Saturday, September 26, 2009

Two refurbished Magnavox recorders with hard disk ($130 and $160)

If you are into hard-disk-based DVD recorders, but don't want to spend top dollars for import models or designer-brand-names on eBay, there is an alternative!

Right now, J&R World has refurbished Magnavox-brand HDD-based DVD recorders offered for $130 and $160 respectively.

The two models are the 80gb Magnavox H2080MW8, and the 160gb Magnavox H2160MW9. Both models come with free shipping and both are refurbished! I don't recall how these did in the user-reviews, but if you dig into your favorite AV forums, you will probably find more information.

Both models are in-stock and at this price as of this very moment. If you are reading this at a later date, both prices and availability may change, so be sure to check the date this blog-post was written.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Motorola DCT 3416 DVR Updates

The updates will be presented in reverse chronological order to make it easier to read, and broken down by month.

August 2008

  • [8/2]: I haven't been using the DVR as heavily as I used to, which may explain why I only had one freeze/crash since the last update! See crash #12 below.

    April 2008
  • [4/21]: Like clockwork perhaps, on the eve of Earth Day, the playback-control-freeze happened once again! Same scenario as before, during FF/jump-back. Oh Comcast-Motorola, fix it already :) Added as Crash #11 below.

  • [4/2]: There was probably an EBS or weekly test overnight as one of the programs recording was split. But in the morning, the foreground tuner was showing a blank screen, with no video and no audio. Simply changing the channel and returning to it brought back audio and video. No other problems were observed, just that the foreground tuner went blank. There were no recordings planned at that time, so we do not know if that would have any negative effect on them.

    March 2008
  • [3/28]: Spring is in the air, and so are the playback-freezes it seems! We had another one with similar circumstances as before. Added as Crash #10 in the Crash Log below!

  • [3/23]: As they say, crashes come in pairs! Not sure if this is related to the previous crash, as this one, Crash #9, was the typical playback non-responsive freeze. Added at the bottom of this post as Crash #9.

  • [3/19]: DVR Crash! DVR Crash! This is related to an EBS signal disrupting recording. Added as Crash #8 in the Crash Log below.

  • [3/7]: Knock on wood, all is well. Interesting to see how it handles the daylight savings change when we spring forward early on Sunday. Not that I am expecting any problems. No other crashes or any new issues. Obviously it has its occasional slowdowns, but that comes with the territory with these units. After all, how many other devices out there can record two programs and play a third program at the same time? We blog, you answer! (No fabulous prizes however).

    February 2008
  • [2/28]: A quick update before we ...leap forward. Nothing new to report. No new crashes or freezes. Using the USB notebook fan seems to have a calming effect on it, especially when both tuners are recording and you are actively watching a previously recorded program. What do I mean by actively watching? Playback, fast forward, jump forward, jump back, pause, rewind, checking the schedule and planning further recordings, playing with the interface, etc, etc...

  • [2/2]: Another playback crash! Both tuners were busy recording, while we were playing back another previously recorded program and trying to move using the CM skip/jump-back buttons. The "playback freeze" occured. The DVR was sluggish before that happened. Perhaps it needs a healthy reboot every couple of weeks? Added as Crash #7 below.

    January 2008
  • [1/17]: We have excitement to report. Another playback-crash! Details of the crash have been added as Crash #6 in the Crash log at the bottom of this post.

  • [1/11]: We don't have many frequent updates, because unlike the Pace Vegas box (Grrrrrr!), the 3416 Motorola box is pretty much reliable. Sure it has its known issues, but it performs its primary function, which is why we got it in the first place :) Combined with ADS (digital version of the standard cable channels) and the 160gb disk, you can record a whole lot of stuff on it. Providing you don't want to record a whole lot of high definition programming. For HD programming, the storage space on this box is more like an extended VHS tape than a hard disk - in terms of storage space of course, not functionality. Especially if you are recording live events which are not "prechewed", and you have to buffer them in case they last longer. Because the last thing you want is to miss an exciting game that goes into overtime! Those are usually the games you want to be watching, not miss because you only had room for 2 hours of HD programing on your DVR.

    December 2007

  • [12/28]: All is well, no issues, the USB cooler fan continues to help - especially when the device is busy (eg recording two programs and playing back another one).

  • [12/20]: This was going on smoothly with no problems or issues (apart from the known and documented and previously mentioned annoynces) until today. Today we had a function freeze. The DVR kept going in playback, the info bar was "glued" to the screen, and none of the remote or front panel buttons were responsive. The only way to "regain" control was to reboot. Also when this happens, it stops recording programs in the background, so you don't want to leave it "hanging" if you have programs you want to record in the meantime. Grrrrr!!!! This happened while both tuners were recording, and I was watching a previously recorded program and using the 30-second commercial skip function and macros repeatedly. Similar to Crash #4 mentioned below. This is added to the list as Crash #5.

