After years of resisting, I finally broke down and bought a TiVo.
I started with ReplayTV in late 2000 and added Windows Media Center in 2006. Early on I preferred ReplayTV to TiVo because, as my friend Paul put it, “TiVo makes it easier to find what you want to watch but ReplayTV makes it easier to watch it once you’ve found it.” Moving to Windows Media Center was about being able to have a DVR solution where a noisy fan wasn’t running 24×7 in a room where people sleep (a mistake I made briefly with an early Comcast HD DVR) plus other advanced features like music and photo sharing. I much preferred the feature set of Windows Media Center; unfortunately, I experienced repeated flaky behavior, probably due in part to running it on my main desktop PC.
What ultimately forced the issue was Comcast’s plan to stop transmitting their Expanded Basic lineup (including CNN, ESPN, MSNBC, Cartoon Network, and Comedy Central) in analog signals, thus requiring a digital adapter to view these channels. Their solution for legacy DVRs – use IR blasters and pray – didn’t seem satisfactory.
Short of cancelling Comcast service and moving to a different provider – not a better option at the moment – I was left with the choice of getting a new DVR that supported digital cable natively. I could buy a new Digital Cable Ready Media Center PC or get a TiVo HD. I explored the former option but found that the major PC manufacturers have made it extremely difficult to find such models on their web sites, and buying a Media Center with two digital tuners is significantly more expensive than TiVo even considering the cost of TiVo service.
There were two issues with getting a TiVo: The aforementioned noise concern and the fact that doing multi-room streaming requires multiple TiVo boxes (vs. Media Center Extenders). The latter issue concerned me in theory, but in practice my DVR use has effectively been limited to a single TV for the past year, even with DVRs on two different TVs. For the noise issue, I would just have to try it and see. So I did.
After an initial hiccough with getting the CableCard working, requiring a Comcast service call to replace what turned out to be a defective card, I now have dual-tuner digital HD service on the TiVo. Incidentally, all of the Comcast personnel with whom I dealt where highly service-oriented and helpful, which makes me slightly less angry at the company for making me go to considerable time and expense to replace DVRs that were working perfectly fine in order to preserve features that I’ve had for years.
So what are my initial impressions of TiVo after years using the competition? The initial setup menus were very easy and nicely done; clearly they have invested a lot of effort here. The TiVo remote control is fine but I don’t know what the big fuss is about. Overall, the TiVo user interface seems frozen in time, a circa 2004 UI; the Windows Media Center UI is far better, even on Vista, and I hear that Windows 7 is an even bigger improvement. Most significantly, the TiVo is pretty quiet, so noise is not an issue; I hope that this will not change as the unit ages.
I was not expecting to like the automatic suggestions feature, but it has turned out to be handy; through it I learned that Top Gear (and BBC America in general) is now available to me. I appreciate that TiVo supports streaming for Netflix customers and I find the YouTube support interesting and clever. I am pretty unhappy with TiVo’s support for recurring programs, however, most notably The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Even though I told TiVo to record only first-run programs, it insists on recording each of the four daily occurrences that Comedy Central broadcasts. The suggested workaround is to set a manual recurring program for 11 PM nightly, but TiVo doesn’t give me the option to record only Monday through Thursday (The Daily Show is not broadcast on Friday) so I get a spurious recording every Friday for it (and The Colbert Report as well). I suppose I could set up four recurring weekly programs for each of Monday through Thursday, but why the hassle for something that TiVo’s competitors have always handled better?
My medium-term plan is still to return to Windows Media Center, but now I’m going to wait to see if they integrate it with Windows Home Server, which will enable me to have one dedicated, high-storage, high-availability server at home. In the meantime TiVo appears to fit the bill nicely, though I wouldn’t mind a software upgrade that modernizes the UI and fixes the recurring program issues. I’m still looking forward to the day when everything I want to watch is available via IP streaming and I can drop my separate cable TV subscription; I suspect Comcast will work hard to prevent this from happening.