What I miss about Tivo

October 21, 2005

I’ve been Tivo-less for about 7 months now, going from an old 1st generation 14 hour Tivo + a DirecTivo + SageTV, all fed by DirecTV, to a DishPlayer 942 and a Windows MCE system, fed by (no surprise) Dish.

The time away has allowed me a little time to reflect on what I miss about the Tivo experience, as well as a few things I don’t.

Things I miss:

  1. Stability — As much as I like other systems, I’ve yet to find one that’s as stable as a Tivo.

    I’m sure others have had different experiences, but for me, Tivo always just worked. If I’d have come home and found that I’d missed a recording due to a lockup, I’d have felt completely betrayed.

    While my experience with other PVRs has been good (if not quite that good), I still occasionally find myself checking to make sure they’re on and recording when I know something I don’t want to miss is on.

  2. Suggestions — As often as it was dead wrong (not quite as bad as the classic “my Tivo thinks I’m a pregnant gay serial killer” stories), oftimes Tivo would be right on the money as far as suggestions.

    Even when it wasn’t, I’d often find that it had recorded something interesting that I otherwise would have never looked for.

    SageTV tried to do this with it’s “Intelligent Recording” feature, but it was usually wildly off, and would go on binges of thinking maybe I was fascinated with hours and ours of “Paid Programming”

    But the others don’t even try.

    What’s the point of that?

    I mean, seriously — don’t delete (or miss) anything I’ve wanted recorded, but outside of that, what conceivable use is empty disk space? If I’ve got 50 hours of space, and 28 hours of recordings, I should have 22 hours of something else, even if it isn’t interesting to me and/or is just going to get deleted.

    Even dead wrong stuff is better than no stuff at all, particularly at three in the morning on a sleepless night, when I’ve watched everything I asked for it to record.

    With the DishPlayer and Windows MCE, I find myself going through listings grabbing stuff just on spec — often classic movies, or history programs, etc., in order to fill up space around the season passes.

    Which is great — I probably am finding some stuff I wouldn’t otherwise have found.

    But sometimes I don’t want to bother, or I won’t find something that a “flavor match” community system (“others who recorded / highly rated this, this and this liked that too, so I’ll record it too”) might have found.

  3. The Remote – The Tivo remote was a classic. It was nicely designed, almost too intuitive, and it fit your hand like an old friend.

    The Microsoft MCE remote is a not too distant second, but it’s still not there. All the other ones suck terribly.

Of course, there are some things about Tivo I don’t miss.

  1. Performance – Maybe the 2nd generation standalones were better, but both of my Tivos were dead slow, at least by the time I retired them.

    Not that they got any slower, I suppose, but my expectations of how fast a computer should work went up the whole time. By the end, the constant “please wait” started to raise my blood pressure by a point or two every time I saw it

  2. The Interface – I loved the Tivo interface; and I still do, to a degree. It makes most other PVR interfaces eat hot death — with one exception.

    The MCE interface actually did something nobody else ever managed, in my experience — it is smoother and better thought out than the Tivo interface.

    Obviously, this is subjective, but having spent the last 18 months as a Mac returnee from the land of Windows, Microsoft ain’t usually the first place I go to say nice things about interfaces. MCE is an exception.

  3. Closed System – Sure, you can network it and hack it, but unless you do, the Tivo is still a closed system. You can’t take content off (other than with Tivo2Go), you can’t add it on.

    MCE gives me the ability to toss on programs in MPEG/MPEG2/DIVX/WMV, etc. and use them through the same interface. I can copy stuff off and watch it on another Windows box (I still have to transcode to watch it on a Mac). I can put in a DVD and play it through the same interface — or even a DVD Changer with the latest update rollup.

  4. No decent path to HD — The HDTivo always looked like (an expensive) dead-end box to me. Locked into a program provider who’d already filed for divorce, not available for lease, and liable to be dead when DirecTV goes to MPEG4.

    The DishPlayer 942 gives me HD today, including tuning and PVR capability for my OTA HD locals. It’s a lease, so it’s in Dish’s interest to make sure that it is upgraded (or replaced) with MPEG4 capability when the time comes.

    Outside of that, the 942 doesn’t have a lot of wonderful features going for it (other than the ability to record up two SD or HD satellite programs + 1 HD local simultaneously), but that’s still a pretty big feature.

    MCE will do HD (now 2 HDs with the new update), although I’ve been trying to work out some of my hardware stability issues before I try it

On the whole, I don’t regret leaving Tivo behind. There are still some Tivo-esq things I’d like to have, but hopefully they’ll arrive in the not too distant future.

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2 Responses to “What I miss about Tivo”

  1. Mike Garcen (ShadyMG - MCE MVP) on October 24th, 2005 6:04 pm

    Great writeup. I never used TIVO, but i’ve always wanted one. One of the reasons i went to MCE was to avoid the Monthly Fee, i’m surprised you didn’t list that as something you DON’T miss 😉 Agree wholeheartedly with the Intelligent Recording feature. I’ve wished for this forever, still don’t see it coming.

  2. Chuck Lawson on October 24th, 2005 7:22 pm

    Hi Mike;

    The monthly fee is a pretty small issue for me; I was a Tivo adopter back when it was first introduced, and bought the lifetime subscription up-front; the DirecTivo fee was discounted and buried in my DirecTV bill, so I never much noticed it, either.

    Given the difference between the (heavily discounted) Tivos these days, and the cost of even the cheapest PVR-equipped MCE systems (let alone what I’ve put into my DIY version), I could pay monthly fees for a long time before the Tivo became the more expensive of the two — probably longer than I’d use either one, but that’s because I’m a gadget geek with a short attention span 🙂

    The only reason I can figure that nobody is doing a “smart recording” feature is that they’re scared of lawsuits; the technology behind that kind of suggestion engine is well known and in use all over the ‘net, but a company with deep pockets putting it on a high-visibility PVR might get some unwelcome attention.

    If that truely is the issue, perhaps MS ought to pursue licensing it; I’ve got a funny feeling that they’re going to want all of the feature differentiation they can get soon…

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