Monday, December 14, 2009

The Tivo so far, Consensus:Totally worth it

We got a Tivo just before Thanksgiving after my frustration with the crappy Comcast DVR we'd been provided in our new place reached a boiling point. The last time I had checked prices on Tivos was several years ago, when the only option that would pick up digital cable was the original Series III tivo. At the time, that box was in the $750 range, which was pretty cost prohibitive compared to the cable company offerings.

Fast forward, and now it's possible to get a Tivo HD box for less than $250, and a monthly fee that's less than I'm paying for the cable box. For us, worth it, particularly when pressed with the inferior Comcast offering. The drive is small, but we don't actually have HDTV yet, and upgrading the box is as easy as buying a 1TB drive for around 100 bucks that plugs right in to the unit and gives you a LOT more storage.

The Tivo showed up in about 4 or 5 days, which was really nice considering I ordered it with supersaver shipping which was free. Sometimes that can take a while - but an item as big as a Tivo is still shipped via UPS ground, which usually has a 3 day cycle. I got it for 229.99 with free shipping and a $30.00 credit at the Amazon On-Demand video store. I could have gotten it a bit cheaper from a few other places, but wanted the guarantee to be able to return it to Amazon if we had issues or didn't like it.

Suffice it to say, that didn't happen. Once we got the Tivo, I hooked it up to the cable by splitting the line between the cableco box and the Tivo. The rest of the setup was easy - the tivo comes with a digital audio out which I've used for years with other sources and plugged in easily to my stereo, same as video out. Since my router was already by the TV in our house, I was also able to easily plug the Tivo into that.

I fired up the Tivo once I had everything connected. It takes a while to turn on the first time. I went into the setup and did everything to set it up (it's a bit slow to set up because it has to download the guide data, etc). Once I set it up, I took it for a spin. One of the things I realized rather quickly is that it had an old version of the software on it which did not support features like Netflix on-demand (something I wanted to try sooner rather than later). No worry, this guide and Tivo's site pointed out that I could force the Tivo to run updates and restart so that the updates would take. It took about an hour additional to do that. This is the one thing I'm not sure about Tivo, why wouldn't you have the latest software on the box out of the box, especially an update that came out a while ago.

This was really my only frustration with setting up the Tivo. Programming recordings, all that was easy to set up. And almost immediately the Tivo started recording suggestions, an interesting feature which I check out a few times a week.

We had the Tivo going on the analog channels which more or less provided what we already had in the digital starter package from Comcast. Katie and I don't watch much on the channels over 100 and a while back had scaled back to just the digital starter. Most of which is provided by Comcast on the Analog channels, particularly when you don't need HD.

However, this package includes a free cable card and the digital channels are a better quality, so I went over to the Comcast store in Richfield to get a cable card. Despite their website saying this location stocked them, the counter person informed me that I'd have to call and have a truck rolled. I knew I should have called! Waste of a trip.

I set up an appointment for the following week, which got postponed another 5 days because of a "national outage" of their activation system. Comcast guy was able to set it up without issue. The box did make me rerun the setup which took a while, but now the box is working great.

I've tried out some of the add-ons - Netflix works pretty well for the most part, a few films lacked sound or had weird aspect ratio issues, but most have worked great. Tivo's PC software, however, is a waste of time. Once I did get it to connect to the box (challenging because of my network setup, apparently), it errored out on my music library, which I found out was far too big for the Tivo to be able to handle. Lame. Transferring videos requires a 25.o0 upgrade which I was originally going to buy, but I found a free program called PyTivo which allows you to download videos of pretty much any stripe to the Tivo - WIN. It works great once set up to watch divx encoded and other video files. It's a bit tricky and technical to set up as it runs a mini-server on your pc. You have to be able to work with configuration files and the like, but once it's running, it's set and forget.

Overall, I'm very pleased with my Tivo experience, and I highly recommend it to anyone who isn't satisfied with the cable company DVR options. The CableCard makes it a no-brainer, really. You do lose on-demand and PPV from Comcast, but frankly, the Tivo box more than makes up for that.

There's a few places I reccomend checking out if you are interested in a Tivo:
The AVS Forum FAQ - an excellent and very inclusive guide to the TivoHD Product.
The Tivo Community - good site not affiliated with Tivo. Lots of good info here as well, particularly around CableCards and Comcast.