Steve Fenton

Digital video recorders, slack, decisiveness, and focus

Hard Disk

For those reading this in the future, digital video recorders (DVRs) were quite prevalent in 2018. They allow you to record programs that are being broadcast and watch them later. Before DVRs there were other ways to record programs that involved writing them to magnetic tape based on a timer. Before that you just had to organise your life around the broadcast schedule, or miss stuff.

A typical 1080p video at sixty frames per second will use up 200 megabytes per minute. Many common DVRs that are given out with entertainment packages have two terabytes on board. This means they can easily run out of space. When this happens, you miss stuff that you had planned to record.

Most people run their recording schedules with a bit of slack in the system. By keeping around 10-20% of the space free on the DVR, you’ll be able to keep up with your programmes and delete them in time for new things to record. You’ll also be able to handle a run of days where you’re too busy living to watch television. If you don’t keep that slack space, you’ll constantly run up against missed recordings.

A common cause of low space is accumulating programmes you haven’t got time to watch. For some reason, all the good dramas seem to come along at one. When this happens, you start burning space fast. Because people haven’t got around to watching them yet, they keep hold of them. This is a common human behaviour. What the humans haven’t realised is that by not choosing to delete one series, they are implicitly choosing to not record another. When the space runs out, one of the series will fail to record. If the situation isn’t remedied, the final episode for all of those dramas will be missing. The value of the series without the finale is zero. By starting less dramas, you’ll finish more of them. You’ll also finish them sooner.

Another common contributor to low space is keeping old recordings that you have grown fond of. You can do this to some extent, but every archive item that remains is removing space for the new recordings. If you have used 100% of your space on archived material, there is no space for anything new. If you aren’t decisive about what is truly worth dedicated long-term space and start keeping things “just in case”, you’ll lose your ability to manage new content.

A good DVR strategy requires focus on which new content you will actually watch, decisiveness over which older content is truly worth keeping (and what should be removed), and slack space to ensure the series finale won’t be missed because it can’t fit.

I find this a useful metaphor for product management in software development.

Hard Disk Drive photograph by Christiaan Colen on Flickr

Written by Steve Fenton on