Tuesday, August 30, 2005

ON DEMANDing something better

"An Exploration of Inherent Design and User Interface Flaws Within a Downloadable Home Cinema Paradigm"

or "Why ON DEMAND Can Suck It"

a rant by Jesse Harlin

Last night, Amanda and I decided to watch a movie on ON DEMAND, Comcast's Digital Cable answer to Net Flicks. I mumbled a bit about it before. Anyway, last night, Manda and I decided to watch "Ray," the Ray Charles biopic. It was okay. Not the greatest flick I've ever seen, not the worst (Well acted+odd direction/weak ending=just okay). Now, for those who haven't seen it yet, this is a long film. The short version is 2 1/2 hours long. The long version is 3 hours. I'm not sure which version we saw. Regardless, it's long.

Amanda and I were WELL into the flick (2+ hours) when I decided I wanted a drink. Now, if you watch Comcast's commercials for ON DEMAND, getting a drink in the middle of a movie is one of their much-touted benefits. "Sweet!" thought I. "I'm like Commercial Guy in the commercial who happily got himself a drink while watching his movie. The future is now!" We paused the movie, wandered into the kitchen, got some sodas, and - as we were crumpling up the recycling - the TV started to make noise again.

When we walked back into the living room, we found that the movie had unpaused itself and returned to the main ON DEMAND menu. Now, I wasn't all together surprised. Typically, if you start watching something on ON DEMAND, it downloads it onto your DVR and you have it available to you for 24 hours. This means that if you stop watching something, it'll remember where you were and give you a RESUME option (as in "start watching again," not "curriculum vitae").

Funny thing. What did surprise me was that Ray wasn't on our "SAVED PROGRAMS." We poked around through some awkward menus for a while. No luck. We tried to get it to resume by just selecting it again. It started over at the beginning.

The only option available to us was to sit there for about 10-15 minutes fast forwarding a 3 hour movie at 1x speed until we got back to where we were before I had had the nerve to get a drink.

Even the first few Precambrian Era DVDs had a freakin' Chapter Select option. The Comcast user interface is pretty bad to begin with. Add on top of that functionality that is buggy and apparently only works for those Hoity-Toity Jerks in the commercials. Damn you, Commercial Guy. Damn you and your well-wetted whistle...

In conclusion, ON DEMAND can suck it.


EmoRiot said...

Firstly, a nit-pick: Fast-Forwarding at 1X speed is equal to playing in realtime... which is 1X speed. Or were you watching the movie at .5X speed... in which case the movie, I agree, is too long and has odd direction.

Secondly, ONDemand has been very unappealing to me. TiVo is good times but most of the PVR solutions are weird. It's ashame for the cable companies because people aren't waiting around for them to figure these hurdles out.

Computer savy people have started downloaded shows via bittorent feeds. You can get a show on the west coast BEFORE it airs on this coast since someone has already recorded on the east-coast, edited out the commercials, and published on a bittorrent site for all to get.

I listen to a Tech radio show and one of the guys there said, for the first time, he moved into a new apartment and didn't order Cable TV because all the shows he watches are faster to get, commercial free, at higher quality than TiVo's compression with bittorrent.

Looks like the march of technology is no match for the cable company's attempts to balance ONDemand features with content provider's uneasiness about DMCA issues. You're missin the boat guys! And if the p2p mp3 revolution is any indication... you don't want to be surfing the B-Wave when your customers are riding the C-Wave.

Bug said...

About the fast-forwarding, I was hyperbolizing. Sorry that wasn't clear. I don't know how much faster it was; the point is that it was slow.

About everything else, I totally agree.

Bug said...

Coming from a games background, it's so painfully obvious that there are some really small, low-impact changes that could really help ON DEMAND's user interface.

Even just implementing UI sounds - TiVo does this very well - would go a long way towards helping to eliminate some of the stupid nature of ON DEMAND.

phobucket said...

Pfft. You guys have TVs.

EmoRiot said...

I've also found, with other PVRs like those from the cable company, that they must be using 50Mhz processors because the lag time between hitting a button and getting a response is on the brink of unbearable. It's just long enough to drive you nuts everytime time you do anything. In fact, I find myself choosing not to dig too deep into menus and such because I don't feel like taking the time.

EmoRiot said...

I don't my password... so I'm publishing a random comment just so I can log in and edit my profile. Aren't you happy that I chose this post to create such ultra-engaging content?