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RCN ships TiVo DVR; Comcast, DirecTV delay theirs

For the first time since DirecTV dumped its TiVo digital video recorder as part of a high-definition upgrade, some Washington area viewers can get a TiVo DVR as part of their TV service instead of buying one separately.

But only some viewers--the TV provider involved is RCN, which only offers service in parts of the District, Montgomery County and Falls Church. The Herndon-based company began offering a high-definition TiVo recorder to subscribers on May 4, and I drove out to its offices Friday to take a look.


RCN's TiVo model rents for $19.95 a month and requires that you sign up for both its cable-TV and Internet services. That's steep compared with most cable DVRs: RCN's generic Motorola box goes for $14.95, even if RCN senior video director Jason Nealis started the demo by talking about how crummy that device was. (A second TiVo DVR will cost $12.95 a month.)

On the other hand, buying a new TiVo Premiere DVR will cost you $299.99 upfront, plus service fees as high as $12.95 a month (a lifetime-of-the-box option runs $399). And in that scenario, you'd have to get your cable company to issue you a CableCard, then hope they don't botch the setup--after which you'd lose access to your cable company's video-on-demand service.

RCN's TiVo arrives already set up for service and can tune into its full range of VOD offerings.

RCN's model is built on the same hardware as TiVo's own Premiere, with a 320-gigabyte hard drive that can be augmented with external drives, but features the older TiVo interface. That means it connects to fewer Web video and audio sources; for instance, RCN viewers can watch YouTube clips but not Netflix or Amazon movies.

Since this model, like other TiVos, doesn't include WiFi wireless, you'll need to have a router within Ethernet-cable range of the box or ante up for a WiFi adapter. Once connected, you can program it remotely over the Web or in iPhone and BlackBerry smartphone applications.

RCN expects to roll out the new software in the third or fourth quarter of this year, but it may still leave out some video sites. The story I got was that some movie studios have hang-ups about making it too easy to watch online video on a cable company's DVR, which I can only take as further proof of Hollywood's insanity.

The RCN TiVo's remote looked almost identical to a regular TiVo control, with the addition of a VOD button and an RCN logo. RCN will probably sell a version of the QWERTY-keyboard remote TiVo has been working on.

I asked if the RCN TiVo supported such quasi-hidden options as the 30-second commercial-skipping shortcut; Nealis said all the undocumented features should work on this model.

The most amazing feature about RCN's TiVo, however, may be its rapid arrival. The company began talking to Alviso, Calif.-based TiVo in January 2009, signed a deal in August of that year and began testing the device four months ago.

Meanwhile, Comcast's own promised TiVo DVR--a combination of TiVo software running on its current hardware--remains stuck in deployment limbo. A good three years after I first saw this product at a demonstration in Washington--and seven years after Comcast reps first told me the company was testing a TiVo DVR--only Comcast's New England subscribers have access to this option.

Spokeswoman Jenni Moyer said Comcast is working on a newer TiVo solution using cable's "tru2way" technology, a CableCard successor that's supposed to remedy its defects, but didn't have any details about rollout schedules.

Over at DirecTV, meanwhile, the high-definition TiVo recorder that the company once promised in the second half of 2009 has now slipped to the fourth quarter of this year, spokesman Bob Mercer e-mailed.

So I have to ask: Does anybody need any more reasons to open the pay-TV-hardware business to competition?

By Rob Pegoraro  |  May 13, 2010; 12:00 PM ET
Categories:  TV , Video  
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Directv said last week during a wall street analyst call that TiVo could be delayed until early 2011

Posted by: swanni | May 13, 2010 12:22 PM | Report abuse

The lack of a DVR as good as my DirecTV/TIVO box is the single biggest reason I haven't upgraded to HD. A good user interface and the ability to seamlessly tape two shows simultaneously are far more important to me than picture quality. (I'm the video equivalent of someone who is satisfied with 128K MP3s.) If someone solves this problem in my neighborhood, they'll get my business.

