by Erica Sadun

I've always thought of TiVo as the Mac of PVRs. Great interface, intuitive controls, solid product. Yesterday, TiVo announced it would stop offering its lifetime service option, replacing it with one-, two- and three-year service commitments. Three years runs a hefty $469. As a lifetime service purchaser (service started in 2000, and is still going strong) and someone who'd been mentally shopping for a Series 3, this came as a blow. How much would I really pay for TiVo? Especially now that the mini line seems to be converging with my living room? Would I pay multiple hundreds of dollars for that wonderfully designed remote? For the great menu interface? Or is it time for me to start thinking Linux/MythTV? Dropping the lifetime service has probably turned me into a switcher. But am I switching in the right direction?


2006-03-09 08:17:25
i don't know what your TV-watching habits are and how you use your TiVo...but if you'd like a Mac-based PVR system, i highly recommend elgato's eyetv system. the only (major) downside from TiVo is that you cannot watch one channel while recording another...but it has live pause, an easy scheduling system, and direct-to-ipod editing functions, if that's attractive. but i'm sure you know all this...it'll certainly be much easier than MythTV to set up and go...
2006-03-09 08:20:12
Thanks for asking the question - I'm in the EXACT same boat and their pronouncement has me thinking the EXACT same thoughts.

My gut tells me that this will ailienate the few (geeks) and make TiVo more attractive to the consumer masses. Or at least help TiVos bottom line.

TiVo is great in my opinion because it does 90% of what I want, without requiring that I hack it all together. On the other hand, I have more time to hack than I have money in my wallet, so I fear ease will lose to price as my elderly TiVo passes away for whatever reason.

2006-03-09 08:36:46
Drop them all and use a Mac: get a Powermac G5 PCI-X (Any should work except for the newest ones which use PCI EXpress instead), 2 Alchemy TV cards, and - if necessary - whatever additional hardware you may want or need, such as extra HDs and other drives, a remote, etc. Throw the mix together, download Centerstage or Front Row (if you haven't got a new mac yet), and wala! Almost-instant entertainment center piece that's sure to last. :)
2006-03-09 08:58:39
I've been using an Elgato eyeTV connected to my PowerMac networked to an eyeHome connected to my TV. (In addition to a series 1 Tivo)

Pros: Works great for tv and gives you an iTunes jukebox at the same time.
Cons: can't play protected files bought on iTunes or H264. So I have burn and re-rip music purchased from iTunes if I want to play with eyeHome.

Bottom line: I'm buying a Mac Mini to suppliment my eyeHome. And unless Tivo backtracks and starts selling lifetime subscriptions again, I've bought my last Tivo.

2006-03-09 10:02:22
We've been ReplyTV users for several years now. They still have their lifetime activation (as far as I know) and they work great, both with and without macs. We have them all networked, with software for the Mac to allow them to act as ReplayTVs if we want. We can download TV shows to our Macs, or watch them streamed across the network. I also have EyeTV for watching live TV as well as recording if both ReplayTVs are already booked. Works great.
2006-03-09 10:38:09
Solution = Mac mini + EyeTV
2006-03-09 12:25:34
As of now, TiVo is claiming this will only apply to machines bought from them (technically, distributed by them, since you won't be paying for the machine anymore, just the service commitment). However, they are claiming, as of now, that there will continue to be TiVos available through retail (i.e. Best Buy, etc.) where you will pay money for the box, and then, if you have another working TiVo not bought through one of these new plans, you'll still be able to get the multi-box service price on the new one (currently only $6.95/month).

Of course, this is only somewhat comforting, since:
1. They could change their minds at any time and force everyone to go to the new plans;
2. With no more rebates on the boxes, a retail TiVo could be expensive;
3. They may have just put themselves out of business with this brain-dead decision.

The new pricing is overly confusing--is there anyone who is truly happy with their cellphone pricing, which this resembles? It alienates all their current customers, who are the ones who evangelize TiVo to friends and family (just like Macs).

As far as replacing it with a Mac-based system, I'd still rather have a box designed for this purpose, and separate from my computing tasks, than a hardware/software combination that is less than ideal.

2006-03-09 14:26:58
My current (non-HD) wireless media streaming solution:

Macs + EyeTV 200 + Storage (downstairs) =>
AirPort Express + EyeHome + A/V components (upstairs)

Works great; never any dropouts streaming EyeTV recordings and ripped DVDs.

Two things I miss most:

• can't stream H.264 and Apple DRM'd video content (which WG mentioned)
• can't program EyeTV (DVR) and manage media library from upstairs (workaround: use old iBook G3 to access "components" downstairs)

I also use the iBook to connect to my master iTunes library on a Mac downstairs and use AirTunes for audio streaming. Not the most efficient solution but there's enough WLAN bandwidth to handle it.

Oh, and EyeHome's UI won't win any prizes but I've gotten used to it.

I'm satisfied with that relatively low budget and all paid for setup. There aren't enough compelling reasons to put a Mac (or other "pricey" general-purpose computer) in my living room. And I can live with analog cable quality since that's mostly "disposable content" anyway. Maybe in a year or two it'll be time to reevaluate my home theater requirements. The one component I can foresee replacing sooner would be the EyeHome, with an Apple "AirPort A/V Express" (or comparable Elgato product) supporting H.264 and DRM.

@w2ed: From what I've read, MediaCentral is much nicer than Centerstage.

Brad Paton
2006-03-09 20:44:43
This may be slightly off-topic, but the biggest issue with the computer-based pvr's that I've seen has been the continued requirement of a separate cable box for digital cable/satellite. This isn't an issue with a tivo since it requires the tv anyway for display, but for a mac or pc that normally has a separate monitor, it means that you have to duplicate what you are watching on your tv. If however the mac/pc based pvr is intended to be directly connected to your tv, and thus already connected to your existing cable box, you're dandy.
2006-03-10 14:11:31
Glad you mentioned that issue, Brad. It's a big reason I'm still using analog cable.

Might CableCARD make a difference? I'm barely familiar with it so no doubt there's someone here who's more qualified to write about its capabilities in this context.

Christopher Allen
2006-03-11 12:44:23
I too have a lifetime service on a Tivo, which was purchased originally with one of the first Tivos, and they have let me upgrade twice to better units keeping my lifetime service.

It is not clear to me that they will require us to switch to an annual fee in order to get a Series 3 Tivo, instead, they just will not be offering new lifetime service to people buying Series 3 boxes. I suspect they will offer us an upgrade.