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Cable Operators

Time Warner: DVR Glitch Fixed

10/15/2004 8:17 AM Eastern

Officials at Time Warner Cable and two technology suppliers had to scramble the past two weeks to fix a bug causing the picture on the TV screens of many digital-video-recorder users to freeze.

The glitch -- which Time Warner said affected subscribers with Scientific-Atlanta Inc. “8000-level” DVRs running the “Passport Echo” interactive program guide from Pioneer Digital Technologies -- generated a backlash for the burgeoning DVR service in New York City, the MSO’s largest division.

It afflicted an unknown number of customers in New York and some other undisclosed markets.

Officials at Time Warner, S-A and Pioneer had not resolved the issue by Thursday, but Time Warner spokesman Keith Cocozza said in an e-mail Friday that the glitch had been repaired.

After saying that it received dozens of complaints from viewers, major New York broadcaster WNBC-TV ran a segment Oct. 8 in which one anchor intoned, “Don’t give up your VCR just yet.”

The station quoted one subscriber in the report who said, “I call the company [Time Warner], they tell me to pull the plug and try again, and the same thing happens over and over again. So I get frustrated and just don’t use it. I have my old faithful VCR.”

Cocozza said the DVR glitch occurred after Time Warner recently “delivered some enhancements to the DVR’s IPG software” via a download to the set-tops. He declined to detail what changes were made to the IPG.

Cocozza confirmed that Time Warner recently downloaded a TV Guide graphic that was added to the bottom of the screen of its IPGs, but he said the download of the TV Guide logo “does not necessarily” relate to the downloads that affected DVR users.

As part of an agreement Time Warner struck with Gemstar-TV Guide International Inc. last year, the MSO agreed to add a TV Guide logo to its IPGs nationwide.

The DVR glitch only occurred in Time Warner divisions configured with S-A DVRs and the Pioneer Passport IPG.

Cocozza wouldn’t name which systems other than New York were affected by the glitch nor quantify how many customers were affected.

The exact cause of the DVR problem remains unclear. S-A officials maintained that there is nothing wrong with the dual-tuner DVR, Pioneer insisted that the problem wasn’t with its Passport IPG and Time Warner officials wouldn’t detail what went wrong during the software-code download.

Time Warner reportedly did not tell S-A what was sent to the vendor’s set-tops during the download. “We weren’t informed specifically what the software download was for, what features they were looking to enhance,” S-A spokeswoman Sara Stutzenstein said.

Not all DVR customers on the affected systems were hit by the glitch.

Cocozza said subscriber location and usage patterns were factors that led to some subscribers experiencing intermittent picture freeze, such as “watching a channel while recording it.”

The glitch also affected this reporter, a Time Warner New York DVR subscriber who found that the picture tended to freeze during the past two weeks while two programs were being recorded at the same time on the DVR.

Time Warner New York subscriber Ronnie Wroth, who has had an S-A DVR for about one year, said he exchanged the DVR at a Time Warner service center about three weeks ago after he experienced picture freeze and problems with the picture breaking up. Wroth, who lives in Queens, N.Y., said problems continued to occur after he replaced the DVR.

Wroth had an EchoStar Communications Corp. Dish Network DVR before getting his S-A DVR from Time Warner last year, and he said he might return to satellite if he continues to have problems. “For a while, I thought cable was better, until this happened,” he added.

The DVR glitch has forced officials from Pioneer and S-A -- rivals in the set-top and IPG sectors -- to work together on a solution to fix the bug.

“We worked very closely with Time Warner Cable and S-A once the issues came to everyone's attention,” Pioneer senior vice president Neil Jones said in an e-mail. “The issue was identified, S-A made changes to their software, we have combined their software with our software, which seems to have resolved the issues.” Jones declined a phone interview.

Stutzenstein said S-A has shipped 1.5 million DVRs to date, and that other DVR customers -- including Comcast Corp., Charter Communications Inc. and Cox Communications Inc. -- haven’t reported problems similar to Time Warner’s.

Executives at S-A rival Motorola Inc. said the DVR glitch hasn’t resulted in increased orders for Motorola’s DVR set-tops.

Motorola has shipped about 500,000 DVRs, including single- and dual-tuner models, to date, and MSO customers haven’t reported problems with the picture freezing, Motorola director of strategic marketing Bernadette Vernon said.

“We have not heard of any issues. We’ve just been hearing real good feedback,” she added.

Some satellite-TV subscribers interviewed this week said they have experienced occasional problems with the picture freezing up on Dish Network DVRs and TiVo Inc.-branded DirecTV Inc. receivers.

September