Comcast vs. DirecTV

cable

After 11 years of DirecTV and 10 years of Comcast I’ve finally decided to cut DirecTV loose. Yes, I actually have had both services for the last 10 years. Why? Well it wasn’t the original plan, it just happened that way. Before I moved into the house I’m in now back in 1999, I had DirecTV in my old house for my TV service and life was good. Never had a problem, not a single outage or “snowy” day as the Comcast commercials would have you believe. When I moved here, of course I wanted high speed internet and the best and only option back then was “Media One.” Media One was the local cable company in the area. I got my cable modem from them and still had DirecTV for TV. As the years went by, Media One was eventually acquired by Comcast. Although I had a couple of TV’s hooked up to the Comcast line for basic cable, I wasn’t really interested in Comcast for TV because I was so happy with my Series one DirecTV TiVo units. I absolutely LOVE the TiVo UI (user interface). Although you can get DVR service from any company today, TiVo really gets it when it comes to the user experience. If you’ve never used one, you wouldn’t understand.

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The move to HDTV

When HDTV came along, I had to make a decision. It was either go with DirecTV for HD and that would require a new dish and new DVRs that were NOT TiVo based or go with Comcast and just go with their DVRs. So I added a Comcast box to my first HDTV just to get the HDTV and have a DVR to record the shows in HD. The Comcast (Motorola) box sucked on a level you can’t imagine! These boxes, or more to the point their firmware were garbage. Constant crashes, reboots, and other problems. I swapped out my Comcast DVR more times than I care to remember, while the DirecTV TiVo hummed along right next to it with no problems.

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Then there was TiVo HD – the deciding factor!

tivohd

Once TiVo shipped the TiVo HD, it was a done deal for me! That was it. I would finally have everything I wanted. I would have HD and I would return back to the TiVo interface that I loved. I would also get the things I had been missing by not having a Series 2 box like transferring recording to my computer and to other TiVos in the house. So one by one I swapped out Comcast DVRs for TiVo HDs. They were all swapped out except for the one in my office (connected to my SlingBox) and since it was working fine and I don’t watch a lot of TV there, I figured I’d leave it.

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What sets TiVo apart from the Comcast DVRs and most other generic DVRs?

Even though Comcast has seemed to work out their DVR stability problems (no crashes or freezes in the last year), the TiVo feature set is light years ahead of Comcast (Motorola) DVRs. Every time a Comcast tech comes out, they always ask me why I prefer TiVo over their boxes? Here’s my list:

  • Ability to transfer shows to my computerTiVo-2-Go allows you to transfer shows to your computer to either watch or burn to a DVD or transfer to your iPod/iPhone.

  • The ability to transfer shows from one TiVo to another – If you record a show on one TiVo DVR, you can easily transfer to watch on another TiVo on your network. TiVo HD can be easily added to your home network via built-in Ethernet or an optional TiVo USB Wi-Fi Connector (when will Sony Blu-ray players catch on to this kind of adapter?)

  • Remote Scheduling – I can schedule shows to record on any of my TiVo HD DVRs from any web browser or my iPhone (check out the i.TV iPhone app and the DVR Remote iPhone app). You can actually schedule recordings from any cell phone vial the TiVo Mobile Site.

  • You can set up a Media Server – Although I don’t use this feature (I use Apple TV for this instead), you can transfer/stream photos, music and movies from your computer to your TiVo HD to watch on the big screen.
  • No lockups or freezes – I have had maybe one or two lockups on TiVo in like 10 years. They are very very very stable.
  • New services added all the time and automatically “the gift that keeps on giving” - Since I’ve had TiVo HD, they’ve added a slew of services to make TiVo even better. You can subscribe to Podcasts, watch YouTube videos, buy/rent movies or TV shows from Amazon, and stream movies from Netflix. You can also get Yahoo weather and traffic reports. Yes, you can even order pizza from Dominos (please, no cracks about Dominos :) ) directly from from your TiVo HD.

After I run through this quick list, the tech usually responds with “wow!” It was also funny that one of the first techs to ask me “why?” was coming out to pull one of their DVRs and when I turned on the TV, the Comcast DVR was locked up! Sweet!

