TiVo Deserves to Give Sky Pause

After years of being on hold, the personal or digital video recorder market in NZ has skipped into fast-forward mode.

Sky TV was first to offer such a device, MySky, in 2005.

A high definition option, MySky HDi, was launched three years later, around the same time DVRs designed for Freeview reception became common.

In November, the world’s first DVR, TiVo, went on sale to Telecom broadband customers in FreeviewHD reception areas 10 years after it revolutionised viewing in the US (indeed, the TiVo brand became a verb to describe personal video recording).

And next month, TelstraClear will give its cable TV service a long-overdue fillip with a DVR initiative that promises to combine the best of free-to-air TiVo’s functionality with My Sky HDi’s subscriber packages.

For consumers, the choice between going with TiVo or MySkyHDi is clear-cut: the latter boasts unparalleled content, the former unparalleled convenience.

But is that convenience worth the high asking price — $920 upfront for the premium wireless bundle or monthly instalments – when TiVo’s viewing options are limited to the free-to-air channels and a downloading service that at this stage offers even less than Apple TV (although there is a surprising amount of NZ content)?

Yet in the month or so I’ve trialed TiVo, I’ve gone from a sceptic to a convert.

Like the Apple iPhone, TiVo puts the fun into functionality with a slick interface and a host of recording and storage options that makes MySkyHDi look as primitive as your first video cassette recorder.

Some of the innovations are too smart for viewers’ own good, such as TiVo Suggestions, a facility that automatically records programmes TiVo thinks you may wish to see based on your viewing preferences.

But Season Pass a series like NCIS, whereby every episode is recorded automatically, and you risk winding up with hours of tenuously related content on your 300GB hard drive, like ChIna NewS bulletins.

However, it will fine-tune recordings the more you give the thumbs-up and thumbs-down to programmes. Moreover, it is an optional service that can be switched off and TiVo Suggestions are the first to be deleted as recording space starts to fill up.

TiVo will organise Season Pass episodes into folders for easy access, gives you a choice of how long you wish to retain recordings, and can search for titles to simply time-shifting – although the system’s not without quirks, such as categorising Coronation Street and Home and Away as daytime dramas when they’re peak-hour serials.

For all of TiVo’s time-shifting sophistication, it won’t let you Season Pass repeat screening of a programme that play several times a day, as many of TVNZ7’s documentaries do; instead, it will record first-run only or a mix of first-run and repeats.

This may sound like nitpicking but if you are a heavy TV user – and why else would you have TiVo? – chances are your peak-hour time-shifting’s already maximised .

TiVo can record only two channels at once, not three, like MySkyHDi. So if you want to time-shift three programmes at once, and one repeats the next day, like C4’s The Daily Show, it makes sense to record the re-run.

Of course, you can manually record next-day repeats but this undermines one of TiVo’s key strengths.

So, too, does not bundling an HDMI cable with the media device. It comes with component video cables that the manual says can be used to watch HDTV but because of FreeviewHD’s HDCP obligations, even standard definition content that’s upscaled to 1080i is downconverted to 5761.

Even so, despite these limitations, TiVo’s new media potential is potent. If it can complement the sophistication and intuitiveness of its technology with a wider range of content than a handful of FTA channels and an undistinguished downloading service, TiVo will give Sky pause for thought.

This article originally was published in the December issue of Onfilm. To read more about DVR developments in NZ, visit the magazine’s website.

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2 Responses to “TiVo Deserves to Give Sky Pause”

  1. The Telecom website is, presumably deliberately, short on real information on Tivo – do you really need to hook up to their broadband or can you simply plug into your uhf aerial (and not bother with all their add ons)?

  2. No, you don’t have to hook up to Telecom, although a broadband connection is required for the efficient downloading of the electronic programming guide that you use to simplify recording. The advantage of going with Telecom is you can download non-broadcast content through TiVo, limited as it is at this stage, without blowing your monthly data cap. For more information, see: http://www.mytivo.co.nz/whatistivo/faq/installation/

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