Thursday, September 22, 2005

Its with a heavy heart that I gave up my beloved Tivo today. I went down to Bright House Networks and got one of their new DVR boxes. It costs half as much, can record twice as many shows, can record two shows at once, and has picture in picture that can moved around the screen. Also, it doesn't need a land line like the Tivo does (for updating program data) so I can finally turn off my regular home phone and just go cellular.

There are some features that the cable company box doesnt have that the Tivo does, though. They are;

1) Season Pass - Tivo will let you one-button setup to record an entire season of any particular program, and then let you choose if you want reruns or not. The BH will record "all episodes" of a program, but that seems to mean reruns and all with no way to filter out just first runs. For shows that run on HBO, like the Sopranos, this means selecting 'Record All Episodes' will give you many, many multiple recordings.

2) Wishlists - Tivo lets you enter search terms - Actor names, movie genres, etc, that it uses to find stuff you might like and record it for you. The BH has nothing like this.

3) Search by Title - Tivo lets you go into a section with an onscreen keyboard display that lets you spell out the name of the program you want to set up. The BH box just uses its sloppily laid out menu system to find programs to record. It seems to really be set up to record things you happen across while you're channel surfing.

4) 30-second skip - Tivo does it (with an easter egg hack), the BH doesnt. Its handy for commercials, since they tend to be exactly 30-seconds, you can just blip right by them.

5) Thumbs up/Thumbs Down Buttons - You can 'ceasar' a program and the Tivo will either record more or less of it depending on your preference. The BH box does nothing of the sort

6) Hackability - The Tivo box is basically a linux computer. There are a bunch of hacks for it which include adding an ethernet card (newer ones have them built in) so you can retrieve stored video, and get tv listing info over a local network, schedule recordings remotely via the internet, move viewable content TO the Tivo so you can watch it on your tv, etc. You can also add larger hard drives and increase your recording time. Since the BH box belongs to Bright House networks, I can only assume any opening/tampering with the guts is strictly verboten.

7) Better Remote - The Tivo remote has a nice feel, is uncomplicated, and doesnt try to do more than it should. The cable company remote tries to be all things to all people and just ends up being complicated as a result.

Mainly though, The Tivo menus are much more pleasant to look at. The BH unit seems dumber overall, more like an appliance. The Tivo is more of a learning device, because through the services backend, it can figure out what you like and tries to record more of it.

So why am I getting rid of it? Because hardware becomes obsolete, and to stay in the game with Tivo, you have to buy a new box every year and a half for a couple hundred bucks. My model only records 20 hours and can only record one program at a time. With the BH box, if better hardware comes along I can just go swap my box in for a newer one and enjoy whatever features come down the pike. Many enhancements can probably be done via software updates, requiring me to do nothing at all to enjoy the benefits. I think the cable company DVR can only get better over time.

This is what has been known about Tivo for awhile now. Their business model is doomed, because it requires people to buy their expensive hardware, and then pay a monthly service fee in order to gain access to the best part, which is the software and the service itself. Remind you of anyone?

Personally, I hope they just end up licensing the software to the cable companies. Im not holding my breath though. In the meantime, if you're in the Market for a used Philips Tivo 20-hour, keep an eye on eBay because theres about to be one going up there.