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Why drop DirecTV and why now?

dtv

I was down to 3 DirecTV boxes and one of those was in a guest room. I looked at my latest bill ($66) and asked, “why do I still need/have DirecTV?” I don’t really have a good reason other than it wasn’t broken, so I wasn’t fixing it. However, that was $66/month on top of the bill I was already paying for Comcast. Doing the math there would be an initial outlay for two more TiVo HDs and these babies aren’t cheap! I figured I could stick a standard Comcast box in the guest room since that TV is used so rarely. In the long run it would eventually pay for itself in the money I’d be saving by not having a DirecTV bill anymore. So I pulled the trigger. I was even able to get one of the TiVo HD’s using AMEX Reward points, which definitely softened the blow. So I only had to pay cash for one of them.

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The Comcast Installation – It’s a crap shoot

Comcast in my area uses Contractors and Employees to go out and do installations. Mostly it’s contractors. These are hired guns that drive around in Comcast trucks and are paid on the number of jobs they do. So when you have someone that’s paid on the number of jobs they complete in a day, the only thing they’re concerned about is getting to the next job. TiVo HD uses CableCARDs and here in my area the only way to get a CableCARD from Comcast is to have the installer bring it out and plug it in for you. While you can stop in to the office and pick up DVRs and Cable Modems all day long, they are weird when it comes to CableCARDs. Since most customers just use the Comcast DVRs, the average Comcast installer can go for months if not years without ever touching a CableCARD. Once the card is inserted into the TiVo, a screen comes up that lists a series of numbers like the Card ID, Host ID, Serial# etc. The installer calls into the main office to read these numbers back to the person who adds them to your account. If all goes well your channels come in and you’re done! If not, it’s either the person at the office not keying in the information correctly or possibly a bad card. There is absolutely no technical reason why YOU couldn’t pick up a card from the local office and just read these numbers off yourself, however Comcast insists upon sending a tech.

The experience level of the tech and the person in the office can range anywhere from “I’ve never done one of these before” to “I do these all the time”. The problem is, you never know what you’re going to get until they show up. My 1st appointment was last Monday. The tech was supposed to bring two cards and one DVR. After getting the cabling situated (switching the DirecTV cabling off their splitter and onto a bigger Comcast splitter, he hooked up the Comcast DVR. Then he plugged in the first CableCARD in the first TiVo and when he went to the next room to insert the second CableCARD he realized that he had the wrong one. It was an older single stream card. Even if we were going to use the single stream card we’d need two of them. Of course these guys rarely carry (or are allowed to carry) extra cards. So this meant scheduling another visit to complete the install. Three days later the second installer showed up and he seemed a little more experienced. He got the card installed and working. He also fixed a screw up from the previous guy where I lost HBO on one of the existing TiVos due to a mishap on the programming on my account.

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Cutting DirecTV loose

You might remember my one and only problem with DirecTV in 10 years. Basically DirecTV called me a liar. Although the matter was ultimately resolved (only because of this high profile blog) I never forgot that incident. Now that I was completely up and running with Comcast and my TiVo HD’s, it was time to call DirecTV and cancel my service. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to cancel TV, phone or some other service that you’ve had for a while, but they go out of their way during that call to not lose you as a customer. They want to know why you’re leaving and what they can do to make you stay? I explained that I no longer needed “two” services and that I wanted TiVo HD. His immediate response was, “we have a DVR service ‘like TiVo’ ” and I quickly responded with, “I don’t want ‘like TiVo’ service”.  It honestly took about 20-30 minutes of talking and being put on hold repeatedly before I was finally done canceling my account.

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The Bottom Line

Neither Comcast, DirecTV, AT&T U-Verse or any of the other services are perfect. My decision to go with Comcast over DirecTV was mainly driven by my desire to have TiVo HD. If you don’t care about TiVo, then you could pick the one that suits your needs best. In the 10 years I’ve had both services, I’ve had little to no problems with the services themselves. It usually comes down to feature set, prices and customer service. In this battle, Comcast won on feature set simply by being a “cable” company vs. a satellite company (fastest internet and TiVo HD compatibility). DirecTV lost my loyalty when they put their “systems” above my integrity as a long time customer (12/98).


