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”.

A decade of Mosaic

Wired News had a brief chat with Marc Andreessen — for you youngsters, the Shawn Fanning of his time — about his thoughts on the tin anniversary of Mosaic.

He seems a tad out-of-touch, though. Demonstrating a complete lack of understanding of the strategic purpose of Apple’s Safari, he says:

I think it’s so funny that Apple comes out with a new browser in 2003. Where were you guys six years ago? I wish them the best, but it’s not as if you’re about to see Safari go from 0 percent market share to 47 percent.

For Apple, it hasn’t been funny at all that they were dependent on Microsoft for a critical application (i.e. the browser), and had n oanswer for a critical pieces of the operating system (i.e. a web rendering engine that any application can use). Besides — considering that it’s Mac-only, a marketshare of 47 percent is completely reasonable.

Any new technology tends to go through a 25-year adoption cycle. I look at what happened from 1975 to 1985, the first 10 years of the PC adoption cycle. There was huge over-investment in the early 1980s. In the late 80s there was a huge crash, and the real build-out was from 1990 to 2000. With the Internet, we’re really 10 years into what will ultimately look like a 25-year cycle from invention to full implementation.

Well, that’s an interesting and useful perspective. Let’s forgive him for his uninformed point of view on Safari, okay? [via Studio Log]

Posted in Web

Ripping albums with a scanner

Have you ever taken an ants-eye view of a track on a familiar vinyl album and noticed that you could actually see the dynamics of the song? Then you’re probably at least 30, a geek, and once had too much time on your hands. (Me too!)

If you’ve taken for CDs for granted your entire life, move along…nothing to see here. For everybody else, Digital Needle is an ingenious open source hack for ripping vinyl albums with your scanner.

The results are incredibly poor and interesting and even a litte haunting. In order pick the music out of the cruft, be sure to listen to the original gramophone3.mp3 a couple of times first.

Less-than-amazing Gracenote

Have you ever not had to fix the metadata that your CD ripper gets from Gracenote/CDDB? Neither have I.

Besides the fact that the quality of their metadata is a crapshoot, there are other reasons that Gracenote is generally distrusted. Some don’t appreciate that they claimed all rights to a community resource built by users, and then closed it by migrating from an open to a closed API. Some find their tendency to sue firms that use FreeDB, an open equivalent, distasteful. Some find the bullying around their patent on the trival and obvious checksum method they use to uniquely identify a CD to be patently ridiculous.

No matter — Gracenote’s days are numbered. Although big companies like Microsoft use their services for identifying music ripped from CD, big companies like Microsoft are not only capable of replacing them but also highly motivated to do so. Because of Gracenote’s crude method of identifying music depends on having the CD, they’re irrelevant for music delivered online.

What will replace Gracenote? One possibility is MusicBrainz, an open source community music database. Because it can use both CD characteristics and acoustic fingerprinting to uniquely identify audio, it works no matter where the music comes from. The MusicBrainz database is mature (it’s been around since 1998), and moderators help ensure the quality of the metadata.

For those of you interested in the back-end, IBM is running an article that reviews technical aspects of MusicBrainz’s XML/RDF medtadabase, and their Compact Disc Query Proposal (CDQP) query service.

“…because slow sites suck"

Andrew King, the founder and geek-behind-the-curtain at WebReference.com and JavaScript.com, has written a book on speeding up your web site with the refreshingly straightforward title of WebWord asked how he would justify the business case for site optimization, Andrew responded:

This is akin to asking what is the ROI for usability. Speed is a key component of usability. Small improvements in speed can take critical pages below typical attention thresholds, and dramatically lower bail-out rates and abandoned shopping carts. I talk about this in the book, but compression alone can save 30-50% in size and bandwidth costs. Webmasters who have employed compression and optimization typically save 30 to 50% off their bandwidth costs, and retain more customers, and have improved conversion rates.

The buzz on this book is good, and I look forward to using it to keep PlaybackTime lean and fast as I add functionality. [via Ranchero]

DVD burn-off

I needed to buy a DVD burner last week — it is the Year of the DVD Burner, after all — and unfortunately I had to do so without the benefit of the DVD burner roundup published recently by Tom’s Hardware Guide. Fortunately, I’m more confident than ever that I made the right choice.

As I’ve pointed out before, Tom’s Hardware Guide has demonstrated a disturbing lack of understanding about MPEG-4, but they understand hardware much better. The article covers these six DVD burners:

NetNewsWire 1.0 available

From browsing through the logs, I know that many of my Mac readers use the wonderful (and free) NetNewsWire Lite to read PlaybackTime. Today, Ranchero released NetNewsWire, and you can buy it right now for an introductory price of only $30. Brent has released a wonderful 1.0, and there are lots of goodies — for readers and writers — to come.

It's always amateur hour around here (thank goodness)

My friend Jonathan Peterson recently started a new blog called Amateur Hour, meant for folks who create digital media for love rather than money.

The term amateur, Latin for “one who loves”, has taken on the unfortunate connotation of un-professional or sloppy. But there is no better term for the rise of media content created with no reward beyond the basic human desire to create.

Amateur Hour will feature information (and occasionally interviews) meant to help enthusiasts use and share their creative energies.

XML turns 5

XML was born (i.e. first published as a W3C Recommendation) five years and a day ago. Two participants in that process have written a nice toast to one of the most important meta-standards of the web, or anywhere for that matter.

Five years after Apple, Dell dumps diskette drive

Dell, the canary in the coal mine of PC manufacturers, has started to phase out diskette drives on their desktops. Unless they ask for them, customers won’t have a place to stick their floppy in their shiny new top-o’-the-line (“Dude! I’m gettin’ a”) Dimension PCs.

Apple stated phasing out diskette drives in desktops in 1998, with the introduction of the iMac (which also replaced serial and Apple’s proprietary ADB ports in favor of USB). But that was then, and this is now, and Apple is lagging behind the industry on USB 2.0.

Dell plans to migrate its stupid customers — the ones who haven’t quote caught on that CD-Rs hold 640 MB and cost a quarter — to $20, 16 MB USB “memory keys”. Why, gimmie a box of ten! (Thanks, Kevin!)