John Siracusa marvels at how conspicuously awful the software was in stuff like cable boxes and televisions at this year's CES: "All of this software is terrible in the same handful of ways. It’s buggy, unresponsive, and difficult to use. I actually think the second sin is the worst one, especially when it comes to appliances and consumer electronics. Dials and knobs respond to your touch right now."

I wonder if the continued poor quality of cable boxes, in particular, comes from an assumption of network non-neutrality in the near future. No reason to waste money competing on a level playing field if you expect to fence it off for good. [via Daring Fireball]

64 Responses to “Why does the software in cable boxes suck so?”

  1. shutz says:

    It’s because the manufacturers are adept at hardware, so their internal processes are designed around that, and make software an afterthought.

    Take companies like Asus or Acer.  When you buy a laptop from them, you get a bunch of pre-installed software that is designed to interface with the features that are specific to that model (for instance, my Asus laptop has software that lets me toggle between power profiles, control the display’s backlighting brightness, and even the the brightness of my keyboard’s backlit keys. 

    Under Windows, there’s no alternative to using that software, even though it’s buggy, and sometimes gets stuck to the point where I have  kill its process and re-launch it to make it responsive again.

    Video drivers are in a similar situation on this and other laptops I’ve seen: they set things up so that I can’t use reference drivers from nVidia or AMD, and HAVE to use the drivers they signed for their flavor of the video hardware.  Except that, after building a working set of drivers for a particular laptop model, they never bother to release updates.

    They’re a hardware company, so after the laptop is sold, there’s no incentive for them to release updates: there’s no profit in it (though I don’t understand why they can’t make their hardware compatible with the reference drivers…  well, I do understand that it’s a support issue, but still…)

    Cable and satellite set-top boxes are kind of similar: until one particular provider comes out with a particularly well-designed and smooth-flowing UI that shames the others into improving their offering, there’s no incentive to invest in that kind of development.  The audience is already there, and they don’t have any serious alternatives (not while networks like HBO staunchly refuse to offer their content to streaming services, anyway.)

    • bobby says:

      “until one particular provider comes out with a particularly well-designed and smooth-flowing UI that shames the others into improving their offering, there’s no incentive to invest in that kind of development.”

      Even then there is little incentive as many cables enjoy a monopoly in a particular region.  I’m looking at you Time Warner.

    • bcsizemo says:

      What x86 laptop can’t use reference drivers?  I mean there isn’t Dell or HP specific chips that Nvidia/AMD/Intel roll out, everyone is using the same chipsets or GPU. 

      The reference drivers might be a bit flaky depending on the version, but hell that’s pretty standard for video drivers when using any card in any fashion.

    • jackbird says:

      until one particular provider comes out with a particularly well-designed and smooth-flowing UI that shames the others into improving their offering, there’s no incentive to invest in that kind of development.

      Roku has been at it for a long time now, though.  One other thing is that the software on Verizon’s SD cable boxes is significantly more conspicuously awful in terms of responsiveness than the identical-looking software on HD boxes.

  2. jgs says:

    Hanlon’s Razor (“Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity”) suggests otherwise.

  3. signsofrain says:

    I long for the days when cable was just a signal you could decode with a wide variety of hardware, the tuners built into TVs, capture cards, VCRs… those were the days. Nowadays I have to deal with my cable provider’s clunky box. I used to split my cable and run it to my PC so I could watch TV in a window… can’t do that anymore. If you’re lucky your provider will at least transmit some of your HD channels QAM encoded so that more recent capture hardware can pick it up but this is becoming more and more rare… heads up cable companies, your clunky boxes, prevention of splitting my cable to multiple rooms, and your actively working against my recording of HD content are why you’re all on borrowed time. I only have cable because my wife wants to watch HGTV and the Food Network, if it were up to me we’d torrent everything. 

    As it is, we already torrent a lot of shows we could watch on cable, it’s more convenient, there are no commercials, and since they’re on a 3TB drive there’s no need to delete things to make room for other things. To me, DVRs are the biggest rip-off ever. If you can’t get your programming out of the box and store it somewhere to re-watch later what’s the point?

