First impressions of a second TiVo

Sometimes, TiVo-the-Company pushes low-bitrate advertisements to TiVo-the-DVRs when they make their daily call. (They really need MPEG-4 for this, as low-bitrate MPEG-2 is not pretty.) Recently, a one-minute “Switch-to-Series2” ad was sent to all customers who purchased lifetime (your TiVo’s lifetime, not yours) service rather than paying by the month.

The deal is that TiVo will migrate your lifetime service to your new Series2 if you buy an 80-hour model (really 27-hour, since the 80-hour rating is based on the “You Would Never Actually Use This” quality setting) before March 10.

I have a 32-hour (okay, a 9-hour) Sony SVR-2000, which is a great machine that’s never failed me. I had no intention of upgrading until HD-capable DVRs became available, but I decided to bite the bullet (1) because of the offer, and (2) because the larger hard drive and USB ports meant that I could avoid surgery (and paying for upgrade kits) to get the capacity and 802.11x support that I’ve wanted.

The good My Series2 came on Friday. The unit looks nice — it’s a minimalist black box with the happy TiVo logo standing above an infrared sensor flanked with power and record LEDs — and has the same footprint as my Sony (although it’s a bit shorter). I called Tivo, they transferred my service after a cup o’ coffee length wait on hold, and I was up and running.

The only hitch in the upgrade process is that my lifetime service wasn’t reflected after TiVo’s first phone home. It turns out that TiVo-the-Company’s internal systems are just slow, and so you have to tell the TiVo to call in a couple hours after customer service does the transfer.

TiVo marketing is clearly aware of the viral nature of their product. In the “Switch-to-Series2” informercial, they give suggestions for what to do with your current TiVo.

You could always sell it, or perhaps sell it to a friend. Consider it a gift to someone who’s yet to see the TiVo light.

Of course, it’s a gift that requires giving a gift to TiVo (i.e. more money) before it’ll do anything interesting.

The bad The Series2’s remote is serviceable, but poor compared the SVR-2000’s. Its ergonomics are weak and its balance is egregious — you hold it near the front, but the batteries (and therefore the weight) are in the back, and so to hold it naturally your TiVo would have to be 10 feet in the air. The buttons look/feel cheaper and their layout is bad — believe it or not, it now takes two button presses to see what’s on your TiVo. Silly.

The ugly I was astounded that none of the care and feeding I’d given my original TiVo was migrated to the new one. When you migrate, you’ll have to reprogram all of your Season Passes, and presumably thumbs-up/thumbs-down a Burbank of TV shows before your new TiVo knows you.

The missing There’s no USB-to-802.11x option yet, although there’s a USB-to-Ethernet + Ethernet-to-802.11b kludge that works now. As with most DVRs there’s only one tuner, so you can’t record conflicting shows or watch a different channel while you’re recording another. Everytime there’s a TiVo OS update, you’ll have to reset the Advance buttons to do a 30-second skip (Select-Play-Select-3-0-Select while watching any recorded show) rather than its useless default behavior.

Finally, even with the forthcoming Home Media Option, you won’t be able to move the content you’ve recorded to a computer in order to watch it on a plane, archive to DVD, etc. I like TiVo, but unless TiVo-the-Company enables this last feature without requiring me to buy a 3rd TiVo-the-DVR, this will be my last.

I felt a bit like Dave removing HAL’s processing blades as I reset my Sony to factory condition.

Clearning and deleting everything.
This will take an hour.

My new TiVo works great, and soon I’ll forget that the Sony remote was so much better. I look forward to the Home Media Option (which will enable really remote control via the web), and to a USB-to-802.11b option that will allow me sever TiVo’s dependence on a phone jack (and possibly enable me to rid myself of a landline telephone service completely). I’m hoping for a hack that will allow me to move my shows to my computer and burn them to DVD.

But I can’t help being a little disappointed — and a bit leery about TiVo’s future — that two years later, the best that they could do was “more recording time”.