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Review of the Tivo

Posted by Keith Elder | Posted in Computer Hardware, Internet, Man Toys | Posted on 09-01-2002

I was fortunate enough this Christmas season to be given an extremely cool geek gift, a Tivo. I figured I would play with it for a week or so before posting something to the site about it. If you have no idea what a ‘Tivo’ is, then read on, hopefully I will do a fair job in explaining how this electronic device will change the way you watch TV.

What is a Tivo?

Let’s get this out of the way first. A Tivo is a “digital video recorder” commonly abbreviated as DVR. Essentially a DVR is like a VCR but with a hard disk. In other words there are no videotapes. So picture a VCR looking device that doesn’t have any buttons on the front of it and no power button. Tivos do have a computer running inside of them though which is running Linux. You would never guess it is running Linux though, it is so well done you would have no idea how it basically works. Tivos are made by different manufacturers such as Phillips and Sony. Each manufacturer has about the same thing basically but the more expensive ones let you record two shows at once (which has already been a thorn in my side using the Tivo only for a few weeks). Since Tivos are essentially a small computer, the first thing you will notice when shopping for one is how they are priced. Their pricing is structured based on the hard drive size. Although they have discontinued the 20 hour Tivo, which means it has a hard drive big enough to store 20 hours of video, you can pick them up in 30 hour, 60 hour, and other various configurations.

Why you want a Tivo

Let’s cover a few features as to why you would want one:

  • No videotapes – record your favorite show at the click of a button
  • Tell Tivo what you like and don’t like – Tivo will make recommendations for shows for you to record and automatically record ones it thinks you will like.
  • Searching – Since Tivo has a modem inside of the unit, it dials up everyday and downloads all of the TV Guide information for you. This makes it easy to search by show names, genre, and other ways.

This article wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the latest announcement of the Tivo 2 on January 8th, 2002. Here are the new features for the Tivo 2 taken from the announcement:

  • Up to 60 hours of recording time without the hassles of videotape
  • Sleeker dimensions of 15″ width by 11.5″ depth by 3″ height for convenient fit in home entertainment systems
  • As with all TiVo standalone units, the TiVo DVR Series2 is compatible with and connects easily to virtually every television model available. It also works with VCRs, TV antennas, cable systems, and satellite systems
  • Improved patented remote control that allows for easy program recording as well as control of multiple TiVo?s in the home
  • Enhanced graphics engine
  • 2 USB expansion ports to connect to peripheral devices like digital cameras, network adaptors, MP3 and CD players, etc.
  • Ready to run multiple entertainment services such as digital music, digital photos, video party games and broadband video-on-demand

I can say that after only owning a Tivo for a few weeks I can already see that I am watching less and less live TV. Sure, being able to pause and rewind live TV is great, but when you start to use the features built into the system that “selling” feature becomes less apparent. I find myself on Sunday afternoons spending a few minutes to see what is coming on for the next week and then setting it to record those shows. Think about how many times you see a preview for something that you would like to see, a football game, movie, academy awards, etc. Tivo solves these problems as well as the problem about missing your favorite weekly shows like the Simpsons, Family Guy, X-Files, etc. I never miss an episode of The Screen Savers, BattleBots, and Robotica anymore. I watch it on my own time whenever I get a chance.

Another quick feature that no one else mentions really that I like is the on screen Guide. If you are like me and have cable then you know your only option to see what is on the other channels is to flip through them or watch the TV Guide scroll forever across the screen. I really enjoy being able to get a “birds eye view” of what is on and about to come on. Very handy.

The Bad

  • Setup – takes a really really really long time to get all of the updates and let the Tivo process the data. This will probably take about a half a day so plan on spending some time setting it up.
  • The guide is wrong – there have been several times that I have told it to record something and I get something totally different. In several cases the TV Guide it downloads everyday is just flat wrong. This has caused me several heartaches like missing the LSU vs Illinois bowl game. Tivo if you are listening you really need to address this!
  • Cannot record two things at once – some new models will let you do this, but mine doesn’t
  • Can be costly – after you buy your new Tivo you have to make a choice, either spend $9.95 a month or purchase a “lifetime” subscription for $249.00. Purchasing either of these services is what allows you to dial up and download the tv guide, and other information. Without it, the Tivo is basically uselesss. Note: if you purchase a lifetime subscription and later on sell that Tivo, the subscription goes with that Tivo. You will have to buy another lifetime subscription. I chose the monthly plan.

If you are an avid TV fan, the Tivo is a must have. Do some research before you get one. You will probably want to wait until the Tivo 2 hits the stores. You could also probably pick-up the first version really cheap now as well if you like.

Also, if you like to “hack” around on things, the Tivo can be hacked to accomodate bigger hard drives and other stuff. You of course void your warranty when you crack the case. You have been warned.

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