    • jandrese says:

      Like it or not, your best option is probably Cable Cards.  They were supposed to allow you to get away from STBs, but of course Cable Companies make a ton of money from STB rental fees and $6 movie rentals on them, so they tried as hard as they could to make Cable Cards shitty.  Still, if you have something like a TiVo you can get a Cable Card for it and have an interface from people who actually care about the quality of the interface. 

      The nice thing about TiVos is that you can copy shows off of it using the built-in web interface and a freeware decode tool.  You can also upgrade the hard drive (although this requires a computer and a willingness to pick up a screwdriver). 

      The nice thing about a TiVo is even though the upfront price is very high (especially if you get lifetime service), the overall cost of ownership is much lower once you have it for a few years. 

      • signsofrain says:

        Unfortunately I live in Canada and CableCARD support is not mandated by law here. Our regulatory board, the CRTC (it’s like the FCC but much shittier) is basically in bed with the industry. This IS slowly changing but for now you have to use the hardware your cable company provides you with or GTFO. And none of the DVR’s available allow you to get programming off them, at least not where I live, where we have 2 choices of cable company, both equally dead-set on extracting as many dollars as possible while providing as little service as possible.

  4. angusm says:

    Is this simply a special case of the rule that says that software written by hardware vendors is usually horrible? Think about the software that the manufacturer ships with your printer or your digital camera or your DSL/cable modem or any other specialized peripheral. The chances are that you either never installed it or, having installed it, you abandoned it and used something else instead. Why? Because it was clunky, poorly thought-out and hideous to look at (I’ve never yet seen a hardware vendor’s programmer who didn’t think that he could ‘improve’ on the OS’s human interface guidelines, often reimplementing basic controls to do so: one that I saw even moved the vertical scroll bar to the left side of the window and turned everything purple).

    My theory is that all this stuff is being written by hardware engineers who’ve taught themselves to program, not by programmers who’ve learned to work with the hardware. And the same kind of people who write the abominations that ship with your camera or your scanner are also writing the software that goes in your TV or your set-top box.

    • bcsizemo says:

      But it’s not really the same.  Go beyond the software your camera came with and think about the actual firmware on the camera.  A Nikon D90 doesn’t have slow shitty firmware.  It doesn’t take 10 minutes to boot…and then it finds an update, and another 20 minutes screwing with that.

      Set-top boxes have shitty firmware/software, it’s not the optional software that’s the issue.  It’s the core functionality and programming that causes them to be piles of shit.

      I have a Western Digital TV Live box, it’s relatively fast and easy to use.  The UI is nice and laid out well.  That is a good example of something similar to a set top box doing it right.

  5. dpiekny says:

    Set-top and TV SW has been lousy since well before net-neutrality, or the net, were concerns, as you recognize. Since people don’t buy these devices based on the elegance of their menus, nor avoid those with terrible interfaces, there is no incentive to improve them.

  6. Benjamin Palmer says:

    I think Time Warner actively tries to make their Cable Box / DVR software worse. Features I had when they first released the DVR are no longer there (I had canceled my cable for some years and now experience it at my girlfriend’s house). My favorite thing is when they change features without notice, changing button function and menu design on a whim. 
    For example: the LIST button on the remote used to go to the channel guide, and the A button brought you to the DVR recorded show menu. One day we get home, turn the TV on, hit A and are brought to On Demand menu. B goes to something else, C to something else, D to something else. Nothing goes to the recorded shows. We call Time Warner and their automated message is: “Please hold, there are long wait times due to exceptionally high call volume. If you are trying to access your recorded shows, the LIST button is now used to access this.”
    But anyhow. Yes. The software is horrendous. 

    • Ian McLoud says:

      If you poke around online, you can find helpful information about manually programming the buttons on many cable remotes. I’ve found this to be particularly useful with a number of providers who don’t have a default 30-second skip forward or a 15-second skip back feature. As different cable providers sometimes use the same hardware, codes documented for one cable company may work for another.

  7. Scott Rubin says:

    What shutz says is true, but it is only the secondary factor.