  • Steve

    Do you know why the Tivo HD doesn’t support satellite, and if they have any plans to do so?

    The only feature I wish I had with my DirecTV HD DVR is the ability to transfer programs to my PC; I can watch shows recorded from the DVR on the PC, but not transfer them.

  • http://terrywhite.com terrywhite

    Steve, although I’ve heard grumblings of DirecTV and TiVo getting back together this year:
    http://news.cnet.com/8301-17938_105-10031392-1.html
    I haven’t heard anything lately.

  • Gary

    What about Dish TV? I have used them for many years now and also can program from my iPhone, nice feature.

    Only complaint I have had is loosing pictures in a thunderstorm….

  • http://terrywhite.com terrywhite

    Gary, I never tried Dish TV as I didn’t see anything that they were doing any better than DirecTV or Comcast. However, I’m glad you’re happy with the service.

  • Alex

    Maybe I’m just cutting off my nose to spite my face, but the thing about Tivo is that it’s just one of these companies whose behaviour got up my nose. They always seemed to be suing other companies (like Dish), apparently on the basis that they’d managed to patent a time shift recording device. How did they manage to swing that one? – isn’t it nothing more than a digital vcr?

    I was once given one as a gift and it went straight back to Target. With everything that’s out there I never feel the need to record stuff, but if I needed to, there are plenty of alternatives. So sorry Tivo, in my book you’re right up there along with AOL and Capital One, but you’re surviving so I’m sure you don’t care.

  • Rick

    Terry,

    You have a screenshot of Tivo Mobile on your iphone. Checked itunes apps, and no such item apparently is offered. Do you have a “legacy” app, or is there some other way to get it? I did a search on Tivo Mobile and saw some references that suggested it was pulled.

    Thanks!

    • http://terrywhite.com terrywhite

      Rick, the TiVo Mobile screen shot is NOT a native iPhone app, it’s Safari on the iPhone going directly to http://m.tivo.com
      Sorry for the confusion.
      T

  • PestoRoy

    Like you I love TiVo, I’m still on series 2 model. Your article is timely, I’ve been thinking of dumping Comcast for DirecTV to save money. However I am also using Comcast for internet and have had very little trouble, and not convinced other high speed options would work as well. Decision, decisions.

  • http://www.hollipopphotography.com Holly

    Glad to hear you got it all sorted out. We also were directv customers since 98 thanks to Tivo, and when the Tivo HD came out, we got two of them and switched to cablecards with Verizon Fios. I’ve been through three separate cablecard installs, and each one was a drama in one way or another, but once it’s up and running Tivo is just the best!

    And my latest discovery is the instant watch from Netflix — I have a cheap netflix subscription that allows us to watch tons of movies for free through our Tivo! And my kids have a blast surfing YouTube on the Tivo as well. I fully understand your reasoning, I just wish I had had your list of reasons why Tivo is better than DVR’s when I was trying to explain it to our installers.

  • MR Johnson

    No comment on the number of HDTV stations on Comcast. Not manyof the main channells

    • http://terrywhite.com terrywhite

      MR Johnson, I seem to have all the HD channels available that I watch with the exception of Comedy Central (which is listed as coming soon). I don’t seem to be missing any of the ones that I watch.

  • arrakian

    The only things I don’t like about TiVo is not being able to jump through programs/commercials (you have to fast -forward), and that “bleep” sound when you push the buttons, otherwise, it’s a great system. If they could fix the not jumping through commercials thing, and be able to accept a DishNetwork satellite card, I’d get one.

  • http://terrywhite.com terrywhite

    Arrakian,
    You can enable a 30 second skip feature on your remote:
    Every TiVo can do a 30 second skip – you just have to enable it. Here’s how you do it:

    1 Start playing any recording.
    2 During playback press: Select – Play – Select – 3 – 0 – Select
    3 You should hear three bongs (if you don’t have the TiVo sounds disabled), and you’re done.
    Your “skip to beginning/end” button (the arrow pointing to a line) is now a 30 second skip button. During fast-forwarding or rewinding, the button will still “skip to tick.”

