Friday, July 6, 2007

Box #2 Update log (until 7/10/07)

Update Log from 6/17/2007 to 7/10/2007 (in chronological order)

  • [6/15]: As promised, I added tons of screenshots from the Diagnostics menus
  • [6/16]: Restructured blog content, added Crash #22a, #22b, #23, and Problem #5 in the Trouble Repor(t)
  • [6/18]: No crashes since the last update, performance has also improved with more spirited transitions from one program to the other, and more lively fast forwarding. Firmware is at 9.18, software version is 74.62-3337
  • [6/19]: The box froze on its own overnight. See Crash #24 in the Trouble Report for more details.
  • [6/20]: No crashes/freezes... I found another useful piece of information in the Diagnostic Menus. Check the link for details on them. If you select option #8, you can find out which one of the digital channels are encrypted. Why is this important? If you have a digital TV or another device with a QAM tuner, you can tune to those channels without the box. So you would watch one channel from the cable box, and another using the TV's/device's QAM tuner... The bad news is that you can only check two channels at a time by tuning them to tuner #1 and #2, and then going to the Diagnostic Menu. However it would be very time consuming to check every channel, since you can only do two at a time.
  • [6/21]: Box rebooted (not crashed) on its own while I was playing back a previously recorded program. The reboot happened about halfway into the program. This was added as Self-Reboot #1... Also added Problem #6 : Sometimes after a reboot, a scheduled program disappears from the list of scheduled programs (and I checked, the program was not escheduled or changed names). Both are listed in the Trouble Repor(t)
  • [6/22]: No new crashes or reboots, although I still think there is about 4-6% of unreclaimed deleted space, which may be cured by subsequent reboots.
  • [6/23]: No new crashes which is a good thing!
  • [6/24]: No new crashes even though I did a 10-hour marathon of VH1's History of Rock and Roll documentary... I also saw in the AV forums that I'm not the only one getting frequent crashes which means the problem is not localized or regionalized (are those actual words even?).
  • [6/25a]: No new crashes. This is starting to look promising! (knock on wood!). The transitions between programs seem to be faster as well.
  • [6/25b]: I spoke too soon. Another transition crash. Posted as Crash #25 in the Trouble Repor(t)
  • [6/26a]: The box rebooted on its own, however this was initiated from the cable company as the direct split off the wall also lost picture. I do not think the DVR is to blame for this one. Added it as Self-Reboot #2 in the Trouble Repor(t)
  • [6/26b]: Another transition crash following the self-reboot. Details at Crash #26 in the Trouble Repor(t). Just when I thought this box was starting to stabilize, it goes crazy again. Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!!!!
  • [6/26c]: Another crash, Crash #27. This time after I pressed STOP during playback of a previously recorded program. Someone please fix the file system of this DVR so it won't crash during transitions. Is it that hard?
  • [6/27]: No problems since the diva fits of yesterday (one self-reboot and two crashes).
  • [6/28a]: Another freeze during a program transition. Added as Crash #28 in the Trouble Repor(t).
  • [6/28b]: Added a link to the Wiki pages of the Motorola DVRs on how to program a 30 second advance button and macros taking advantage of it. This works on Comcast cable systems using the same remote as the Motos. I do not know of all the possible configurations and compatible remote controls.
  • [6/28c]: This POS has crashed again. If it wasn't for the $1 per month price, this would be a total POS! I am really frustrated with this "device". Added as Crash #29 in the Trouble Repor(t).
  • [6/28d]: 20 minutes after the previous crash, another one! Added as Crash #30 in the Trouble Repor(t). GRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
  • [6/28e]: Yes, one more crash the same day. This box appears to have a file system issue when handling the transition between programs and/or the live tuner. Added as Crash #31 in the Trouble Repor(t).
  • [6/29] If anyone at Comcast or Pace is reading this, fix it ASAP please!
  • [6/29] I highly recommend this DVR if you plan not to use it!. On a more practical level, if you want to avoid the frequent crashes, avoid exiting playback until your in-progress recordings finish. As long as you continue to play or pause a program, the chances of a crash are much lower. But if you stop, exit or delete a previously recorded program you are currently watching, you probably have a 5-10% chance of a freeze/crash. Because this is at the promo price of either $0/mo or $1/mo (I guess we now know the reason why it was priced as such) this is a reasonable compromise (at least to me). But if you are paying full price, and frequently use this device, you may want to trade things off :)
  • [6/29a]: One more crash, Crash #32 in the Trouble Repor(t). This time I did not even touch a button. It just froze at the end of playback. Lovely!
  • [6/29b]: It looks like one crash attracts another. This time I attempted to exit playback by pressing the EXIT button. Yet another bird-brain-freeze! Crash #33.
  • [6/30]: One more crash, crash #34.
  • [7/1]: No crash which is good news for a change!
  • [7/2]: No crash which is also good news!
  • [7/3]: No crash which is also good news! It looks like the crashes must be setting off some sort of a chain reaction of cascading crashes. I have been ending playback very gingerly and carefully as well, so that may have helped (I guess!)
  • [7/4a]: No crash which is also good news! I haven't been using it as much which may be helping :)
  • [7/4b]: Spoke too soon! Stopping playback of the first program I tried today caused another freeze/crash. Added as Crash #35 in the Trouble Repor(t). One thing to note is that the recorded program I was watching was from the same channel the live tunner was at. Coincidence or ?
  • [7/5a]: One more crash, added as Crash #36 in the Trouble Repor(t).
  • [7/5b]: The Pace is completely innocent with regards to Crash #37. The power went out and came back. A side-effect of the heatwave perhaps. But the Pace is completely innocent in this case. I wish I could say the name for the previous 36 :-)
  • [7/6a]: Another power outage in the middle of the night (thank you heatwave). Once again the Pace is innocent. Added as Crash #38.
  • [7/6b]: One more playback transition crash, crash #39. The only way to avoid crashes is to never playback a program you recorded. Which is an ideal usage pattern for a DVR ;-) This makes the Motorolas look like giants of reliability!
  • [7/8a]: A couple of hesitations but no freezes/crashes since the ones mentioned above. This despite marathon recordings of Live Earth concerts from two different channels. I broke off the recordings every 3-4 hours, I did not want to have giant 12 hour recordings - I wouldn't want to push my luck :) I did not attempt to use this to record the audio from Universal-HD, not sure what good that would do since there is no picture (this has SD tuners)
  • [7/8b]: Well, spoke too soon I guess. One standard playback transition crash (crash #40) happened. After the reboot, the DVR kept giving me a CIU (error deleting file) error every time I changed the channel, but functioned for a few minutes. Then it refuses to switch to the background tuner, and would not play any program from the hard disk. The only way to recover was the usual thing, unplug and replug... In the next few days I'll try to exchange this for another unit (if they have any left). Comcast CSRs insist that not all of the boxes are having this problem. Well I only tried two of them, and it happens on both. Maybe the third will the lucky one? Stay tuned!
  • [7/9a]: The box seems to behave reasonably okay at around 90% full. But the day is certainly not over yet! Not that I would want to jinx it.
  • [7/9b]: Once again I spoke too early. Two crashes (#41 and #42) and one self-reboot (#3) which you can find in the Trouble Repor(t).
  • [7/10a]: The only way to avoid the negative side-effects of crashes (incomplete recordings that were happening during the freeze/reboot) is to use it like a VCR: either watch something or recording something, but don't do both at once, otherwise the box may freeze and you probably won't have complete recordings because of the lost time between the freeze and a clean reboot. This may be okay for those who rarely or occasionally use this box, but I'm guessing you did not get a dual tuner DVR with a 120gb hard disk to use it like a VCR.
  • [7/10b]: I hope that no one bought this thing, but rathering renting it. Assuming they all behave like the two I had. One more crash with code ACC. How can you built a DVR and not pay close attention to the transitions from one program to another? It's almost impossible for me not to call it a POS. Newest crash added as Crash #43.
  • [7/11]: I don't like posting a "no crashes since" update because I am worried that it may jinx it and cause it to crash again. There was one close call where it hesitated exiting the program but managed to recover. Sometimes deleting some programs does not reclaim their space right away. Points to file system related issue perhaps.