    November 2007

  • [11/29]: One extra benefit with this new Comcast DVR (or perhaps newer versions of the software/firmware they are running) is that when you have two back to back programs recorded from the same tuner, only fractions of a second are lost during the transition. With the previous DVRs I had (3412, Pace Vegas), the time lost during the transition was a couple of seconds or so, instead of fractions of a second. So this is a nice plus! (Note: I noticed this before the USB fan cooler experiment, so it's not because of that!)

  • [11/28]: After about one week using a USB fan on top of the Moto DVR box, I have to say that it has reduced the slowness. While the Moto box still does not have "real time" response, it is improved response-time wise with the USB fan on top of it. I only keep that on during the day, not at night. It's amazing how two tiny little fans how reduce the temperature of a device. When using the fan, the box feels cold to the touch. Without the fan, the box feels warm to hot. Also I would like to point out that I haven't had a crash or a hick-up in about a way. It is probably too early to tell whether this is also because of running the device at a cooler temperature or not. Will report more on this issue in another week or so.

  • [11/19]: This is a disturbing trend. Another crash that had to do with the 30-second jump macros and the end of playback of a previously recorded program. Grrrr! Added as Crash #4 below.

  • [11/18]: New experiment coming up! To see whether the temperature of the DVR has any effect with the sluggishness I will be attaching a USB-powered fan on the DVR and letting it run non-stop with the DVR. I will report back on the findings later on.

  • [11/17]: We had our third DVR freeze/crash, while we were jumping around from program to program, while deleting old stuff at the same time. This one had nothing to do with the CM Skip button. It froze at the start of playback of a previously recorded program. I hope the nasty Pace Vegas bug has not found its way into the Motorolas! Don't screw it up Comcast!!!!!!!!!!!!! Added below as Crash #3.

  • [11/16]: Another one of the typical Moto DVR issues (which are not Motorola's fault though) is that when they have test EBS (emergency broadcast system) or actual EBS signals, the program stops recording, and a second title is created on the hard disk when the recording re-starts - after the EBS signal is over. That may explain why you find a program broken in two in the morning. If the cause was a DVR reboot, you will notice that the program guide is not complete. If the program guide is complete, then it wasn't a reboot that caused the problem.

  • [11/12b]: We had our second crash! This was during playback of a previously recorded program, and while we were using a series of 30 second jump macros. From what I recall, this is what happened with crash #1 as well. Added as Crash #2 in the Crash Log at the bottom of this post.

  • [11/12a]: Nothing new to report, but obviously the famous Moto-remote-slugishness is there, and the more you use it, the more annoying it gets :) But this is just that, an annoyance, albeit a frustrating one at times.

  • [11/7]: Thankfully I did not get a second false "100% full" message. I did get one instance of the audio disappearing from the live tuner. Changing the channel brought the audio. This is one of the rare issues with the Motorola DVRs. One issue that is annoying and unfortunately we have to live with is the responsiveness and granularity when returning from fast forward to playback. Usually the play or the fast forward buttons are just too slow to actually bring the thing back to playback mode and it ends up moving further ahead than the desired position. Usually pressing the 15-second jump back button (Page Down) is a faster way to get out of fast forwarding. This is a GRRRR issue but it doesn't break anything so what can we do? :)

  • [11/5]: My first ever Comcast "100% full" bug! I've had four different Comcast DVRs and this is the first time ever I got the fake "100% full" error. The DVD was only 64% full. The recorder was about to start recording at noon, but a blue window filled up the screen saying that the recorder is 100% full and cannot start recording. The upcoming recording was a manual recording, and the channel the recording was going to record from was the same channel in the live tuner. To recover, I pressed OK to get rid of the silly message, turned the device OFF using the Power button on the remote, then turned it back on, and it automatically picked up the recording and returned to the 64% full capacity. I had seen discussions of the 100% full message before but this is the first time I'm getting it and hopefully the last!

  • [11/3]: We had our first crash! Woohoo! More details on the first crash.

    October 2007

  • [10/23]: All a-okay. For those not familiar the tv schedule goes 2+ weeks into the future and it appears to be fairly reliable. It may be a bit fuzzy if you catch it during one of the updates, but it usually gets sorted out. And a note for Comcast subscribers, there is a promotion running where the Digital Sports Tier is offered at $3 per month, instead of the regular price of $5+ per month.

  • [10/22]: Hunky Dory - except of course for the chronic remote control slowness issue.