    The primary reason is that the people who buy cable boxes are cable companies. Thus, the cable box manufacturers develop the boxes to have the features that make the cable and satellite companies happy without giving any rats behinds about what customers want. On top of that, the cable companies have local monopolies, so they don’t have to worry about customers switching providers if the competition has a nicer cable box.

    If cable boxes were standard issue, and you could buy whatever one you wanted from the electronics retailer of your choice, you can be damn sure there would be some really good options. There has been recent movements in this direction with Boxee Box and XBox possibly working as cable boxes sort of not really.

    It’s the same reason your company has shitty pens and pencils in the office supply cabinet. The company is making the purchasing decision based on the factors they care about which are most likely quantity and price. The requirements and desires of the actual users of the writing utensils have little to no say in the purchasing decision.

    • jandrese says:

      Theoretically Cable Cards were supposed to do this.  You would be able to pick any cable box and slap the Cable Card in there and there would be competition. 

      In practice Cable Companies hate Cable Cards with a passion and will actively try to discourage you from using them.  Also, the third party manufacturers never really materialized.  Pretty much the only company using Cable Cards right now is TiVo, who adopted them out of necessity as their product was being killed off by HD encryption.

      It seems a shame actually.  I could see a market for a $100 cable box that had a good interface and used Cable Cards (it would pay for itself in less than a year on most cable setups given the normal STB rental fees).  The sticking point is probably guide information.  TiVo has to maintain their own guide and its a big job.  You can bet your ass that Cable Companies won’t make it easy to get the guide on a cheap third party box that will cost them over a hundred bucks a year in STB rental fees (aka pure profit). 

  8. xzzy says:

    Comcast’s digital cable interface hasn’t changed at all in the roughly 10 years I’ve been a customer. I mean, there’s no new features that I as a user would be interested in.

    But they sure put a lot of effort cramming ads into every empty patch of screen! The popup ads that started showing up a couple years ago were the last straw.. it’s why I finally bought a Ceton card and am running WMC now. 

    Windows Media Center has a bunch of failings all its own, but it’s substantially better than Comcast.

    • Thorzdad says:

       Comcast hits you with a double-whammy of the crap software and a remote control outfitted with spongy and vague buttons that seem purposely-designed to result in a miss-pressed command. Interestingly, almost all miss-commands are programmed to send you to Comcast’s On Demand menu, as opposed to, say, a simple error popup.

    • L_Mariachi says:

      Have you tried XBMC? It can be a little more work to set up than WMC but it’s vastly more capable.

  9. Remy Porter says:

    I recently got FIOS after years of just plain-old bare-bones SDTV-only service.

    And holy gods, does that set-top box suck. Pretty much every time I want to call up the guide, I end up hitting the button a bunch of times. The first time to bring it up, the second time because nothing happened, so maybe it didn’t get the signal, and ditto on the fourth time, and then the fifth time to bring the guide back up after having dismissed it via all the other button pushes.

    I’m slowly learning to push the button once, walk away and make some coffee. By the time I get back, if the guide hasn’t appeared, then I know I should push the button again.

    In any case, I miss the era of dumb devices, and I don’t think this is because I’m old. I don’t want any features on my TV aside from features that manage display functions. Color curve controls, stuff like that. The TV should be a dumb display so that I can connect smart devices to it. The cable box should be a dumb decoder, although I can see an advantage to having it double as a DVR.

    • cleek says:

      I end up hitting the button a bunch of times.

      and when you do that with the HD boxes Time Warner uses, there’s a very good chance that you’ll crash the thing. and then you get to enjoy a ten minute re-boot sequence.

    • toyg says:

      I don’t want any features on my TV
      Of course you don’t, but the question is what TV companies want. And they want you to ditch your “smart devices” and just get all your entertainment through their tubes.

  10. retepslluerb says:

    As a general rule, hardware companies can’t do software.  Apple is one exception, probably because they had a holistic approach right form the start.

    Otherwise, just look the camera, scanner, tv, gps tracker and what not manufacturers produce. 

    The simply truth is: Good software, that’s a joy to use, is hard to do.  Perhaps much harder than hardware interfaces, because it’s so much easier to add stuff and because there’s no immediate obviousness to even the worst ergonomic offenses. 

