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TiVo Gets Serious

Today, TiVo announced the debut of a high-definition digital video recorder it should have shipped two years ago. The new TiVo HD--shipping in August--can record high-def programs off the air and, with the help of a CableCard, from digital cable services. And it sells for $300, less than half the cost of the only other TiVo model to offer these features, the $800 TiVo Series 3.

Despite that vast drop in price, TiVo HD users don't seem to be losing that much capability. The primary difference is storage--the HD has a 160-gigabyte hard drive, while the Series 3 comes with a 250-GB unit. The Series 3 also has a fancier status display, a backlit remote and THX-certified digital sound. The mass market has a phrase for things like those extras: big whoop.

(For a quick evaluation of the TiVo HD, see this post from longtime TiVo blogger Dave Zatz.)

The TiVo Web site says that expandable storage and support for TiVoToGo transfers of recordings to a computer will come later. Until TiVoToGo becomes available for the HD unit, owners will only be able to archive recordings to DVD by making a real-time transfer to a separate DVD recorder--not the sort of thing anybody's going to want to do too often.

TiVo HD can also download and play movies rented or bought from Amazon's Unbox online store. Note, however, that a wireless adapter isn't included, so you'll need to put down an extra $60 for TiVo's WiFi receiver.

Monthly service charges are the same as before: $16.95 a month on a yearly basis, $14.95 on a two-year deal or $12.95 with a three-year contract. Those fees, which cover TiVo's programming-guide service and such interactive features as the ability to program your TiVo remotely from over the Internet, continue to be TiVo's least attractive aspect; their cumulative costs will quickly outstrip the initial sale price of the TiVo HD. Let's just say that at these prices, TiVo had better be earning a healthy profit.

But at least that initial outlay has been brought down to a reasonable level. With the hideously overpriced Series 3, TiVo was begging to be consigned to tech-gadget oblivion. With the TiVo HD available, it's got a chance against the cheaper, less capable DVRs offered by cable companies. (Some credit for that goes to the Federal Communications Commission requiring cable operators to open their systems to third-party hardware.)

So, home viewers, what do you think? Is this what you were hoping to get from the company that popularized the DVR concept? Or will "TiVo" remain a verb you use to describe the time-shifting you do with somebody else's video recorder?

By Rob Pegoraro  |  July 24, 2007; 11:30 AM ET
Categories:  Video  
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I have had a DirecTV/TiVO combo (std definition) since 2001 and I love it. Originally had a Sony TiVO unit but it eventually failed after 4 yrs of use, fortunately I could replace it with another TiVO unit from DirecTV just prior to their switch away from TiVO. Unfortunately it is still Series 1 TiVO.

I wish DirecTV still had the agreement with TiVO so we could take advantage of the newer features in either Series 2 or 3. TiVO is the best thing since TV was invented...

Posted by: Chris | July 24, 2007 12:22 PM | Report abuse

I've had a DirecTV TIVO for years and love it. I've been reluctant to move to HD. To this point, it is a poor value proposition. However, with these new products coming up, my likelyhood of switching in six months is high.

Posted by: slar | July 24, 2007 12:22 PM | Report abuse

Sigh... I guess that this is what I wanted back in December when I got my real Series 3. I agree - all of the "features" that the light is missing mean pretty much nothing to me. But, I "had" to do it because I transferred my lifetime from my old series 1 to the new box. Oh well. At least I've been using it for 6 months in the mean time.

You also don't need to buy tivo's wireless adapter - you can buy (almost) any one, but I *think* that WPA only works with the tivo one.

Posted by: 20007 | July 24, 2007 1:20 PM | Report abuse

I've been a TiVo user since 1999, and I've owned 7 or 8 different TiVo boxes, including Series 1, Series 2, DirectTV HD TiVo, and now Series 3. I loved the DirectTV HD TiVo box, since shows like Lost and ER looked and sounded so much better in HD. I think the better sound and larger storage capacity are big deals, although maybe not worth the $500 difference.

The disk space matters to me a lot, since I record a lot of Law & Order episodes in high-def and don't get around to watching them until the season is over. At one point I had 14 Criminal Intents and 10 L&O Classics, which I guess would have filled up the new Tivo HD box. I'll be very happy when the external disk space feature is enabled. I'll probably use Amazon Unbox a lot more if I can save more things on my TiVo.

The biggest problem with the DirectTV and Series 3 boxes is that you can't copy shows from one TiVo to another. (I guess this is a concession to the TV/movie industry.) I solved that problem in my new house by putting both of my dual tuner TiVo boxes in my basement and connecting them to an 8-way switch, with all of the screens in my house connected to the outputs of the switch. It took some fancy remote-control programming, but I can now watch any of my HD Tivo boxes (and my DVD and CD jukebox) on any screen in my house.