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    Update Log until 6/16/07 (reverse chronological order)
  • [6/16]: The Update log will from now on be posted at the Ground Control page
  • [6/16]: Added Crashes #22a, #22b, and #23, and Problem #5. All these point yet again to file system related issues... Also I restructured this post to (hopefully) make it more readable.
  • [6/15]: As promised, I added tons of screenshots from the Diagnostics menus
  • [6/15]: No crashes yesterday either, despite the heat wave :) A couple of cases the playback transition from one pre-recorded program to another was blazing fast. A couple of times there was noticable remote buffering, slower than the Moto, but not as erratic, which makes it more predictable and thus less frustrating.
  • [6/14]: Yeah! No crashes yesterday, despite the increase in temperature! Comcast continues to offer these for either $1 per month or $0 per month for 12 months. It's hard to argue with that price :-) Coming soon: screen shots of some of the diagnostic menus of interest. The one I like most is the detailed info page on each recorded program. Stay tuned!
  • [6/13]: I spoke too soon. Two crashes happened yesterday but there was a link! Perhaps a clue? See Crash #21 below for all the details!
  • [6/12]: No crashes yesterday after following the theory of not attempting to end a program when the tuners were about to transition. Will this work today as well? Stay tuned!
  • [6/11]: Appended two bullet points to the "Usage and Performance" section
  • [6/11]: There was only one crash yesterday, and now I have a new theory I will be testing: The crash happened at about the same time as the tuner(s) was/were transitioning as well. So perhaps the issue is affected/caused not only by an end of playback/transition situation, but also with what happens to the tuners. I'll keep a watchful eye out on it... In a couple of other occasions the recorder staggered a bit during the transition, but did not freeze or crash, also good news :-). This is Crash #20 below
  • [6/10]: Added three more bullets at the end of the Usage and Performance section
  • [6/10]: Now we are on a one-a-day crash schedule. Crashes have the same pattern, the inability of the device to handle the transition from one program to another. Sometimes the error code "ACC" comes up in popup error message, sometimes it just freezes after a few seconds of no picture but ability to use the menus (but unable to do any play-related operations). The occurance of this remains unpredictable which makes it even harder to explain to the Comcast representatives who think rebooting and sending a service tech are the cures for all problems. Explaining the bug to them is futile as they stop listening after the first 10 words. Grrrr!
  • [6/6]: I am developing a new theory on the end of program crashes. Instead of starting a new program immediately after exiting/deleting/ending a program, I am waiting for about a minute first. Perhaps the issue/bug causing the freezes is a timing one. If yes, then the # of crashes will go down significantly... Will update on this later on.
  • [6/3]: More crashing, blog restructuring postponed as I may get a different box! Grrrr! Crashes added to the Crash Log.
  • [6/1]: Over the weekend I will be restructuring this to (hopefully) make it more readable. If you have any suggestions, or things you want to see, please let me know! Thanks!... Crash #17 happened while the DVR was on its own. Not sure what it was doing at the time of the crash.
  • [5/31]: No crashes today either! The transitions from one program to another seem to be smooth!
  • [5/30]: No crashes today! This is good news!... On a blog note, I will try to find a way to make this more readable. I may have to re-arrange some of the things in this post ro break it in pieces...
  • [5/29]: A crash happened today see crash #16 below. Also the [percentage full] space under MyDVR was not correct before the crash. It did not decreased used space after I deleted a couple of programs, infact it went up 2% for one, and stayed put for another. I don't recall if this happened before, but I'll keep an eye out for it. The freed up disk space was reclaimed after the reboot!
  • A day without crashes! That was the calendar day of 5/28. That's always good news!
  • More freezing! Comcast please fix it!
  • The daily freezes continue, added crash #14 [5/27]. Needless to say this is annoying and had it not been for the $1/mo promotional price, this thing would have been returned to sender :-)
  • More crashes, upgraded the unattended crashes into Problem #4 [5/26]
  • Added crash #9a, 9b, and #10 [5/25/07]
  • I'm starting to think that Problem #1 may also have to do with switching from digital (100+) to "analog" (2-99 ADS), not just reaching the end of a program. I have remained on "analog" channels for a few hours without jumping to anything digital (100+) and no crashes yet. Only time will tell [5/24/07]. Update 5/25: It crashed again even though I did not touch any 100+ channels. See crashes #9 and 10. So much for this theory. Scratch it!
  • Added section at the bottom on how to find your software version (which also shows you your hardware version, so you don't have to go to the Diagnostics menu just to get the firmware version)
  • Added Crash #6 and #7 and #8, new Problem #3, but more importantly may have gotten more info on the reproducable problem #1, added as Problem #1b as it seems to be related. Read that section for more details...
  • Added Crash #5
  • The freezing/crashing is starting to get annoying!
  • More freezes/crashes, but they are the same problem, Problem #1
  • Some good news and bad news. The fast-forwarding issue with Box #1 (Problem #3) is not happening with this box. The bad news is that it crashes more frequently than Box #1 so far.
  • This is a brand new box I got on 5/18/07 to replace "Box #1" that was crashing daily. (For those keeping track, Day #1 is 5/18, Day #2 is 5/19, Day #3 is 5/20, etc).
  • Firmware version: 9.18. Software version: 74.62-3337


