• A Week Without Apple - Day 4, Best PVR Ever. But.

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    I'll just put it out there straight up - the TiVo is a groin grabbingly great PVR. I don't really want to give it back! Of all the things I've used this week, the TiVo is my favourite. It's a classy PVR, is a piece of piss to use and my partner has become attached to it too. If it wasn't for a few nerd related shortcomings, I'd be asking TiVo if there's some sort of special "reviewers" price they can do for me.

    For those that don't know, TiVo is a PVR. A PVR is a personal video recorder. A personal video recorder is like a VCR (the thingo that takes tapes and records stuff off the TeeeeVeee) but it has awesome features like being able to pause and rewind live TV, then resuming where you left off. You can also schedule recordings of TV shows with advanced options like recording the same show once a week, or two channels at once. The best feature of a PVR is the fact it records to a hard drive, not to tape, so you can store hours and hours and hours of video, without having to change tapes or store hundreds of tapes around your house. It also includes a program guide, so the TV Week you would buy to see what's coming on TV that week, well, it's obsolete. Unless you like reading about Home and Away or Neighbours that is.

    I'm not going to regurgitate the TiVo's specs, but the main things you need to know is that it's got two HD tuners, does HDMI out, has a 160GB HDD, has Ethernet and can get wi-fi via an add-on and can take more HDDs via eSATA (caveat - has to be a TiVo branded one). For the full sales pitch, visit the TiVo website.

    People have mentioned to me in passing that the Australian TiVo is neutered as it doesn't record pay TV and doesn't do commercial skipping. Pay TV recording will never happen here because of Foxtel's monopoly and the way the system is set up - blame Telstra for this. Automatic commercial skipping hardly ever works, so just use the fast forward button. Other than those two things, the Australian TiVo is fully functional and isn't gimped at all in my opinion.

    My current set up is an EyeTV Diversity, hooked up to an iMac, which records the TV shows I set via IceTV and their website or iPhone app. It then dumps the recordings to my file server, where my hacked AppleTV plays them off the network share. If I want to keep or share a TV show, I'll transfer it to my MacBook Pro, where I'll splice out the commercials and encode it to H264 for safe keeping.

    What I Like About TiVo


    Great Interface
    The TiVo's interface and how it has been designed, is great and very clear. It's not mind shatteringly awesome, but it's the first PVR that actually uses plain English language and explains quite difficult to understand scheduling concepts in a way average people can understand. This is a total Mum device. It's even got Sudoku, sponsored by That's Life.

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    Works Perfectly on CRT TVs
    I've used a Beyonwiz PVR and a Mac Mini before and even the AppleTV I have now, look pretty shit on a regular ol' CRT, even over component. The TiVo has nice big fonts that are easily legible and there's no overscan or cut off text. This is a big deal as I love my CRT TV and don't plan on getting rid of it any time soon. Big points to the TiVo for remembering those of us who like SD content.

    Amazing Tuner Quality
    The only HD tuner I've plugged into my CRT TV is the Beyonwiz and goddamn, the TiVo blows it away. I also have an SD tuner (it was $40 at Coles) and obviously, the TiVo is far superior. There's hardly ever any compression artifacts and the picture is so sharp (this is over component). I love it.

    Easy Exporting of Recordings
    TiVo has software called the Home Networking Package, which is $199 and gives you the ability to take stuff off your TiVo and to your computer. other stand-alone PVRs don't make this easy. TiVo's software automagically picks up the TiVo, reads its database and can suck down the TV shows, complete with the same metadata that's shown up on the TiVo itself (synopsis, ratings, original broadcast time & date etc). Compared to an EyeTV and a computer, it's an extra step, but compared to other PVRs (Beyonwiz, Topfield), the TiVo is ahead of the game and is very simple to set up.

    Video On Demand & Podcasts
    The content itself is boring, but I like the fact they're there. I like the fact TiVo has the brand name recognition to get some proper support. I hope the range of podcasts and on demand video improves.

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    No On-Going Subscription
    Sorry IceTV - I love you guys and think your service is awesome (iPhone and remote scheduling wins for me), but the fact the TiVo includes a free EPG is pretty compelling. With IceTV, I'll be paying almost $100/yr for the EPG in 2-3 years time, or more, adding to the overall cost of the PVR.

    What I Don't Like About TiVo


    Pricing & Add-Ons
    The TiVo alone is $699. To get the software that enables you to transfer shows on or off the TiVo and subsequent conversion, it's $199. To get a wi-fi add on (if you need it), it's $69.99. If you buy them all at once, TiVo discounts it all to $867.99. Pretty pricey for what is simply a PVR.

