Currently I am living in the Cable Stone Age. Our local carrier (Time Warner Cable) has been slowly cutting back channels in a thinly-disguised effort to get everyone to switch to digital cable. I’ve been lazy but it’s time to start getting more channels (apparently 50 isn’t enough anymore). TiVo is clearly one option although I’m not too sure that I want the temptation of being able to watch ten Simpsons episodes per day.
From a practical perspective, how is the best way to “transition” to TiVo? I had thought that TiVo was just a very sophisticated VCR, but I have also heard that there are some Dish/TiVo combinations. I suppose if you get one of those, then you are abandoning your cable company anyway.
One more complication – I have DSL internet but that is through SBC (phone company, not cable, which is called Roadrunner, I think). I presume that nothing I do on the cable side will mess with DSL.
Any advice and explanation will be greatly appreciated. I guess I am mostly looking for explanation about how to go about the process, although if there are any comments about TiVo that are not fairly obvious, I will appreciate those too.
John–I’m not sure what the question is here. You have 3 separate things going on:
Your TV. You’re currently getting analog cable, I take it. You can switch to digital cable or dish. Digital cable will give you more channels and better quality. Dish will, too. There are probably lots of previous threads discussing the pros/cons of each; check 'em out.
Your computer. You have a DSL connection, which is high-speed (“broadband”) across your phone line. It has nothing to do with your cable. You can switch to a cable modem or keep your DSL. Many threads here as well, I’m sure.
Your video recorder. I take it you are currently using a VCR. TiVo is a sophisticated VCR. You can use it with either your digital cable or your digital satellite receiver. The new TiVo units include a network connection so you can set up your programming from your computer if you have a home network.
TiVo is a trademark. You can get a TiVo, a ReplayTV, (both units that sit by your TV, like a VCR) or use Time Warner’s digital video recorder service (which uses your cable box). Each system has its own features and restrictions, but none of them are anything more than a sophisticated video recorder; if the channels you recieve play ten different episodes of the Simpsons in a day, you can watch ten Simpsons every day. However, the best we can get is three Simpsons and a couple of Futuramas.
Check out the models available and the costs. Somethings to look for: How many hours to you want to be able to record? You may be able to record at different quality settings to save space, but IMHO, Low quality is unwatchable, and Medium quality is not good enough for animation or anything with fast action. Do you want to be able to record two shows at once? Do you want to have multiple units in different rooms that share information? How much does the subscription service cost? Is that going to change in the future?
Be advised that, if you want to use a TiVo or Replay to its full extent, you need to subscribe to the service that lets you download a TV schedule. No free lunch; you have to pay for this, and it also uploads information about what you watch and record to the Mother Ship. I suspect the same goes for Time Warner’s DVR. If you’re not comfortable with The Man knowing your viewing habits, stick to your VCR.
DirecTV, a satelite service, offers DirecTivo, which is a satellite receiver with a Tivo built in. Time Warner’s option is their own proprietary box, which has gotten mediocre reviews. I have heard that Tivo is markedly superior to TW’s box. I’ve had mine for a couple months, and I couldn’t be happier.
I’ve had an original, Sony TiVo since 2000. There’s NO OTHER WAY to watch TV now. Check out the Amazon page, and look inside the book – the whole first chapter, What is TiVo?, is online and is a great description, a must-read. I own this book, by the way, and the link is not a commission link.
Before going to Mexico for three weeks (from where I’ve just gotten back), I replaced the original 30GB drive with 120GB. It’s a whole new machine. I recommend getting the biggest drive you can, so you don’t ever have to worry about erasing things or watching them before they’re erased. My next step is networking the thing, after paying for aforementioned vacation!
So, what I have is an original, Series I TiVo standalone unit with coax cable in (free from Comcast for having internet access) and S-Video from the DirecTV receiver. I didn’t get a DirecTiVo due to lack of cable operatability. When I move, I may do so and just forget the cable. The network ability will add other cool stuff.
I’ve had a Tivo for two years and love it. My suggestion would be to get a Tivo first, before you consider any programming changes (like switching to a more expensive cable service that gives you more channels).
The reason is that now I record tons of stuff off the networks and basic cable stations - more than I can watch, so that I have no desire to get other channels.
If you plan to use a standalone TiVo (i.e. one that is not combined with a DirecTV receiver or similar) with digital cable, you should find what model cable box you would be using.