  • [10/20]: All well, but I have an issue with the way Emergency Broadcast Signals (EBS) are handled. For example since this is a dual tuner DVR, they could easily continue to record in the background tuner while displaying the EBS on the foreground tuner. After all during an EBS none of the DVR buttons respond, so you have no option but to watch the EBS. Since the background tuner is isolated, why not continue to record there? We have the technology to do this, so why not take advantage of it Comcast/Motorola? Please :-)

  • [10/16]: All well in DCT3416 land, with the exception of the remote slowness, the well known issue. Continues to perform without glitches at around 80%.

  • [10/14]: All goes well, I wanted to test how it behaves with a full disk, so I have been running around 80% for the last few days and I did not observe any issues. Other than the usual remote slowness of course. And despite the 160gb size, it doesn't take much to fill up the each: one hour of pre-chewed HD programming is 5% to 6% of the disk. Live events take longer since they are not prechewed. I haven't made any measurements of those yet, but I'll try with a few baseball games on ESPN-HD and TBS-HD.

  • [10/9]: For those not familiar with the Moto software there is a pitfall you should be aware of. If you are recording a long program, eg a 4-hour awards show, and you break it down in two, by stopping the recording halfway and restarting it, deleting the first one while the second one is still recording will result in the second one to stop recording. Normally you wouldn't do something like this, but there are some special circumstances that could cause it: EBS (emergency broadcast system signal interrupts it) and causes a 2nd title, or you are running out of space on the hard disk (especially if it is an HD recording, so you want to delete the first half). Of course you can still do this, and just plan it during a commercial break or something you are not interested in :)

  • [10/7]: All continues to go well with the lovely 3416. It is so nice not to have to report crashes and freezes on a daily basis! I forgot to mention this before, but the remote control sensor of the 3416/3412/etc is better than the one in the Pace boxes. I can bounce the signal from a wider angle and from further away with the Motos. Hello Moto!

  • [10/5]: No new or unknown problems. It does struggle at times with the remote slowness issue which seems to be a signature "feature" of these boxes. Also be sure to check that the batteries in the remote are in place, that was one of the recommendations by the Comcast CSRs when asked about this. And it may be true because it seems that sometimes the batteries may slide slightly out of position. That is not to say the issue does not exist, but in certain cases this may help.

  • [10/1]: So nice to be able to exit programs and delete programs without having to worry about the DVR crashing. If this sounds like a strange thing, then perhaps you did not have the Pegas Vegas DVR :)

    September 2007

  • [9/30]: Other than the known remote responsiveness issue, no other problems, which is a good thing!

  • [9/24]: Pixelation and fractions of a second lost from the recording of Heroes NBC-HD. This I watched from the hard disk after the recording was completed. I did not try to restart playback or play it later on to see if the problem was with the recording or a DVR hickup. Although it happened about half a dozen times during the program, the loss was so small that it really wasn't a big deal, other than an annoyance. Unless of course you are perfectionist.

  • [9/23]: Audio dropped from live tuner. Restored by changing channel.

  • [9/21]: Audio dropped from live tuner. Restored by changing the channel.

    Crash Log
  • Crash #1 on 11/3/07. Crash details.

  • Crash #2 on 11/12/07: During playback of a previously recorded program, and while using a series of 30 second jump macros. The DVR continued playback but would not respond to any remote or front panel button commands. The only way to regain control was to unplugg and replug it. Similar to Crash #1.

  • Crash "#3 on 11/17/07: At the start of playback of a previously recorded program, while I was in the middle of switching between programs at a fast pace, and deleting some older programs. This had nothing to do with the CM Skip button issue of Crashes #1 and #2. Hopefully this is not a similar bug to what condemned the Pace Vegas to unusable status.

  • Crash #4 on 11/19/07: After I pressed the 30-second jump macros a few times, while the previously recorded program was towards the end of playback, the device had its "freeze' again. Playback continued but none of the buttons on the remote or on the front of the device were responsive. The only way out of it was to reboot. We are starting to see a pattern emerge here!

  • Crash #5 on 12/20/07: Both DVR tuners were recording "ADS" (standard cable) channels, and I was watching a previously recorded digital cable program and frequently using the 30 second commercial skip button and macros to jump through the program. At one point, the info bar remained "glued" to the screen, playback continued on the screen, and none of the remote or front panel buttons were responsive. The DVR was not responsive. The only way to regain control was to unplug it. The two programs that were being recorded in the background stopped recording when the DVR "froze". Even though playback continued on the screen. I did not have the USB fan running at the time, and it was a bit sluggish. This is similar to Crashes #1, #2 and #4 mentioned above. Looks like we have a recurring but infrequent bug! Grrrrrr!

