The Commish Online                                                                                
Taking TiVo To Task
June 8, 2004

I fancy myself a gadget guru, always flipping to the Best Buy flyer first thing Sunday morning.  War rages on, economy is in trouble, blah blah blah… ooh look, digital cameras are ten percent off!  You know the type.  I am also an avid TV watcher, but have yet to leap into the world of TiVo.  Luckily, my patience has paid off, as another wave of technology has made it cheaper and easier to record your favorite shows.

I don’t want to reveal the name of this product just yet, but it fits in an entertainment cabinet just like a TiVo.  The comparisons end there.  For starters, Product X, as I’ll call it, costs about a third of the price of a mid-range TiVo.  Connection of Product X requires no phone lines and setup is easy for anyone.  While TiVo has a limit on the numbers of hours it can record, Product X can record endless amounts of television with portable media, which are inexpensive and can be shared among friends and family.

This is where Product X’s advancements thwart TiVo.  Most of us have at least 2 TVs in our home, and some of us have a TV in almost every room.  While tech-savvy engineers can rig their TiVo to be shared among several TVs or wire it such that a program recorded on TiVo can then be burned onto a writeable DVD, the average person owning TiVo can only watch the recorded program on the TV hooked up to TiVo.  Product X, on the other hand, can be enjoyed in every room there is a TV, as long as multiple units are purchased.  At one third the cost of TiVo (in some cases as little as one sixth), it becomes a simple, inexpensive solution.

Is that a big deal?  It is if you have ever recorded one of the nine Law & Order programs because you weren’t home at the time, then decide you want to watch it on the small TV in your bedroom because it’s getting late and you are getting tired.  Another scenario: a coworker misses the season finale of Alias and you recorded it.  With TiVo, it would take several extra steps to convert that program to a portable medium you can give to your coworker.  With Product X, you can bring the program in the next morning with no hassle.  Then, your coworker can reciprocate by lending you the Family Feud episode you missed as you try to wean yourself off your addiction to the bearded Richard Karn.

Looking for another positive of Product X?  Most TiVos are not equipped with two tuners, so recording one show while watching another is not possible (except on DIRECTV).  With Product X, you can watch 60 Minutes, record The Simpsons, and if you have multiple units, you can record even more shows at the same time!  Eventually TiVo may catch up to Product X, but the cost is already higher while the options are behind the times.

Not everything is better about Product X, but the negatives are minor.  The picture quality of a recorded program may be slightly less impressive than the original, but the same goes for TiVo if you try to extend the recording time of the hard drive.  The big factor is that Product X doesn’t have the built in “intelligence” of TiVo, recording all future programs involving Pam Anderson and guessing that you might like the World Series of Poker based on what you have already recorded.  While this seems important to some, it’s really just more of a novelty.

The amount of time you spend setting the preferences on your TiVo could be used just looking in a TV Guide and recording what you want.  What Product X lacks in artificial intelligence, it makes up in an easy to use interface for recording any channel you desire, often times as long as a month in advance.  Those people too busy to know what shows they want to watch will hardly have time to actually watch the eight hours of World Series of Poker their TiVo recorded for them, hence the novelty.

The biggest reason Product X is vastly superior to TiVo?  Monthly cost.  TiVo, which already costs $200 to $500, charges THIRTEEN DOLLARS PER MONTH (or $299 for life, but that cost is non-transferable, so if the box breaks, you are stuck) for the right to record on a machine you already bought!  The monthly charge for Product X?  Nothing.  Fourteen bucks for an 8-pack of portable media (which can be rerecorded over and over) should last a couple years and offer over 40 hours of recording time.

While you are probably already sold on Product X and awaiting the news on where you can buy one, I have even better news.  You likely already own one.  Product X is none other than a VCR, if you haven’t figured that out already.  So, while the “TiVo heads” surf websites trying to figure out different ways of hacking their TiVos to get them to do what they want, the smart ones will just pop in a VHS tape, set the timer, and be on their way to whatever took them away from the TV in the first place.