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Posted on Wednesday, January 19th, 2005

Dave!I love television, but my work and travel schedule makes it very difficult to keep up with the programs I like. Fortunately, I have a magical TiVo box that sits on top of my TV and handles the recording of my shows whether I am home or not... it has all the great features of a VCR, but without all the programming hassles and videotape. I tell it that I want it to record "Veronica Mars" and it will faithfully do so, even if the show changes times, changes days, or even changes networks. It will also skip shows that it knows to be reruns if I ask it to. It's a wonderful device in many ways, and has made my being a TV junkie so much easier to manage.

Yes, I love my TiVo... but I can't wait to get rid of it.

And here's why: with the many advantages TiVo has over a VCR, it has some serious drawbacks. With a VCR, I can use the tape with any other VCR or even loan it to a friend so they can watch it. Well, TiVo finally has the ability to offload video to a computer with their TiVoToGo service, but it sucks ass:

  1. Some shows can be tagged as non-transferrable, such as pay-per-view and some premium programming, meaning you can't watch them on your computer at all (whereas a videotape can record anything).
  2. All video requires a "media key" to be unencrypted. This is to prohibit sharing the content, and doing so may result in your account being revoked (whereas a videotape requires no such bullshit).
  3. The video is not in a standard format and requires special software to operate... currently only available for Windows 2000 or Windows XP (whereas a videotape will work on any VCR without special conditions).
  4. The TiVoToGo service will only work from specific players, meaning those of us with DirecTV boxes that have TiVo built-in or multiple tuners are shit-out-of-luck (whereas a VCR is a VCR is a VCR).

Yes, you read that right, TiVo is offering a service in 2005 that has more limitations than a VHS tape from nearly thirty f#@%amp;ing years ago!

Tivo Sucks

So, since I can't use TiVoToGo (after having waited five years for it), that means in order to get a television show on my laptop, here is what I have to do: 1) Record it on TiVo. 2) Record it from TiVo to my DVD recorder. 3) Burn from the recorder to a DVD. 4) Copy the resulting files from the DVD to my computer. 5) Watch the shitty quality, second-generation video. What a bullshit waste of time that is. Granted, much of this is not TiVo's fault... they are bowing down to the television networks in fear that people will start giving away programming that they should be paying for, but that doesn't make it suck any less.

Of course, that is not really how I get video on my laptop. Here's what I do: 1) Start up my BitTorrent client and download a show in pristine HDTV resolution (when available). 2) Watch the beautiful result whenever I want.

And there you have it. I am still glad to have TiVo for managing the loads of TV shows I like to watch... but, unless I am sitting in front of the television, it's practically useless for watching the content at my convenience. Since this is apparently the best they can do (and new alternatives for transporting video are appearing all the time) I say with no amount of sadness that TiVo's days are numbered. If I wanted to mess with this kind of antiquated, backwards thinking... I'd still be using VHS videotape.

UPDATE: A comment directed to this entry over at Thomas Hawk had said: "Does Dave travel with his VCR? I have never in my life been next to someone on a plane with a VCR and TV on his lap. Ive actually never seen anyone leave their house carrying a VCR." To which I respond:

No. I don't travel with my VCR (I don't even own one anymore), but that is exactly my point: I can't travel with TiVoToGo either (as I am a Mac user with a dual-tuner DirecTV TiVo). So, on top of being no better than a videotape in functionality for me, it also has several ADDITIONAL disadvantages over 30-year-old VHS.

And there's the problem... I am in no way opposed to purchasing yet another new dual-tuner, DirecTV, TiVo Series 2 player (assuming they ever release one), but given that there's no software for the Mac yet, and that they could start tagging all my favorite shows as "non-transferrable" at any point in the future, what's the use? Let's say I buy a TiVoToGo capable player and Mac software is released, but then ABC, NBC, and CBS refuse to grant TiVo transfer rights for any of their programs... what happens then? 80% of the shows I'd want to transfer would no longer be available, and I'd have spent the money for nothing.

This is progress? All it's done is forced people to come up with new ways of circumnavigating a system of roadblocks to getting the convenience we should be able to have in the first place.

Categories: Television 2005Click To It: Permalink


  1. Ben says:

    Hurrah for bit-torrent! Making it easier to watch TV.


  2. Thomas Hawk says:

    Very insightful and entertaining write up and fantastic cartoon. I hope you don’t mind that I borrowed it (accrediting it and linking it to you of course) over at

  3. Dave2 says:

    Nope… anybody is welcome to take anything from my blog and post it to wherever they like so long as my Creative Commons license is adhered to (basically, anything you take must be credited back to me and you must offer a similar policy for sharing content on your site).