    A lot of bad software only gets away with it because people are forced to use it. Mostly because they were the first of its kind or otherwise quasi-monopolistic.  No pressure for the better.

    John Siracusa pinned it down: Unless it’s super-hard to enter the field, these guys will get their asses handed by new players entering the field, either as new guys or from related sides.   

    • Petzl says:

      As a general rule, judging from the cludgey remote control and the cable box that always reboots, hardware companies can’t do hardware, either.

  11. toyg says:

    Commodity consumer electronics have a very “compressed” development, driven mainly by hardware features and the need to get to market as soon as possible. I bet software developers enter the picture very late in the game and do the minimum necessary to get the widget into production, usability be damned. A lot of that software is periodically thrown out anyway (again because of hardware changes), so there is no incentive to spend too much time on it. Besides, most companies in the space will compete on price anyway — they don’t want to be Apple, that’s too bothersome when you can turn a nice profit by just churning out average stuff anyway.

  12. cleek says:

    cable boxes are terrible, yes indeed.

    but the winner for worst software has to go to HP for their printer drivers. they couldn’t be satisfied with just writing software to interface the printer hardware to the OS’s printer API. no, they want to force an entire lifestyle’s-worth of software onto you. you have to fight off picture organizers, web-printing (WTF?), auto-updaters, apps that send you to HP’s website to buy ink when the printer says it’s low, layer after layer of networking and scanner-interface crap. and it’s all terrible. it never works 100%, it’s bug-ridden (i once deleted more than abandoned 20,000 temp files the printer driver had created in its work folder). and, it’s multi-GB in size. WTF?

    • Gilbert Wham says:

       God, don’t remind me. I used to do Helldesk for MS back when XP was a new, exciting thing, and the number of calls that turned out to be HP driver-related…
      (also, Norton. Fuck you, Norton).

      • signsofrain says:

        I just stopped installing anti-virus programs around the time Norton Systemworks came out. I installed it, it ate all my resources and made my computer unusable, and when I uninstalled it it caused Windows to no longer boot. So since then I just don’t install AV programs anymore. I keep my shit patched and I’m careful about what I download… I don’t have any trouble. Still, most people look at me like I’m crazy when I advocate an AV-free computing existence. 

        • bcsizemo says:

          Totally agree.  I think a lot of people should have some type of AV just because they aren’t careful or don’t know any better…but Norton or McAfee, no.  I remember years ago doing PC repair and more than 75% of the time when someone had Norton it was causing a problem.

          (At least Norton made decent removal tools for their own software…I mean if that isn’t telling you how bad their software was I don’t know what would.)

        • Antinous / Moderator says:

          I guess that checking links from strangers isn’t part of your normal workday.

          • signsofrain says:

            I do need to visit shady places online from time to time, and when I do I boot up an XP VM in VirtualBox. That way if my VM gets infected with malware I just delete it and start out with a fresh VM. My biggest infection risk to my main box are torrents, but I hardly ever download software, and the media I download comes from reputable release groups. Something must be working ’cause I can usually go 2-3 years between installs.

    • lintman says:

      Ahhh, the crapware bundles.  They were Creative Lab’s specialty that I not so fondly remember those from the assorted Sound Blasters I’ve owned over the years.

      I stopped buying HP printers and scanners a long time ago after several bad experiences.  Worst thing about the HP printer software was that it enforced “expiration dates” on its printer cartridges: if it detected one past its use date, it would write something into a chip on the cartridge making it permanently unusable.  One guy lost an entire $$$ set of new cartridges this way because the date on his computer got screwed up.

    • jandrese says:

      The trick is to buy a network Postscript printer.  HP makes very nice Postscript printers in fact.  The great thing about Postscript printers is that you never have to worry about drivers, you just install the generic Postscript driver and your printer works, forever. 

      I got a 1525nw about a year ago when my old printer died.  It has been utterly fantastic for my home use.  The upfront price is definitely higher than your normal USB Inkjet–I got mine for $200 on sale–but the aggravation it saves you in the long run is totally worth it.  The print quality is fantastic and it’s reasonably quick too.

