What is TIVO

Because some of you might be making life altering decisions during the holiday season (ie. satellite — ooh, spooky!), I thought it was time to have the talk. No, not that "the talk." The TiVo talk.

What is TiVo?
TiVo is the revolution, my friend. Forget everything you've ever known about television. Forget racing home to watch something that starts at…oh, gosh – what time does it start?! Forget setting the VCR. Heck, forget the VCR!! TiVo has been the single most life-altering "thing" I have ever purchased without a doubt. But back to the question: What is TiVo?

TiVo is a computer, essentially. It's got most of the parts you would find in your regular computer. It essentially combines the recording ability of a VCR with the "smarts" of a computer. It's important to point out that –right now– there are two kinds of TiVo: STANDALONE TiVo and TiVo for DirecTV.

What does TiVo do?
Let's stick to the technical. (I promise not to add 2 paragraphs per question telling you that TiVo gives you your life back, if you promise to appreciate the implied message, OK?!)

TiVo connects to your incoming television/cable/satellite signal and allows you to manipulate and manage the signals. For example, you could choose to record a show, pause live TV, fast forward during a program (perhaps during the commercials?!), watch an instant replay, or slow-motion of the program. This is the basic premise of what TiVo calls "TRICK PLAY". How? TiVo has a hard drive (or several hard drives) and it records the signal as it comes into your home. Perhaps it's easier to understand that TiVo is always recording and your watching the recording. It's the underlying premise of digital video recorders. Essentially, all "DVRs" have these "TRICK PLAY" features.

But wait, that's not all! This is where TiVo starts to separate itself from the pack a little bit and take on some functionality that other DVRs don't have. TiVo is a digital recorder but it's also a service. With TiVo, you can set up "SEASON PASSES" for your favorite shows. TiVo will search the listings and schedule the recordings automatically. You'll never miss an episode again – even if it shows on a different day, time, or channel! And you'll never have to watch a repeat, unless you tell TiVo to record the repeats too. (More on Season Pass)

Another feature is the TiVo WISHLIST. You can set up Wishlists for your favorite actors, directors, genres, you name it. TiVo searches and records the shows that match your interests. Tell TiVo to record cooking shows about chocolate…no problem! Record everything Tom Cruise is in (interviews, movies, talk shows)? No problem! (More on Wishlists)

TiVois smart, too. Tell it what you like by assigning up to three "Thumbs Up" or "Thumbs Down" to a program and TiVo will learn what types of program you enjoy watching. Then TiVo spend it's spare time finding shows similar to the ones you like. For example, say you really enjoy TLC's "TRADING SPACES", TiVo might auto record BBC's "CHANGING ROOMS", which is essentially the British version of the same show. Then you can choose to watch the similar program or just delete it! (More about Smart Recording)

Finally, TiVo brings Parental Controls to the small screen. You can set password limits on channels and recordings. (Note: This works great when your husband hasn't cut the grass yet and insists on watching the FSU game!) But TiVo gives you another parental control that you might not have thought of – auto recording your children's favorite programs. With a few extra episodes of Square Bob Sponge pants, your kids are gonna keep watching the shows they love instead of surfing for shows you wouldn't approve of.

How much does TiVo cost?
TiVo is a unit and a service, but you'll like the pricing. You have to purchase the unit first and that can run you up to $299, depending on how many hours you want to be able to record. For $299, you can get the big daddy 80-hour unit. Once you have a TiVo, you need TiVo service. There are two options: monthly and lifetime. I think the monthly fee for a stand alone unit is about $10 and lifetime is $250. For DirecTV only systems, it's $4.99 per month.

What is the difference between a STANDALONE TiVo and a TiVo for DirecTV?
You can use a Stand alone unit with any video signal: rabbit ears, cable, DirecTV, DishNetwork, you name it. Stand alone units can record one "signal" (or channel) at a time. Stand alone units accept your analog feed, convert it to digital and save it. Then, they convert the signal back to analog when you're ready to watch it.

