A lot of people received a PVR like TiVo, Replay TV or a Windows XP Media Center for Christmas and are thinking "OK, now what?" We at PVRBlog, aside from wishing you happy holidays, want to provide a sort of introduction to using your new device. Inside this post we'll be linking to tips and guides for your new PVR to help you get started.
Thanks Ben for your help filling out this section.
Thanks to Thomas Hawk for his help on the Media Center links (and you should check out his site for more info about Media Center). I invite PVR fans to add their own picks in the comments to this post. If you still have a question that hasn't been answered, submit it to Ask PVRblog and our smart readers will do their best to help you out.
I've been reading reviews and reports of Motorola's dual tuner, HDTV 6412 DVR, and word on the street is that it's finally reaching a lot of major Comcast markets. While almost all reviews of cable company DVRs have been mostly poor, due to bad software, bad hardware, or an overall low quality experience, this one looks like a serious TiVo fighter, since it packs a lot of features you just can't get in a TiVo.
Dual tuners for cable - DirecTV users with TiVo know the joy of this. Basically season pass conflicts are rare once you've got two tuners going at once, plus you can watch other live programs while things tape, which comes in handy.
Records HDTV - only 15 hours of HD content max, but there are only about ten channels on Comcast systems so it's probably not too much of a problem.
60 hours of regular TV recording - pretty good number, probably using a 80 to 120 Gb drive to fit that much standard TV and HDTV.
HD VOD - video on demand movies, in full glorious resolution (though you can't record them). I'm not the biggest fan of VOD, but it's certainly a cool feature when you can get a pay per view movie right now instead of having to wait for TiVo to grab it later tonight to watch tomorrow, which is how I use DirecTV's PPV.
My friend Lance got one of the first units in San Francisco and he posted a full review on his site, and we did a little back and forth interview about the particulars, which follows:
So how's the new HD recorder? Glorious or just so-so?
The interface is kind of klunky, the remote has way too many buttons on it, picture-in-picture isn't really, and it lacks the thumb's up/thumb's down capabilities of tivo, naturally, so it won't record anything you don't tell it to
On the plus side, two tuners is aces, recording hd programming is great, it's relatively cheap, it's simple, it has a huuuuuge program buffer (up to 60 minutes for digital programs, according to the manual) and the remote is fairly programmable.
You can't record on-demand programming, it'll hold 60 hours of regular programming or 20 hours of hd. It's very quiet.
you have to watch the VOD stuff live?
Yes, you have to watch on-demand as you order it
The ffd and rew are really smooth, and ffw goes hella fast if you want it to
The tivo-lag in changing channels disappears, of course, and it takes some getting used to to remember that you can now swap tuners and record one thing while watching another, or record two things at once.
As usual, the installers don't have any clue about what they're doing (yet) - same problem I had when I got hd-cable installed. they can plug stuff in, but when it comes to answering questions they have no clue -- which is why i suppose they gave me the wrong box on friday. i said "this looks exactly like the old one," and he said "it is, except for the hard drive" but it didn't weigh any more. the real box weighs a few pounds more and it's labeled DVR on the front, otherwise it looks exactly the same
Whoa, that's crazy.
I think they realized the problem, though, because the manual includes how to tell the box what kind of tv (740, 1080, 480i, 480p) you have so your signal works properly. It records dolby digital when the broadcast uses it, too.
I haven't checked on what ports it has -- and which ones actually work. Looks like two usb on the front, probably 1.1 rather than 2.0 but you never know. The back has digital video out as well as component and rca
No DVI or anything?
The things i miss most are being able to tell it what channels i use versus which ones i receive, and the guide isn't as well integrated as tivo - yeah it has dvi out
You're using component to drive your widescreen Sampo TV, right?
The 'last' button seems to have endless memory. It goes backwards through whatever channels (or screens) you accessed as many times as you press it
Whoa, like a browser history. That's cool
You can change the color of the guide screens through about a dozen different templates, i'm using 'pewter'. there are two guide views, one (when you press guide) takes over most of the screen and shrinks what you're watching into the upper right, the other (when you press OK) appears on the bottom of teh screen showing just two channels at a time
heh, it's always about the skins.
Digital cable channels look uniformly crisp and not too much jaggedy going on. analog channels in the low register look ghosted and uniformly awful. Luckily, most of those are also hd-capable since they're the networks and pbs.
Haven't found too many glaring idiosyncracies. the pic-in-pic needs relabeling or they need to make it work. the guide has an hd-only mode but it doesn't show all the channels for some reason, most obviously it doesn't list hbo-hd.
You can record a series and it has the usual options (first run only, keep until space needed or keep until i delete it, re-order based on priority) but you can't search a database, you need to go into the guide, find the show, hit record twice to bring up the recording options and then it'll record the series.