Posted by: David M | July 24, 2007 1:31 PM | Report abuse

Shouldn't all this become moot soon?

Why can't I just plug some storage into the back of my TV (or off a cable-splitter) and pull down my own shows to watch later?
Seems to me that this should be not be expensive nor difficult nor proprietary.

When can we expect THAT?

Posted by: Bill - Rockville | July 24, 2007 1:46 PM | Report abuse

Bill -- That's what a TiVo does.

Posted by: Andy | July 24, 2007 2:00 PM | Report abuse

I'll wait until it supports TivoToGo. I travel regularly and watch a lot of tv shows transfered to my ipod through TivoToGo. Right now the luxury of HD isn't worth the sacrifice of giving up portability.

Posted by: M Street, D.C. | July 24, 2007 2:01 PM | Report abuse

There are four things that I don't like about the boxes I get from Comcast, (1) size, (2) long delays when switching channels, (3) no TIVO programing, and (4) no HD recording. The box size isn't solved here, but the programming and recording would be available in the new box I take it. What about the long lag when changing channels? Is that still present in the new TIVO?

Posted by: Jim | July 24, 2007 3:32 PM | Report abuse

I've had a Series 2 TiVo for several years (with a second disk added), but it's now attached to the bedroom TV. With the HDTV in the living room, I have been suffering with the abysmal Comcast HD DVR while waiting (and waiting and waiting) for the long-rumored TiVo software on the Comcast DVR, now said to be rolling out for test in Boston next month. All in all, though, I think I'd rather have a second real TiVo, and this new box is mighty tempting.

I just hope TivoToGo is available sooner than later.

Posted by: LM | July 24, 2007 4:10 PM | Report abuse

I don't have a TV but I do have a 30" monitor on my Mac. Until Tivo can support my 30" (which has more than enough pixels for 1080i or 1080p) on my Mac, I'm not interested and will continue to suffer with analog SD which is the best you can get on a Mac (courtesy Elgato's EyeTV). The quality isn't HD but at least it's well integrated and very easy to use - and for now, ease of use is more important to me than HD.

Posted by: Don | July 24, 2007 4:14 PM | Report abuse

After having had 3 of the Cox Cable rental boxes fail on me -- but only having to turn them back in for new ones -- I'm a little gunshy about paying TiVo for a box for which I might not be covered.

Also, the Cox rental is only $9.50 a month, which means it's still cheaper than TiVo.

Posted by: Patrick | July 24, 2007 4:32 PM | Report abuse

I've had a Series 1 since 1999 with Lifetime Service. this is the first new TiVo I might actually get to replace it with. I don't like not having the Web features the newer ones have. Plus, the increased capacity would mean I won't have to juggle saved shows.
Now, if there was a way I could transfer my Lifetime Service...

Posted by: jnik | July 24, 2007 8:50 PM | Report abuse

TiVo continues to require landline telephone connections for initial setup. From their support FAQ:

"If you don't have a land line at home, keep in mind you only need to use a standard phone line once to complete Guided Setup. Once Guided Setup is complete, you can then connect your box to your existing wired or wireless home network to connect via broadband. For more details, read this article from our support site."

In other words, "If you don't have a landline at home, get one, because you cannot set up TiVo without it."

Crazy requirement, especially as VOIP and cell phone usage are both making inroads into traditional landline homes.

So, no TiVo here!

Posted by: Bryan | July 24, 2007 10:12 PM | Report abuse

I have a HD DVR with Tivo using Directv but I just had to install Directv's considerably less user friendly HD DVR in order to get the upcoming MP4 new HD channels. It seems strange that Directv is allowed to monopolise both the transmission and the recording.

Posted by: Ian | July 24, 2007 10:26 PM | Report abuse

Bryan: you can just use a friend's landline to complete the setup. You do have a friend with a landline, don't you?

(Yes, it's silly. But even without the HD, this is the first time I've seriously considered updating my trusty old Series 1.)

Posted by: Nick S | July 25, 2007 12:28 AM | Report abuse

Hey Bryan, try telling the whole truth next time.

That land line requirement hasn't been around for a good while. The two Series 2 boxes I bought last year didn't require a land line because they came with software version 7.2 or higher. I plugged both into my network, changed the network settings to use my broadband connection rather than a phone line, and that's it.

Here's the rest of that support article you MISQUOTED:

Do I Need a Phone Line for Guided Setup?

You will need a phone line to perform Guided Setup on your DVR if your DVR was pre-installed with TiVo software prior to version 7.2. All TiVo Series2 DT and Series3 HD DVRs are pre-loaded with software versions 7.2 or later; you can perform Guided Setup on these DVRs using a network connection.

You can run Guided Setup using your network connection if your DVR has software version 7.2 or later pre-installed.

How can I tell if I have software version 7.2 pre-installed on my DVR?