    ALSO: A helpful hint for anybody borrowing graphics from Blogography… you will want to copy it to your own server, because I have hotlink protection enabled here.

  4. brad says:

    …i’ve gone through the same painful realizations. my solution was/is this: I bought a cheap dell box during one of their super-crazy-eight-billion-dollars-in-rebates promotion (net cost $399) and a Hauppauge WinTV-PVR250 tv tuner/mpeg encoder card for $150 and installed MythTV (KnoppMyth, technically) on it. Now, instead of having the box hooked up to my tv, i just use Myth’s built-in web interface to schedule shows, which it records using the hauppauge card as MPEG2, then transcodes to MPEG4, (automatically strips commercials while transcoding) and I copy them to my powerbook for watching on the road, or to my powermac to watch on the cinema display. Works great! the next steps are to add a second or third tuner (HD?) then get a mac mini and hook it up to the tv via DVI, using Myth’s support for having the GUI (frontend) and recording (backend) on two separate machines. There’s even an IR remote that will work with the mac mini now. lots of work? yes. but i can say “screw tivo” and watch my television whenever/however i want. take that, tivoNoGo

  5. Scott says:

    I think your assessment of this service as “lame” is off the mark. You don’t like the DRM, thats fine. That doesn’t make it any more lame than VHS tho. With macrovision, you are restricted from digitizing your VHS tapes and taking them with you on a laptop…. And the fact that it “only” works with Windows isn’t really lame either. Mac users know that they give up access to some stuff when they choose their platforms. In return, they get a good looking computer. Also, the lack of support for Direct TV is not by choice. The Direct TV folks stand in the way of putting series 2 features on their boxes. In general, I think that for *most* people, who use windows, and bought a series 2 tivo, your criticism is not relevant. But I don’t argue that the service “doesn’t suck”. It may. I don’t have it yet. That alone is kinda sucky. Whats taking so long? In addition, I’ve heard that it is a bit slow on transfers if you use an 802.11b wireless adapter. So I may have to go wired. But again, I know that I give up performance when I choose wireless. So this isn’t something I blame on Tivo either. In short… give them a break. We’re getting a free upgrade here. (or at least I am. I have a lifetime subscription). That’s just my 2 cents.

  6. Dave2 says:

    -> “I think your assessment of this service as “lame” is off the mark. You don’t like the DRM, thats fine.”

    I did not say I don’t like DRM! If done correctly, I have -zero- problem with it. My issue is that TiVo can selectively block content ENTIRELY from being transferred! Right now that may be pay-per-view and some HBO specials, but what happens when it’s “Desperate Housewives” and “Battlestar Galactica”??

    TiVo is touted as taking the place of a VCR and improving upon it, but when I can’t take the video it records and play it on anything but a Windows 2000 or Windows XP machine, that IS lame! Heck, you can’t even take the video and play it on ANOTHER TiVo at a friend’s house… a basic function of 30-year-old VHS technology! 🙂

    -> “Mac users know that they give up access to some stuff when they choose their platforms. In return, they get a good looking computer.”

    Access to what? Constant crashes and viruses? A non-intuitive and counter-productive GUI? Whatever. I am not exclusively Mac, so your trying to bait me into a platform debate is lost… it’s not the Mac that’s focus here, because TiVo has promised that TiVo Desktop will be available for the Mac, and I don’t doubt it. There is a bigger point here… what if I want to play the latest episode of “Veronica Mars” on my digi-player? Or my Linux box? Or even mobile phones with video capabilities when they arrive? Then, given TiVo’s system, I am forced to burn a DVD then re-encode the material in a standard format. Why make us go to the trouble? TiVo is not selling content… we’ve already bought that with our cable or satellite service… so why are they restricting it? Probably because they don’t want the television networks to be mad at them. If all the VCR makers had caved to such an excuse, we would have never had VCRs!

    Protecting content is fine. I have no problem with it. But doing so in a way that benefits only a portion of your users just invites them to seek alternatives. I don’t think it’s out of line that in the year 2005 I should expect to be able to watch television shows I’ve paid for on a pocket-video player device. If TiVo were to release a TiVo Portable Player, and said this was the only way to watch content “on the go” — I WOULD BUY ONE if the price were not exorbitant… but forcing me to buy a Windows XP laptop?!? I don’t hate TiVo. I don’t hate DRM. I don’t hate Windows. I just want to be able to take video with me when I travel. TiVoToGo doesn’t allow that for ME yet, so I’m on the look out for something that will.

    -> “In general, I think that for *most* people, who use windows, and bought a series 2 tivo, your criticism is not relevant.”

