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I thought I’d wait a couple of weeks before posting the final part of my TIVO review and I’m glad I did as the extended period of use has thrown up some interesting developments.

CASPA gathers steam

Early in December, TIVO improved the range of on-demand content available for download via the CASPA service available via the box. That was a smart move in the run-up to Christmas as the original selection was woeful. Now we have a fairly good selection of movies and TV shows categorised by genre.

Over the weekend I downloaded a few free episodes of The Kingdom Hospital at around 900mb and a 20 minute wait per episode. Additional episodes will cost $1.95 each and I’ll quite likely pay up – the quality in terms of the content and the presentation is excellent.

While the move selection still needs fleshing out further, there are some titles in there I was tempted to download over the weekend – including an old favourite Rosemary’s Baby ($4.95) and Angels & Demons which I couldn’t be bothered seeing at the cinema.

Keep it coming TIVO – the on demand service is the major point of difference with Sky and stand-alone DVRs. The technology works well but to avoid people making the trip to the video store, the options need to improve further.

TIVO on the iPhone

I live three blocks from work so have no need for entertaining diversions to keep me occupied on a daily bus trip to the office. But I like the idea of having a couple of TV episodes on my phone that I can watch when I’m waiting to pick up a take away or am stuck in Auckland traffic on the way to or from the airport.

Luckily, TIVO makes it very easy to shift shows on the DVR to your mobile phone, using your computer. A large number of devices are compatible with this option, including the three options available to me – iPhone, Blackberyy Bold and the Sony PSP. High-end Nokias are also supported.

Using a free upgrade to the  TIVO desktop software you can quite easily go about transferring a video file to your mobile device. The only real limitation here is storage space. Some of the shows are quite big – in some cases 2GB or more. So that’s a real squeeze for me given I’ve only a 2GB Memory Stick card for the PSP and a 1GB microSD card for the Blackberry. But it’s fine for the 8GB iPhone, though two TV episodes start to bump up against my music collection.

Overall, a great feature that will get little uptake with mainstream TIVO users but will have huge appeal with the geekier early adopters.

TIVO home networking

I’ve also been using TIVO to show slideshows of photos transferred from my computer and to play music. The TIVO box serves as a competent media hub (if not as enjoyable to use as my Playstation 3). A useful feature allows me to log into my Google Picasa online photo album via the TIVO’s broadband connection and display photos on my TV screen. An excellent example of the added value the TIVO box can provide.

TIVO suggestions update

It has been nice to sit down at the end of a hectic TV, check out the Now Playing menu on my TIVO box and see that TIVO has been industriously recording shows for me all week.

Unfortunately, the box hasn’t really got my tastes down just yet. It missed the premiere of the TV series V which I was desperate to see but forgot to programme in and half the shows it has recorded (ie: The Jackie Brown Diaries), I’ve no interest in whatsoever. Still, some liberal use of the thumbs up and thumbs down buttons should hone the selection.

To avoid clogging up the hard drive with TV shows, I’m generally setting TIVO to store the last three episodes of any given recurring show. There are plenty of options here and with a bit more patient tweaking, I’m sure I’ll have a service that knows my viewing habits inside out.

TIVO vs MySky

If you’ve been watching TV lately, you’ll likely have noticed that both Hybrid (the owners of TIVO) and Sky (the MySky creators) have been heavily advertising their respective boxes. Neither of the ad campaigns are, in my opinion, particularly good at describing the best attributes of the boxes.So here is a little summary to help you decide the best option for you:

MySky

Price: $599 or $15 per month. A $49 installation fee applies. $10 per month extra for high-definition content.

Pros: MySky is easy to master and the menus offer access to a plethora of content – some 50 channels potentially on offer. It is a well-designed consumer electronics product both in terms of hardware (slim profile) and software (recording, series link etc are quick to get the hang of). There’s online remote booking and Sky will replace the box if it breaks.

Cons: You must have a monthly Sky subscription for the MySky box to work. If you want high-definition, you’ll have to stump up an additional $10 a month. If its popular for its simplicity, it’s also a fairly limited box compared to TIVO – no intelligent programming functions guessing your preferences, no home networking features for sharing photos, videos and songs with your computer, no attaching external storage devices. With MySky you can select on demand movies that are delivered to you via satellite, but the selection is limited to blockbuster movies and they cost $6.99 each.

TIVO

Price: $920 or $200 upfront and $30 a month for 24 months

Pros: This is a seriously intelligent box with TIVO suggestions making recording picks for you. There’s no monthly subscription cost and it takes advantage of the Freeview HD service, delivering free-to-air content and premium content in high-definition. The CASPA on demand system works smoothly and downloads don’t eat into your broadband data cap. The networking options are impressive – shift audio, video and photos form your computer to TIVO and send recordings from the box to your computer and then onto a portable device. Remote bookings, the ability to plug in additional storage, intelligent menus and access to internet services like Picasa photo albums make it a versatile entertainment device.

Cons: You are of course limited to free-to-air programming which includes a limited number of channels. The additional on demand content available through CASPA is currently limited.  If you aren’t a Telecom customer you can still buy TIVO but you’ll have to stump up the cost in one go and you won’t be able to take advantage of the CASPA on demand service. The outlay is slightly on the high side – no particularly enticing discount for paying upfront as opposed to paying it off over 24 months.

Conclusion

There’s one fundamental question that will determine whether you will find yourself in the MySky or TIVO camp – do you find Sky’s programming attractive enough to pay for a monthly subscription to receive it? If the answer is yes, you’ll do best to pay for MySky and appreciate the excellent features the DVR provides. If Sky’s multitude of channels still leaves you feeling like there is nothing good ot watch, TIVO may be more to your liking. Sure, the content is only a fraction of what’s available on Sky, but there’s no ongoing subscription, a fledgling on-demand service that shows promise and lots of multimedia aspects to the box for the more tech-savvy.

For me, the most interesting content available to New Zealanders is to be found on National Geographic, History Channel, BBC, CNN etc, so I’m in the Sky camp. I also use my Playstation 3 console as a home networking device and play videos on it which I have downloaded via the internet. So TIVO isn’t the right box for me. Depsite that it is one of the more impressive consumer devices I’ve test driven and deserves to find a place for itself in the market here. It provides much needed competition to Sky and makes the Freeview digital TV platform all the more attractive.

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TIVO review – part 1

TIVO review – part 2

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