TiVo needs a way to change the channel on the cable box, and it can do this either by a serial cable, which is good, or an infrared transmitter, which is bad. Unfortunately, they will probably not provide a serial-enabled box, since that would encourage you to choose TiVo over their PVR. Infrared is shabby because the box sometimes doesn’t read the signals, and when you are on channel 189 and press Channel-Up, it actually sends 1-9-0, which results in high latency when channel surfing (although you won’t do much of that with TiVo).
One thing - if you are receiving high definition broadcasts, TiVo can’t get it. I did find this article saying a high def TiVo will be out early next year (at a high price, of course), so if you are planning to watch a lot of stuff on a high definition tuner, be warned.
Well, depending upon how much of a geek you are, and how much time/effort you’re willing to expend, it is possible to use your computer as a PVR. I, personally, use SnapStream and love it, but you do need to pay for the software, and a TV Tuner/encoder card if you don’t already have one. You don’t need to pay for program-guide information, though, which is cool.
One of the really keen things about SnapStream is that it’s very Internet-savvy, and even comes with a video-server that allows you to watch your recorded programs (or stream live TV!) from anywhere you have reasonably high-speed access to the internet. Also, you can do things like set it to record a show from your cellular phone, etc.
There are also some totally free options out there (one called Freevo for Linux…and one called MS-PVR that I played around with for awhile). My experience, though, is that the most usability comes with a TiVo/Replay TV, then SnapStream, then everything else fighting for scraps.
Well, it’s useless then. Every DVR that I’m aware of is “programming-based” as opposed to “time-based”. In other words, you tell it to record “The Simpsons” and it searches for episodes of the show, rather than just “record Channel 14 at 7:30” as you do with your current VCR. Without the programming information, your DVR can’t find “The Simpsons” and thus nothing ever gets recorded.
I like the Time Warner DVR. It’s only $6.95/mo with digital cable and although it doesn’t have many of the fancier features of a Tivo (such as learning), it’s very simple to use and stores enough programming for the missus and I. The way I figure it, the $7 a month is almost like a lease and if the thing breaks, we can just have TW swap it out. Plus, because it gets the programming information from the cable feed there’s no need for a phone line (or the hack to get Tivo to work with broadband).
Originally you could use TiVo without a subscription, but you were limited to VCR-like manual recording. Still a slight advantage over a VCR, I guess, but nothing compared to what you get for $13/month (I think that’s what I pay – it’s on a credit card so I have no idea). There’s also a lifetime-of-the-machine subscription available. This puts the total price in the range of a ReplayTV, which has the lifetime subscription built-in (I think that’s the case; it was in 2000).
I’m still considering making my solitaire-playing Windows/Linux box into a MythTV box – I really want it to do literally everything – DVR, rip DVD’s for local storage, serve my MP3/AA3 collections, rip CD’s, run a home voicemail system, stream other video, serve as my caller ID, play photo slideshows, control my DirecTV receiver via serial, run my X10 stuff, have a radio receiver, walk the dog, and so on and so forth, and maybe even surf the web. All of it. A truly one-in-all system. I’d even like to figure out how to add a controllable LCD display to the case so it acts like a stereo component (or maybe a micro-sized LCD display for truly breathtaking display). And it’s got to be easy to use and do everything (except web surfing) with a remote control. Unfortunately I just can’t bring myself to make the investment in the additional hardware until I know I can do it, since the hardware wouldn’t be good for anything else anyway (like I said, it’s a solitaire-playing machine). Hmmm… anyone know of an internal video capture card for Mac OS X? That’d really be a more elegant solution (no, not those crappy external ones; that’s not elegant!)
So, I’ve just now been hacking the TiVo little by little, using the book above. The hard drive upgrade was well overdue and well worth it. I will add the broadband next, and install the hacks I want until I bring myself to spending the bucks on the PC.
I have a Series 1 TiVo, hacked to include a network card and 150 hours. I had thought about going the other route and souping up a computer instead.
You mention that your “experience” shows doing this means you lack some features. Such as what, if I may ask. I’m figuring I could subsidize the equipment for my computer by selling the TiVo, and also saving the $12.95/month service charge.
Side note for the OP- if you don’t have a TiVo and you watch a reasonably large amount of TV, get a TiVo or something like it quick fast and in a hurry. It really does change the way you watch TV. Easiest way to transition? Just go out and by one today.
Really? While I would agree that the box occasionally doesn’t read IR, I have NEVER seen it send anything other than a valid channel number on Channel-Up or Down. I get about 70 channels spread over a range of 500, so I would pretty quickly see if it were not sending just valid channel numbers.