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    The Trouble Report (Box #2) (until 7/10/07)

  • The Update log will from now on be posted at the Ground Control page. The Usage and Performance section moved to its own page

    Problems not happening with this box (so far)
  • I am happy to write that Problem #3 of Box #1 is not happening with this box. There are no fast-forwarding issues with this box!
  • The Motorolas had occasional audio/video hickups. I have not seen any of those with the Pace so far! (knock on wood)


    Box #2 Problems and Solutions
  • Problem #1: Crashes/Freezes almost daily during DVR operations. This happens with user-initiated actions. So far this is the only scenario that caused a crash with the exception of Crash #1 below which was the only time it crashed while being "on its own". Solution: None so far. (This is the same as Problem #5 of Box #1)...Untested hypothesis: One more thing I observed is that the program next to it in the DVR listing has its position adjusted to the end of the program (same position as the program that the machine crashes on). I'm not an expert, but it's starting to smell like some sort of a memory leak or memory/structure corruption issue. But that's just my guess!... I am now trying to see if the combination of actions at the end of problem may be what causes the crash. More on this tomorrow...
  • Problem #1b: I observed this is a similar scenario to Problem #1 (switching/transitioning from one program to another). The DVR hesitated and slowed down, but did not crash. Instead a blue pop-up window came up twice with the message along the lines of "cannot delete file while in use, Code: CIU". Pressing OK/Enter got the pop-up window to disappear and the DVR continues to operate normally. This also had the same side-effect as Problem #1, the program next to it had its "program position memory" (aka "tape counter") changed to be at the end of the program, instead of where it was before (it was somewhere in the middle)... Because of this I think these two problems are related. Perhaps this is a sign that the crashes are fixed. Only time will tell...
  • Problem #2: The front display does not show the time or the channel number, even though that option is available in the Setup Menu. Clearly the display does not have the capability to do that, but the Comcast software does not realize it. Solution: I don't think there is one. (This is the same issue as Problem #4 of Box #1).
  • Problem #3: After a crash, and if there was a scheduled recording in progress in the current tuner before the crash, the recording does not restart after the reboot and the program is no longer listed in the schedule. This was observed a number of times after Problem #1.
  • Problem #4: Three crashes so far when left unattended and happening at the start (twice) or finish (once) of a scheduled recording. See Crashes #1, #10, and #11 below
  • Problem #5: After deleting some programs (perhaps the ones affected by a crash/freeze), their space is not always reclaimed. It usually takes 2-3 reboots for the space to be completely reclaimed
  • Problem #6: Sometimes after a reboot, a scheduled program disappears from the list of scheduled programs (and I checked, the program was not escheduled or changed names). This does not happen every time. This may also be linked to Problem #3 above.


