The case against TiVo

I get a lot of odd – sometimes angry – looks from friends when I say “I”m not a fan of TiVo”. For loyal TiVo users, it seems ridiculous to suggest that the product is anything less than fantastic.

And if you”ve never experienced the magic that is DVR TV, TiVo is a mind-bending product. I give the company a ton of credit for launching the DVR revolution, but today TiVo is a second-rate offering. Here”s why I don”t like TiVo:

- The machine isn”t made for modern TV. It works great with basic cable, but if you have a satellite system or a digital cable box, then the TiVo has to change the channel on your TV box using its IR controller. That”s so 1992.

- You can”t record two shows at once. If TiVo is recording something, you either have to watch what it”s recording, watch a previous recording or switch your TV to a different input source. The only exception is the DirecTV TiVo box – which they don”t sell anymore.

- No HD recording.

- Their core product is the “TiVo service”, which simply isn”t worth what they charge you for it. Maybe it has pretty good search capabilities, but does anybody really use that “suggestion” engine anymore?

- TiVo”s recording capacity is misleading. When the company says “80 hours”, they really mean “up to 80 hours on the lowest-quality setting”.

- If you want a 30-second commercial jump, it requires a semi-hack of the remote.

- The buffer (amount of time you can back up live TV) is only 30 minutes.

- TiVo is a product intended for your mom. The Series2 install manual includes things like

All of your equipment has connectors, or jacks, where cables are connected. Some jacks are labeled “In” and some are labeled “Out”. Pictures and sounds enter audio/video (A/V) equipment through IN jacks and leave through OUT jacks.

And personally, I think their menus and little “pop pop” navigation sounds are cartoonish and stupid.

As I mentioned, if you”ve never used a DVR before, TiVo seems like a fine bit of technology. But consider the alternate DVR world I live in with my DishDVR 942:

- The DVR functionality is built in to my Dish tuner, so it”s fully integrated with my TV service.

- I can record three shows at once (two Dish tuners and one over-the-air signal).

- I can record HD through Dish or over-the-air. And, yes, I can record three HD programs all at once. I tested that, and the machine didn”t start smoking or anything.

- Dish has been upgrading their DVR search capabilities and I now have a “Dish Pass” feature that searches descriptions, smart recording that will skip timers if the right show isn”t on, etc. I now have to pay $5 a month for “DVR service”, but that”s a direct result of TiVo charging a fee, so I blame TiVo for that.

- With Dish, my 180-hour capacity means just that. There”s no “quality” setting; everything records in original broadcast quality. It”s always been that way. My 40-hour 501 DVR gave me 40 hours at broadcast quality.

- My Dish DVRs have always had 1-hour buffers, except my 721, which had a 2-hour buffer.

- 30-second jump has not only always been built in, but they also used to market it as “skip commercials”.

- The menus are straight-forward and easy to use. No cutesy little icon and “pop pop” noises.

Of course, I chose well when I hitched myself to Dish Network. If you chose poorly and subscribe to cable TV, your built-in DVR options suck and TiVo is probably your best option. But I still pity you.

The shortcomings of TiVo are more a factor of the TV industry – most problems originate with the separate-box issue, and the basic DVR functionality was an easy thing to copy – than a failure of the company.

If TiVo has a strength, it”s in software. They”ve been rolling out some nice features like online scheduling and things like that, but ultimately those are lipstick on the pig.

I welcome your opinions, TiVo lovers, no matter how wrong they are.

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