Back in April, I wrote this hyperbolic review of the new Time Warner “Navigator” software that the cable giant is rolling out to all their DVRs. The upgrade had only just happened at the time, and it seemed like a giant step backwards from Passport, the previous software. But a few months have passed now. Maybe I’ve calmed down a bit. Maybe Time Warner has rolled out some updates and fixes for it… Or maybe it still sucks.
Here’s a calmer, more reasoned list of my beefs with Navigator. Time Warner needs to address these issues as quickly as possible… especially since AT&T’s U-Verse just rolled into town:
Boot time sucks: It took the old Passport software around four minutes to boot. Navigator takes just over nine minutes to fully boot. Since I have the same problem on my computer with XP vs. Vista, I can only conclude that Time Warner’s programmers are taking a cue from Microsoft on how to make your software worse, not better. Obviously, rebooting your DVR is not something you do every day… but when Navigator was new and crashed a lot, waiting almost ten minutes instead of four for the TV to come back was (and still is) infuriating.
Search still sucks: As I mentioned in the original review, Navigator took away “keyword search”, so you can no longer search for “Kate Winslet” and find movies or chat show appearances featuring the actress. As much as that sucks, I could deal with that. But something that really does suck is that Navigator, for some unknown reason, allows multiple entries for the same program. For example, if you want to see who’s going to be on David Letterman this week, you could search for “David Letterman”. You might get three hits. If you click on the first result, you’ll get a submenu that lists Monday and Tuesday’s episodes, and you’ll have to navigate to the second entry to see Wednesday’s episode, then navigate to the third entry to see Thursday and Friday’s episodes. Passport would have a single entry for The Late Show With David Letterman, and all episodes would be listed in a submenu off that single category. So Navigator, for no good reason, makes things harder, not easier. And that’s assuming it works: just the other day I searched for Whatever, Martha!. The show never appeared in the results window, even as I typed more and more of the title. By the time I had fully typed out “Whatever”, I just scrolled down to find the show.
Program guide data is incomplete: Here’s a summary of tonight’s episode of Prison Break, copied directly from tvguide.com: As the hunt for Scylla concludes, Sarah takes a hostage, T-Bag and Gretchen have their last stand at GATE, and Michael and Lincoln encounter Gen. Krantz. They’re also betrayed by one of their own. In Passport, the summary would read exactly like that. But in Navigator it would look like this: As the hunt for Scylla concludes, Sarah takes a hos. It’s like that for every program on every channel, and has been since the rollout. Is it too much to ask to have the program guide contain the complete summary?
Some programs are NEW too often: Like most DVRs, you can set Navigator to record an entire series. Example: “record the series Weeds“. You can also set the DVR so that it only records new episodes. The only problem with this is that Navigator often tags every showing of a “new” episode as new. This is a pain on channels like Showtime or HBO that often rerun new episodes on different channels. For example, Weeds usually comes on Monday nights on Showtime, but it’s replayed several times a week on Showtime West, Showtime 2, Showtime Signature, etc. Navigator has a nasty habit of trying to record all these episodes, as they’re also marked as new. Which is annoying enough, except that it also…
Records programs you tell it not to: To compound the above annoyance, Navigator will sometimes record programs, even if you expressly tell it not to. Back in April, when I was first “upgraded” to Navigator, I had a hell of a time with it wanting to record EVERY SINGLE EPISODE of The Tudors. I’d look through the “Scheduled Recordings” menu and delete all the extra recordings of The Tudors that I didn’t want. Most of the time, Navigator would comply. Sometimes, however, it would record it anyway. This is annoying as hell, especially if your DVR is a getting full and you lose a recording you wanted to keep in favor of a rerun of a show you’ve already seen and don’t want.
