Friday, February 26, 2010

On leaving a loved one. Goodbye, TiVo.

This past week, I FINALLY made the transition to HD television. Oh, for a long while, I've had a TV capable of the appropriate resolution, and enjoyed the pristine picture with DVDs and BluRays. But I always held out making the switch for "regular" programming because I was brand loyal (to a fault?) with both DirecTV and TiVo.

I love DirecTV, and for me, their service, performance and customer support has been second to none. (Hell, I may even wind up moving because of it, but that's another story for another day). For years, I've had the DirecTV receiver with integrated TiVo (and before that, I had seperate TiVo boxes). When I was at someone else's house, or during a hellish 5 month relo situation where I was tortured with the TV gang rape of Comcast, I experienced other DVRs, and found them all to be lacking when it comes to the functionality and friendliness of good old TiVo. But this fall, a few chinks in the armor began to show:
  • My own units, older and surely worn out from the sheer volume of use, started to have small glitches, freezing up or requiring a reboot. (Good soldiers that they were, if they were functioning, they never missed an appointed round).
  • A DirecTV HD receiver with TiVo brand DVR has long been rumored, but thus far, it has remained as elusive as unicorns, Santa or Tiger Woods' integrity.
  • During a delightful trip back to the motherlands of Georgia, I stayed with two groups of friends who both had the DirecTV HD DVR hookup. I looked down my nose at first -- this is no TiVo! -- but after playing with them for a while (and being stunned at the picture quality, of course), they didn't seem so "foreign" and unwelcoming.
  • I spoke with the fine folks at DirecTV about the possibility of upgrading, just out of curiosity, and they agreed to give me the whole HD and DVR hookup at a price that can't be beat.
So this week, I pulled the trigger. (Just in time to read 108 tiny names written on a lighthouse mirror wheel on Lost!) Obviously, I can see a HUGE difference in the HD picture. That goes without saying. But what I wanted to briefly ruminate on is a comparison between the DVRs. I thought I would be completely aggravated without the comfort and familiarity of the TiVo interface, but I have to say, just a few days later, I'm really at peace with the decision. Here are a few initial observations:

Things That Work with Both:
  • The ability to customize the onscreen program guide. When you have a channel selection that reaches into the hundreds, there are obviously channels that you're never, ever going to watch. I don't want to see them cluttering up my screen when I scroll through the guide. It was just as easy with the new DVR to create a "ShanTV Guide" that completely eliminated all shopping channels, all religious cult programming, all kids and parenting channels and anything having to do with cooking, health, hockey, soccer and "reality" shows.
  • Watching and pausing two channels at once. This was a great TiVo exclusive feature for a long time. Most DVRs allow you watch one channel and record another, but what I liked about TiVo is that you could actively watch and pause two programs on different channels at the same time, flipping between them. (For example, you can watch a game on one and pause when it goes to commercial, then switch to the other channel and catch a flick. After a few minutes, you pause the movie, then flip back to the game, FF to the start of action and catch up, and continue ad infinitum). Up until recently, the DirecTV DVR didn't allow this, but now they have the DoublePlay feature, which makes it possible. (You have to push one button to "activate" it, but it works just the same). This is a big feature for couch potatoes.
  • Season passes work the same with both DVRs (but DirecTV's actually has some more user friendly features to set them up, noted below).
  • You can send programs to record to both from the web or your crackberry.
  • Searches are similarly easy and functional. (Though the DirecTV DVR is more of a "one stop shop," allowing you search for actors, shows, keywords and everything else all in one place).
  • Both have the typical play, FF, RW, pause, quick 6 second backup and 30 second skip (which was a "Select/Play/Select/3-0/Select" hack on the TiVo). One thing I just discovered today was how to dismiss the "progress bar" during a pause on the new unit. I twittered about this earlier in the week, and also googled, but couldn't find the answer. On the TiVo, if you pause the picture, the progress bar goes away quickly. On this new DVR, the progress bar stayed in place for 60 seconds. This function is useful if you're watching Lost and trying to make out names written on a cave wall, but don't want it obscured by a graphic progress bar on the bottom for a full minute. However, if you pause the DirecTV DVR, and then hit the "exit" button, the screen remains paused and the bar goes away. Yeah!