  • Crash #6 on 1/17/08: This is similar to Crashes #1, #2, #4, and #5. One of the tuners was recording, and I was skimming through a 3-hour previously recorded program. The skimming through was done through CM SKIP and fast forwarding. The problem was that none of the remote control or front panel buttons were responding. Playback continued on the DVR but nothing else was responsive. After unplugging/rebooting it, I discovered (as expected) that the recording had stopped as soon as the button freeze issue was observed. So whenever you notice this freeze, and if you have programs recording in the background, it's probably a good idea to reboot right away, even if playback continues.

  • Crash #7 on 2/2/08: Both tuners were busy recording, while we were playing back another previously recorded program and trying to move using the CM skip/jump-back buttons. The "playback freeze" occured. The DVR was sluggish before that happened.

  • Crash #8 on 3/19/08: There was an EBS (emergency broadcast system) signal that interrupted recording on both tuners. The programs being recorded were split in two, as the DVR got interrputed. During playback of the pieces, the DVR froze when I was switching between part #1 and part #2 of the previously recorded and interrupted program. I neded part #1 by deleting the program, and then attempting to start playback of part #2. Not sure exactly at which point the freeze happened. A reboot solved the problem, as it is frequently the cases with these boxes.

  • Crash #9 on 3/23/08: This was a traditional playback freeze crash. Similar to Crashes #1, 2, 4, 5, 6, and 7 mentioned right above. Not sure if this had anything to do with Crash #8 which happened four days before.

  • Crash #10 on 3/28/08: Yet another traditional playback-freeze-crash. See Crash #9 for the list of similarities. Grrr?

  • Crash #11 on 4/21/08: Yet another traditional playback control-freeze holdup. See above for a description. As always, unplugging and replugging solves the problem.

  • Crash #12 on 8/2/08: Just froze during normal operation. Don't remember the details of exactly what I was doing, it just froze and would not recover on its own. The unplug/replug routine fixed it as usual :)

  • Thursday, November 8, 2007

    Meet the Magnavox H2080MW8, a new hard disk DVD recorder making a stealth viral apperance at Walmart

    A new DVD recorder with an 80gb hard disk has quietly shown up on some Walmart stores around the country and costs $200 and it is the Magnavox H2080MW8. Where to get more details? At this very exciting thread at AVSforum discussing the Magnavox H2080MW8. The discussion is currently seven pages long and growing.

    While this obviously has a single tuner, the fact that it has NTSC, ATSC and QAM tuners make it an interesting alternative for people who may not want to pay $10 to $13 per month to rent a DVR. This $200 model is roughly the price equivalent of 15 months of DVR rental fees. Of course you don't get the more "advanced" features of the DVR, and you still need a cable box if you are using digital cable and you would have to program both the Magnavox and the cable box for non-clear digital channels.

    Of course you could always use them together, especially if you use the DVR box to record high definition programming. Since HD programming eats up space like crazy, it wouldn't be a bad idea to use the Magnavox to record all the standard definition programs.

    This is a very intersting option in my opinion because of the $200 starting price. If it starts at $200, it will likely start dropping, just like most electronics do.

    Stay tuned by following the Magnavox H2080MW8 discussion at the AVSforum.

    Saturday, November 3, 2007

    The first crash!

    It took a while since I got this DVR box to get a crash, I almost forgot that these boxes actually crash. (In stark contrast to the Pace Vegas box that crashed every day when in use). This DCT 3416 I box has been running non-stop crash-free since I got it on September 20, 2007, a total of 43 days.

    So what was the crash? The progress bar remained stuck on the screen, the video and picture continued with playback, and neither the buttons on the front of the box nor on the remote were responsive. After letting it be for a few minutes (giving it a chance to recover on its own), I pulled the plug. I had a feeling there might be a crash coming up because there was some performance sluggishness since yesterday, so I guess a healthy crash/reboot was in order to clean the pipes :)

    Wednesday, October 3, 2007

    First recording interrupted by EBS!

    And we had our first recording interrupted by an overnight EBS (emergency broadcast system). The Motorola software does not handle EBS signals very efficiently. They basically stop the recording, show the EBS, and start a 2nd program for the remaining piece.

    Given that these are dual-tuner recorders, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that you can show the Emergency Broadcast Signal on the foreground tuner, and continue recording on the background tuner. Because no one can see the EBS on the background tuner!.

    Reality check, Moto-Comcast, they built computers so we can use them, not to be paperweights. A very simple algorithm can do what I described above. It would take your programmers less than one hour to design, implement and test this.

    Some common sense please Moto and Comcast! Thank you very much :-)