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In a 3-part series I’ll be reviewing the TIVO digital recorder and video on demand service launched last week by TVNZ and Telecom.

This post deals with the TIVO installation and set-up.

DVR war declared (finally)

So finally, a decade after time-shifting TV, ad-skipping and digital storage of TV programmes came to American homes via the TIVO box, New Zealanders can get their hands on the same service.

tivo boxWhile the TIVO brand is new to New Zealand, the concept of the digital video recorder is not – Sky’s successful MySky recorder was the first official box to employ an electronic programming guide, digital recording and intelligent services like series link, which allows you to set up recording of an ongoing TV show with one press of a button.

Other players such as Panasonic, Philips and Sony have released stand-alone DVRs that allow easy recording of programmes but without the integrated programming guide. DVRs designed to work with the Freeview service are also on offer for around $800.

Given that, is there room in the market for TIVO? Sky has certainly scooped up the early adopters of the technology with its impressive MySky box, but the desire of a sizeable section of the market to avoid lining Rupert Murdoch’s pockets further and stick to free-to-air TV and the clever on-demand and networking features of the TIVO service make it a compelling offer – if the $920 price tag had about $300 shaved off it.

Setting up TIVO

There were a number of elements to my particular TIVO installation, so I was surprised at how quick the set-up process was. To take full advantage of TIVO’s video on demand functions, I had to not only have to plug the box into my existing home theatre set-up, but attach it to an internal UHF aerial and connect the box wirelessly to my home broadband network.

Something could have gone wrong at any step in the process, but amazingly, nothing did. It helps that TIVO supplies a big, simple diagram you can spread out on your living room floor to walk you through the process.

Out of the box

The TIVO device is fairly simple in design, black with a silver trim. There’s no digital display on the box, just a series of coloured lights to indicate power, whether TIVO is recording and when a download is ready to view. It’s a fair bit larger than MySky and nowhere near as sleek or stylish. But it has an understated simple profile and blends in well with home theatre components.

The TIVO remote control is easy to get the hang of and better designed than the chunky MySky remote.

Terrestrial HD

TIVO relies on the Freeview broadcast service launched a couple of years back to support the broadcast of free-to-air channels in high-definition format. As such you will need a UHF aerial capable of picking up the service – check coverage in your area here. For best results, you’ll need a roof-top aerial, however I’ve been using an internal UHF aerial I bought from Dick Smith for around $80. It works very well, though occasionally there is some screen distortion as several tall buildings sit between my apartment in Wellington’s CBD and Mt Kaukau, where the Freeview transmitter is.Note that you cannot connect TIVO to the Freeview satellite service that is also used to deliver free-to-air TV digitally.

Wired for video

TIVO offers good options to connect to your TV – composite video, component and HDMI among them – you will want to connect via one of the last two options to receive the 720p high-definition picture the broadcast service supports.

Bundled with the TIVO package is a wireless networking adapter which plugs via USB into the back of the TIVO box and talks to a wireless router to shift information to your computer and to utilise your broadband router for movie downloads. The adapter is fully plug and play – set-up was a breeze.

With everything connected, it was time to turn on the TIVO box and scan for the digital free-to-air channels. TIVO took a couple of minutes to programme in the channels after which I was able to view them all by clicking on the “live TV” button on the TIVO remote.

But first, setting up TIVO involves you going online to register the box with the TIVO network. This was a straightforward process, within minutes I had a TIVO account set-up and had registered for the CASPA movie-on-demand service, which takes about a day to activate. I was then taken to a menu to set up the wireless adapter, which involves entering your wireless network security code via the TIVO handset.

With a connection established with your wireless router you are then set up for unmetered downloading of TV shows and movies over a Telecom broadband connection.

Short learning curve

TIVO's suggestions feature

TIVO's suggestions feature

Learning the ins and outs of TIVO’s menu system, features and remote control took less time than learning the ropes with MySky did. Everything is designed for easy navigation. Helpful videos are pre-loaded to walk you through the process. The Now Playing screen will become central to organising your TIVO viewing – it displays all the recorded programmes and downloads you have gathered on the 320GB hard drive. Other options on the menu take you instantly to CASPA, the on-demand download screen which displays the premium and free content available to download.

Another menu option will become important to your ongoing viewing – a “TIVO suggestions” screen where TIVO suggests programmes you may want to watch based on your recording habits. TIVO learns from what you watch and record, so one afternoon into the TIVO experience, the box won’t have much to base its suggestions on. But it is surprisingly astute. Assembled programmes choices are served up which you can reject with the touch of the green “thumbs up” button or reject by pressing the red “thumbs down” buttom. More about the suggestions features in part 2.

With TIVO receiving the broadcasts and accessing the wireless gateway I was fully installed in less than 45 minutes, impressive given the complexity of the technology involved.

In part 2: Getting to grips with TIVO suggestions, remote recording, downloading movies and shifting content to a computer.

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