    Also you can turn OFF or lower the volume of the “beeps” from the preferences.

  • http://www.indiscipline.cc Doug E.

    Terry –

    Thank you so much for sharing your gadget wisdom and experience here! I was eager all weekend to read the review. I’ve got Comcast as well and as you, I had hit/miss experiences with their techs / installers. When I got my HSI way back, the contractor drilled a hole right through the interior / exterior wall of the house to run a cable! Unbelievable! Anyway, their HSI has been reliable and fast (which is nice as most service calls are a real test of patience).

    Just a couple of weeks back I upgraded my service to HD with a few movie packages. The experience was ridiculous with the tech running from pole to basement to box and back as he could not get the signal (making a lovely muddy mess on the floors too, oblivious – or intentional?). …I finally suggested to him that it was either a bad cable connector or the box. C’mon, the signal was intermittent and full of static every time he touched the back of the unit. I think he was desperate and actually tried my suggestion, swapping the box with another, boom – clarity!

    Once I started tinkering with the box, UI and even the remote – well, I hated it. So I was really pleased to read of the Tivo units you mentioned and until today, didn’t know a cable card even existed. I have no problem plopping down the cash for a Tivo just to be rid of the Comcast box.

    One question for you; Are you aware of any units that might incorporate a DVD player into the unit? I’ve seen HD tuners / combo DVD players by LG (albeit with many poor reviews), but don’t know beyond that. Is there an option you’re aware of to eliminate an extra box & remote?

    Thanks for the review!

    Doug

    ps. Just finished you InDesign CS3 classes at Kelby Training – and while I’m using CS4, they were Hugely Helpful! Going after the CS4 Ps/Id integration next.

    • maharat

      Running a cable through an outside wall is typical. If you wanted cables fished through the interior walls you should have called an electrician to do the work prior to calling your Satellite or Cable company for hook-up. Otherwise your going to get a ‘standard install’ not a ‘custom install’.

  • Chuck

    Hi Terry, I am not familiar with TiVo but checked out the link to Amazon to see how much for the box. Do I also need to subscribe to TiVo or can I just swap out my Comcast DVR?
    What does this do to my ability to watch Comcast’s On Demand stuff?
    Thanks for all of your help.
    Chuck

    • http://terrywhite.com terrywhite

      Chuck,
      yes you do need to subscribe to TiVo service OR pay the one-time lifetime price of $299. You loose Comcast OnDemand, but gain Amazon On Demand.

  • dave

    I love my Tivo boxes over the Motorola DVRs. I also like being able to program them using the iPhone app i.TV.

  • dave

    I love my Tivo boxes over the Motorola DVRs. I also like being able to program them using the iPhone app i.TV.

    Oh, I forgot to add that my local cable company is pretty astute in getting the cablecards to work on their first visit. The second one I added took all of about 15 minutes.

  • Kenneth

    I’ve had DirecTV for about 4 years now. I got it so that I could watch my Bears here in St. Louis. I wish the NFL would get rid of that exclusive agreement, it just bugs me that I can ONLY get it with DirecTV.

    And even that is barely enough to keep me. A new HD DirecTivo would be a good thing, though I haven’t heard anything further on that. It was supposed to be coming this fall, but I’m not keeping my hopes up.

    Honestly, though, I’m considering getting rid of all cable altogether. Just get a few computers (Mac Minis?) to rig to the TVs and do it all through Netflix/Internet. What would I be missing, really? I can get ESPN, NBA, and MLB online streaming for less than about a month of DirecTV. I can watch most things on Hulu, and everything else I can wait for it to come out on DVD. Mostly, I think I’d not be able to get lost in 5 straight hours of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit…but I think that would be a good thing.

    If I could figure out how to get Fiber speed from AT&T without paying for the whole U-Verse package, I would do it. But AT&T seems adamant that it all has to be together.

  • Craig

    Hi Terry,

    I have fios for telephone and high speed internet but direct tv for television. One thing keeps me on direct tv. That is NFL direct ticket. When they lose direct ticket or raise the price of direct ticket so high that it is prohibitive they will totally lose me as a customer. My whole HDTV experience is off the air. Have four tvs all hd. Direct tv equipment has never been upgraded. Never watch recorded programs.

