TiVo Trials

Well, it didn’t take me long to re-invest the forthcoming year of monetary savings from cancelling cable television. Tuesday night I kept an appointment to sit down and watch a wonderful live high-definition transmission of a NOVA episode on broadcast PBS. And sure enough, a phone call briefly interrupted the viewing and I had no way to record the show except in standard def on an old VCR or an obnoxious DVD recorder. So I went out and bought a TiVo HD DVR with three years of prepaid service. Now I can record and watch high-definition signals again and pause live TV, just as I did for several years with my old cable DVR.

TiVo HD at Amazon

I saw my first TiVo in action years ago when visiting an old friend in Colorado. His young daughter sold me on the thing’s merits, but when I went to digital cable I used their Motorola DVR to tune in and record standard and high-definition shows. To steal a phrase from Jerry Pournelle, it was “good enough”. Reminds one of Windows vs. Mac, and I’ve yet to find the money to buy a Mac although I’ve promised myself my next computer will be an expen$ive but elegant Macintosh since they can now finally run Windoze in a pinch.

My new TiVo is, of course, wonderful. A person with a digital cable package likely cannot justify its costs over the bundled DVR deals from the cable company, but now that I’m reliant on over-the-air broadcasts the TiVo HD is my ticket to maximizing the potential of those signals.

Besides offering a great interface for finding, watching, and recording shows (including its fun habit of recording things it thinks you might like), the TiVo HD can wirelessly network to your home computer to play music and podcasts, show photos, watch movies from Amazon Unbox, etc. But I already have an Apple TV, and the Apple TV was much easier to set up and operate.

The TiVo kept generating all sorts of odd behaviors, errors, and seizures when I tried to connect to my home computer. I knew my firewall was likely to blame, so I made sure ZoneAlarm had authorized the TiVo services it could see. When that didn’t help, I then spent far too much time trying to tweak open the TiVo-desired ports on my network router, all to no avail. The TiVo would see the computer and other network services briefly, but they could never be accessed reliably.

Having troubleshot my way through the problems several times, I finally decided to disable ZoneAlarm and reboot the TiVo and the TiVo Desktop server software on the computer. Still no luck. So I went in and UNdid all of the painful port tweaks on my wireless router. Success at last!

Evidently my free version of ZoneAlarm wasn’t opening the ports properly, and my router hardware tweaks were just making things worse. So now, with the router back to its normal configuration and my computer protected by the lackluster firewall built into Windoze, it appears my TiVo has full functionality.

But my Apple TV still has a much better interface for listening to music and podcasts via iTunes. Hopefully Apple will offer an upgrade soon so it can rent instead of only buy downloaded movies – TiVo’s partnership with Amazon Unbox is ahead on that count. Why in the world would you buy a downloaded movie when you could rent it far more cheaply? But I can already watch many “free” hours of streaming movies on my TV through my laptop computer thanks to my NetFlix account and computer-to-TV adapter. So it looks like I won’t take much advantage of the computer-network functions of my TiVo, despite all of the tedium in making them functional.

But I certainly will enjoy recording great high-definition PBS broadcasts. It always drove me crazy that the local cable company carries several HD channels, but not PBS. I’m looking forward to viewing NOVA, Soundstage, and American Masters in high definition.

My TiVo’s antenna tuner does one better than the Samsung digital tuner I was using previously – it can tune in analog signals as well as digital, so I can easily watch ABC Channel 8 from Tulsa. That station’s digital signal on channel 10 isn’t strong enough for my antenna to pick up, unlike the other Tulsa stations. Hopefully that will change after February 2009 when the nearby analog channel 11 goes away and the ABC station can boost its digital signal’s power. And the TiVo downloads its viewing guides through the internet, so they extend much further into the future than the limited viewing guide the Samsung unit assembled from the information encoded into the broadcast digital signals.

I’ve already decided to give the Samsung tuner to my parents in OKC so that they can enjoy digital television in place of the analog broadcasts they currently view. That will carry them on past February 2009 and can even serve up some nice high-resolution video for them whenever they finally buy a high-definition television.

About Granger Meador

I enjoy day hikes, photography, podcasts, reading, web design, and technology. My wife Wendy and I work in the Bartlesville Public Schools in northeast Oklahoma, but this blog is outside the scope of our employment.
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8 Responses to TiVo Trials

  1. OkiEarth says:

    Thanks for the news of your experiment. Sounds like it’s going well. Keep up posted. Sorry about the HD/BluRay mess.


  2. Meghan Pribil says:

    So I saw your facebook update about the new and improved meador.org, and then I came to check it out. I loved the tivo article…but just know that once you go tivo, you’ll never go back! I have had tivo and dvr at home for years, and so I even had to buy a tivo to take to college with me….I tried to go without for a while, but it didn’t work. Anyhow, enjoy!

  3. gmeador says:

    I now know how infectious TiVo can be – I had mine for only a few weeks before I convinced my parents to get one!

  4. gmeador says:

    UPDATE: During Spring Break 2008 I clambered up on the roof and briefly dismounted the antenna from the chimney straps, replacing the cable from the rooftop antenna into the house with a new one that was considerably shorter. This boosted signal strength sufficiently for me to pull in the Tulsa ABC station’s three digital channels (channels 8.1, 8.2, and 8.3). Whoopee!

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