      • L_Mariachi says:

        A nice thing about HP printers is that they make the repair manuals and replacement parts available to everyone — you don’t have to be an Authorized Certified Hewlett-Packard Repair Agent or whatever to order a new fuser or set of rollers. And the network cards tend to be discrete instead of integrated into the mainboard. Of course, this is moot in the $50 inkjet space, but it sure is nice to be able to keep old-ass LaserJets running instead of having to replace them altogether. Those things are tanks.

    • Antinous / Moderator says:

      I had two HP printers that worked quite well. And then I got the third one. The software was written so that you couldn’t use the whole page in landscape. It was just so fundamentally wrong. That’s when I decided that I didn’t really need a printer anymore.

    • bcsizemo says:

      Or you could just rip the print driver out and call it a day.  For some models they even let you download just the driver….

    • jackbird says:

       HP has started doing something very, very right in the last 2 years or so, however – the printer itself has current versions of the most common drivers stored in firmware, so when you hook it up to your network you can point your browser at it and install immediately.

    •  Ah, yes Java does explain a lot.  I’ve always found Java apps to be god-awful slow.

      • Felton / Moderator says:

        Tell me about it.  The university I work for is about to move to a non-Java platform for its online classes.  I’m looking forward to it.

        • jandrese says:

          Depends what that platform is.  Is the new one made from Flash?

          Having STBs run Java shouldn’t be a surprise.  That was the original purpose of Java!  I’ll bet you that the STB manufacturers are doing this in the dumbest way possible though.  Rather than building “Java Machines”, that run java bytecode directly, I bet they’re just sticking the cheapest ARM chip they can find in there and running a JVM on top of it. 

          • Felton / Moderator says:

            I’m not sure what it’s built on, but it’s not Flash.  I just know it doesn’t require a Java applet to run.  To be fair, the old platform may be slow not because of Java, but because it’s a clunky system that doesn’t seem to be well-supported.

  13. All of the cable/satellite services apps and guides make me nuts.  (I have UVerse.)  They are so slow and unresponsive.  I’m almost positive that when I hit page up in the guide that it’s waiting for me to hit the button on the remote before it requests the next screen’s data.  The entire guide for all of the channels can’t amount to that much of a text download.  Plus if you use any of their “apps” they can sometimes take up to a minute to load making them all but useless.

    I can’t imagine it would be that difficult to build some predictive downloading into the guide even if they didn’t want to download the whole thing at once. For example when you open the guide at channel 160 it immediately requests the data for channels 130 – 190.  Sure you’d get the initial delay but after that you ought to be able to zip through multiple screens without further delay.

    But wait, maybe it’s worse than that.  What if it isn’t a problem with downloading the guide data but rather their software is just that slow at rendering it on the screen?  Would anyone use the internet if every time you scrolled down the height of the screen on a web page it took 3 seconds?  That’d be like going back to 1995′s internet… No, actually it wouldn’t because even in 1995 the browser was bright enough to download the entire page you were looking at and then it scrolled smoothly once it finished.

    I’m also willing to bet each provider writes its own set-top box software/interface which is idiotic when you consider that they all do the same thing and look almost exactly alike.

    Why they don’t just decide on a single interface and make it an Open Source project is beyond me.  Well…  Ok, they don’t believe in Open Anything so I guess I do understand the why.

  14. Thorzdad says:

    Some of the worst, though, are the software systems found in cars. They’re all seemingly built on the endless-drill-down model. Which is exactly what you want a motorist to occupy their attention with while driving down a crowded interstate.

  15. Look what Nest did for the thermostat. That company swooped in and ate Honeywell’s lunch for them.

    The trick with cable boxes is te HDMI. It’s very expensive to play in the HDMI/HDCP world. I suspect that is the reason that we haven’t seen an upstart third-party cable box company.

    • bcsizemo says:

      I wouldn’t go so far as to say Nest is eating anyone’s lunch.

      The “trick” with cable boxes is who are you getting the signal from?  It’s the whole Ma Bell thing all over.  TWC isn’t going to let you plug a third party box into their line, not directly.  Sure you can have cable cards do it, like a Tivo, but the government has been ham fisted on forcing that down the cable company’s throat.

