What is so great about TiVo and DVR?

On this thread people seem to feel it is an amazing invention. Who all has it and what is so amazing about it? I currently use a VCR and although it has major limitations (mainly that i cannot record on more than one channel at a time, but i have 2 tvs & 2 vcrs so that is not a huge problem). Getting to cut out commercials sounds nice but i can just use the fastforward button on the VCR. What advantage(s) does TiVo offer that make it worth the $12.95 a month?

I rent a DVR from my cable company so it isn’t a real TiVo but…

The greatest thing about DVRs for me is being able to pause live TV. Actually, even more than that is the ability to start watching a show before it’s finished recording. If I’m in the middle of something and realize that Amazing Race is about to start I can finish up, grab a snack, sit down in front fo the TV at 10:18 and start watching from the beginning.

I think TiVo’s main benefit is all the nifty scheduling magic it can do. For example if you set two shows to record and they overlap TiVo will try find when the show that was cut off repeats and then schedule itself to record it again.

This gets said a lot, but I really think it’s true: people who don’t have a TiVo/DVR don’t understand what the big deal is until they get one. I count myself among those people – it really does change the way you watch TV.

It’s what a VCR was supposed to be.

You can program in the shows you like, the TIVO records them, you watch them at you leisure. Programming the TIVO is simple and foolproof.

Also, it’s simple to FF past commercials. 30 minute sitcoms take 22 minutes to watch!

I’ve had mine for about 2 months now and I’m still in love. TIVO ROCKS!

Servo’s right: it’s one of those things that you can’t really appreciate until you have one in your own home.

The things I love about TiVo are many and mighty:

  1. Season passes. I can set a season pass for any show currently on TV, and I can specify whether TiVo should pick up just the new episodes, new and repeats, or catch it every single time it airs – regardless of what channel it’s on. To use a common example, Buffy the Vampire Slayer airs on Fox on the weekends, but during the weekdays it’s on FX. All I have to do is set a season pass for Buffy and I’ll get both airings, and I don’t have to worry about changing the channel or the settings or anything. What’s more is that you can control the priority of stuff you want to record, so if I have a season pass set for Buffy and then one for Jeopardy, if I place Buffy above Jeopardy then if the two ever air at the same time it will record Buffy first. Furthermore, when you setup a recording TiVo will check to make sure the new recording doesn’t conflict with any other programs you’ve decided to record, and if there is a conflict, it lets you know that and lets you choose which one you want to get.

  2. Wishlists. A wishlist is a keyword – it could be a title, an actor, a subject, a director, etc. – that will trigger a recording. You can set TiVo to automatically record everything with that keyword(s) in it, or you can just check from time to time to see what’s coming up. For example, my husband and I are going to Paris in October, and right now we’ve got a wishlist set for Paris. We’re catching the expected Travel channel stuff, but TiVo also lists movies set in Paris, or people named Paris. If I wanted to I could include another keyword or two to keep the Paris Hilton stuff from appearing in the list, but what’s the fun in that? :wink:

  3. Skipping commercials. I know you can do this with a VCR, but TiVo has this brilliant feature built in called auto-correct. If you’re fast-forwarding on a VCR and you see your show has come back from commercial, by the time you realize that it’s come back you’re already several seconds into the program. On TiVo when you see the show come back you press “Play” and it actually starts playing several seconds before what you saw on the screen.

  4. Pausing live TV. When it’s not recording, TiVo always keeps a half hour buffer of whatever’s playing on the channel right then. So let’s say you finish watching something that’s been recorded, and then you switch over to live TV, and you realize it’s a really cool show. You can go back a half hour to catch more of it, even though you never actually set the TiVo to record the program.

  5. You can watch a recorded show while another one is recording, something you definitely can’t do with a VCR. If TiVo is recording a program, you can watch something else that TiVo has already gotten for youwithout affecting the existing recording.

  6. Unless you are a) a serious TV addict b) are OCD about recording everything at the highest quality and c) too cheap to get anything but the smallest HDs, you never have to worry about "running out of tape.: I regularly record on the medium quality setting, and I really can’t tell the difference between that and live broadcast TV, and I have yet to fill up my HD. This is particularly good when I’m out of town for, like, a week and there are a lot of shows coming up.

  7. TiVo connects to the main service once or twice a day, and when it does it picks up the program listings, program descriptions, and most (if not all) shifts in programming. Like when a program’s air time has been moved to accommodate a game or special event, TiVo will get that and change it accordingly.

