Replaced Our "Tivo"… with a Tivo

In 1999 the Tivo introduced the world to digital video recording. It combined modern computing with the television by allowing users to schedule recordings based on an onscreen guide instead of manually programming a VCR for a specific time slot. It allowed users to subscribe to an entire season of a show and would record it, worry free, without user interaction. The Tivo made it easy to store hours of TV that you couldn’t watch live. No tapes, no labels, no hassle. For a couple hundred bucks and a monthly subscription fee you would never miss a show. It was a huge success.

Fast forward ten years later and all of the major cable and satellite companies had their own DVRs. Comcast, Time Warner, Verizon, Dish, everyone had one. The software wasn’t as sophisticated as Tivo’s, but the monthly fees were cheaper, the setup was easier, and the box was “free”*. Tivo started having trouble convincing cable and satellite customers to buy a more expensive product from a third party and growth slowed. As a way to recoup some cost lost to cable providers, Tivo started partnering with them to offer its software on their DVRs. Comcast was one such partner. A few years ago they started offering Tivo software on their DVRs for an additional $3 over the standard cost. We were interested in a DVR and were won over by the Comcast “Tivo” features in comparison to its standard DVRs.

The extra $3 a month gave us a more powerful box with larger recording capacity than many other Comcast boxes, a clean and easy-to-use Tivo style remote control, dual tuners, which allowed us to record two programs while watching a third, a pleasing and functional HD program guide, and Tivo’s popular Season Pass feature. Overall we have been generally satisfied with our Tivo. The UI is easy to use, Season Passes work well, and dual tuners are a treat. The down sides are that the interface is maddeningly slow and it isn’t quite as reliable as we would like it, randomly refusing to record shows for no reason and rebooting whenever it feels like it. We also miss out on Comcast features such as TV Caller ID and online recording scheduling.

In May Comcast announced its next-generation DVR called X1, which is a brand new DVR with a slick interface an solid functionality. At that time it decided to end its relationship with Tivo. We received a letter about a month ago letting us know that our Tivo service would be ending on August 1 (tomorrow) and that we had to return our box. To my surprise Comcast not only offered a standard DVR as a replacement (the X1 isn’t available in our area yet) but also a free Tivo Premiere with discounted service as well. Since the X1 wasn’t available in our area yet and probably wouldn’t be for a while I decided to look into the Tivo.

The number one theme in reviews of the Tivo Premiere is that the performance is less than adequate. Menus are slow, applications take a long time to load, and usage is generally painful. There have been a bunch of updates in the two years since its release and performance has improved, but it’s still considered slow. Coming from the slow-as-a-snail Comcast version I was concerned. After calling Comcast and finding out that I’d save money by getting a Tivo, I decided to forget about performance and just take the plunge.

Ordering was easy and shipping was fast. The only thing we had to pay for was an external wireless adapter (I figured by 2012 this stuff would be built-in, but whatever). Setup was more involved than I thought. After waiting over five minutes for it to boot, setup took almost two hours to run through all the screens, download the updates, and configure the software. Once that was over I had to return the Comcast box in exchange for a Cable Card which would allow us to watch all of our non-basic cable channels and access Comcast’s On Demand features. After calling to activate it we had everything set up.

Reviews had me concerned about performance, and while it isn’t a speed racer, it is certainly faster than our Comcast Tivo. Some of the apps are a bit slow to load, but most of the functionality that we usually access is responsive. The HD UI is nice looking and provides a lot of useful information. In addition the remote is better laid out than the Comcast version, we can use it to watch YouTube and Huli, and we can finally schedule recordings online using Tivo’s website or its iOS app. We still don’t get TV Caller ID and we lose an integrated clock, but they are a small price to pay. We are locked into a one year agreement and after that we can move to the X1 if we so desire. We probably wouldn’t have switched without Comcast forcing us to, but I’m glad we did.


*By “free” I mean that the up-front fee for the DVR box is replaced with a monthly fee. Usually the cost is paid off within one or two years at which point the customer continues to pay the cable company for something that they technically should own. I’m sure we paid for our box at least once.

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