    Extra Storage via eSATA is Crippled
    When I saw that eSATA was on the TiVo, I was rapt, in that geek sort of way, that they've made it so easy just to plug in an eSATA external drive to add more storage. Which is particularly useful if you're like me and record heaps (and in HD) but take ages to get around to watching. Nope, TiVo crippled it by only allowing TiVo branded HDDs to plug in and be recognised by the TiVo. A 1TB TiVo branded eSATA external HDD is $299. A 1TB SATA HDD and an eSATA external case is $165 at the local PC store. Boo.

    F-Connector Antenna Jack
    I had to go and buy a longer cable, as the included cable wasn't long enough to reach my wall socket. I have heaps of regular antenna cables, but this F-Connector (same as cable TV/pay TV), isnt' standard here in Australia for free to air TV, so I had to get a cable made up. Cost me a fair bit too, though I did use a high quality cable. I'm sure a few others will be stung with this, and then head into their local department store and leave empty handed, not having used their TiVo.

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    Sub-Par Networking Capabilities
    Okay, let's get this straight - the TiVo is not a media center box. It is a PVR. Forget it has the feature to play stuff you've downloaded off the Internet. It's practically useless if you have a decent sized collection of stuff. The way it works is that with the TiVo Desktop Software, you tell the TiVo which files you want transferred to the TiVo and it adds it to a "now playing" list. You can choose to copy the file over to the TiVo, which takes AGES, or the TiVo can transcode it on the fly and stream it, reducing quality. You also need the TiVo app open on your computer in order for this to occur by either method. The TiVo doesn't respect file structures either, so all you get is a big list of files. If you have a large collection of media, this is bad.

    Slow Boot Time
    The TiVo takes ages to turn on. Not a big deal, as you don't turn it off very often, but it was quite bizarre that it takes so long to boot up.

    Poor Online & Remote Scheduling
    This is one of the most disappointing thing about the TiVo, particularly when compared to IceTV. The way I work, is that I sit down on a Sunday and plan my week of TV recording. I go through the IceTV website and pick out stuff I wanna record for the week. TiVo has an online EPG, via Yahoo7, but it is crap and takes far too many clicks to set a recording. It was easier to do it on the TiVo with the remote than to do it online with a mouse. That's not how it should be. IceTV also has the iPhone app, which I love. It's been handy many, many times, when someone tells me about a show coming up that I should watch, or I am out and hear about something and remember I didn't set it to record. I can pull out my phone and tell IceTV to record it. It's a brilliant service that TiVo just doesn't have.

    Crappy Video on Demand & Podcasts
    Blockbuster's selection sucks. There's only 70 movies. iTunes has way more movies. The podcasts, again, suck - they're just Nova. The AppleTV can get any podcasts you have on iTunes. AppleTV also does YouTube. TiVo, does not.

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    Slow Transfer of Recordings
    Holy Christ on a cracker, this one is annoying. I have a Gigabit network. The TiVo has a hard drive. So why do TV shows only transfer across to my computer at 1.5mb/sec? That's horrendously slow. I did a bit of Googling and asking on Twitter,as I thought this was an issue with my network or TiVo. Nup, everyone seems to experience the same thing. It takes 30 min to transfer a 30 min show to your computer! Unacceptable for this geek.

    Suggestions Suck
    Suggestions are cool - the TiVo automatically records stuff it thinks you might like, based on what you record already and what you rate via the thumbs up/thumbs down system. Maybe I'm just a weirdo, or there's not enough on Australian TV, but the recommendations are poor. It's yet to recommend me something I want to record. However, it is handy to have a pile of stuff there that's semi-interesting for when you're really bored.

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    For my uses and desires, all TiVo has to do is have a menu item called "Connect to Windows Share" where I can put in my file server details. The TiVo then can read my file structure (folders and subfolders) and play the video file off the share. Not streaming, not transferring, just open the file and play it off the network share. A better online scheduling system would be very useful as well. If it could hook up to a Windows share and TiVo got their online EPG act together, I'd happily pay $1,000+ for the thing to be honest, as the rest of it is so good. But for me, the Channel BT enthusiast, tapping into my 1.8TB of TV shows & movies and remote scheduling are killer features and something I simply can't live without. Because of that, and only because of that, my geek friendly, but not anyone else friendly, EyeTV + AppleTV set up remains in place.
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