    Crash Log
  • Crash #1: On Day 1, I had the first crash (with the Pace models) that I was not involved with. The recorder was scheduled to record a 1-hour program on a digital channel, programmed via the TV Guide (not a series) with a 3-minute start/finish headroom. The DVR was frozen at the point where it was supposed to start recording. I was nowhere near the DVR at that time :)
  • Crash #2a, 2b, 2c on Day 1: Similar problem as Box #1, crashing/freezing at the end of a program. One more thing I observed is that the program next to it in the DVR listing has its position adjusted to the end of the program (same position as the program that the machine crashes on). I'm not an expert, but it's starting to smell like some sort of a memory leak or memory/structure corruption issue. But that's just my guess!
  • Crash #3 on Day 2: Same as before, crashing in the transition between recordings in an end-of-recording situation.
  • Crash #4a, 4b on Day 3: Same as before, I am starting to see a possible pattern: Tuner is recording a program, then I start playback of a pre-recorded program. During playback, the tuner finishes the recording. Then playback finishes and I attempt to either delete the program or change to another pre-recorded program. At this point the DVR freezes/crashes. I'll be on the lookout for this for any future crashes. Again this is only a possibility at this point.
  • Crash #5 on Day 4: Similar as above, the pattern is end of program and/or transition to another program. It doesn't happen every time, which makes it harder to pin-point.
  • Crash #6 on Day 5: Similar as above
  • Crash #7 on Day 6: Similar as above. This happened after Problem #1b happened for the first time.
  • Crash #8 on Day 6: Similar as above. More specifically I was at the end of a digital program (100+), pressed the STOP button, returned to the live tuner that was recording from an ADS channel (2-99), pressed MyDVR, and tried to start playback of the program that was being recorded in the live tuner. Then it froze as usual.
  • Crash #9a, 9b on Day 7: Similar situation, in transition/end of viewing of a pre-recorded program
  • Crash #10 on Day 8: Crashed overnight while trying to start recording a program. This is only the 2nd time that it crashed/froze on its own. The first time I saw this was Crash #1 above. All the other crashes had a similar pattern as described above.
  • Crash #11 on Day 8: Transition crash (same as before, see Problem #1)
  • Crash #12 on Day 9: Crashed on its own (unattended) at the end of a scheduled recording. Now created Problem #4 for this bug.
  • Crash #13 on Day 9: Transition crash (same as before, see Problem #1)
  • Crash #14 on Day 10: This was the easiest crash to describe. When I turned on the TV for the first time today I started playback of a previously recorded (digital/100+) program on the DVR. I did not do anything else to the DVR, did not change channels even on the live tuner. Right after playback started, I went to the DVR "My Recordings" list and deleted a couple of older programs from the disk. Then I pressed the Info button to bring up the bottom menu and chose the restart playback option. And that's where it froze. This didn't even reach an end of program, or went back to the live tuner. Simply restarted playback of the program I was watching.
  • Crash #15a, #15b on Day 10: More of the same... I am starting to think that maybe it crashes after x program switches or program deletions. It doesn't make sense!
  • Crash #16 on Day 12: Similar freezing with pop-window with code "ACC". This happened when I accidentally exited a program by pressing the [B] button (default action is STOP), instead of pressing upper arrow (PAUSE function). I was really hoping to have a 2-day non-crash streak, but sadly no :-(
  • Crash #17 on Day 15: Crash #17 happened while the DVR was on its own. Not sure what it was doing at the time of the crash.
  • Crash #18a and #18b on 6/2: One crashed when I reach the end of the program, the other crashed when the DVR finished recording a program on its own and failed to return to a live tuner at the end of the recording. The recording that caused the freeze was started by me by recording an in-progress buffer of a 30-minute 2-99 channel. Grrr!
  • Crash #19a, #19b on 6/3: Both crashes were the typical end of program/transition to another program crashes. Oh Comcast what have you done???
  • Crash #20 on 6/10: (There were a few more crashes in-between that I forgot to record). There was only one crash, and now I have a new theory I will be testing: The crash happened at about the same time as the tuner(s) was/were transitioning as well. So perhaps the issue is affected/caused not only by an end of playback/transition situation, but also with what happens to the tuners. I'll keep a watchful eye out on it... In a couple of other occasions the recorder staggered a bit during the transition, but did not freeze or crash, also good news :-)
  • Crash #21a and #21b on 6/12: There was a crash yesterday around 9:40pm, when I was switching from watching a previously recorded program from a digital channel to another episode of exactly the same program. The device froze, the green remote button remained on on the front panel display, and the message box with the "ACC" error code came up. This is #21a. What was interesting is that after the reboot and a couple of hours later, I tried to play the program that caused the crash. And guess what? The device crashed again! Coincidence??? Hmmmm....
  • Crash #22a and #22b on 6/15: I wrote all the details for this one! Here we go: I was watching programs on the DVR and scheduled a few upcoming recordings using the TV Guide (not series or manual recordings). Then I started playback of a program that finished recording about 30 minutes ago on the background tuner.. At the start of playback the picture froze and soon thereafter the whole DVR froze. After I rebooted, I started playback of the same program. The position had jumped at the end of the program (almost always happens after a crash). I was able to watch the program until the end. At the end of the program I selected "YES" to delete it and guess what, the DVR froze again. Coincidence? I think not!
  • Crash #23 on 6/16: I deleted an older program but it's space was not reclaimed (sounds like reclaiming of someone's water in Dune?). At the end of the program I was watching (guess what?), the video picture froze again, but I was able to navigate the menus for a few more seconds before it froze completely. This time however I wrote down the error messages! The first one said [Unable to process request, code: CDIN], and the second one said [Cannot delete while file in use, close file and try again, Code: CIU]. (I added the square brackets to denote the message content)... These sound like file system related issues, unfortunately the cable company CSRs either want to reboot the box, exchange the box or send a technician over. None of these approaches will fix a software/firmware problem however. If anyone at Comcast/Pace is reading this and knows what the real problem is, please feel free to chime in or fix it! Thanks :-)
  • Crash #24 on 6/19: I found it frozen in the morning. It frozen while preparing to start recording a program that I set to start 3 minutes ahead of time. This was not a series recording, but one I preset from the TV Guide. I was not touching/using the box at the time. This is only the 3rd or 4th time the box froze on its own. All the other times happened while I was using it. However all the crashes share the same pattern: they happened during the transition from one program to the other... After the crash, I watched and then deleted the next program recorded after the crash. Upon its deletion, it's space has not been reclaimed. So quite possibly the next cycle of cascading file system issues will start again? Stay tuned!
  • Crash #25 on 6/25: Just when I was starting to think the freezing would go away, another transition freeze/crash. I don't know if has anything to do with it, but both tuners were pointing to the same channel.
  • Crash #26 on 6/26: The wheels are falling again. After Self-Reboot #2, the silly box froze at another transition point (end of a recording). Unplug/re-plug was the only way to bring it back. Grrrrrr!
  • Crash #27 on 6/26: It looks like it is saved all the crashes for today. This time it crashed when I pressed STOP during playback of a previously recorder program. This is very disappointing. I am tempted to call this DVR a POS, but I won't :-) Grrrr!
  • Crash #28 on 6/27: One more transition crash/freeze, similar circumstances as before.
  • Crash #29 on 6/28: One more transition crash/freeze. What a POS!
  • Crash #30 on 6/28: 20 minutes after the previous crash
  • Crash #31 on 6/28: Same as above. A three-peat of crashes in one day!
  • Crash #32 on 6/29: Same as above, end of playback crash. This time I did not even touch the box. It died on its own when the playback ended. It's not my magic touch :)
  • Crash #33 on 6/29: It looks like one crash attracts another. This time I attempted to exit playback by pressing the EXIT button. Yet another bird-brain-freeze!
  • Crash #34 on 6/30: One more crash, more of the same.
  • Crash #35 on 7/4: One more crash, more of the same. One thing to note is that the recorder program was from the same channel the tuner was on. The freeze/crash came after I pressed STOP during playback. Lovely!
  • Crash #36 on 7/4: Interesting. Coincidence or not? It crashed when I started playback of a program that was currently being recorded in the current (foreground) tuner.
  • Crash #37 on 7/5: The Pace is completely innoncent in this crash. The power went out and came back. Must be this heatwave with everyone cranking up the fans and the AC!
  • Crash #38 on 7/6: Power outage in the middle of the night. The Pace is completely innocent in this case!
  • Crash #39 on 7/6: This POS of a DVR crashed again at a transition point while I was trying to start playback of a previously recorded program. Coincidentally the program recorded on the live tuner was from the same channel as the previously recorded program. Coincidence or just another random POS crash? No wonder Comcast is no longer installing these lovely devices. An exercise in frustration is not worth $1 per month or even free! Grrrrrrrrr!
  • Crash #40 on 7/8: One standard playback transition crash (crash #40) happened. After the reboot, the DVR kept giving me a CIU (error deleting file) error every time I changed the channel, but functioned for a few minutes. Then it refuses to switch to the background tuner, and would not play any program from the hard disk. The only way to recover was the usual thing, unplug and replug...
  • Crash #41 on 7/9: When it rains, it pours is the theme song of this box. It seems one crash usually causes a series of cascanding problems. The box froze yet again during a playback transition. Then two minutes later the box rebooted on its own. See Self Reboot #3 below
  • Crash #42 on 7/9: About 2 hours after the previous boot, guess what, the box froze again! Arggg!
  • Crash #43 on 7/10: One more transition crash, this one with the popup window "code ACC". Lovely!



