Thursday, February 28, 2008

How TiVo will set you free

TiVo is the first truly great addition to modern home-entertainment centres since the development of DVD players. High-definition televisions are fine, computers that stream media content to your living room are great, but only TiVo makes life fun, simple, and better.

Simply, TiVo is a digital-video recorder. It records television programs for you, storing them on a hard drive that lets you watch shows when you want. But there’s more to TiVo than simply hardware. When you hear people talking about TiVo, they are talking about the experience of TiVo.

TiVo was built with the user in mind. It doesn’t provide television channels, and is neither a cable or satellite provider, nor a broadcaster or network. So TiVo won’t get rid of your existing TV provider, but it will work with whatever you’ve got: cable, satellite, or DSL.

The TiVo service comes with a monthly subscription fee of about US$12.95, but that small price is worth it. You’ll more than make that up in the time you’ll save by using it.

Because you will watch less television with TiVo. When the TV is on, you will watch something you want to watch. No more channel surfing, and you can easily skip commercials—just like VCRs, remember—so the one-hour programs are only about 44 minutes of viewing time.

If you decide to watch a recording of the latest episode of House, you can fast forward, rewind, and pause, just like you would with your archaic video machine. But if you watch it “live” and you’ve missed the opening sequence that sets up the disease of the week, you can simply go back to the beginning without waiting for the machine to finish recording.

The DVR options available from the various Canadian television providers—Bell ExpressVu, Rogers, and Shaw—can all do this. But none has the range of other features you get from TiVo.

The TiVo model currently available in Canada (the 80-hour Series2 DT is $200 at major electronics retailers) is equipped with two tuners, which means that you can record two programs at the same time, while watching a third that’s archived on the hard drive. Or you can watch one show live while the machine records what’s on the other tuner.

The Season Pass feature means you no longer have to record by day, time, and channel (although you can still do this). Instead, search your TiVo for the show title you are looking for, and it automatically records the show, no matter when it airs or on what channel, as well as skipping reruns to avoid 89 episodes of The Simpsons every week. You can also search by actor, or director, or even category.

TiVo can also help you decide what to add to your schedule. By analyzing what you are already recording, and what you tell TiVo you enjoy watching using the simple “Thumbs up!” and “Thumbs down!” buttons, it will suggest what you might enjoy. If you’ve been watching Sex and the City and Brothers & Sisters, TiVo might suggest you try Cashmere Mafia.

And if you’re on the road when you find out about a Planet of the Apes marathon, you can access your TiVo over the Internet, and set the recording remotely. Or copy programs from your TiVo to your computer for archiving on DVD.

However, TiVo is not for everyone. The Series2 model cannot record in high definition, so if you currently get an HD signal from your TV provider, you’ll have to use the provider’s box, or wait until TiVo releases its high-def model in Canada, which could happen later this year.

For those with a typical satellite setup, the dual-tuner feature does not work because you can’t duplicate the signal. You can still use the TiVo to automatically record programs, but you sacrifice the ability to record one show while watching another.

The only problem I’ve had with TiVo is that I keep convincing people to get on the bandwagon, but the rewards program TiVo offers to its community—to encourage conversions—is not available to Canadians. But in the event the company resolves that mistake, make sure to tell them I sent you. I want a pair of those TiVo slippers.

[originally published in Georgia Straight Living]

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