Home Office: TiVo, PVRs, and Other Things TV

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I'm finally a member of Club TiVo. I know, I'm probably the last kid on the block to have one. We've only had the box for two weeks and I'm already at the point where I can't remember how we lived without the thing.

BTW, I've got a DirecTV receiver combined with TiVo, more commonly known as a DirecTiVo. You can find pricing at our Product Finder.

This week I'll share my experience with TiVo, point you to a few good sites, and show you a few helpful PC World articles. Next week, it's TiVo alternatives and the build-your-own-PVR (personal video recorder) madness.

Bass vs. TiVo

You're probably wondering why it took me so long to get a TiVo. I resisted for all the wrong reasons.

My first excuse was, in retrospect, really dumb. The fact is, I didn't want a plain-vanilla TiVo. Nope, not for this boy. I had to have something I could immediately open, upgrade, and hack. I had discussions with TiVo users and looked at dozens of hacking sites (I've listed a few below). Eventually, I decided not to worry about tweaking the box, at least for now.

Here's why: I skimmed Raffi Krikorian's TiVo Hacks (O'Reilly & Associates, 800/998-9938). Except for the 30-second skip hack that would let me easily zip past commercials, nothing really struck me as vital; the user interface on my DirecTiVo worked just fine. I thought I was missing something, so I read the book more thoroughly. Nope, I couldn't find a single advanced hack I couldn't live without. For instance, I really don't need to add a clock to the corner of the screen; nor do I want to spend a day busting open the box, attaching it to a PC, and playing around for another day or two just to have caller ID info display on screen.

I think the only hack worth the effort is to add another drive. But so far, the 35 hours of storage my DirecTiVo offers has been more than adequate. That's unless my wife drags me off on a six-week tour of Europe, a highly unlikely event.

Dumb Excuse Number Two

My second excuse was the annoyance at having to pay another monthly fee to DirecTV. Too many people I know seem to get TV listings for free, downloading them from the Internet. FYI, I've been paying my monthly $40 or so to DirecTV for years. I love the picture quality and am happy with the service, but hate the extra charge for local channels and silly programming packages. I'd prefer to order just the channels I want to watch and pay for them. So to add another $5 a month for TiVo, with no way to buy a lifetime subscription, rubbed me the wrong way.

You can compare TiVo devices and prices at TiVo.com, and our own Product Finder also has pricing info.

Quick Aside: I was IMing with my buddy Carl, chatting about TiVo, and he started a sentence that started with "IIRC." Now, I see myself as savvy enough to figure out most acronyms. I liberally fling them around in e-mails and often use them here (for instance, BTW, IMHO, WTF, BFD...). But this one had me. Give it a guess (and no, the spelling trick from elementary school--sounding it out--doesn't work here). If you're at a loss, go to the Acronym Finder site.

The Coolness of TiVo (or, Freedom From Tyranny)

Except for a few cave dwellers, I'm sure most folks have heard about TiVo. So I won't spend lots of time convincing you about how deftly TiVo has changed our TV viewing habits.

I enjoy not having to worry if there's a tape in the VCR, or if the VCR's set to record. A big plus is not having to think about setting the VCR correctly for weekly recording--TiVo's Season Pass records HBO's Six Feet Under the first time it plays and ignores the reruns. The Wishlist plucks out movies by Robert Altman, David Mamet, and our other favorite directors.

Do yourself a favor, don't wait as long as I did.

If you're not using a PVR like TiVo yet and I've piqued your interest, well, good. I rounded up a big stack of useful sites where you can learn more.

The TiVo Community Forum: This is a good place to start. The site's got 11 message areas dealing with all aspects of TiVo. For instance, TiVo Help Center is a good spot for beginners (like me); TiVo Upgrade Center deals with adding oomph to your TiVo; and TiVo Underground talks about hacks, coding, and TiVo secrets. I like it that a handful of TiVo employees are regular contributors to the forum.

DealDatabase Forum: This site is similar to TiVo Community Forum, with a few more topics.

The Hinsdale site: Here's a spot for exceptionally valuable how-to TiVo upgrade advice that seems to be up to date. The site's owner also sells upgrade kits. I've yet to buy anything from the site, so I can't vouch for the products.

The Unofficial TiVo Hackers Site: This site contains detailed info and utilities for any type of TiVo system.

Hacking the TiVo FAQ Index: The FAQ hasn't had an entry for about a year, yet still has good, basic info, especially for older TiVo models. The forum topics are separated into categories I find useful, including Newbie, TiVo Series 1 and Series 2, Broken TiVos, and streaming support.

The Future of TiVo

Unfortunately, as much as I see TiVo as a bright company with a great product, it's slow to respond to user requests. For instance, one cool feature many people have been clamoring for--for over a year--is to pick up schedules via the Internet rather than a pokey dial-up modem connection. Apparently TiVo is finally paying some attention. Here's a report that Internet access for TiVos is on the way--as are lower monthly fees. The whole story is in "TiVo Adds Internet Connections."

In the meantime, I've got my DirecTiVo hooked up to the phone line. The hassle I thought I'd face was quickly resolved with a useful, but expensive, device from SmartHome. The $70 Wireless Phone Jack System lets me plug my TiVo in without running 60-foot phone lines. The gadget's base transmitter plugs into an AC wall outlet near the phone line; the receiving unit goes into an AC outlet near the TiVo.

Dig This: Got some time on your hands? Play the Logogame. Try to fill in the name of the company that matches the logo. And I hope you do better than I did--a paltry 13 out of 26.

In addition to writing PC World's Home Office column, Steve Bass is the author of PC Annoyances. Sign up to have Steve Bass's Home Office Newsletter e-mailed to you each week. Comments or questions? Send Steve e-mail.

This story, "Home Office: TiVo, PVRs, and Other Things TV" was originally published by PCWorld.

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