Why do DVRs suck: reliability or user experience?

A Microsoft friend of mine was quoted in a CNET article this morning (Why my cable DVR stinks). Arvind (whose last name was misspelled in the article) said (and this is something I’ve heard from him before) that the rich-client, local processing model that Windows Media Center uses is a much better way to provide DVR features than a networked DVR model such as the one Cablevision is trying. Aside from being consistent with Microsoft’s general vision of keeping the end nodes smart, I think Arvind has a point about the need for a “much richer user experience.” Certainly a graphical UI is easier to sort through when deciding what to watch than a text listing, even a well designed one—especially in a 30 foot UI.

I think the bigger issue is the reliability one, and here Arvind may have overstated his point, which appears to be that Vista is a step on the way to reliability nirvana. I don’t care how reliable media center PCs are running Vista. They just have to be more reliable than the equivalent set-top hardware, including Tivos and Comcast’s proprietary DVR. (We had two total Comcast DVR meltdowns before we gave up and went Tivo.)

The problem with the cable guys is that they refuse to acknowledge the need for moving the content off the box. Hey guys—RIAA vs. Diamond Multimedia showed that space-shifting content was legal seven years ago. Why does Comcast still make it impossible to get my content off their DVR? At least my new Tivo lets me burn shows to DVD, though I would prefer it if I could back up the hard drive directly over the network.