    Self-Reboot Log
  • Self-Reboot #1 on 6/21: Box rebooted (not crashed) on its own while I was playing back a previously recorded program. The reboot happened about halfway into the program. As far as I recall this is the 1st self-reboot I had. From what I recall, the Motorolas had some very very occasional self-reboots as well. I would call these "mental health reboots" :-0)
  • Self-Reboot #2 on 6/26: The box rebooted on its own, however this was initiated from the cable company as the direct split off the wall also lost picture. I do not think the DVR is to blame for this one.
  • Self-Reboot #3 on 7/9: Two minutes after Crash #41 the box rebooted on its own.


  • The operational content in this post moved to its own post here


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    Sunday, July 1, 2007

    30 second advance button (aka CM Skip)

    If you have the same remote control shared with the Motorola DVRs, you can use the instructions on the Motorola 3412/3416/6412/6416 wiki page to program any button you want to be a 30 second advance. You can also program macro buttons so you can jump in increments of 30 seconds with the push of a button. (I am doing this on a Comcast cable system)

  • http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/How_to_use_a_Motorola_DVR
  • http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/How_to_use_a_Motorola_DVR/Programming_the_Remote
  • http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/How_to_use_a_Motorola_DVR/Programming_the_Remote#Add_30-Second_Skip

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    Usage and Performance (Box #2)

  • This unit seems to have issues when transitioning from one program to another or back to the live tuner. Not just the crashing/freezing mentioned below (Problem #1). Even when it doesn't crash, it is jittery and takes a few seconds before being totally responsive... The Motorolas were more swift in their transitions.
  • Speaking of which, some of the slowness and flakiness of the Motorolas in terms of remote responsiveness seem to not be happening as much with this guy.
  • Similar in usability to the Motorolas, but not exactly the same.
  • The front-panel LCD (or LED) screen is cool, you can tell which tuner(s) is/are recording as REC1 and REC2 light up. It also graphically shows some other operations such as playback (with green arrow), message in inbox (green envelope), and remote signal being receiving. The POWER letters are blue when the device is running, and red when it is rebooting or otherwise unavailable but powered on... However, it does not show the time or the channel number, even though that option is available in the Setup Menu. You can see some of them in the picture below:

  • When everything else is quiet (eg middle of the night) there is a hard-disk-spinning noise at times. It's not loud and not annoying, but you can hear it.
  • For those switching from the Motorolas, the user interface is exactly the same. You may even forget you got a different box.
  • When returning to a live tuner from watching a pre-recorded program, the green play arrow is on on the front panel display of the device, even though it's a live tuner. Pressing the LIVE button on the remote makes the green button disappear (as it should)
  • When recording on both tuners and watching another pre-recorded program there is noticable slowness. This is a bit different from the Motorola boxes when they experience their remote control erratic responsiveness. Actually the Pace slowness is more organic than the Motorolas. The Motorolas seems to be a bit more erratic.
  • The audio levels on Stereo are lower than the Motorola boxes. Switching to TV Speakers makes it louder for the TV, but not for other sources. The audio level is also much lower from the RF cable output of the same channel, so it's clearly the box.
  • Btw, my SNR (in [03 OOB Status] is ranging from 21.5 to 23.3, which the displays says [Good] but I have no clue what the range of values is. The SNR in [04 In Band Status] is 35.1 [Good].
  • One thing that I didnt notice before is that with Option [24. Content Listing] of the Diagnostics Menu , you can go through the recording files one by one and brihg up a long page of info on the files, including file size, duration, digital copy permission (!), average bit rate, etc, etc. This is cool stuff, I'll play with them more later!... Lots of screenshots from the Diagnostic Menus have been added

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    How do I do that? (How To posts)

    Finding your firmware version
    Method #1

  • Make sure the DVR is not recording a program in either tuner, and it won't start recording in the next few minutes.
  • Make sure RF Bypass is turned to OFF
  • Press the Power button on the remote and very quickly press the OK/Select button. This brings up the Diagnostics menu. The Left and Right arrow keys take you in and out of each submenu option. This is a very informative, clean and detailed diagnostics menu. Pictures of this coming later on
  • My current Firmware version is 9.18
    Method #2
  • See the section right below on finding your software version


