TiVo CEO: We’re thinking of giving TiVo boxes away.

TiVo logo I’ve written about how TiVo has changed my life. I currently use two, both connected to my DirecTV satellite dish, to watch standard (non-High Definition) TV. I’ve been patiently waiting for new TiVo products to make the leap to HDTV. To make matters more tempting, the CEO of TiVo has just announced they are considering offering their upcoming boxes in a variety of prices: nothing up-front, all up-front, and other options in-between.

TiVo is head-and-shoulders above any other Digital Video Recorder (DVR) offered on the market today. DirecTV has let their contract with TiVo lapse and introduced their own, dumbed-down DVR. My best friend Mike has the similarly dumbed-down Comcast DVR. To both I say, no thanks.

How come? For starters, other DVRs make me do too much of the work, while a TiVo does more work for me. Mike frequently misses shows he’d like to see because it’s too cumbersome to find a show yet to air, and schedule a recording. If a show is too far in the future, he can’t schedule it at all. With my TiVo, all I need is the show name (even a partial name), one of the stars’ names, or any number of words that will appear anywhere in the show description. With this information, I can create a “Wish List” in less than a minute. When the Wish List is done, my TiVo will search every show on TV, and if I receive the channel, it will record any show that matches my criteria. Even if that show isn’t coming on for months or years.

Case in point: There was a humorous, brilliant computer-animated short on the internet called, “Tripping the Rift” a few years back. Months after I saw it, I read that the creators had gotten a TV series deal. I didn’t know what channel had picked it up, what month or year it would begin, what time would air, or how long each episode would be. I only knew the title. So I made a Tivo Wish List, telling it to record any show on any channel with the words “Tripping the Rift” in the title. I didn’t have to give another thought. About nine months later, I turned on my TV, and there it was, the series premiere, recorded and ready for me to enjoy.

For brevity, take my word that TiVo is the genuinely superior product. I must mention that the company has a very fair attitude toward the many folks, like me, who have opened up their TiVo and added big hard drives. My primary TiVo holds about 300 hours of programs, so I never have to delete shows I wanted to see in order to make room for other shows. Compare that to the Comcast box, which holds as little as 40 hours of standard-definition TV. I had a 40-hour TiVo once, for a little while. I quickly upgraded it, when I realized how fast it could fill up. So again, the also-ran DVRs leave me wanting.

Now comes HDTV, which I’m anxious to get. I’ve seen the HDTV screens in stores for years, and I thought the pictures looked terrible. What I didn’t know was I was seeing standard-definition TV on a high-def screen?once I saw HDTV programming on an HDTV screen, it was a breathtaking difference. Where do I sign? Currently, TiVo only has a DirecTV-compatible HDTV recorder, sold through DirecTV, and that company is quickly transitioning to their own, in-house, dumbed-down models. On top of that, HD DirecTV requires a new oval dish that can receive signals from 3 different satellite groups spaced in the southwestern to western sky, as opposed to the single satellite location that the round dish receives. Well, at my house, that means taking down 3 or 4 trees. So, for multiple reasons, it’s good-bye DirecTV.

TiVo is scheduled to release their “CableCard” and HDTV-compatible DVRs in the first half of this year. CableCard technology moves the proprietary controlled-access functions (such as, the ability to subscribe to and descramble HBO) onto a card that can be plugged into a TV (to eliminate a set-top box), or into a feature-rich set-top box like a TiVo. The CableCards belong to your local cable company, and will cost a few dollars a month to rent. Of course that doesn’t include the usual monthly fees for the programming itself. The CableCard TiVo is supposed to have two HDTV tuners, each of which will support a CableCard, or which can be used with a rooftop antenna. So, like the DirecTiVo, users can record two shows off the air or cable while watching a third pre-recorded show simultaneously. One of the beauties of the system is that I do this constantly without even knowing it. I don’t have to know; I just watch my shows whenever I want and let the TiVo figure out the rest.

Here is my plan, which I am anxious to get started:

    Get a job, so I can pay for all this. Wait for the CableCard HDTiVo to arrive later this year. Buy one, and put a really big hard drive in it. Buy a nice HDTV screen, probably a Samsung DLP model. Dump DirecTV. Subscribe to the local cable company’s HDTV programming, and get two CableCards (one per TiVo tuner). Since I already pay a premium price to the cable company for broadband-only service, I’ll save money compared to the current setup with DirecTV. Enjoy. Enjoy some more.

I can’t wait!

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