line, the 6412 has neither of these features.
4. It took some time to find, but you can skip forward/back in 15 minute increments in a program with the 6412 as you can with Tivo. To do this on the 6412, start ff(any speed) and then press the Right Cursour/Menu key. This skips you to the next 15 minute "tick mark" on the timebar of the program. The same thing works in reverse with the rw key and Left Cursor/Menu key.
4. In a pre-recorded program you can pause and then move forward one frame at a time by pressing the Right Cursor/Menu key. This does not work with the Live TV buffer since this key brings up current program info. Right now, you cannot go back one frame at a time with the 6412.
5. One really cool feature I noticed - If you leave a program paused, after about 6 minutes a "screensaver" mode kicks in. The paused picture is put into a small window & moved around the(now black) screen so you don't get burn-in. VERY NICE!
The Passport/Echo Guide Interface
1. The guide is MUCH nicer looking than anything I've ever seen from cable before & even be nicer looking than the Tivo's. Putting the current show in a window so you can watch it while in the guide is nice, but takes up a lot of screen real estate. Looks a lot like the Dish PVR I've seen.
This is where we get to
The guide, while a pretty face, also has some serious usability problems.
What I've noticed so far:
1. If you want to record a show that comes on in 20 minutes it's pretty slick, bring up the pretty guide, scroll to the program and press select.
2. If you want to record a show that's on at noon tommorow, not great but not too bad. Bring up the guide, use the "day +" key to move to tommorow and depending what time it is now, you'll have to move no more than 12 hours in half hour increments. So, maximum clicks to get to the correct time - 24. That's a bunch but not too many.
3. The real usability problem comes if you need to search for a program by name. Example: I saw an ad for one of my favorite HD shows, "Peter Gabriel: Growing UP Live", so I decided to make that my first scheduled recording. Since I didn't catch when it came on I decided to search by name.
To do this you bring up the guide and choose search by name. Then you scroll to the letter "P", not too bad so far. Problem is, once you're to "P" you can't type the next letter of the program name, but have to scroll through ALL the listings that start with "P".
So now you scroll through "P" listing a page at a time. Each "page" is only about 6 listings since most of the screen is taken up by the pretty window showing the program you were watching before going to the guide. This is kind of tedious but OK until you come to listing for "Paid Program" after scrolling forever in these, I decided it might be easier to scroll the other direction in the P's starting at the bottom. That was also incredibly tedious, especially once I got to the listings for "Programa Pagado". I went back later and decided to count the number of clicks. Going backwards, I counted 46 pages of "Programa Pagado", plus at least another 50-60 clicks to get the rest of the way to "Peter Gabriel". Going forward I counted 300, yes THREE HUNDRED pages of "Paid Program" before I gave up. By then I was on Wed. listing and the listings went through Saturday. So I was probably about 200 more clicks away from being done with the "Paid Program" listings.
Now, "Peter Gabriel" might just have been on an unlucky letter of the alphabet, but this is a serious useability problem right now.
On the Tivo, you have an onscreen keyboard and usually after typing in the first 2-4 letters, you can see your show and scroll to it. For most shows this is a 5-10 click process from start to finish.
I also ran into the following issues which are not really interface design issues, but bugs.
1. As has been mentioned before, you often get "Subscription Service" messages when going to a subscribed channel. You can channel off & back on and it usually fixes it. This is fine if you're watching live TV but has much bigger implications if it's a scheduled recording and you're not there to babysit it. (see below)
2. With my scheduled "Peter Gabriel" program, I came downstairs about 10 minutes after it started and noticed the red recording light was not on. I immediatly turned on the tv and got the "Subscription Service" logo and the show wouldn't come on. Channeling up/down fixed it so I could see it, but the scheduled recording was not going as it should have. I looked at the recordings list and saw it listed as a 1-minute recording program, but there was nothing there. My best guess is that the "Subscription Service" bug in turn caused this program not to record. Rather than recording the "Subscrition Service" logo for 2 1/2 hours it chose not to record at all.
Fortunately they were re-running the show that night, but if this had been a single run program or series episode I would have been S.O.L. and extremly upset about it. I set it up to record later that night and 10 minutes before start time tuned to that channel and left it there to make sure there was no "Subscription Service" problem. It worked this time and I now have my first great reference program.
3. Sometimes while playing with live-tv, the screen picture doesn't always come back after pausing. In one case it came back about 2/3 obscured by random pixelization. This was not just a display issue, but when I would rewind well to before the issue and play it back, the pixelization would reoccur when I got back to that place. So it had been recorded bad. In this case, the pixelization did not stop occuring until I channeled away and back to the program. Fine if you're live, but not if you're 20 minutes behind live and lose that 20 minutes by channeling away.
Great recording quality, the makings of a pretty good interface, and some potentially critical bugs.
Hoping some of the usability issues get improved upon & especially that the bugs get fixed.
My Tivo is definitly not going away in the forseeable future, but if they get stuff fixed, improve usability & upgrade capacity a bunch, the $14 a month I'm paying Tivo is going to start to bug me.
The 6412 isn't going anywhere either. Especially at the bargain price of $4.95 a month for HD recording. With HD Tivo/Directv or Dish it costs you $900 to just get on the bus and the same $4.95 a month Cox charges to stay on the bus.
For now, I'll try to use the 6412 only for HD content & schedule conflicts & see if it misses any other scheduled recordings. With only 12-20 hours HD capacity, it's gonna be pretty tough. The 2 1/2 Peter Gabriel will stay on for reference material & I'll probably get a snippet of sports and some nature-type stuff for reference as well. This will probably leave me with 8 hours or so of room for time-shifting HD stuff once the fall season begins.