    Finding your software version
  • This can happen at any time the DVR is in use (except for On-Demand), whether it is recording, playing a recorded program or just the live tuner.
  • Press the [Menu] button on the remote twice or press it once and then the [Home] icon on the bar. It will take you to the main menu.
  • From there, select the [Setup] menu option (does not press the [Setup] button on the remote!) and press OK/Enter
  • Then select the [Cable Box Setup] menu option and press OK/Enter
  • Then go to the fourth menu entry titled [Configuration] and press OK/Select. It will show you a screen titled [Review Configuration]. Do not worry, this is only informational, you cannot change anything here. It shows your software version, firmware version and a few other statistics/configuration options of your DVR
  • My software version is 74.62-3337

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    Diagnostic Menus

    How to display the Diagnostic Menus

  • These menus are strictly informational, they report back, you cannot change any of the values. To get to the diagnostics menus:
  • Make sure the DVR is not recording a program in either tuner, and it won't start recording in the next few minutes.
  • Make sure RF Bypass is turned to OFF
  • Press the Power button on the remote and very quickly press the OK/Select button on the remote. This brings up the Diagnostics menu. The Left and Right arrow keys take you in and out of each submenu option. This is a very informative, clean and detailed diagnostics menu.


    The Diagnostic Menus!
  • To see a bigger picture just click on each picture or open it in a new window.


  • Now let's look at the wonderful information provided by option #24: Content Listings. This lists all the programs currently recorded on your DVR. From that menu, I selected one program to use as an example in the following two pictures below. There are about 1.5 pages of data displayed for each recorded program:


  • Some fields of interest: name of the program, size of the MPEG file in bytes (1.67GB in this case).
  • The time appears to be in GMT or some other format. Why? This program was recorded at 10:58pm pacific time on 6/14/07 but shows as 05:58am of 6/15/07.
  • Playing time is the duration of the program as expected
  • The Average bit rate is shown which is exciting. This episode of the Daily Show was at 2,415,576. Remember this is an ADS box, so everything it receives is already pre-chewed in digital format.
  • Also shown in the audio format (Dolby Digital) and the Video type (MPEG2).
  • Also included are permission flags and entries that would report problems/errors during the recording.
  • In the cases of programs that were interrupted by a crash/freeze, the indicators show no problems. But in one instance it shows a file size of 0 bytes, playing time of 0 bytes, bit rate of 0, but 5072 bytes of metadata. But I can play the program. Perhaps these are the types of problematic recordings that cause the cascading freezes I was epxeriencing??? (only a hypothesis, but I will try to test it).
  • The highest bit rates I saw so far was 3.7 mbps for a program with blended music and animation and 3.93mbps for a tape-delayed water sports event at Comcast Sports Net. The lowest bit rates I saw so far was 1.4 mpbs for a Sundance movie (No wonder it is included with all digital cable plans ;-)
  • The metadata file size seems to be around 5072 bytes (I saw one program with a few additioanl bytes).


  • The number of reboots is shown. See the Crash Log in the Box #2 post for more details on most of those reboots.

  • The serial number was removed from the picture below. Not sure why, but it seemed like a reasonable thing to do :-)

  • This is nice, it shows the uptime of the device. It would be nice if we could also see all these numbers while the machine was busy running (eg recording on both tuners or during playback).

  • Not sure what these really mean.

  • This is for hard-core geeks. You know who you are :-)

  • Option #21 may be of interest to connectivity fans. It would take too many screenshots to show the options one by one, so here is what I found out: USB, SATA, IR Blaster, Smart Card and Ethernet are not enabled.

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    Advanced Users (updated 7/29/07)

  • Each buffer takes around 4% of available hard disk space (probably a bit more than 4%). Combined the two buffers take about 8-9% of total hard disk space... The measurements are consistent with the Motorola DVRs, given that they have a bigger hard disk.
  • Power User Tip!. If you are running out of space, you can temporarily "disable" one or both buffers by using this trick: Start a manual music/radio station recording. This returns the buffer space to the recording pool. Music stations take the smallest amount of space... This is only a short term trick to buy you enough time to finish watching programs from the hard disk and then delete them.


    DVR space usage measurements of various channels (analog and digital)
  • Each tuner buffer takes about 4-5% of total hard disk space
  • One hour of network TV channels (ABC, CBS, CW, etc) takes about 2-3% per hour
  • One hour of CSTV or NBA TV is 4% of hard disk space (both digital channels)
  • Three hours of ESPN News takes about 4% of hard disk space
  • Two hours of Fox College Sports are 4-5%
  • One hour of Showtime is about 2%
  • The Live Earth concert, which was a combination of CNBC and Bravo recordings averaged about 2% per hour.
  • A 10-hour recording on VH1 Classic showed a 1.6% per hour of VH1 Classic. Enjoy the music!
  • Fox College Sports average 2.33% per hour (I did a 9-hour test)
  • This box is standard definition, so I obviously do not have any numbers for HDTV channels.
  • You can use the diagnostic menu below to get exact bitrates per program and channel. This is a very time-consuming process, but I may try to do that in the future
  • More estimates coming later



    Having fun with the Diagnostic Menus
  • Check the dedicated post on the diagnostic menus with lots of screenshots.


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    Switching from Motorola 341x/641x to Pace Vegas! (update 6/10)

    Update Log

  • [6/10]: Added two more bullets under "Differences between this Pace and the Motorola 341x/641x".


    Differences between this Pace and the Motorola 341x/641x
  • The Pace has a 80gb, the Motorolas are 120gb (3412/6412) and 160gb (3416/6416)
  • The Pace TV Guide goes about 11 days in the future, while the Motorolas are at least two weeks long (I think 15-16 days but I am not 100% sure)
  • The Pace is an SD box, the Motorolas are available in both SD and HD (I am not 100% sure on Moto SD).
  • Pace issue with FF on ADS-"analog" channels (2-99). See Problem #3 in the "Day to day operations" post
  • This Pace has no buttons on the device. None! The Motorolas have a number of button on the front of the device.
  • Pace has a more digital-looking front panel LCD/LED screen, but it cannot display the current channel or current time. The Motorola can.
  • The Pace costs around $1/mo for 12 months on the current promotion. Not sure what the regular price is. The Motorolas cost $12/mo. (on Comcast). Another Comcast promo has this box free for 12 months.
  • When recording on both tuners and watching another pre-recorded program there is noticable slowness. This is a bit different from the Motorola boxes when they experience their remote control erratic responsiveness. Actually the Pace slowness is more organic than the Motorolas. The Motorolas seems to be a bit more erratic.
  • The audio levels on Stereo are lower than the Motorola boxes. Switching to TV Speakers makes it louder for the TV, but not for other sources. The audio level is also much lower from the RF cable output of the same channel, so it's clearly the box.
  • more coming soon