    Well, Windows 2000 and XP, sure… until you can’t transfer the latest episode of “Survivor” to your computer because CBS has asked TiVo to prohibit transfers of the show. Granted, that’s speculation on something that may never happen, but it’s a valid point. If DRM is supposed to protect content, why isn’t EVERYTHING allowed to be transfered… even Pay-Per-View! I mean, you’ve paid for it, why can’t you take it with you to watch it while on a long flight?

  7. FreeTivoGuy says:

    Just got my free Tivo at their giveaway, hence the name, and so far I like it. We should be able to do anything we want with the programming we pay for(and at a premium too). Finding or developing other ways to use what we pay for is not stealing. They( the TV networks and suppliers like Comcast) are the ones stealing from us by not allowing us to access what we pay for. Tivo should allow full access to the programming because we pay them for the right to record shows for later viewing. It doesn’t matter if later viewing is on a laptop or a Tivo box. I really don’t see any problem here especially since nobody is crying about Media Center’s ability to do ALL this right NOW. If I pay for a Tyson fight I should be able to watch that 10 seconds over and over until I feel I get my moneys worth. Nobody would pay to see it after its over, so why do they care if I show it to my friend or burn it on a dvd. Is this any different than having my friend in the room with me? Are they losing money? The answer is no. I have to commend Tivo for not charging for this slightly disabled feature and I only hope that someone over there gets the balls to stick it to the man and give us what we pay for. I already like Tivo, but that would really make me a loyal Tivo guy. By the way I have a media center PC also and I would use Tivo exclusively if I was able to really use it. Come on Tivo… get with it.

  8. warrenpeace says:

    I agree with a lot of what you said. I’m a Mac user as well, so because of that I didn’t even get mad at the limitations of the ToGo service ’cause we often have to wait for the Mac version of software or do without. Luckily the Mac community is a smart lot and often find a way around these short sighted companies, with hacks and homemade software.

    I don’t have Direct TV ’cause I live in Canada, where we get everything last (or not at all). It’s bad enough I have to hack my TiVo to get it to work with local programming. In order to have my shows when and where I want, I’m getting the Humax unit with DVD Recorder, so I could watch the burned dvd’s on a laptop with a dvd player or give a show to a friend. I really hope the new CEO that TiVo hires works things out ’cause I really love my TiVo and would be sad if they went under. I realize that doesn’t really work as easily for you since your TiVo needs to work with the DirectTV service, but would the regular DirectTV box and IR hookup with TiVo DVD-R be a better option?

    Too bad Steve Jobs is already CEO of two companies. I wish Apple would just buy them and help them out with their hardware and software and have newer products come out in a reasonable amount of time. 2006 for the HD TiVo with cablecard is just too late. They need that out by summer. Definitely before Xmas. I don’t have HD Tv, but even I know that.

  9. DVR Newbie says:

    Even with the limitations, I’ve been waiting for the right moment – There’s a new $50 Circuit City gift card special going on now – check out I think this is how I will buy the 80 hr. series 2…

  10. John says:

    I had a Tivo, but then tossed that, and set up a very inexpensive computer solution based on the Hauppauge WinTV-PVR250, and SageTV / SageTV client and couldn’t be happier with the results! Light years ahead of TIVO.

  11. jbomb says:

    I know you say “don’t sell anything”, and I want you to know I respect that. Because your article was about how TiVo is always a day late and a dollar short (and they’re total a$$es about copying vids), I figure I should tell you what I’ve used for about 6 years now:

    I use SageTV. If you’re not averse to building (or buying) a minimal computer, and installing a few capture cards, it really does the trick.

    The one I built has a TV-out video card and a programmable remote, so I watch shows on my regular TV in the living room. As a bonus, I can also watch YouTube and GoogleVideo content *directly* on my TV set, and it even looks pretty decent!

    It has everything TiVo has, but absolutely no copy-defeating scheme. You can save to a variety of formats, and burn straight to your PC’s DVD recorder. You can burn to “DVD Video” format, or load up your DVDs with mpegs (thereby squeezing up to 5 hours on a single DVD).

    -Video goes STRAIGHT to a computer format (direct save to mpeg)
    -No monthly fees
    -No “snooping” like TiVo does (SageTV doesn’t “phone home” to tell some jerk what you’ve been watching)
    -No “copy inhibiting” b.s. to put up with
    -Record multiple channels at once (want more simultaneous channels? splurge on an extra capture card or two)
    -Rather sophisticated record and search features
    -Commercial skip
    -New features added regularly by the developer-encouraged fanbase
    -Search IMDB at the click of a button
    -Export synopsis of shows with your videos
    -and more

    -It isn’t perfect. Sometimes it is buggy, but that’s what “system restore” is for

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