  8. Now that TiVo has integrated the Home Media option into its standard service, I can schedule stuff to record from here at work, or anywhere I have web access. When I schedule something remotely I can choose to have it automatically choose the new program over any conflicts, or I can have it e-mail me to let me know of a conflict so I can choose which program to record. Home Media also means that if your TiVo is connected through a LAN (instead of a dial-up) and if your other computer(s) is/are on the same LAN you can share pictures and MP3 files with your TiVo, so you can see your pictures or listen to music on your TV.

Really, the best thing about TiVo is that it frees you from your TV. I can set up things that I want to record, and I can watch them whenever I feel like it. It’s just a terrific little box, and it has one of the friendliest user interfaces ever.

Also: while I don’t have first-hand experience, I know of a number of people (including my parents) who had the “free Tivo” thing through satellite, and ended up going with the paid real Tivo service because the features were much better. I’ve yet to hear of anyone who has gone from real TiVo to free tivo. YMMV, of course.

I admit freely, unabashedly and unreservedly: there are certain television shows that I love. I want to see them, and I want to see them in their entirety and I don’t want to miss a moment of action or a syllable of dialogue. I go so far as to note these shows in my Palm Pilot with alarms so that I don’t miss them.

Problem is that I have two small children, a weird bit of insomnia and a (very) minor hearing loss. Combine those factors and I find myself frequently missing moments of shows, because the baby has cried and I cannot hear what’s on the TV, or I have to go to the baby, or because I’ve fallen asleep when I haven’t wanted to. (Because I couldn’t sleep when I wanted to.) This interferes with my ability to see the television shows I want to see.

TiVo frees me from concern about these factors. Shows that are detail oriented or have a lot of loud scenes which interfere with dialogue are automatically recorded and frequently watched a second time right after their original broadcast. (The Amazing Race is like this, same with Third Watch and ER.) I couldn’t manage if I were trying to do this with a VCR.

Also nice – if I sit in front of a TV and watch all of a network’s prime time programming (say on “Must See Thursday” hahaha) it takes three hours. If I watch the same programming via TiVo the next day (or later that evening, see above note about insomnia), it takes 2 hours and 18 minutes. Having that “extra” (more like reclaimed) 42 minutes free to do other things? Four times a month or more? That alone is worth $12.95 to me.

One of the big benefits of any DVR is that you don’t have to manage tapes yourself. You dont have to find a tape with some space on it, you don’t have to position the tape at the right point before recording, and you don’t have to remember where and on which tape you recorded something.

Some things we like about our ReplayTV, in no particular order:

  1. It downloads an interactive program guide from the Mother Ship. Lots of cable/satellite services come with an guide, true, but ours doesn’t, and my god, the treasure trove of information that thing is! (And it’s searchable for two weeks into the future.)

  2. You can program it to record any program when the title or even the description contains a certain keyword.

Ours records “Simpsons” whenever it’s on, whatever the channel. This amounts to four unique episodes a day, and extras on Sunday.

If you were really into, say, koala bears, you could have it record any program on any channel that had “koala” in the title or the description, and see every show that features koalas in the description, be it Nature on PBS or Crocodile Hunter on the Animal Channel.

The show descriptions often also list the main actors. So you can have it record everything with, “Jennifer Aniston” in the description. It’ll record all the episodes of Friends that are on, plus any movie she’s in, and any talk show she appears on.

  1. Skipping commercials automatically is super keen. You don’t have to drop what you’ve got in your hands (I knit while I watch TV) grope for the remote, hit fast-forward, and use your catlike reflexes to hit Play at exactly the right moment. Fair warning: Auto-skip doesn’t always work properly, but that just means you have to turn off the autoskip, maybe rewind a bit, and skip commercials manually. There’s a 30-second skip ahead button which, in combination with the Omega-13 button (see #6 below) makes it really easy. I’d estimate that it fails less than 10% of the time, though.

  2. No clutter of blank tapes. Whenever you want to flop down on the couch watch some TV, there it is: several hours of good programs, right there, neatly organized on the hard drive. Whenever you want to record something new, it’s as easy as punching a button, whether it’s on now or two weeks from now. No swapping tapes, no losing tapes, no accidentally taping over things, no running out of blank tapes just before the finale of whatever program is ruling our lives this season.

