To Tivo or not to Tivo?

Tivo Logo

Some exciting news today – it is the official release date for the Tivo in Australia.

So what does that mean?  Aren’t there boxes out there that record TV already?

Yes there are.  But the thing about Tivo is not what it does (record TV), but the way it lets you do it.  It’s a paradigm shift.

The old VCRs (Video Cassette Recorders) and most of the PVRs (Personal Video Recorders – really a DVR) – out there now are basically dumb.  You, the viewer, need to know what show is coming up, what time it is, what channel it is on.  Then you can program the VCR/PVR to record that channel at the right time.

Sure, some are a bit smarter – they may show you a little of the TV guide, but in Australia, the TV networks don’t make proper use of the EPG (Electronic Program Guide) capabilities of DTV.  Some may allow you to configure a periodic recording – for example, record the same show every day at the same time, or each week.

These are not the same as a smart recorder – for example, a HTPC (Home Theatre PC), MythTV or Tivo type solution.  These recorders are different in the following ways:

* You select what to record by browsing the TV guide and choosing the program – no need to program the time or channel
* It allows you to record shows based on keywords – for example, record any program that stars Harrison Ford or has the word “Dance” in its title or description

These type of recorders are an example of technology assisting you rather than controlling you.

Three years ago, I started my attempt to get/build a smart recorder.   I evaluated importing a Tivo from the US and modifying it for Australia.  However, it seems that the US had moved on version 2 boxes.   I decided to resurrect my Linux project by using an old PC, installing Ubuntu (a Linux OS) and putting MythTV on it.  I bought a cheap DVICO Dual HDTV Tuner card.  For me, it took me HOURS to sort through Linux installation problems with my wireless card, video card and TV tuner.  Then setting up the EPG to read from a “free” EPG server in Australia.

But when it worked, it was magic – the entire TV guide was shown and colour coded by genre.  I could just click on a show and decide to record once, record each week, record anytime that show comes on, etc.  I had Formula 1 races, all the rally shows, episodes of Bob the Builder for the kids, ABC’s Compass every Sunday, Australian Idol, any program with the word “dance” as a keyword in it taping automatically.  In fact, it recorded too much TV for me to watch!  Unfortunately, my PC died (motherboard capacitors popped) and I couldn’t be bothered to start again.  Especially since it took hours to get it going.

What the Tivo does is bring that type of interface and usability to the mass market.  No Operating Software or hardware to install or tinker with.

Any downsides?

* If you’ve set up a MythTV box, then you probably don’t want to go to Tivo.  And you already know why.  For others – MythTV, being a custom application solution developed by a worldwide community has lots of extra functionality like automatic ad detection and removal, automatic recompression into other formats, remote controllable via a web browser (eg. tell MythTV to record a show from work), server/client architecture, plugins for web, DVDs, music, games (eg. MAME), etc.   I believe there are even plugins to get the closed captions and search on that.

* It won’t automatically detect and skip ads (see above).

* If you have a wireless network, then you have to fork out extra for the wireless card.  Of course, if you’re building your own HTPC, then you’ll have to buy all the hardware anyway.

* From the information I’ve read, the Tivo is fixed to using channel 7’s EPG.  The good news is that it’s legit.  However, I’m wondering if it will have as much information on each show as some of the community run EPG’s out there or ICE.

* May need to pay for upgrades to the firmware.  I hope not – but it’s a possibility.

So will I be rushing out to buy a Tivo today?  Hmmm…  I do know that I now have less free time than I used to, so I don’t really have the time to set up a MythTV box again.

But I’ll have to consult our household financial manager first 🙂

For more information, read:
Tivo home page – http://www.tivo.com.au
The Australian Tivo FAQ – http://www.pcauthority.com.au/News/115698,the-australian-tivo-faq–what-it-does-will-it-skip-ads-when-it-launches-will-it-work-with-foxtel.aspx

Alternatives that I am also considering:
PlayTV on the PS3 – http://playstation.about.com/od/hardwareandaccessories/a/PlayTVPS3.htm
DViCO TVIX 5130 – http://www.cnet.com.au/dvdpvr/pvr/0,239035858,339283113,00.htm
Beyonwiz DP-S1 – http://www.cnet.com.au/dvdpvr/pvr/0,239035858,339279087,00.htm
Topfield TF7000HDPVRt – http://www.cnet.com.au/dvdpvr/pvr/0,239035858,339272283,00.htm

HTPC software alternatives I am also considering:
MythTV – http://www.mythtv.org/
Mythbuntu – http://www.mythbuntu.org/
MediaPortal – http://www.team-mediaportal.com/

Other resources:
Vista & XP Media Center Support Community – http://www.xpmediacentre.com.au/
The Green Button – http://thegreenbutton.com/default.aspx
Comparison of PVR software packages – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_PVR_software_packages

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