    Similarities between this Pace and the Motorola 341x/641x
  • Same software/user interface
  • Same power cable and remote control (including programmable buttons and macros!)
  • ADS and digital channel programs take the same amount of space (different percentage because of difference of hard disk space)
  • about the same size and shape
  • more coming soon


    Switching...
  • I previously had the Motorola 6412/3412 dual-tuner HD DVR boxes. Since I do not currently have an HDTV, I thought I would give the new Pace boxes a try because they are on a $1 per month special for 12 months. (Yes, I am cheap!)
  • This post only covers differences/comparisons between the two. For general information please check the First Impressions post.
  • I called the Comcast customer service and was told that I was eligible for the promotion/switch. The $1/month offer was only for the Pace SD DVR, not the Motorola HD DVRs, which makes sense since the HD DVR includes the HDTV service as well as the DVR rental/service. Not that I would complain if that was $1 as well :)
  • I went to my local Comcast office and switched the boxes. I was surprised to find that I can use the same power cable and the remote control! as the Motorollas.
  • If you want them to come to your house and switch them (instead of doing a self-install) there is a fee of around $20 or so.
  • Keep your Remotes if you have created any macros! Not only does the commercial skip button work on the Pace (programmed when I had the Motorola 3412), but the macros I created using the CM skip functionality also work (eg 2 minute skip macro)! This was a welcome surprise!.
  • During activation of the new box with the help of a telephonic (is that even a word?) customer service representative (CSR), the Comcast CSR told me to temporarily remove the splitter. This is the first time I was told this. I do not know if this has to happen for this box only or I just happened to get a detail-oriented CSR who goes by the book. The CSR did sound very process-oriented and thorough.
  • By looking at the pictures online I thought this would have been smaller than the Motorola boxes. Actually it is about the same size as the Motorola DVRs

  • It has no buttons on the unit. You have to use the remote control to control it. I thought this could have been an issue, but then again, from what I recall when using the Motorola DVRs, everytime the remote control is not responsive, the device's buttons are not responsive either. So you didn't really get any extra functionality with the Motorolas, but you do have the convinience of on-device buttons.
  • The user interface is also (surpring to me) exactly the same as the one used by the Motorolas`
  • This guy has a different display than the Motorola. Of functional interest, the Pace does not show the channel number or the date. It does show which tuner(s) are recording though.



    Advanced Topics
  • If you are coming to this from a non-ADS Motorola 6412 DVR, and you mostly record analog channels (eg standard cable 0-99), you will actually be able to about the same number of hours. This despite the fact that this guy has a 80gb while the Motorola has 120gb. The reason is that the analog channels take up more space per hour than the digital ones do.


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    First Impressions!



    About the Pace Vegas TDC575D

  • This is the Pace TDC575D, affectionately(?) called "Vegas".
  • It is a dual-tuner standard-definition DVR with an 80gb hard disk
  • The manufacturer's page along with three PDF user guides/manuals at Page Micro. Please note that these PDF user manuals only cover the device/hardware aspects. The DVR user interface and such are determined by your cable provider, so you will need their user manuals to read about those features/functions.
  • This is a digital-tuner only model and is only available in areas with ADS/rebuilt cable systems.
  • There is another model from Pace called "Tahoe" which is a HD DVR. That is a different model from the one I have.
  • It has a cable card slot
  • The one I have is Made in China, November 2006
  • It has a label that says "Warranty void if broken or removed". It seems they really don't want anyone to be opening them up :)
  • It has One Component video out, One S-Video, one yellow RCA, one red/white Audio output, one RF output, one orange digital audio out and a couple more that I don't know if they are active or what there function is.






    Getting it
  • Why did I get it? Because there is a promotion of $1 per month for 12 months. This promotion appears to be independent of other promotions. My previous DVR was $13/mo. Since I do not have an HDTV, I went for it for the savings (yes, I am cheap!) and the chance to play with a new model :-)
  • I previously had a Motorola dual-tuner HD DVR box. More on the differences between the Pace and the Motorola 641x/341x in this post
  • I went to my local Comcast office and switched the boxes.
  • If you want them to come to your house and switch them (instead of doing a self-install) there is a fee of around $20 or so...
  • I do not know what the fees are for new customers or new DVR users. They may be different from existing/switching customers.
  • I do not know if you need a digital cable package in order to get the DVR. Check with your provider to be sure.



    Turning it on
  • I have Comcast digital cable.
  • During activation of the new box with the help of a telephonic (is that even a word?) customer service representative (CSR), the Comcast CSR told me to temporarily remove the splitter. This is the first time I was told this. I do not know if this has to happen for this box only or I just happened to get a detail-oriented CSR who goes by the book. The CSR did sound very process-oriented and thorough... After the first 45 minutes of activation, then I could re-insert the splitter.
  • Just like other DVRs (eg Motorola) they are designed to be kept on all the time





    First Look
  • It does not have any buttons on the front of the unit. You can only control it with the remote control. There is no power off button on the device.
  • Since this is a standard definition box, you cannot watch high definition channels with it even if they are included in your package. Instead you get a blank screen, but you can hear the audio (if that's any consolation).
  • It has the same user interface as the Motorola DVRs (341x/641x) from Comcast.






  • For day to day operations, problems, issues and such, please check the day to day operations post
  • For more technically oriented topics please check the Advanced Users post
  • For those switching from the Motorola 341x/641x to the Pace Vegas, check the differences in this post
  • If you have any questions or answers, please leave them as comments!