Many new TiVo DVRs will be shipped pre-installed with software version 7.2 or later. The following is a way to determine if your new DVR has software version 7.2 or later already installed before you begin Guided Setup. Look at the orange box your TiVo DVR came in:

On the side of the orange box, look for your 12-digit UPC code. If the UPC code has the letters "SS" next to it, your TiVo has been sent to you with the 7.2 software version or later already installed. You may connect your DVR to your network during Guided Setup.

In other words, any new TiVo unit you buy these days will have broadband networking built-in. Nice try, but you'll have to do better than that.

Posted by: Evil | July 25, 2007 12:28 AM | Report abuse

I've got to say the lack of TivoToGo support for HD has been the #1 reason I continue to stick with my Series 2. The main reason I like Tivo over any other DVR is the ability to transfer shows to my laptop.

It seems like Tivo HD is still a step backwards. The reason for premium pricing should mean premium features. If Tivo dumps the extras, their customer base will dwindle.

Posted by: Mike | July 25, 2007 8:13 AM | Report abuse

There is a new EyeTV from ElGato that does HD. I have it hooked up to my iMac. Works great.

Posted by: wiredog | July 25, 2007 9:48 AM | Report abuse

My question for Rob or anyone else is whether I can copy to CD/DVD shows from the new TiVo. HD would be preferable, but low-resolution would be acceptable. I realize that TiVo to go will come later, but since that's not determined as to when "later" is, I want to be able to do it "sooner."

Posted by: Pat | July 25, 2007 11:29 AM | Report abuse

My question for Rob or anyone else is whether I can copy to CD/DVD shows from the new TiVo. HD would be preferable, but low-resolution would be acceptable. I realize that TiVo to go will come later, but since that's not determined as to when "later" is, I want to be able to do it "sooner."

Posted by: Pat | July 25, 2007 11:29 AM | Report abuse

jnik: Try asking TiVo customer support if you can move over your lifetime service. Some TiVo users have said they've been able to transfer a subscription by asking politely/persistently enough.

Ian: There are stories floating around that DirecTV is thinking of bring out a new TiVo recorder. Don't have any confirmation of them myself, however.

Pat: Yes, you should be able to dupe a TiVo recording to DVD, by hooking the DVD recorder to the TiVo's audio/video output jacks and pressing "play" on the TiVo and "record" on the DVD unit. (Think of how you would have made a tape copy of a CD, way back when.)

- RP

Posted by: Rob Pegoraro | July 25, 2007 11:39 AM | Report abuse

I had to drop my DirecTV with Tivo when I upgraded to an HD set. DirecTV just couldn't get the dish aimed at their HD satellite so I reluctantly moved to Comcast. I feel like I fight with Comcast's DVR interface every time I try to use it, not to mention it's even more difficult to fast forward and rewind! I ordered the new Tivo HD and I'm terrified about how Comcast will handle the switchover to cablecards for the Tivo. I called yesterday and she seemed to know what I was talking about however she told me just to pick up cablecards at the comcast office, whereas I read on their website that you have to order them and schedule a visit. Once the inevitible cable card fiasco is over, I can't wait to be back in TiVo heaven! Here's how I see the cost. You can prepay three years of service for $299 which comes out to $8.31/month. I currently pay Comcast a whopping $11.95 per month for their inferior version of a DVR. Comcast charges $1.50 per month for the second of the two cablecards necessary for the TiVo. My monthly cost therefore drops from $11.95 to $9.81. I see the up front investment of the hardware as a necessary evil. Oh... and you can get the TiVo branded wireless thingamajig on amazon for 40.88 - no tax, free shipping. Since I never had tivo to go with directv, I don't think I will miss it. I'll probably try the amazon unbox downloads.

Posted by: Doug | July 26, 2007 1:31 PM | Report abuse

Does anyone know when Tivo will make an HD dual tuner model that supports Direct TV? I can't give up my Direct TV TIVO just to go to HD. The Direct TV DVR (that I use in my bedroom) is an abomination.

Posted by: Mike | July 26, 2007 1:46 PM | Report abuse

Mike, if you ever get an answer to that question about Dual Tuner DirecTV HD Tivo, please post it far and wide. I'm stuck on two rapidly fading Series 1 DirecTivos. If I can't have Dual Tuner, I don't want it. HD or no HD.

Posted by: Phil | July 26, 2007 5:31 PM | Report abuse

I have a series 1 40-hour with DVD recorder, which we got a few years ago essentially for free by paying $300 for lifetime TiVo service on this box. Sometimes I wish I could save two shows at once, but I don't think I'd want to give up having the DVD player/recorder to get that. Looks like none of the 3 boxes available now have the DVD player installed.

Posted by: lsho | August 1, 2007 9:00 AM | Report abuse

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