  • http://www.mscgallery.com Marty Cohen

    Terry….

    I had exactly the same experience with Comcast and getting the CableCARDS set up and installed. The guy from Comcast (in California) had never installed one before and spent over an hour on the phone getting help. I would have much preferred installing them myself as I knew more about my TIVO box than he did.

    But, mostly, I want to thank you for bringing the DVR Remote App to my attention. It is great and I love how it works to control the TIVO HD over my home network.

    Marty

  • Rhonda

    Hi!
    Just one comment–Directv does have a free application for the iphone which allows you to program shows from your phone.

  • http://www.studiopphotos.com Tony Pettis

    Terry…

    I love TiVo as well, and it has really caused me a dilemma since I love DirectTV as well. I have one of the old Hughes DirectTV TiVO boxes that I refuse to get rid of because it does its job so well. The interface is just short of perfect and it works all the time. I think it has crashed maybe once in four years of use. I will record just 80 hours of standard def, but I can live with that limitation to keep TiVo. My DirectTV DVR on the other hand … Well, let’s just say that the interface is clunky at best. I much, much prefer my TiVo box.

    But I love DirectTV. Channel lineups, price point, everything is pretty much what I want. And Comcast where I live is beyond terrible from a customer service standpoint. Everyone I know who has Comcast also has at least one horror story about dealing with their customer service or their techs. I’m hopeful that the story you linked to above will come to pass, because I’d re-up for a new DirectTV TiVo box in a heartbeat.

    I just hope that because of Comcast’s less-than-stellar customer service rep that you don’t regret putting all your eggs in their basket.

  • arrakian

    Terry,
    Thanks for the heads-up on the features. Now I know where to go if I decide to cut back on the satellite budget. A DishNet card slot would be great though.

  • Jon.Hersh

    Terry,

    Have you ever looked at (considered) the Moxi box? .
    It has a VERY sweet high definition interface.

    • http://terrywhite.com terrywhite

      Jon.Hersh,
      I haven’t looked at it yet, but I plan to.

  • Deb

    I currently have DirecTV(their best package-total choice premier-including HBO,etc.) plus HD DVR and their protection plan all of which costs me about $130-a-month. I have Comcast for high-speed internet. I’ve been considering switching to Comcast but if I did,I’d have to stick with their DVR as I,unfortunately,can’t afford to spend $299(or $599 for a Tivo XL DVR) right now!!! What can you say either for or against switching? Also,is what their rep(during an online chat) told me about me being able to add an external hard drive to expand the DVR’s storage,true? I just wish DirecTV would add that feature and then I would be satisfied(mostly) to stay with them. Would it be worth it to call DirecTV and tell them I’m thinking of switching or won’t they care? What do you think Comcast will say if I tell them I’m thinking of adding their TV service in addition to their internet service? I have heard conflicting info about pricing after any promotional period plus all taxes(which we can’t do anything about) and any fees they might tack on. My head is starting to spin after trying to figure this out on my own!! In closing,I wish I could afford Tivo but I can’t so PLEASE help me figure out whether I should switch to Comcast or not!! THANKS in advance for any help!!! :) :)

    • http://terrywhite.com Terry White

      Deb,
      I would say you may be better off sticking with DirecTV if you’re NOT going to go with a TiVo HD. The Comcast DVRs are functional at best. No bells and whistles and while you may be able to add external storage to their box, it’s not officially supported and could be killed by a firmware update at any time. Other than my one bad customer experience day with DirecTV, I’ve had really good service from them. Rumor has it that they will be getting TiVo service later this year. So you might want to sit tight for now.

  • Clarold Rogers

    I have Direct in my FLA home, recently had comcast in my GA home, had both in my TX home, had Comcast for years when living in CT, had comcast when they bought out Adelphia in FL on My Sport Fishing boat, had Time Warrner for a while elsewhere etc. etc….

    I’ve had many (except Dish) and recently switched to AT&T Uverse. Actually switched to Uverse in TX as well but could not get it in GA but just last week got it installed.