They took away the counter!: Let’s say that you’re watching a football game on live TV. Around ten minutes into the game, your significant other asks you to run to the store to pick up some milk. You press the PAUSE button on the remote, then drive to the store, where you run into a friend you haven’t seen in a while. You talk with him\her for several minutes, then walk in to the store and get the milk, then drive home. With Passport, as soon as you hit the PLAY button, you’d see a program banner with a progress meter. The most important feature of the progress meter was a clock showing you exactly where the program was at the moment. If it was now 2:00 in the afternoon, and the clock on the progress meter said “1:17”, you knew that you were almost 45 minutes behind real time. Navigator took the clock away, so you now have NO IDEA of how far behind you are. 30 minutes? 45 minutes? An hour? Who can tell? This is especially bad for movies and live sporting events: since the progress meter is a fixed size, the longer the program is, the less accurate the clock-less progress meter appears. Since football season is in full swing, this is currently my number two beef with Navigator.
Rewind\Fast Forward still suck: So then… what’s my number one beef with Navigator? That rewinding and fast forwarding still suck. Like most DVRs, Navigator has multiple fast forwarding and rewind speeds, so you can rewind or fast forward at 1x, 2x or 3x speed. Like most DVRs, Navigator “weighs” these speeds, so that the faster you rewind, the more the DVR will “jump back” when you press PLAY again. With Passport, this was flawless. You could fast forward at 3x speed, and as soon as you saw your that your show was back from commercial, you’d press PLAY and you’d be exactly where the show resumes. Do the same thing with Navigator: fast forwarding (or rewinding) at 3x will cause the DVR to “jump back” anywhere from 30-45 seconds, so as soon as you see that your show’s back from commercial, pressing PLAY will make it jump back… to the middle of the next-to-last commercial before your show starts back. So you have to press FF again to skip through the final commercial. Only if you press PLAY as soon as you see the show, it’ll skip back 10 seconds again, so you have to watch the last 10 seconds of the last commercial before your show starts again. I quickly became an expert at fast forwarding and rewinding with Passport, so much so that it was a matter of pride that I was almost always able to resume play at the black screen just before the show came back on. After seven months with Navigator, I still can’t do the same.
15 Minute Jump is clunky: With Passport, you could skip ahead (or back) 15 minutes by pressing the FF or REW buttons and then pressing the LEFT or RIGHT arrow key. To skip 15 minutes again, you simply pressed the LEFT or RIGHT key again. By having a dedicated key, you could go through a long recording in just seconds. Navigator disabled the arrow key functionality, so that if you want to skip 15 minutes ahead now you press and hold down the FF or REW button for 5 seconds. To skip ahead another 15 minutes, you press and hold down the same key again. It’s a minor annoyance, but it now takes 30 seconds to do with Navigator what used to take 5 seconds with Passport.
No program length in the summary: When you press the LIST button to bring up a list of your recorded programs, there’s no indication in the summary of how long the program in question is. Under Passport, you clicked LIST and you’d see the list of programs on the left, and on the right there would be a summary of the selected show, along with what channel is was recorded from, when it was recorded (“Monday, 8:00 pm – 9:00 pm”) and a summary of the episode (“As the hunt for Scylla concludes, Sarah takes a hostage” ). With Navigator, you have to press the INFO button to see how long the recorded show is. It’s a small annoyance, but it just shows how awful the UI on this thing really is.
Default Option is “Cancel”: Speaking of “awful UI”, if you want to watch a program that’s still recording, you can press LIST and use the arrow buttons to highlight the program you want to watch. You can simply press the PLAY button, but since this is on the bottom of the remote (and the buttons you used to get where you are are at the top of the remote), this requires some acrobatics with your hand. So since my fingers are already there anyway, I usually just press the SEL button. This brings up another menu. And what’s the default option on that menu? No, not “Play” as you might guess. It’s “Cancel Recording”, which is the exact opposite of what 95% of users would want to do 95% of the time. It’s a niggling thing, and I’m hardly a “UI expert”, but you should never, ever, ever have a default option that’s the opposite of what a user will want to do 95% of the time.
VIDEO SOURCE no longer works: In Passport, you could change the aspect ratio – Zoom, Stretch, Normal – by pressing either the # or VIDEO SOURCE buttons. Navigator disabled the “Video Source” button, leaving the counter-intuitive # button as the only way to change the aspect ratio. Way to go, TWC programmers!