Things TiVo Does Better:
  • Yeah, it has a personality. The name is more fun to say. Who doesn't love the little TV with antennae?
  • The 30 second skip is a SKIP. It just goes 30 seconds ahead, no FF images shown. You're there.
  • I like the "thumbs up" and "thumbs down." This really only comes into play if you like TiVo to record suggestions for you (which the DirecTV unit doesn't do on its own). I didn't use this much on my main TV, but in the bedroom, I found it useful for finding programs that I might like to fall asleep to, that I didn't have to be particularly invested in (or that I'd seen before and liked). Of course, I still had the residue of a previous relationship residing on the TiVo hard drive, as my suggestions kept recording African-American sitcoms, hip-hop shows, "reality" excretions and kid-friendly family programming (don't ask). Eventually, the box (the electronic one) learned that I prefer geek oriented programming with ghosts, vampires and spaceships. Plus, it just felt good to give a big red-buttoned "thumbs down" to Pat Robertson or The Hills, like I was a Roman emperor sending brain-insulting shows to their gruesome deaths in the arena.
  • Everything moves FASTER. The onscreen response to button pushing is marginally quicker with the TiVo, with the exception of the program guide (where DirecTV's is more responsive).
  • I originally thought there would be more items on this list, hence my reluctance to make the switch despite the upgrade in picture quality, but to my surprise, there just aren't.
  • Slow mo is much easier to engage.
Things The DirecTV DVR Does Better:
  • More control with the remote. Much of the functionality is the same, but there are more options, and more shortcuts, for getting where you need to go and doing what you need to do, with this remote. (For example, hit a "color button" and automatically jump the guide ahead 12 hours. Hit a "color button" and bring up the closed captioning, or even DirecTV's own, and better formatted, captioning. You can also set up 9 quick tune channels that can be accessed with one or two button pushes. There are a lot of shortcuts like this).
  • Searches are easier and more multifaceted. There's a "smart search" feature that takes place on one screen, and sorts out the options for you (actor, keyword, title, etc.).
  • Recording is easier. Sure, just like TiVo, you can push one button to record. However, with this unit, you can push the "record" button once on ANY screen (live TV, guide, search, etc.) and record the program, and push it twice to automatically set up a season pass to that program. Additionally, and this is a significant advantage, you can set up the "default" settings for season pass recording. Meaning that all season passes you set to record (traditionally, or via the two touch method) can be customized to "First Run, Keep Until I Delete, Keep All Episodes." When you're setting up 50+ new season passes, this is a HUGE time saver.
  • Gives you a number, and bar chart, of the space used for kept, recorded programs. (94% free!).
  • This is probably my absolute favorite feature of the DirecTV version: it doesn't matter what screen you're on (guide, menu, season pass, set up, etc.), you always have a small box in the upper right corner showing a viewable program. (live TV OR the recorded show you're currently watching). With TiVo, when you went into any menu functions, you couldn't see what you're watching).
  • On Demand features. The whole On Demand thing, which requires an internet hookup, is just amazing. Not only can you order movies and sporting events on PPV (just like you could with TiVo), but you can also access endless libraries of stored programming that you can download to your box. For example, earlier this week, I watch the entirety of Friday Night Lights season 4 in HD over a couple of nights just by downloading them and watching them. I also caught up on a few shows (like Burn Notice, and Secret Diary of a Call Girl) that I had stored on my TiVo, but hadn't gotten around to watching yet before the transition, via On Demand. This is an awesome fucking service. Plus, there's plenty of free movies you can access at any time.
  • No phone line required. Technically, you could use the old TiVo boxes without a phone hookup, but if you didn't get the regular service updates, you got annoying messages onscreen, and the initial startup of the primary menu could take a few minutes (which is forever in TV time). I use my crackberry for everything, and was basically paying for a hardline just for the goddamned TiVo convenience, so i canceled that service and wound up saving a few dollars almost immediately.
  • Higher contrast onscreen graphics. Much more pleasing aesthetically, and much easier to read when you're in bed without your glasses.
I could go on, but I think you get the gist. There was a time when I swore the only way you'd get my TiVo remote was to pry it out of my cold, dead hand. But after a little vacation sampling, and hesitant dive into the deep end, I'm completely sold on the DirecTV DVR as a worthy (and dare I say more capable) successor to my beloved original.

What say you? Anyone else made the switch? Or is it possible that I have no life other than in front of the idiot box and have thought about this waaaaay too much?


  1. Welcome to the dark side, Neo.

  2. I guess I took the red pill. Or would it be considered the blue pill? Either way, where's Trinity?

  3. I can't believe you've held onto standard def as long as you have. You've also learned more about the Direct TV DVR in one week than I've learned in six years..... (But, you will still call the DVR it a TIVO -- Its much like "kleenex" or "coke" -- any DVR is a TIVO).

    FYI, Ms. Freebird and I have finally broken down and joined the Lost cult. We got all the seasons for Xmas, and are currently finishing up Season 3 -- so no more spoilers in your posts. (Of course, its Lost, so I have no idea what you were talking about)

  4. There were a lot of complicating factors postponing the move to HD, but really it was my comfort with a non-TiVo DVR that was probably central to it. I won't rest until I know every single tip and trick and can operate the thing in my sleep. I'll be sure to pass them along as I learn more.

    Welcome to the Lost cult! Unless you catch up quick, I have no idea how you can avoid spoilers (not from me necessarily, but just in the pop-culture zeitgeist), especially as we approach the end of the season (but hey, you've done a pretty good job up until now, I guess). You will be richly rewarded for your time investment. Lostpedia is an invaluable resource, but it IS up to date with information, so be careful where you tread. Would love to hear what you think as you go along.