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    Box #1: Day to day operations (returned on 5/18/07)

  • Please note all these are based on my experience as an end-user. I am not running repeated tests or using any test equipment!
  • If this is your first visit, please read the First Impressions post first... If you are switching from a Motorola DVR, please check the Swithcing from Motorola 341x/641x post

    Updates!
  • This box was returned on Day #9 because of the daily crashes (see Problem #5)
  • Added Crashes #6 and #7
  • Added Crash #5, Problem #5
  • Added Crash #4, more on Problem #3
  • TV Guide is 11 days long (eg goes 11 days into the future)
  • Added Crash #3
  • Updated Problem #3 with more details as it is now reproduceable.


    Usage and Performance
  • Fast-forward at full speed seems to be more energetic than the Motorolas. Maybe it's because the hard disk is almost empty. However there are issues with most of the ADS channels. See Problem #3 below for details.
  • Has not crashed on its own yet. The Motorolas occasionally had some freezing issues overnight. However it crashed daily during operation. Maybe it didn't like me :-(
  • Similar in usability to the Motorolas, but not exactly the same.
  • The front-panel LCD (or LED) screen is cool, you can tell which tuner(s) is/are recording as REC1 and REC2 light up. It also graphically shows some other operations such as playback (with green arrow), message in inbox (green envelope), and remote signal being receiving. The POWER letters are blue when the device is running, and red when it is rebooting or otherwise unavailable but powered on... However, it does not show the time or the channel number, even though that option is available in the Setup Menu. You can see some of them in the picture below:

  • When everything else is quiet (eg middle of the night) there is a hard-disk-spinning noise at times. It's not loud and not annoying, but you can hear it.
  • For those switching from the Motorolas, the user interface is exactly the same. You may even forget you got a different box.


    Individual Tests
  • On-Demand worked right away the first time I tried it with this box. In the past, I had some glitches with On-Demand when I was switching to a new box.
  • I have recorded programs on DVD-R and DVD-RW(Video mode) discs using a Panasonic DVD recorder connected to the S-Video output of the Pace box without any problems.
  • TV Guide is 11 days long (eg goes 11 days into the future)
  • Firmware version is 9.18


    Problems and Solutions?
  • It's bound to have some problems!
  • Problem #1: After activation, channels 2-99 (standard cable) were missing from the TV Guide and could not be tuned in manually. The channels were there on the RF cable (eg could tune in with a TV or VCR). Solution: I called Comcast and the CSR send a signal to the box and the problem was solved.
  • Problem #2: I noticed some slowness/non-responsiveness of the remote. The CSR told me to take out and re-insert the batteries and make sure they are all the way in... So far it has been responsive after re-inserting the batteries... I will be monitoring this closely and will post updates...
  • Reproducable Problem #3: When using FF/BF on "analog" (2-99) channels (I didn't try them all, but I tried both "A" and "B" analogs), the "tape position" and the "counter" move but the picture remains frozen. The only issue is that the picture is frozen during FF/BF. When I press PLAY again, the picture jumps to the new position and continues playback. This happens on both tuners. It happens on programs in the live buffer and recorded on the hard disk. So far I have not seen this happen in any of the digital channels (100+)... It's obviously an issue when you are trying to locate something specific in a program. For example if you record a 3-hour show to watch an interview with a specific guest or a musical performance or something like that. A combination of the Skip button/macros can help, but given the $1/mo price I can't complain :-) Solution:: I don't think there is one! Also see Crash #2... Update: I found one ADS channel (2-99 that fast-forwards without this problem: Comedy Central.
  • Problem #4: The front display does not show the time or the channel number, even though that option is available in the Setup Menu. Clearly the display does not have the capability to do that, but the Comcast software does not realize it. Solution: I don't think there is one.
  • Problem #5: Crashes/Freezes almost daily during DVR operations. This happens with user-initiated actions. So far this is the only scenario that caused a crash. It has not crashed while being "on its own". Solution: None so far.


    Crash Log
  • Crash #1: On Day 2, I don't remember the details
  • Crash #2: On Day 2, I noticed Problem #3 on a program I was watching. At some point, I pressed the Exit button to exit the watched program and return to the live tuner. The DVR froze before returning to the live tuner, and a blue half-screen window came up telling me to call Comcast with error code "ACC". A reset by the Comcast CSR solved the problem.
  • Crash #3, on Day 4. I was recording a 30min digital cable program via the TV Guide with an additional 1-hour added. At around the 65-minute mark I tried to manually end the recording by pressing the Channel+ button and then selecting "Stop recording" from the menu. At this point the recording stopped by the DVR froze. After waiting for a few minutes to give it a chance to recover (it didn't), I unplugged it. The program with the crash had some strange behavior, the skip forward/backward buttons always took it to the beginning of the program. However I was able to watch it and FF/BF through it. I assume this behavior was because of the crash because I had not seen this type of thing before.
  • Crash #4, on Day 6. I was watching a live tuner, then pressed SWAP to go to the other tuner which was recording an ADS program (channel 2-99). Then I pressed SWAP to return to the other tuner, but the screen frozen before swapping, and an error message window came up with error code ACC... After I unplugged/replugged it, the program did not continue recording.
  • Crash #5, on Day 7. I was casually using the DVR, with the live tuner being on an ADS channel (2-99) when it crashed/froze while in-between operations.
  • Crash #6, on Day 8. Crashed while performing typical DVR operations. This time it happened at tne end of a program I was watching. The program was previously recorded.
  • Crash #7, on Day 9. Having while doing typical DVR operations



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    Welcome to my hands-on first impressions user review of the Pace TDC 575D aka Vegas!

    Welcome to my hands-on first impressions user review of the Pace TDC 575D aka Vegas!

    I have taken advantage of the $1 for 12 months promo offer from Comcast so I have changed from a Motorola 6412/3412 HD DVR to the Pace TDC575D (Vegas) SD DVR. Since there's not a lot of information on this unit, I thought I would share my experience with everyone else.

    This is not intended to be a full technical review, not by any means. This is a user review, a journal if you like, of my experience with this device.

    I will also be comparing the user experience to the Motorola 341x/641x, because I'm sure a number of people may want to take advantage of the $1/month DVR offer.


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