What is TiVo?

A TiVo is a digital recorder that takes TV programs and stores them on an internal hard disk. It has intelligent software built in so that it records programs that you want to watch, without making you program the date and time for the individual programs. Instead, you give thumbs-up or thumbs-down to individual shows so it can learn what you like, or you can tell it which shows, actors, directors, or genres it should record, as in: "Record all the new episodes of Saturday Night Live" or "Record anything with Steve Martin in it."

Why You Need a TiVo

A TiVo is more than just a digital VCR with a hard drive instead of tape. It's a very clever device that that makes it so that you watch the programs you want to watch, without the programming hassle you get with a VCR.

How Will TiVo Change the Way I Watch TV?

The thing about a TiVo is that is knows what's on and it knows what you like, so it can record the shows you like for you. Then, when you turn on the TV, you don't look at what's on, you look at what it has recorded for you.

This is important in two ways:

  1. The shows you like are waiting for you. Y ou don't have to watch what's on, beause the TiVo has recorded shows you like better while you were away. So your TV viewing experience is more enjoyable.
  2. You can fast-forward past the commercials. You can't do this with live TV! This not only makes your TV watching more fun, it makes it more efficient! Why? Because it takes less time to watch the same show.

I think TiVo is especially useful for busy people like entrepreneurs and parents, whose time isn't their own and who don't have much time for TV watching. Having your favorite shows ready to watch when you can pry an hour out of your busy schedule is like manna from heaven.

When Does TiVo Record Shows?

All the time. The disk is spinning all the time, and the tuner is on all the time, so TiVo records all the time. When you watch live TV, it's recording the program too, so you can pause or rewind live TV!

But it discards live-TV recordings to keep them from overwriting the shows it knows you like. It keeps 30 minutes of live TV. If the disk isn't completely full of shows you told it to record, it will also record shows on spec if it think you'll like them.

How Does TiVo Know What to Record?

Two ways:

  1. The remote control has a "thumbs up" and a "thumbs down" button. If you hate a show or an actor, give the show three thumbs down. If you love it, give it three thumbs up. The TiVo will learn your preferences and record shows it thinks you will like. On spec. You don't have to program it.
  2. By progamming it. You can go through its on-screen display of the program schedule and select shows you like, then tell it to record just that episode or every episode. You can also enter the names of actors, directors, or categories of shows, so it will record (for example) all mystery movies.

Is TiVo Easy to Set Up and Use?

Using a TiVo is trivial. My 75-year-old mother has no difficulty with it at all. Setting it up is also easy, but takes a while. Plugging it in is ap piece of cake, but the setup menus take a while, since you have to let it know which channels you receive so it can download the programming.

The weirdest thing about the TiVo is that it wants access to a phone line so it can call out for the program listings. I've had a TiVo for years and it doesn't call its friends long-distance or anything like that, and it doesn't break into your own phone calls. It's just a bit of a nuisance to have to run a phone cord to your TV area. But a lot of people sell wireless phone doohickeys to get around this.

What Kind of TiVo Should I Buy?

There are basically two kinds of TiVo: the regular one, and the special one that works as a DirecTV receiver. If you have DirecTV, get the DirecTV model. It has better recording quality and can record two shows at once! But it can only record DirecTV channels, not local channels. Last time I checked, I was paying only $4.99 for TiVo service from DirecTV, so it's also the cheapest option. Because the DirecTiVo replaces your old satellite box, it keeps your installation simple.

The regular TiVo works with everything else, and with DirecTV, too, so it's what you get if you want to record both local channels and satellite channels.

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