TiVo


We love TiVo. It’s been about a year and a half since that day in late november 2004 when something (I don’t remember what, exactly) pushed me over the edge into buying our 80-hour TiVo box from the Sam’s club. It’s not too much of a stretch to say that our lives have not been the same since. Our television-watching habits have certainly not been the same, and it really is interesting to consider how a profound change in the way we watch television can trickle through to the way the rest of our lives are carried out. When you’re able to amass a library of wanted television to watch at your leisure, rather than scheduling around the TV season and schedule, it makes a big difference in how you can spend your evenings at home. Being able to automatically pick up reruns of shows that I may have missed, or shows featuring a specific actor, or shows automatically suggested to me based on viewing habit, has given us a virtual fountain of television at our disposal.

And, no, I’m not talking about the cable DVR. I’m talking about a real TiVo box. It pains me somewhat to see so many people settling for the generic cable-company-supplied video recorder, and thinking that they have somehow joined the “TiVo revolution.” That is, sadly, not the case. I am currently forced to use the Comcast DVR for some programming, because it has the ability to record in High Definition — a feature sadly lacking on the Tivo (at least at this time). For those of you using regular DVRs, or (heaven forbid!) not using any sort of DVR at all, let me just run down just SOME of what I generally like about the TiVo:

  • Real season pass management: Yes, you can probably tell the DVR to record all episodes of such-and-such show on such-and-such channel. But can you juggle 40 season passes and easily arrange the priority of each? Can you tell it to record re-runs, but not re-runs that it’s already caught in the last 30 days? I record “Extreme Engineering” on my Comcast DVR with re-runs as well, but it’s too retarded to know that it’s recording the same fucking episode every few days!
  • Wishlists: Wow! So, I’m a big fan of the “Connections” television series by James Burke (that’s a topic for a future blog entry, I suppose). There was a time, a few months ago, when it wasn’t on the schedule at all, or forseen to be on the schedule over the next few weeks. So, what I did was set up a wishlist for the title of the show. Lo and behold, last week the Science Channel decided to start running it again, and there it is on my hard drive. This would also be a good way to record, for example, anything on the television featuring Gary Busey, if the mood were to strike you.
  • Good Software: Unlike my Comcast DVR, the TiVo never crashes. It never inexplicably freezes up and then becomes crazy and unresponsive while it processes a few dozen queued up remote-control commands. The rewind and fast-forward functions actually work, and don’t get all herky-jerky. Now, I can put up with some of these transient quirks, but the real thing of it is that the TiVo interface is actually intuitive. It’s hard to describe, and I don’t have any examples on hand, but the Comcast DVR’s interface is infuriating, and requires too many buttons to do simple things. It seems like what would happen if you told a programmer to come up with the UI. This is why there are actually Human Interface Designers, and more companies need to employ them when making things that real people will actually use.
  • Suggestions: Admittedly, some people don’t like having the TiVo record things that it “thinks” you might like. For us, it’s a good way to catch some other shows that we may not be tuned in to. It’s how we were able to catch the fantastic spelling-bee documentary “Spellbound.” It’s how we first found out about “Cheap Seats.” And it catches various other goodies on a regular basis for us. Usually it’s spot on, but I’ll admit there are times when it catches some wacky stuff (Wild Things 3, Fawlty Towers, CSPAN Book TV). Nevertheless, it’s not too hard to just delete the crap. Or, just leave it there, and the suggestions will be the first to go should space ever run low.
  • TiVo Central Online: CK suggested the show “Brainiac” when we were at the conference a couple of weeks ago. It sounded like something I might be interested in, so I flipped my laptop open, went to tivo.com, and set up the season pass right then and there. It sent me a nice email confirming what it did, and there was no need for me to remember to set the tivo when I got home. Easy as pie!
    1. #1 by MegaZone on June 13, 2006 - 5:53 pm

      And that doesn’t even touch on all the additional features like TiVoToGo/TiVoToComeBack, music, photos, Home Media Engine, broadband content – like the just announced TiVoCast lineup. TiVo is the best DVR out there – but also much more than just a DVR.

    2. #2 by joshulux on June 14, 2006 - 1:59 pm

      Oops, I accidentally posted on your syndicated feed instead of on the real thing! (http://syndicated.livejournal.com/intotheweedssyn/)

      Sounds like you might want to toss the Comcast DVR and set yourself up with a MythTV box for doing the HDTV recording. It isn’t quite TiVo, yet… but if you want to add something, you can always do it yourself.
      MythTV’s ability to record a “season pass” is more like TiVo than Comcast (though not called a “season pass”), and does let you manage the relative priority of each. However, the interface for doing so is clumsy and confusing at times, probably mostly due to suffering from the too-many-options UI nightmare.
      MythTV doesn’t call anything “wishlists” either, it does have the ability to set up “searches” which can automatically trigger recordings when they match. The functionality is probably greater than Tivo’s (in that the searches can be more complex) and in this case the interface is fairly straightforward.
      Good software? Well, yes and no. If and when we ever make it to 1.0, it will probably be the most reliable crashproof software DVR anywhere. In the meantime, the release versions are fairly stable for supported features. 0.18 was the first to support HDTV over firewire, and that functionality made it crash sometimes, but 0.19 has most of those problems fixed. The only issues I have with it now are that it doesn’t handle configuration changes on the firewire bus automatically, so if the machine or cable box reboots, it can lose it’s firewire connection. I’m looking into contributing some configuration fixes for 0.20 that will solve all those problems.
      Suggestions == not that I know of, at least not yet. This could be a really great project to do by collecting contributed and anonymized watchlists from all the mythtv users and then making something along the lines of Amazon’s “people who bought this also bought that.”
      Mythtv has a nice web interface, so as long as you can get to your box, you can configure it to record whatever you want from wherever you are. You can also see thumbnails of the actual recordings it has made or is making. It can also be configured to provide a link to download the movie file, though that is rather impractical for HDTV which is about 9GB/hr.