DirecTV units or "DTivos" (which are now being called DirectDVR) can be used only with DirecTV. DTivos can record up to two signals at a time and (since the satellite feed is digital) they retain the digital format at all times. DTivos can receive signals in Dolby Digital or 5.1 audio and output it when you're ready to watch the programs. (More about DTivo)

What kind of TiVo(s) do you have?
We have two DTivos (TiVo for DirecTV). We have a Philips DSR6000 and Hughes GXEBOT.

What's the difference between a DirecTV TiVo and a DishPVR?
There are some core differences which people don't seem to understand. Most DishPVR user think TiVo is a commodity term to describe a PVR, like "TV", "DVD", "VCR", etc. If you ask them if they have a TiVo, they'll say "yes" but they actually have a DVR. If you're looking at the two (DishPVR vs. standalone TiVo or DirectDVR/DTivo), it's important to understand that each one is a Digital Video Recorder. Only the TiVo units are TiVos. Why the big deal?

Both TiVo units and DishPVR can perform the "TRICK PLAY" features I described above. Both types of units can record. That's where the similarities end.

DTivo/DirectDVR can record two signals at once – DishPVR cannot. Even better, your DTivo/DirectDVR lets you watch one saved program and record two others at the same time. This is a key feature in our house when West Wing goes up against Amazing Race or when Monday Night Football is on opposite some sappy, girly movie. Another drawback (as I understand it) is that you pretty much have to watch what you're recording. You can't record Friends and watch something else. If you want to record Friends, you have to sit there and watch Friends. Boo!

Also, DishPVR units do not have the TiVo service. That means they cannot search out programming, accept thumbs up/down, wishlists and other features described above.

Essentially, the DishPVR is a fancy VCR – nothing more. You still need to figure out what you're going to record and when you're going to record it.

One "feature" of the DTivo/DirectDVR is that you could upgrade/add hard drives if you were so inclined. I say that carefully, because you could void your warranty. But, if you have to have a larger hard drive, its definately possible.

Even if you get a DishPVR for free, it really doesn't do that much for your TV experience other than let you fast forward through commercials. The smart money is on the TiVo system which offers a lot of service features that truly change the way you experience television.

While we're one the subject, what's better: DirecTV or Dish Network?
Well, a lot of people have some stong opinions and they're are pros and cons of each, I guess. After you look at the packages and the pricing, I would say there are a few things which tilt the balance for DirecTV – at least through my eyes.

DirecTV offers TiVo integrated into the receiver, for starters. Granted, you can buy a standalone TiVo, but it is worth mentioning. Also, DirecTV offers complete sports packages – Dish does not. DirecTV offers NFL Sunday Ticket, NHL Center Ice, NBA League Pass, MLB Extra Innings, and YES Network (NY Yankees). If you like sports, it's important to know that you can only get these packages with DirecTV. Each provider has some local markets in which it offers "local channels" that the other does not, so that may be a factor for you. My only gripe with the Dish locals is that you need an extra antenna in some markets. Overall, I prefer (and chose) DirecTV.

What TiVo should I buy?
If you have DirecTV or are considering DirecTV, get the DTivo/DirectDVR combo unit. The dual tuner functionality and audio capabilities are they way to go. If you have cable, satellite, or any other signal, go with the standalone TiVo.

FINAL ANALYSIS
I'm only going to say this one time. If you buy a TiVo, you need to be aware that you will not be able to watch TV ever again with out TiVo. I'm not kidding. It takes about two-three weeks before you can truly appreciate what TiVo can do for you.

At first, you'll still dash home to catch Survivor and then watch it in "real time". Once you unlearn all your TV-dependent habits, though, you'll soon find that you don't know what time/day Survivor is on. And – you don't need to know that anymore! You'll just come home and watch it whenever you want. You'll go to bed at night rather than try to stay awake for the Letterman monolouge because you can watch it anytime you want.

In fact, you will probably start to question other devices as to why there's no TiVo features in them. When we first got ours, I found myself cussing at the radio because I couldn't fast forward the commercials or get the radio to auto-play a program that was on at a different time! :tongue

 

If I haven't explained TiVo well enough, I would strongly encourage you to WATCH THIS!

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