Monday, April 13, 2009

Tivo Just Keeps Getting Better

I bought my first Tivo right around the time they first came out, about 10 years ago now. I remember feeling like a kid in a candy store at the time, as this completely changed the way I viewed television, and since then it's changed the way most everyone viewed television and made VCR's a thing of the past. As I recall, I also switched from TCI Cable (remember them?) to DirecTV right around the same time, so when the Philips DirecTivo came out which combined both the satellite receiver and Tivo onto one box I snatched up a couple of those to replace my original Tivo. Then a couple of years after that DirecTV came out with the excellent HR10-250 which supported high definition broadcasts over both satellite and over the air (i.e. antenna). I was happy as a clam at this point. Unfortunately, not too long after the HR10 was released DirecTV and Tivo decided to part ways, and DirecTV decided to go forward with its own DVR technology. They initially launched the HR20 and a few follow-on models, and though they were pretty good units and DirecTV was adding lots of bells and whistles like media serving, they never matched the ease of use and intuitive UI of the Tivo. To DirecTV's credit they still supported the HR10, but unfortunately the unit was destined for obsolescence because its internal hardware was unable to support the newer MPEG-4 video streams DirecTV was rolling out for all the newer HD channels.

Well, about a year ago I ended up switching from DirecTV to Comcast, and during that span of time I endured the pain of having to use the incredibly horrible Comcast HD DVR. Why I lived with it for so long I have no idea, but after putting up with its multiple quirks and screwups, and having suffered through the occasional missed or premature stoppage of a scheduled recording I could put up with it no longer. I went out and purchased a new Tivo HD unit, and after getting it all setup I really question why I waited so freaking long to do this...the unit is simply awesome! Since I hadn't used Tivo in a few years I discovered a whole raft of new functions that I hadn't been exposed to before; in no particular order:

  • The new Tivos appear to be quite a bit speedier than my old HR10; there isn't nearly as much delay when setting up season passes, setting up complex searches, etc.
  • The free Tivo Desktop software that you can download from is very handy, as among other things it allows you to download recorded shows to your PC for offline viewing; definitely a great thing to have for those long plane trips. One caveat, though....the transfer rate is pretty slow, so if you're thinking about taking HD-recorded content on the road then you might consider recording the non-HD version of the show first.
  • Multi-room viewing, which allows you to stream content recorded on one Tivo onto another Tivo within your home. You can even pause a show on one Tivo and resume it on another!
  • Built-in support for Netflix and Amazon video streaming. I had previously purchased the excellent Roku box that support both Netflix and Amazon, but now that I have these services on the Tivo I can conveniently switch from DVR to on demand all on the same box...might be time to sell the Roku.
  • YouTube access - Wow, I think the Tivo folks delivered as good of a UI as possible here short of having an actual browser and keyboard. Very, very nice implementation.
  • Pizza anyone? Yes, you can order a Domino's pizza right from the need to break a sweat and move off the couch!
  • A mulitude of other on demand and content subscription options, too numerous to mention here. Many of these are free.
  • Real-time traffic and weather reports - Yes, it's easy enough to get these on my PC and/or Blackberry, but if I'm already watching TV and need to check the weather or traffic I can do so with a few button clicks and not have to budge.
  • Media serving - The Tivo has the ability to serve up video content from your PC. If your PC is running the free Tivo Desktop software, then your Tivo can serve up a few basic video formats such as MPG. If you upgrade to Tivo Desktop Plus ($25) a few additional file formats are supported. But if you're a little more technically inclined, then the absolute best solution is to download and install pyTivo. This is a fantastic piece of software, as it supports every video file type under the sun, even ones which the Tivo doesn't natively support (e.g. MKV) - those are re-encoded on-the-fly as they are sent to your Tivo.
  • Need more storage space? Sure, like all models of Tivo you hack into it and replace the factory drive with a larger one. But if you don't want to spend the time playing tech geek and/or don't want to void your warranty Tivo makes it super easy to add more disk space if you purchase the Western Digital MyDVR Expander. All you have to do is turn off the Tivo, attach the Western Digital to the Tivo's eSATA port, turn on the Western Digital and then turn on the Tivo. After a few minutes to initialize, whoala...instant storage added!
Whew, that's a lot of cool stuff...and there's even more available that I neglected to mention. Suffice it to say that the Tivo continues to be the king of DVR's and set top boxes in general. I can't imagine settling for anything else now!