For many Canadians, TiVo is sort of like the iPhone. We’ve heard about it, read about it and some of us may have even seen it or used it. Until now. Next month, the device that helped create the PVR revolution will be available to Canadian TV fans for the first time.
Personal Video Recorders (PVRs) are a no-brainer. They give TV viewers the kind of control over their viewing preferences that VCRs and even DVD-recorders failed to deliver in the past.
For some, it’s the ability to never miss their favourite show. For others it’s the ability to call up their kids’ favourite shows on-demand regardless of the time of day. And let’s not forget the near-magical "skip forward" and pause buttons. Any way you slice it, PVRs have completely changed the TV landscape. Most folks who own one can’t imagine a world without it.
In the U.S., the brand that has done the most to push forward the adoption of this relatively new technology is TiVo. South of the border, the brand has become synonymous with recording TV shows and it’s not uncommon to hear TV show hosts and others talk about "TiVo-ing" something. As Canadians, we’ve largely had to stand back and curiously watch while our American friends gush effusively about their set-top boxes with the smiling-TV logo.
Not that we’ve been suffering up here in silence or without options. PVRs come in many shapes and sizes here in Canada. We have a ton of choices including either renting or buying a PVR from our cable or satellite providers, or picking up an off-the-shelf solution like the combination DVD recorders with hard disk drives. Still others choose to use their PCs as PVRs. For more than 3 years, there have been models from HP, Sony and Dell that come with Windows Media Center software allowing PVR functionality on their desktops.
The real question current or prospective PVR owners should be asking themselves is, what can a TiVo do for me that other PVRs can’t, and is it worth the difference in price?
From what I’ve been able to gather, the TiVo unit that is hitting store shelves will:
- pack about 80 hours worth of standard definition programming
- give users access to the TiVo Service
- allow them to remotely program their PVR via the internet
- give them the ability to transfer their recorded content to their iPods, PSP or laptop
- connect to the user’s broadband internet connection via ethernet or an optional wireless USB adapter
- provide access to some web-based content such as podcasts and weather data
The price is $199, but that does not include the mandatory subscription to the TiVo service which will run you $12.95 a month or $129 a year.
The hardware is optimized for cable, and the ability to watch one show while recording another will not work with satellite receivers. As well, the unit has to be connected to either a phone line or your broadband internet connection in order to receive the on-screen programming guide from TiVo’s servers.
For most people, the alternative to TiVo will be a PVR provided by their cable or satellite company. These boxes can (depending on the configuration) run anywhere from $299 to $599. But in all cases, these are one-time hardware costs, with no ongoing monthly or annual fees (unless you decide to rent). We recently covered the launch of ExpressVu’s latest HD PVR the 9242, which does most what the TiVo does, and a few things it can’t.
So tell us, have you been patiently awaiting the arrival of TiVo in Canada? Is the subscription fee justified by the features it offers? Or are you content with the current PVR solutions already available to you?