  16. Lou says:

    TiVo is far and away the best, and no one would even call it adequate if it were on any platform but the TV.  Cable Cards seemed like they might finally be an answer, but NO ONE has entered this market.  There are probably a lot of reasons, but key among them is that people just don’t care, and therefore there is just no customer base.  I think the problem is that ultimately you spend 99% of your time watching TV and 1% of that time navigating the menu.  A Cable Company box provides an identical picture and feed as that of a 3rd party box.  And if the menu is messing up then that only affects 1% of your time, but if that 3rd party box has issues that interfere with the content, then it affects 99% of your time.

    • jandrese says:

      I think it’s the guide data.  Cable companies aren’t going to give some random third party access to their guide data, especially if it means losing out on STB rental fees.  This means you either have to go the full TiVo route and manage guide data for the entire country or have an extremely stripped down box with no interactive guide.  The latter is probably not going to fly in this day and age, everybody has gotten used to interactive guides. 

      • igpajo says:

        That guide info is available out there somewhere.  We got the WiiU for Christmas and all I had to tell it was what cable provider I used and what city I was in and it populated my listings into it’s TVii guide.  Still not a great guide, but it was accurate.  So that data’s available out there somewhere for these devices to be able to grab it.

  17. vidfreaky says:

    This is why I miss my TiVo so much.  I had a Series 2 box and I LOVED it.  The only reason I don’t still have TiVo is because I’m in Canada and nobody here supports cablecard, and I’m not going to go without HD.  I would GLADLY pay the $15/month again for TiVo if it worked here.

  18. i stopped watching TV through cable boxes years ago.

  19. cubby96 says:

    Completely agree, and came here to say essentially the same thing.  I’ve had one or more TiVo boxes since early 2001.  While we lived in Canada, we had to drop the cable-card driven TiVo, but are back on the train again since returning to the states.  The cable company boxes in Canada don’t suck quite as hard as the American ones, so it wasn’t as bad giving it up.  We currently have a Series 3 (with Lifetime service) and a FiOS box operating in our home (plus two retired S1 Sony units and a retired S2), and the FiOS box is so bad that I don’t watch TV in that room anymore.  Thinking about upgrading to a second TiVo, the new one that can record 4 shows at once with only one cablecard.

    If you are considering the switch, think hard about the lifetime service – it’s a better deal than monthly service.  Also, upgrading the hard drive is a good investment and not hard to do yourself.  I bought mine from WeaKnees, who gives pretty easy to follow instructions.

    • jandrese says:

      I upgraded my Tivo Premier’s hard drive a little while ago and it is hilarious how much more space there is.  The old drive was always full and the TiVo suggestions were always empty.  With the new drive I don’t think we’ve managed to crack 40% capacity yet.  A 2TB drive just holds an insane number of shows. 

  20. Ronald Pottol says:

    Why have cable? You can get most or all of what you want online in one form or another, for less total money, probably. Get a Roku, or use your computer. Just make an end run around the issue.

    • cubby96 says:

      Two compelling reasons for me:
      1) Sports.  Real time broadcasts.
      2) Time invested in figuring it all out.
      and a bonus reason for some others:
      3) Cable companies frequently bundle cable service with phone and internet services, making it difficult to go without any one of the three.

      I’m not saying cable is a panacea, but it’s better than trying to go a la carte on my own.  For now.

  21. jerwin says:

    I’ve got a Samsung Bluray player, with a couple of internet options– youtube, netflix, blockbuster and pandora. The pandora app is okay. The youtube app wants me to TXT in all my searches using the remote control. Perhaps it’s better on the samsung remote, but on a harmony, it’s awful.

    I like my apple tv, but it needs more apps. Either that, or my ipad needs to stream more videos in the background.

    • Sparg says:

      I, too, have a Samsung Bluray and love it.  I rarely have a problem using it’s interface.  I get the Netflix and baseball (MLB) via the wireless, and the thing displays most graphic, audio, and video files.  Mine still won’t play wmv’s, but Mom’s new Sony Blueray dealt with everything I thought to throw at it.  Haven’t had cable TV for years, but love the cable internet.  I’m lucky to have a great ISP which invested in fiber optics here in the middle of nowhere.