  3. It’s mindbogglingly simple to record what you want to watch. Find it on the guide, punch Record. If you want to record that program whenever it’s on in that timeslot, hit Record a second time. And, lo, it shall be recorded, now and forever. Even the easiest-to-program VCR doesn’t compare. It’s so effortless, we’re always tape stuff just for the heck of it, to see if it’s interesting. No way I’d have bothered to set up the VCR for a program if I wasn’t pretty damn sure I was going to like it.

  4. The “Omega 13” button: There’s a button on the remote that will let you instantaneously jump back 7 seconds if you missed an important piece of the action or just want to see something particularly cool for a second time. And it always works, even when you’re watching live TV. It makes me insane that our DVD remote doesn’t have this button! I am utterly dependant on the thing.

Whether it’s worth it to you to get the added functionality, or whether you’re happy with your VCR setup is up to you. For us, it was one of those things where we said to ourselves, look, we’re finally making enough money that we can start buying nice things to make our lives more pleasant. So we shelled out for the ReplayTV and the lifetime service membership. It was a good-sized chunk of change, but it was within our means and I still maintain it’s the best entertainment money we’ve ever spent.

I had the same view about TiVo as the OP before I got one, i.e. that it’s basically just a better VCR. The key to understanding its magnificence is realizing that you are not actively recording programs to watch later (although you can). Rather, you’re distilling from all of TV a subset of things you know you like, which are sitting there waiting for you to watch whenever you want. It’s stressful at first, because you feel like you have to watch everything, but eventually you realize that you don’t have to watch it just because you recorded it, any more than you watch every show on TV. Although you can still watch live TV just like before (but now with pause, rewind and fast forward) I find that I almost never do.

I almost forgot to mention the very worst thing about TiVo: You will get utterly and completely spoiled by watching all television with the pause, rewind and fast-forward features, and you’ll start to wish for the same ability in other situations.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ll be in my car, listening to the radio, and there will be a loud sound outside or someone will call and I’ll have to turn the radio off, even though it’s in the middle of a great tune or program, and there’s nothing I can do about it. That interview, that comment, that passage is gone! Gone forever!

Very spoiled, I tell you.

(Possibly Stupid) Question: Is TiVo something you order in addition to your cable or satellite subscription or stand alone?

I never thought of it like that. How do you know what you want to watch though? Do you put in keywords and TiVo shows you shows you would like or do you have to manually check all the stations/times until you find what you want?

Very helpful post, MM. I’d have to say, though, that of all the reasons you listed, the only really compelling one for me is #2. So I have a few follow-up questions:

How many keywords can you program? What’s the limit? And where/how is that metadata (actor, subject, director, etc.) stored/compiled?

Thanks. :slight_smile:

I don’t think there’s a limit to the number of separate keyword wishlists you can create, but I’m not sure how many separate words each wishlist can accommodate. I know I’ve done several (“celebrity poker Richard Belzer” is one example, because I heard his blowup was pretty spectacular).

I don’t know how the metadata is stored; what I do know is that you have the on-the-fly keywords, which is one of the ways you can find stuff to record, and then you have the saved keywords, which are always hunting for matches to your search. When you set a saved keywords search you can choose to have TiVo always record matches, but if you have a broad search with a lot of matches you might end up with a lot of stuff you don’t want recorded. The great thing is that you can access the saved wishlist searches any time you want and see what matches are coming up, then select from those.

If you really want to get AR about your TV viewing, you can also rate programs with the thumbs up/ thumbs down button. There’s a section called TiVo suggestions which makes, um, suggestions to you about upcoming programs, which is based on your viewing habits and the stuff you’ve rated. Kind of like Amazon’s suggestions, you know?

First, If you know the names of shows you want to watch you can just setup a season pass based on the show title. You don’t have to know what station it is on or what channel.

Second finding new stuff is a matter of using the Wishlist or Tivo Suggestions. The former has already been explained, the latter is when Tivo records programs for you it thinks you might like based on your past recording and view preferences. You can use the thumbs up or thumbs down button when watching a program and Tivo will use whatever free space it has to record a suggested program.

Personally I use wishlists and not Suggestions but it works pretty well for some.

One point that hasn’t been explicitly mentioned is the quality of the recording. I have the DirectTV/Tivo box (2 actually) and the recording is absolutely pristine and much better than a VHS recording.

Tivo completely changes the way you interact with TV. We have become so reliant on it that when my very first Tivo unit died (one of the original Philips boxes) we went and replaced it that day.

