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?
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