  22. AnonymousViewer says:

    Terrific article. Thank you for sharing it. I wonder what the author thinks of Sony, who are both content owners and hardware producers? After watching them bring Blu-ray to the public, it seems like they squandered any opportunity to do more than integrate Blu-ray with their PS3. Don’t even get me started on their standalone digital Sony Network media player that is gathering dust in warehouses around the world.

  23. bcsizemo says:

    I’m not just pissed at the cable companies for shoveling a pile of shit DVR on people.  I’m pissed at the whole electronic industry for catering to some secret wishes and not making a standalone DVR.  At one time Pioneer and Sony (along with others if you go far enough back) made what amounts to a digital VCR.  That was YEARS ago.  The hardware has only gotten cheaper, and what do we get, a piece of shit DVR that I have to rent from TWC for the privilege of being able to watch a digital signal….

    I don’t even have digital cable, I get the super cheap basic and my wife still uses a VCR.  But I’m taking that high tech and combining a WD TV Live box and a capture card to get me a digital VCR since no one can be bothered to build me one for a reasonable price.

    (I am aware that companies like Popcorn Hour do produce what I want, but for the $400 or so they are asking I can build an actual stand alone HTPC for a couple hundred more.  Considering we have phones that can play back H.264 video, adding in capture/tuner hardware and a drive shouldn’t be complicated or that expensive.)

  24. Alex French says:

    Credit where it’s due-

    I was dreading giving up our 8 year old Tivo, but our DirecTV DVR is actually pretty tolerable.  It makes some things much more pleasant than the Tivo, some things aren’t much worse.  Some things are still horribly painful, but they get a big thumbs up for seeming to do better than the other guys.

  25. Michael says:

    It’s not limited to TVs etc. I bought a new car last year (Subaru Outback) and the gas pedal as a noticeable response lack. It is, of course, “drive by wire” and I find it highly irritating. 

  26. ChickieD says:

    As a person who has worked with engineering and software development for many years, testing is a joke in most organizations. Engineering and software dev drive everything. The R&D team ignore most of what testing turns in as bugs except things that actually crash the system. Developers don’t worry about the consumer experience – they assume that the software works exactly as they imagined it to and any problems are user error, ignoring all customer service rep feedback to the contrary. The managers are terrified of these expensive, intelligent employees and let the lead developers run the show. 

  27. Sawdust says:

    I loved my MOXI box DVR/cable box software.  My cable company eventually stopped offering it.  In addition to its nice interface, one of my favorite features:  the ability to hide undesired channels, so they never appear in any other list, guide, or search.

  28. Brad Bell says:

    This is my life. A very long time ago, due to incompatibles and DRM, I took our traditional TV/stereo to the curb. It was just too frustrating. I replaced it with hand-me-down iMacs. The TV signal is digital free-to-air which is picked up by a USB tuner the size of my thumb.  So that fixes the TV/internet problem and solves the bad design problems and many copy protection problems. We DM it internet videos via Twitter. Or movies we want to rent.   The TV/video player software (EyeTV3) makes all the other (mostly Apple) player software look very bad (Quicktime, VLC, DVD player) as they have poor controls, specifically keyboard controls. This regularly catches us out.

    On a nervous note, our new old car has electronic keys (!) and you can’t leave a kid in the car for a moment: the doors auto-lock, then the motion sensor notices the kid, then the alarm goes off and scares the kids and annoys the neighbours. If you don’t lock the car, the kids could press a button and start the engine. Anyway, at this point the parent comes running from the loo with toilet paper hanging from their trousers. We need a manual to figure out how to literally work *everything.* We’re anxious. We have a 200 page PDF of the manual – for a car! Internet forums are necessary. 

    The problem is there is no platform! At least today dumb devices have iOS and Android to develop on. The smart phone should be the interface/controller. You can update the software easily. And at least the development and user environment will be well designed, even if an app may ultimately be very poor.

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