TiVo, Kleenex, Xerox

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Folks running to buy TiVo stock based on takeover rumors—Apple for one—need to get a grip. Proprietary systems always lose to more open competitors, even if the shorthand for the product becomes common.

Our household has never had a TiVo—a stand-alone Toshiba DVR/DVD combo and a Time Warner-Scientific Atlanta cable box/DVR do our time-shifting work—yet we still refer to "TiVoing" programming. Why? Because it is easy and descriptive.

TiVo's chink is its phone-line tether, a 20th century ball-and-chain for a 21st century multi-media world. Not a horrid solution, but a temporary one.

NEXT: Cutting off the Kyrgyzstanis

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  1. TiVo’s chink is its phone-line tether, a 20th century ball-and-chain for a 21st century multi-media world. Not a horrid solution, but a temporary one.

    You realize the phone line is only needed for the initial setup, right? Once you’ve done the first install you can plug in a USB network adapter and have it use your normal network. It is dumb that you need the phone line at all, but it’s not like it’s a real hurdle for most people.

    The *real* problem TiVo has is its cost. I paid around $600 for the box and lifetime service a few years ago. That’s just way too much for any reasonable consumer electronics device for most people.

  2. As one of the millions of cell-only whippersnappers who were supposedly being undercounted in pre-election polls, even having to use a phone line only once to set up a TiVo would require me to have the phone company come out and turn on my currently-dormant land line.

  3. I’m in the same position as Josh. I would have bought a Tivo, but I got a competing product because I only have a cell phone.

  4. I thought Tivo’s chink was positioning the guide as a subscription service instead of something that comes free with the box. Sure you can buy a lifetime subscription, but by the time you get around to *explaining* that, you’ve given the customer sticker shock and/or made them paranoid and scared them off.

    Personally, I really did want a more open system, so I built an HTPC.

  5. Yes, Mike you are correct and josh and x show just how graham bell that truly is.

    Ball, if you are so inclined, shoot me details on your HTPC. Me, I want a DVI-out vid card box or nothing.

  6. Yes, Mike you are correct and josh and x show just how graham bell that truly is.

    No doubt, it’s a problem. But for most people, the pricing model is the real flaw. On the plus side, TiVo seems to be the only company other than Apple that actually employs interface designers. My Comcast cable box is so HORRIBLE to use I never even look at the various “On Demand” things I’m supposedly getting with my digital subscription.

  7. No argument there on the interface. I know from my long exile in Maryland that Comcast is two or three generations behind TiVo.

    The fascinating thing is just how many features get nerfed from set-top boxes for non-technical reasons. CATV providers hate DVI because of handshake issues with displays, likewise home networks and built-in Ethernet ports. They do not want to have to support that stuff so they disable it. Brilliant.

    It just tickles me that we have a NEW interface coming down the pike — HDMI — with very little sign that any programming will actually use it. The retailers and installers love it for the most obtuse of reasons — that the dongle is very small compared to DVI cables.

  8. The phone line requirement doesn’t bother me at all. The reason I never bought a Tivo was because of the stupid subscription service. I don’t need a subscription service for my VCR.

  9. “The phone line requirement doesn’t bother me at all. The reason I never bought a Tivo was because of the stupid subscription service. I don’t need a subscription service for my VCR.”

    Bingo. When my VCR craps out eventually, I’ll most likely try to use an old computer to build something basically like a VCR, because I’m not interested in adding to my monthly bills. Knowing that they *could* sell me what I want, but are choosing not to, only adds to my desire not to give them my money.

  10. Jeff, check out http://www.htpcnews.com some time. (Not my site, but highly recommended.)

  11. The phone line requirement doesn’t bother me at all. The reason I never bought a Tivo was because of the stupid subscription service. I don’t need a subscription service for my VCR.

    I don’t have TiVo for several reasons:

    1) Between cablemodem, DigiCable, and HBO, I pay about $110/mo. already.

    2) I don’t care that much about TV to spend all that money just so I don’t miss certain things. Most TV is trash, and the good stuff (HBO!) gets replayed about 1000 times/week.

    3) I have 2 digital cable boxes and 2 VCR’s on separate TV’s. So, even when, for example, 2 things are on at once, it only takes me about 30 seconds to run upstairs and pop a tape in and hit record.

    However, I can see the draw of DVR technology. It’s not, as you suppose, a glorified VCR. When’s the last time you got to rewind a pause the very show you’re in the middle of, without missing a beat? When’s the last time you got to skip the commercials, without pre-taping it and switching tapes and blahblahblah? DVR technology is a cool idea—and if you really like the vast wasteland of TV, and you have money to burn, then I suppose it wouldn’t be a bad idea. Not for me, but, hey, everyone I talk to who has DVR can never go back.

    Hell, I thought the same thing about digital cable. “Oh, digital cable is nothing but the lazy man’s tv guide!” Now, after having had digital for a couple years, if I don’t have the onscreen guide and the “info” button, it’s like I’m living in the stone age. Flipping channels? Pffft! I imagine I’d feel the same way about DVR after a year—I’m just not willing to spend the piles of kishkash on it.

  12. People who scoff at the utility and value of a DVR are the same people who used to say “Broadband? Who needs faster internet? My dial up works just fine.”

    Broadband was never just about faster internet. Always-on internet changes how you use the internet, but that’s a subtle change that’s hard to communicate.

    DVR is like that. It’s not just a fancy VCR. It changes how you watch TV, and becomes a very useful filter.

    In essence, like Evan wrote about having digital cable, once you get used to having a DVR, not having one seems really primative.

  13. Evans & Mr. Nosuch,

    I don’t doubt that DVRs lead to a different manner of watching television. However, the subscription service component is unnecessary to provide many (most?) of the features prominently associated with Tivo, such as “pause live TV”, save over a hundred hours of programming, etc. Like many others it appears, I just want a “fancy VCR”.

  14. I paused live TV last night for the first time during 24 when my 11 month old spit up all over the floor and we had to do some cleanup (Dish network DVR, only $4.85 more per month). Life has changed completely and I will never look back.

    Did anyone else notice the audio being off during the middle part of the show last night?

  15. Tivo isn’t the only one requireing a hard wired phone line.

    I dropped DirectTV because of this. They require a land phone line to keep track of your pay-per-view tab. DishNetwork also does this.

    I have looked and asked, for over 2 years, but no response to creating an IP interface. All they say is that you can hook up your receiver to a phone line once a month, like the folks in motorhomes do. I just am not into hauling my receiver over to a neighbors, a relative or into the office just so they can bill me correctly.
    I only use a cell phone and cable modem.

    I am proud to say I am Verizon free for over a year now.

    Tom

  16. Regulator:

    If you’re referring to 24, it was either your provider or your receiver. I didn’t experience any extraordinary audio trouble (you know, beyond the typical shitty Fox audio feed).

    Tom:

    Same here, I’ve thought about getting DirecTV or DN, but I have no landline. I’ve heard that storms can have an effect, but I’ve never seen it firsthand. Until they fix this, I’ve no reason to switch from digitalcable.

    Also, the broadband with direcTV is very expensive, and also requires a landline. So, strike 2. If Adelphia didn’t capitalize on their monopoly by ripping us off, then I’d be fine with it all. Everything about Adelphia digital, short of the cost, is cool.

  17. Storms seldom have an effect, typically short. It usually is when the storm center passes between your reciever and the satilite.

    I’ve have DirecTV for about 7 years and TiVo for about a year. Love both of them.

    Just curious, all of you without landlines, do you have kids? That is the main reason I have not switched. Up until recently cellphones did not broadcast their location so 9-1-1 never knew where you were.

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