The buffer is now “show based” instead of “time based”: Like Passport, Navigator can buffer up to an hour of live TV, so you can pause a live program for up to an hour while you take an important phone call, do a household chore, run to the store… what have you. Passport didn’t care which programs had passed during that hour – it simply buffered the channel you were watching for an hour. Navigator uses a “program based” buffer, which requires you to press the REW button multiple times. For example, let’s say you’re watching Adult Swim on Cartoon Network, where there are often shows that only run 10-15 minutes. So when you come back to the TV, a couple of programs might have completed by then. You press PLAY to return to your program. When that program is done, Navigator freaks out and goes back to live TV, so you now have to rewind to see the programs you’ve missed. Only the buffer only goes back to the current program, and automatically stops when you get to the start of that program. So you have to press REW again to go back to the next program… and Navigator stops at the beginning of that program, so you have to press REW again to go back to the beginning of that program. All of this is assuming that the damn feature even works in the first place – I’ve lost endings of football games than ran over because Navigator simply refused to go past the beginning of 60 Minutes (which was, in fact, the football game).
FAV buttons no longer work in the program guide: With both Passport and Navigator, you can mark certain channels as “Favorites”. In both Passport and Navigator, you can cycle through your favorite channels by pressing the FAV button on the remote. However, under Passport, you could also cycle through your favorites in the program guide by simply pressing the FAV button on the remote. In Navigator, pressing the FAV button in the program guide just changes the channel to your nearest “favorite channel” instead of switching the guide to your next favorite channel. The only way to easily see what’s on your favorite channels in Navigator is to enable an option that lists your favorites at the beginning of the program guide. Which sounds cool, but enabling the option actually moves those channels in your program guide instead of copying them. Let me give you an example. Lisa really likes the Music Choice channels, and both of us like the “Retro Active” (New Wave) channel which is channel 515. If you add this to your favorites and then enable the “Show favorites first” option, you can no longer press the CHANNEL UP button to go from the “Alternative” channel (514) to the Retro Active channel (515). Navigator has moved it to the start of the guide, and pressing CHANNEL UP will skip directly to the “Electronica” channel (516). To switch from “Alternative” to “Retro Active”, you would have to enter the channel number directly *or* hold down the PAGE UP button until you want from channel 514 to (what would normally be) channel 2. Which is stupid!
PIP cannot be resized: Since the SA8300HD has two tuners, it also has a built in “picture in picture” (PIP) feature, which allows you to watch one program while keeping tabs on another channel. PIP isn’t a new technology, and a lot of people don’t use it (aside from football fans, which might switch back and forth between games during commercials). With Passport, pressing the PIP button enabled the PIP feature. Pressing PIP again would shrink the PIP window, which was good if all you wanted to do was flip between football games during commercials. Unfortunately, Navigator killed the “shrink PIP window” function, so now you either have a large PIP window… or not.
Closed Captioning doesn’t always work: I use closed captioning somewhat frequently. Sometimes the audio mix of a show will be wonky, and people’s voices are hard to hear. Or maybe Lisa’s on the phone. Or maybe the people on TV have thick Scottish accents. Whatever. Sometimes the closed captions will inexplicably stop working in Navigator. The only way to fix it is to reboot… which takes ten minutes!
VOD menus always return to default: If you browse a Video On Demand channel that has multiple categories then view a particular item, the Navigator software always returns to the base channel menu. For example, let’s say that you tune to a “Music Videos On Demand” channel. This channel has a base menu of “Music Videos”, “Live Performances” and “Interviews”. You click on “Music Videos”, where you are presented with “Pop”, “Rock”, and “R&B” categories. You click on the “Pop” category, then pick a video to watch. When you press the STOP button, Navigator dumps you back out to the main menu, so you have to click “Music Videos” and then “Pop” to get back to where you were. Passport would dump you back to the “Pop” category, so that you could immediately watch another video.
Does anyone out there have any complaints that I missed? Or other reasons for hating Navigator? If so, let me know via the Comments section!