Posted by: slar | May 13, 2010 12:44 PM | Report abuse

the answer is NO! - but I know Comcast & Verizon, my two choices,spend excessive amounts of money lobbying to make sure that this will never happen.

Posted by: Hattrik | May 13, 2010 1:35 PM | Report abuse

Slar: the interface may not be great, but DirecTV does have an HD DVR box that can record 2 shows simultaneously. You would need 2 cables running from the dish to your HD DVR box (but you'd need the same for recording 2 standard definition shows on DirecTV.) As for me, I prefer 192K MP3s over 128K...anything over 192K and I can't really hear the difference.

Posted by: wilson7 | May 13, 2010 3:09 PM | Report abuse

I am a very loyal user of TiVo, and no other dvr can come close to their interface and ease of use. My decade-old DirecTV TiVo box finally quit and I had to switch to Comcast to continue to use TiVo (and then had to go through the nightmare cable card set-up process, which probably took 3-4 months to get right). I will go with whomever gets it right with TiVo, and I would love for it to be DirecTV. So are you saying someday that just may be possible?

Posted by: AB727 | May 13, 2010 3:39 PM | Report abuse

the moto dvr may not be the best but for the director to call it crummy?????? wtf? are you saying RCN has been offering a crummy DVR for the past several years? tivo and rcn partnership is a last ditch effort for 2 dying companies to survive.

Posted by: dood333 | May 13, 2010 3:58 PM | Report abuse

I have 2 of the RCN Tivos. They work very well, and include all of the Tivo's ordinary features (including Tivo-to-Tivo copying, and remote programming). The Tivo-to-Tivo copying actually works really well. In my house I had a lot of difficulty doing video-streaming across the house because it was a bit of a reach for the wireless, but the copying is less bothered by spotty wifi than are streaming activities. The copying (to another Tivo or to a computer using the Tivo Desktop software) occurs faster than the actual bitstream, so you can watch almost immediately. I slightly miss the turned-off Netflix functionality of the Premieres, but that's what the PS3 is for anyway. Your article is a little ambiguous about the "new software" RCN is deploying later this year. I think that has more to do with accommodating the HD Tivo interface, which RCN has chosen not to deploy at launch. Which seems like a good idea, because stand-alone Tivo customers have found the new interface slow and erratic.

Posted by: S135 | May 13, 2010 4:05 PM | Report abuse

This is why I bought two TiVo HDs with lifetime subscriptions 18 months ago. Compared to renting a DVR, I will probably reach the break-even point soon, but you know what? If this costs me more in the long run, it is SO worth it to have had control of my DVR and have all the media player and VOD options instead of waiting longer for a neutered DVR.

Posted by: MaxH | May 13, 2010 4:06 PM | Report abuse

TIVO is awesome! I'll be getting my own if I have to.

Posted by: postfan1 | May 14, 2010 4:06 AM | Report abuse

I love my TiVos. I still have an original Sony TiVo that is going on 10 years old and still works like a champ. My others are 4+ years old. If you plug them in using UPS they'll last forever.

My dad has an Series 3 HDTiVo and has had many more problems with it but TiVo has replaced it at no cost so even with all the hassle it will still pay for itself in a few more months.

Posted by: archers44 | May 14, 2010 9:51 AM | Report abuse

If you own a Tivo you must be aware of the services available from They do repairs, provide upgrades, provide DIY instructions and parts. My Tivo died. I replaced the hard drive which I upgraded the capacity and performed the repair using explicit instructions from WeaKnees. Go to the site at

Posted by: bigrono | May 14, 2010 4:31 PM | Report abuse

Forget about "Does anybody need any more reasons to open the pay-TV-hardware business to competition?"
How about opening the pay-TV business to competition? It has been well documented that the fees charged by the major cable TV operators have grown at twice the rate of inflation for the past decade. We were forced to "upgrade" at least one set to digital to subscribe to HBO from Comcast. Thank goodness our other sets still receive the analog signal so we can watch something when the digital cable goes out -- which most frequently happens in prime time.

Posted by: 54Stratocaster | May 14, 2010 8:54 PM | Report abuse

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