TiVo... finally

October 19, 2004

After years (literally!) of putting it off, I finally purchased a TiVo about two weeks ago. People that know me couldn't quite understand how I could be without the technology, and frankly, given my propensity to watch anything and everything under the sun, I can't say that their disbelief wasn't well-founded. Despite my [ir]rational holdout, the service hasn't completely eluded me the past few years; my dad has had it for quite a while (and has seen it through many variations, including the current 250GB HDTV model) and every time I came home from college I swore I was going to get one.

There were two reasons why I held out for so long. The first is that I don't have a phone line; for the longest time TiVo required you to have a phone line for the initial setup. With the introduction of the "Series2" devices, ethernet adapters (wired and wireless) could be plugged into the USB ports on the back of the box and used for service calls, but you were still required to have a phone line for the initial setup (this is no longer the case; see below). The other reason I waited so long was because Comcast kept telling me that they would be offering DVR services "soon." "Soon" has turned into a year and a half of empty promises — you'd think that Silicon Valley might be where they'd like to rollout their new services, but apparently not. So, yah, that's ~$15/mo they'll never see from me.

My machine is a Series2 box running v4.0+ of the operating system; this version allows you to not only do all service calls over your broadband network, but the initial setup can also be done over the network (read: without a phone line). I first tried to get on the network using a very old Netgear USB-to-ethernet adapter I had lying around, but the TiVo didn't recognize it and so I bought a cheap Netgear 802.11b wireless USB adapter. After inserting the adapter, rebooting, and setting up the machine to get on my wireless network (completely mindless), I was in business and immediately began to connect to the TiVo service and pull down channel information. Brilliant.

As usual, I do have some mild complaints. The first, and this is something we've been hearing for years, is that the TiVo "Suggestions" service is broken. My TiVo is constantly recommending (read: recording when there is free space) Spanish soap operas (I've never explicitly told it to record anything from the Spanish-speaking channels, much less a soap opera) and other equally random programs, such as "Totally Nascar!" I'd be much less annoyed by this if there was a way to "mark" multiple programs for deletion instead of having to delete each of them separately, but as far as I can tell this can't be done. Granted, I could turn the feature off completely, but sometimes it grabs shows I wouldn't mind watching.

My main gripe though is with the online scheduling. If you don't know, this allows you to tell your TiVo to record something through the Internet. For example, I had class during the third presidential debate last week and forgot to tell my TiVo to record it. So, I logged into my TiVo account, went to TiVo Central Online and proceeded to tell it to record the debate that was to take place in a few hours. I was immediately sent an e-mail letting me know that my request was noted and that I would receive another e-mail once the TiVo service got confirmation from my machine at home that it would record the program. After not receiving the second e-mail for a couple of hours I began to think something was wrong.

I assumed that as soon as I made the online request my instructions would be immediately forwarded to my machine and that would be that. That's not how it works. Your TiVo doesn't actually see your request until the next time it connects to the TiVo service, which, for Series2 devices connected via broadband like mine, is supposed to be once an hour (or so says the FAQ), but for whatever reason, mine only updates once a day. I haven't yet had time to figure that out, but notwithstanding the infrequent service calls, why doesn't the website simply talk to the TiVo as soon I'm done making the request? Actually, extending that idea to its probable conclusion, why isn't the TiVo a web server? Why can't I simply login to my TiVo when I'm away from it? I'm sure this is just around the corner, but I'm still confused as to why I can't do it now.

Another thing I'd like to see with the online service is the ability to view both the shows currently on my TiVo and the shows to be recorded later that day (again, something that will be taken care of when you can simply connect to your TiVo directly).

On a related note, yesterday Engadget interviewed Mike Ramsay, the CEO of TiVo (whom I met).

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