    Wow what a great service, now, I have no TiVo experience so can’t compare with the Uverse DVR function, but what a great service the Uverse is if you can get it!

    I am not as tech savvy as Terry so don’t do the downloads to computer or my iPhone but the TV is really good and I did not have to buy a bunch of TiVo boxes. Could be a good alternative service if you are not on the cutting tech edge like me… perhaps some of the features of TiVo are there but I just don’t know how to access them.

    Like Terry I’ve had very bad luck with Direct and also with Comcast tech folks and customer service! I had to write Comcasts CEO to get two problems solved. and Direct is just generally slow and not very customer helpful in my experience.

    I’d be curious if you have any experience with Uverse?

    Best,

    Roge

  • Andrew

    Good article, Terry.

    I’m searching around for Comcast vs. DirecTV comparisons…

    We’re on our fourth (free) DirecTV box; it’s our 3rd high-def.

    Each time it keeps glitching somehow – losing the ability to sync sound and video, blackouts, artifacting, etc.

    Fact is, they’ve been good to us and kept replacing the box for no charge after a little bickering on our end.

    Unfortunately, once again, the digital artifacting is ruining most recorded shows, and all shows recorded during rainy/storming weather.

    I don’t think we’ll give them another chance this time – we already use Comcast high speed internet and phone, and have pretty good success with both.

    thanks again,
    Andrew

  • Paul Corsa

    Ok, I just got rid of Dish because I was tired of paying for 250 chanels to get the 15 we want to watch.I hesitate to switch to cable. What would be a recommended set up using a mini mac(or two) to provide HDTV for a 52″ Sharp LCD and a 32″ CRT(HD ready) in the bedroom? I have access to an outside antenna and DSL. I’d buy a TIVO HD if necessary. Any ideas/suggestions on how to set up a system. I’d love to get the basic 4 networks, PBS(via antenna), and covet “Lifetime, TLC, SPEED” in HD if possible.Thanks for any ideas/suggestions. Paul in MI.

  • Chuck

    Last week I decided to cut DirecTV after 10 years for the lower price of Comcast. The very afternoon it was installed, I canceled because of the (’90’s tech DVR” quote from Comcast salesperson) DVR. DirecTV DVR was far superior.
    Anyway, I wanted to go back to DirecTV so I thought I’d just reconnect the dish cables and the DVR unit. The DirecTV cable ends had been CUT OFF by the Comcast installer.
    I called Comcast and the women denied that could happen and has never heard of it happening.
    Have you heard of this?
    What might I do now?
    Thanks

    • http://terrywhite.com Terry White

      Chuck, I’ve never heard of this happening but it doesn’t surprise me. The cable ends are standard, so any cable installer should be able to put new ends on or if you buy the necessary hardware you can do it yourself.

    • maharat

      I have worked for both Dish Network and Comcast as a Tech. Cutting off cable ends in nothing to get excited over. Both Satellite and Cable companies do this. However I do not recommend going to Radio Shack and buying stuff to put your own RF connectors on. If improperly done you can cause all types of issues. Don’t know how many times I have had to redo every connection in a house due to ‘do it yourself’ electricians. On a Cable plant that bad fitting you put on can take your entire neighborhood out due to off-air frequencies getting on the cable from your bad connection. Just let the Satellite or Cable guys put new ends on for our sake. Thanks. :)

    • chris

      This happened to me today! I watched the guy cut off my DirecTV cable! (that was protruding from the wall above my cable input). Who does that? I feel like I should have stabbed the guys tires on his van.

  • maharat

    The Comcast Installation – It’s a crap shoot:

    FYI Dish companies use more contractor work than Comcast does. If you pay attention you will also notice that most Dish systems are not grounded per NEC code. If your Dish is grounded properly (i.e. to power ground) you most likely had a Dish employee do the install. If it’s not grounded it was most likely installed by a contractor and you should call the company to have it grounded or risk loosing your reciever, TV and all to a voltage spike.
    The same guys that install dish also have installed cable at one time or another and vice versa. Installers are no better with one company than another. It’s a crap shoot on who your installer is. Not with what company it is.