IN THE BEGINNING
I must begin this blog with a full disclosure: I have been a fan and a subscriber of both DirecTv and TiVo since the day they both became available. Actually, I was able to play with a TiVo DVR before it was officially released to the public. Oh, those were the days. DirecTv with its tiny 18” dish and 100 digital channels let me say goodbye to my mediocre cable service. TiVo, and its intuitive interface and hard drive capabilities forever changed the way many of us watched TV. No longer were we bound by the air times of our favorite shows, nor forced to watch endless commercials. And the day DirecTv and TiVo joined forces to create the ultimate TV viewing experience – well that ranks right up there with the birth of my son. I know … sad.
Times have changed. DirecTv broke ties with TiVo to create their own DVR, and after several attempts finally got it mostly right. TiVo, on the other hand, kept on surviving, despite the naysayers who predicted their demise over and over again. Which brings me to the point of this article: to discuss the latest release from the TiVo folks. They call it the TiVo Premiere Elite, which is one too many adjectives in my opinion. What’s next TiVo, the Premiere Elite Crème de la Crème For You And No One Else?
If you are reading this, you probably already know what a DVR is. But for those who still think VCRs are a technological marvel, allow me to get you up to speed. A DVR, or digital video recorder, allows television programming to be stored on a hard drive to watch at a later time. But this is just the beginning. A DVR can be programmed to record all episodes of your favorite show, or just the new episodes. Multiple shows can be recorded at the same time, depending on the DVR manufacturer. You don’t need to know what time or channel your shows are on, the DVR handles that for you. And when you do get around to watching them, you can skip over the endless commercials in a matter of seconds.
So what sets the TiVo Premiere Elite apart from the competition? In a word: more. More recording capacity. More tuners. More features. Perhaps a better name would have been the TiVo T1000 Steroid Edition. The TiVo Elite has 2 terabytes of recording capacity, which translates into over 300 hours of HD. That’s four times what DirecTv offers. And TWENTY times what Comcast offers in their typical HD DVR. Oh – and if that’s not enough for you, just hook up an external drive to its eSATA port. The TiVo Elite can record 4 shows at the same time, and you can watch a fifth previously recorded show while it’s doing this. It is not compatible with DirecTv or Dish Network, but rather uses a card called an M-CARD to receive cable programming. And in the case of the Elite, only digital channels can be received, no analog and no over the air channels. Sorry, Grandpa.
So what happens if there’s nothing on TV worth watching? Well, TiVo has you covered by giving you access to streaming content from Netflix, Blockbuster, Hulu Plus, Amazon, YouTube, and more. In the mood for music? No problem. TiVo gives you access to Pandora, Rhapsody, and other streaming internet music stations. Oh – and because your favorite music is the music you already own – TiVo can stream your music from iTunes. The goal was to create a single entertainment hub. Did they succeed? Read on.
HOUSTON, WE HAVE LIFT-OFF
I unboxed my TiVo, and installed and activated in a matter of minutes. Activated? Oh yes – did you think all of this TiVo goodness was free? Nope – in addition to the cost of the box, you must pay TiVo $19.99 a month for the TiVo service. Or you can pay $499 for a lifetime subscription. While this may sound steep, you break even at 25 months, so it makes a lot of sense to me. Anyway, TiVo suggests hooking the unit up and getting it going before your cable guy comes out to install the M-CARD. And I agree, as it downloads a lot of program information when first activated. Even without the cable card, you can still enjoy all the other non-TV features the Elite offers, such as Netflix, Pandora, etc.
Because I am a trained A/V professional, or at least play one on TV, I decided that I would pick up the M-CARD and handle the install myself. I returned my 1 week old Comcast DVR to a local branch and asked for an M-CARD instead. I was hoping that the representative would ask me why so I could launch into a tirade about how poor their DVR was, but instead she smiled, and said “Oh, you must have purchased a TiVo.” Darn! Needless to say, the person at Comcast was friendly, helpful, and knowledgeable. I almost felt bad for returning their DVR. Almost.
Bruce Cockburn sings a song called “Wondering Where The Lions Are”, and that’s exactly what I was doing. But thus far everything had gone smoothly. As a matter of fact, the only speed bump I encountered was getting the M-CARD and TiVo to be friends. The unit stayed on the “Downloading channel information” screen all afternoon. Re-booting the TiVo did not help. Several calls to Comcast did not help. Unplugging the unit, then plugging it back in solved the problem. When all else fails …
Several hours later, way past midnight, I was done setting up my new toy. All my season passes were set (a season pass is when you tell the TiVo unit to record all or just new episodes of a favorite TV series.) Channels that I do not subscribe to or watch were deleted. Options that I will never use were made to not show up on the screen. It’s what I like to call “dialed”, and it was very easy to do. Not once did I need to consult the owners manual. Here are some early impressions:
Excellent picture quality, far exceeding that of a normal Comcast DVR, and perhaps better than DirecTv. The unit is THX-certified, the only DVR to have such certification, and it shows.
4 Tuners and 300 hour HD recording capacity should be more than enough for 99.9% of the TV viewing population.
Netflix and Pandora load quickly and function perfectly – with well thought-out GUIs.
A fantastic way to get your music and podcast content that resides on your computer over to you’re a/V system – even wirelessly.
Very quiet – no audible fan noise.
You will not be able to access Comcast Cable’s extensive library of on-demand programming. Then again, with 300 plus hours of HD recording capacity (or 2000 SD), you can create your own on-demand library!
You have to purchase it, but for an avid TV viewer the $499 price tag is acceptable. (TiVo does make $99 and $299 units, but these have less recording capacity and only two tuners.) And then you have to pay a monthly fee or purchase a lifetime subscription.
Only about one-third of the menus are high-def. The majority are the same standard def menus TiVo has had for years. Hopefully this will be corrected with a future software update.
THE BOTTOM LINE:
I love DirecTv. But I am unable to have it at my new residence. Comcast DVRs are, how can I put this mildly … lacking? I am told that they are working on a 4 tuner model with a larger hard drive, but who knows when that will become available. If you are a serious TV watcher, and are using cable as your provider, this TiVo Premiere Elite is just what the doctor ordered.