I have mentioned it. I use it daily. I have talked it up. I have two TiVo plush dolls, one in my car and one on my TV. So what the heck is TiVo?
In its basic function, TiVo is a VCR that uses a hard drive and not tape. You can get TiVos with 20, 30, or 60 hour capacity, or 35 hours with the DirecTV/TiVo combo box (it acts as the satellite converter as well as TiVo.) So, I can go into TiVo Central, set it up to record something on channel 5 from 8-8:30, and be on my way. But that’s not really using the unit.
TiVo includes an index of all shows and movies that’ll be on for the next week and a half, or so. You can enter TiVo Central, search by name, channel, or time, and find what you want. A lot of shows I had long forgotten about – Iron Chef, Vicar of Dibley, Quantum Leap, Card Sharks, Hunter – I found this way. From there, you can see the next show’s description (in most cases – the program guide info sometimes sucks) and choose to record it.
There are several recording quality levels, ranging from basic – which’ll give you the full capacity of your unit – all the way to best, which is pretty darned close to DVD quality. I use basic all the time, as I really don’t see a problem with that quality. Once you’ve got the show set up to record, TiVo will add it to the To Do list and record it. You can then watch it in Now Showing, which is always available – and most shows stick around for about two weeks, unless you tell TiVo not to delete it until later (or never.)
A step above that is a Season Pass. Before TiVo, I really didn’t know when Iron Chef was on. I didn’t feel like seeking out a tape every time I wanted to see it, and when I did watch TV I seemed to see the last part of it (of course, the most crucial!) Now a Season Pass takes care of it. Once you have an SP for a show, it’ll record every instance of that show that doesn’t conflict with your other SPs – that includes reruns and new episodes. Yes, you no longer have to worry about when a show is on – ever! (I’m sure you’re asking, "Can I not record reruns, or new episodes, selectively?" Answer: "Next software version, around March" or "Yes if you’ve got the DirecTV/TiVo combo box.")
Then there is the rating system. When you choose to record something, TiVo will go ahead and give it a thumbs-up rating. You can rate any show from 3 thumbs down (Martha Stewart) all the way to 3 thumbs up (Letterman). Once you rate shows, TiVo starts recognizing what you like and builds a list of Suggestions. You can set it up to record those suggestions if space is available, or not; either way, a list of shows is always available to you. The logic engine is pretty good. At first, my Suggestions list was full of crap, but as I rated shows and set up recordings over time, things got much more accurate.
In addition to all of this fun stuff, you can do "trick play" with live TV – that means you can pause, rewind, fast forward, instant replay (yeah!), and slo-mo. TiVo offers a full on-screen guide that also goes for the 1.5 week period, so you can record programs right from the guide, too. And if something is on TV right now that looks good, just hit record, and TiVo will record that program (back to 30 minutes ago.) All of these trick play functions, of course, are available for the shows you record – so, yes, you can fast forward through boring parts, commercials, credits, etc. It’s fantastic.
All of these parts might not sound too impressive by themselves, but once you try it, I firmly believe you can’t go back to just watching TV. I rarely watch live TV anymore, and usually treat myself to a diet of shows I want to watch on TiVo. It works with satellite, cable, and antenna, or any combination thereof. It’s easy to set up and easy to use – part of the reason I chose it over ReplayTV.
The price? Units go up to $600 for a 60 hour, but I’ve seen them around $250 before rebates for the 20 hour, which is not bad (rebates tend to be $100ish.) Then there’s the service. You can pony up $199 and be set for "lifetime", do $99/year, or $10/month. The service cost goes towards the program guide info and the TiVolution Magazine – a feature I didn’t even touch on, but is very nifty too. And FYI, ReplayTV claims "no service fee" in their price, but if you take the price of a TiVo with lifetime subscription, it’s the same as the equivalent ReplayTV.
For more info, check out TiVo’s site. TiVo has really changed everything about the way I watch TV, and I couldn’t do without it. It’s easily the best consumer electronics purchase I have ever made. -pm
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