Philips HDR112 TiVoJan 22, 2001
Apr 16, 2001 : Updated for TiVo 2.01
Aug 4, 2001 : Updated for DirecTiVo
What Is It
TiVo is a Personal Video Recorder (aka PVR), one of the first that will eventually kill off the trusty VCR. It uses a hard drive to continuously record live television, remembering which programs you like (and which types of programs you like) so they are ready for you to watch whenever you come home.
Since writing this review I have upgraded to a DirecTV Receiver with TiVo.
SetupYou need to plug TiVo into a phone line so it can dial in and obtain program data, and also upgrade itself every now and again. Initial setup takes hours, you tell it your ZIP code and which cable/satellite company you use, then it goes off and figures out your program lineup. You can also set up the remote to control Power and Volume on your TV.
HardwareIts a sleek black box with a strange 'eye' on the front and a couple of leds. There is no power button as the device is on all of the time. It is almost silent so this shouldn't be a problem. It needs to change channels on your cable or satellite box, and it can use either a serial connection or an IR blaster. If your cable/satellite box does not support a serial connection to change channels I seriously recommend you throw it out and get one that does. I spent months struggling with a GE DCT-1000 cable decoder and the IR blaster. If you slowed the inter-digit timings right down, it would work maybe 80% of the time, and was an exercise in frustration. When I switched to satellite my Sony box plugged right into the TiVo serial port and works 100% of the time. Judging from newsgroup postings, problems with cable boxes persist and are yet another reason to ditch cable TV.
TiVo inputs from antenna or AV ports (I use the latter) and outputs on two sets of AV s-video ports. Picture quality depends on the Quality mode you set - low quality is unsable, I use medium quality for almost everything, but if watching on a larger TV (say >35") then high quality mode should probably be used. On a 32" TV, medium quality is better than standard VHS. I know this because archiving programs from the TiVo onto tape produces a reduction in image quality. If I had an S-VHS deck this probably wouldn't be the case.
The remote is peanut shaped, and simply georgous. It is the most comfortable remote ever, and all of its common functions are easily usable without even looking. It really is a great piece of work.
SoftwareAll TV is watched through the TiVo, so you can benefit from its features. You quickly get used to pausing live TV (for a bathroom break, for example), or rewinding bits that you didn't quite hear right the first time. As it is digital, there are no tape sync effects when using FF and RW, its as smooth as DVD. To skip ads, you FF in one of three speeds, and FF has a great feature that when you hit Play as the ad finishes, TiVo automatically backs up a little bit so you get to see the start of the program, instead of overshooting as old fashioned VCRs always do. TiVo has its own program guide which is superior to all of the cable and satellite guides I have seen. It goes up to ten days in advance, but doesn't show PPV showings (not a loss for me as I never watch them anyway).
To record every episode of a certain program, so and find it in the program guide or in the alhpabetical list of every program and get a Season Pass. This means that every episode of, say, The Simpsons will be waiting for you, any time. Version 2.01 (which was upgraded automatically one night) has a Season Pass Manager that lets you assign priorities to your season passes, so that when two programs clash because they are on so often (e.g. The Simpsons, Friends) you can say which gets recorded.
Recording individual eposides is as easy as finding it in the program guide and pressing the Record button on the remote. No times or VideoPlus stuff to set, its far easier than that. If for some reason you do need to manually record something, you can set TiVo like an VCR. I've only done it once when I was on vacation for a month and the program I wanted was not yet showing up in the program guide. With the 2.01 upgrade, you can also set when such manual recordings are deleted, something that bugged me in the original 1.3 version.
Whenever a program is recorded you can control how long it will stay around on the disc. Each program has in essence a priority, and higher priority programs can bump off lower priority ones (and Suggestions too). You can mark programs as Dont Delete too, so they will stay around forever. Don't do this too much else you will quickly have no space left - instead archive to tape, there is a Save to VCR option to make it pretty easy.
You can give programs the Thumbs Up or Thumbs Down, Roman Emporer style with so labelled buttons on the remote. This is a way of scoring programs from -3 to +3 basically, and TiVo uses this to automatically record programs it thinks you might like. It won't record these Suggestions unless there is disc space to do so, so in order for Suggestions to kick in you have to regularly watch or delete other programming. I use this feature in a limited way: TiVo itself always gives 1 Thumbs Up whenever you record something, and I kick that to +2 for things I really like. For programs that I really want to be recorded, but cannot set a Season Pass I set them to +3. Occasionally a TiVo suggestion will be very lame, so I -1 those programs. I don't see a need for the -2 and -3 levels unless you have a truly gigantic disc drive.
Life ChangingTivo really did change the way we watch TV. We watch almost nothing live any more, there is usually something on TiVo that interests us. I have lost touch with which movies are out now as all the ads whizz by at high speed, and I do miss that (though I don't miss the other 98% of ads!). If you are thinking of getting a TiVo, be sure to get the highest capacity model you possibly can. There is also one integrated with a DirectTV satellite receiver which sounds like a great idea.
Additional InfoTiVo's official page
ControlAV is a trademark of Andy Pennell.