Someone said that you don’t really get it until you live with it and it’s true. Understanding all the features is not the same as using Tivo. I even sold my Luddite parents on one. Now they have a Tivo on every single TV in their house.

A follow up.

One of the surprising things I have learned with the help of Tivo is there is that there is more good TV on than I thought there was, I just didn’t know the what/when/where.

I have a friend who is lusting for a TiVo and I am thinking of getting her one for her birthday.

The problem is, as much as she wants one, she tends to freak out around learning anything technological and is very stressful and high maintenance through the learning curve.

Is it easy to learn, and if she has a Miranda/Sex and the City moment where her boyfriend or she fucks up the system, will I be dealing with a mega meltdown?

It is insanely easy to learn, and, as I said above, one of the best and most intuitive UIs that I’ve yet encountered. Also, setup is a breeze. Once you get everything plugged in it takes about a half an hour, an hour at most, to get through everything before you’re off and running. My technophobe parents set up theirs without issue. And TiVo’s tech support is supposed to be really great, although I haven’t had any first-hand experience with it yet. Knock on wood.

If I were to get a TiVo for myself, I’d get the one with the DVD Recorder. Being able to record a month of Charmed and then transfer it to a DVD would be SO cool.

As it stands I do have a standalone DVD Recorder, which is essentially a digital VCR, and thus the process is similar without the ability to do the auto rewind or pausing while viewing.

Oh, I’ll set it up for her.

Not to sound paternalistic or patronizing, I am more than happy to let her watch and learn, but even dealing with cables makes her freak out.

This is going to sound strange, but bear with me: TiVo helped me to a better understanding of Born-Again Christians.

Seriously. Getting TiVo, for me, was something like what I imagine Finding Jesus must be. I suddenly find myself standing in a pool of warm, comforting light, looking back at myself in the cold darkness, and I wonder how I ever survived in that state of blind ignorance. And furthermore, I am consumed with the need to spread the TiVo Gospel.

(Example: Last Thursday, I was sitting next to my boss’s boss at lunch, and I cadged a ballpoint pen from somebody so I could sketch a quick diagram of my A/V setup in order to prove just how simple it was to add TiVo to the cable chain. By the end of my presentation, she was sold, and said she would go get TiVo over the weekend.)

Basically, from my point of view, TiVo erases everything annoying about television in one grand sweep, and makes it completely enjoyable. And rather than seconding everything that’s been said so far, I’ll summarize in one statement:

TiVo makes it possible to watch what you want to watch when you want to watch it the way you want to watch it.

Example: I’ve got a deep layman’s interest in astronony and space exploration. I therefore took a few minutes and set up a couple of dozen wishlists using keywords like “Mars,” “astronom*”, “NASA,” and so on. I run the wishlist search once a week and review the results. And the consequence is that I have a wide (and rotating) selection of space documentaries available for me to look at whenever I want.

You have no idea how freeing it is to be so completely unshackled from the schedule grid. Yes, you can use a VCR, but it’s a pain: Find a tape, play the first few minutes to make sure it’s something you can record over, button through the scheduling screens, switch the cable box (if you have premium) beforehand, etc., etc. And later, you either need to watch it right away or label the tape (or deal with the big pile of unlabeled tapes next to the TV). With TiVo, you point at the program you want and hit record. Done. And you can watch it at any time: Turn on the TV, hit the TiVo button twice, page to it, and hit play. Done.

Phone rings during a program? Pause, even if you weren’t recording. Didn’t get to pause quick enough? Quick replay to back up a few seconds. Commercials? Instant 30-second skip (you have to reprogram the skip-ahead button). See a show you like? Season pass and never think about it again; just watch the eps as they appear.

No longer does your television serve as a vegetative device, where you’ve got a show you want to watch at 7pm and another one at 10pm and you find yourself sitting on your ass flipping channels at 8pm and 9pm looking for something, anything, to bridge the gap. No, you just turn on the TV and there’s a whole list of stuff you know you want to watch, just waiting for you. The reality is, I’m watching less television now, because all the garbage is filtered out.

I’ll repeat: I watch what I want to watch, when I want to watch it, the way I want to watch it.

You cannot understand how cool TiVo is until you actually have it. I knew within two days that I would never again be able to own a television without it.

Or in other words: Have you accepted TiVo as your entertainment savior? :slight_smile: