Tuesday, May 5, 2009

TiVo turns ten years old

TiVo Inc.Image via Wikipedia
Dave Zatz has a thought-provoking piece up asking whether TiVo has lost its way. The impetus for his post is a recent NY Times article about recent TiVo developments extending advertising throughout its UI, and the recognition that the core of TiVo's innovation hasn't changed much since it first launched in 1999.

I called TiVo last week after I did the math on how much money I've spent with TiVo over the years, hoping I could save a few bucks. Starting in February, 2001, I've owned four different TiVo units - and between hardware and service fees, I've spent thousands of dollars in the 8 years I've been a subscriber. I was also an early adopter of TiVo's Home Media Option, which meant I spent $100. (Months later, they made HMO free. No refund, however.)

All of which is background for why I was going to turn this post into a bit of a complaint. For all of my TiVo fan-boy love over the years, thousands of dollars is a lot of money to spend for a product that has not, as the NYT points out, radically changed the game since their launch in '99. There's one exception to this: the release of TiVo to Go a few years ago, where I could transfer TiVo recordings to my PC and watch on the computer. Between my commute (on the train, ~1 hour each way every day) and my travel (~100k miles/year), this was an absolute revelation. I was able to stay current with shows I cared about - particularly those that Robin didn't like. :)

But since switching to the Mac, one of my biggest complaints has been the lack of a viable equivalent to TiVo to Go. The app is inexplicably free on the PC, but the only alternative supported by TiVo is a $100 Mac app by Roxio that does about 50x more things than I need. I asked @tivo on Twitter over the weekend whether I was missing anything; @tivo replied that I should check out Roxio.

But @shellen and @CPWestergaard pointed me to an option I wasn't familiar with: iTiVo. If you own a TiVo and you use a Mac, you absolutely, positively need to download this. It's a free app, and it allows you to do exactly what you can do w/TiVo to Go on the PC: not only can you download recordings on a one-off basis, but you can also "subscribe" to shows so that they're automatically transferred once there's a new copy on the TiVo. If you're an iPod/iPhone user, it also includes the ability to convert to iTunes on the fly so that the files are available the next time you sync your device.

This post has a happy ending: iTiVo has given my TiVo new life, since it means I can once again enjoy the functionality of my TiVo to its fullest. Why TiVo doesn't offer this natively is beyond me... I'm not overstating it when I say that iTiVo and TiVo to Go are the difference for me between a decent service (but not necessarily worth the $20+/month I pay to them for the two current units) and a service that I wouldn't consider going without.

Sadly, in my call with TiVo last week, their only suggestion was that I spend $300 to get the lifetime service for my Series 3 (the HD TiVo). Spending hundreds of dollars to save a few bucks a month wasn't exactly where I was hoping that conversation would end up. :) On the plus side, Robin and I rented our first HD movie from Amazon via the TiVo on Friday night. Great picture quality, easy browsing for movies. Download speeds were a tad slow (and I'm on a very fast Comcast connection) - next time, we'll probably pick the movie in the afternoon before we want to watch. But other than that, it was pretty impressive.

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  1. Rick: About five years ago, I bought a DVD-enabled TiVo that came with subscription for the lifetime of the device. I have it set up in our basement and it works just fine. However, with maturing Web video (think Neflix + Roku, Boxee, Hulu and the growing library of quality online content), my TiVo usage is dwindling to perhaps 15 minutes per week or less. Fortunately for TiVo, it's hooked up to our old TV in the basement, which resides next to my private beer fridge. If that beer fridge wasn't there, I'm not sure my TiVo would get any usage. But it's not only TiVo that's in danger...I'm on the verge of canceling cable programming. Don't need it. Cheers.

  2. Hi Rick,
    Just read this article about TiVo and noticed my post about recording shows via Amazon was recomended by Zemanta. That's pretty cool.

  3. I've been a TiVo user since 2001 and I've owned 7 TiVos. It's a great product because it is extremely easy to use yet offers an impressive array of features. However, I think TiVo can offer even more functionality without compromising, and perhaps improving, the simplicity of the user experience.