That kind of blows
it's awkward. when you go into the dvr, there's a bar that shows how much memory you've used up so you can kind of manage things. if you tell it to record a single show, that will always override a series recording but you need to remember that.
Oh, it doesn't notify you of the conflict? lame.
TiVo seems much more 'set it and forget it' than comcast's solution, but i think they see their competition as directv rather than tivo, because of hd and twin tuners. You either pay a grand for a satellite dvr hd solution, or $10 a month for this
It sounds like it's great except for a few "yeah, but..." things
I'd say that's about right. if i had no tivo experience, i'd give it a 9 out of 10. but having seen the tivo interface and being used to its ease and simplicity, i'd downgrade this to an 8. the stuff i miss isn't the stuf i use all the time, it's more about my convenience.
and the ability to record hd, plus having two tuners raises the bar a lot.
i think i may miss 'tivo selects' surprises as the days go on. i kind of enjoyed sitting down on a weekend and seeing what tivo found for me that i didn't know was on. now i don't get that, so i've sort of lost my programming concierge.
and i never really used tivo media and i doubt i would have found tivo-to-go very useful, personally.
Recently, Microsoft released "media center extenders" for people that wanted to keep their media center PC as an office computer, but watch video/audio in other parts of the house. Those devices seem to struggle from network problems and high prices ($250-300 each). This review covers the xbox version of the extender, which is only about $80 and seems to do everything well.
I recently picked up a hacked xbox that I'm using to stream music/photos/video from a PC in my office downstairs to my TV and it works fantastic. I'll post a review of the unofficial Xbox Media Center software in a few weeks.
update: Here's the full story, direct from TiVo PR:
Free, while supplies last, TiVo 40 hour Series2 DVR for new TiVo customers that provide a current Comcast cable bill and new gift (toy/clothing) for The Family Giving Tree Charity. Will be activating service on-site.
Date: December 17, 2004
Place: TiVo, 2160 Gold Street, Alviso, CA (Yahoo Maps)
Why: Reinforcing our position as a champion for consumers and to deliver on the broken promise from Comcast to deliver DVRs to Bay Area customers. Best of all, bringing holiday cheer to those in need through our alliance with The Family Giving Tree.
Good on TiVo for doing this (and yes, an obvious dig at Comcast DVR customers). If you're in the Bay Area on Friday, help out a charity and get something cool in return.
Did you know PVRs are illegal in India? Me neither, but according to Nilanjana S Roy on rediff.com they are:
Current regulators are not sure whether TiVo breaches the rights of advertisers to advertise or channels to run ads. That means you shouldn't legally use TiVo-if you're watching TV on a TV screen.
Not to fear, a company called Reliance Infocomm is bringing Microsoft's IPTV to India and with it the control over televised space/time that comes with a PVR.
I should point out that I couldn't find anything about this TiVo ban anywhere else online, so like all single-sourced information it should be treated with a healthy skepticism until it can be confirmed.
Back in America there have been some rumblings about advertisers rights when it comes to PVRs, most recently a nasty Senate bill that would have criminalized fast forwarding (which died in the House). In 2002 the CEO of Turner Broadcasting called ad skipping "theft," which has would have some pretty big implications if it were true. The EFF defended the right to skip commercials in Newmark v. Turner but unfortunately ReplayTV went bankrupt before people's right to control media in their own house could be affirmed.
Of course, if advertisers knew what was good for them they would be encouraging people to fast forward through ads. As Mark Cuban speculated and a study by CBS confirmed, no one pays more attention to an ad than someone making sure they don't miss the start of their show. Maybe someone should tell that to the regulators in India?
When the Diego Moxi PVR debuted at CES in 2002 they quickly gathered praise from all corners and were by all accounts destined for big things. Then, nothing. When the CEO stepped down a little over a month after that same CES, the press were quick to declare the company DOA. I don't blame them, I hadn't heard of them in the nearly 3 years since that CES and kind of figured they had gone the way of DivX DVDs. As it turns out, the Moxi is not dead.
According to Daily Wireless the Moxi, which is only available to cable companies, got picked up by BendBroadband of OR. They are the fifth operator to carry the Moxi, after Adelphia, Comcast, Sunflower Broadband (they're in Kansas, from what I can tell) and
Digeo corporate cousin Charter.
A couple of the features the Moxi has above the normal pause-live-TV and scheduled-recordings are HDTV support, DVI and S/PDIF output and
A 'ticker' at the bottom of the screen that you can personalize to show news, stories, sports scores or stock prices that sounds interesting.
For pricing, BendBroadband charges $7/mo for service, $15/mo for Moxi rental or $450 to buy the Moxi.
I haven't heard anything from anyone who has a Moxi, so if you've used one please let us know what you think in the comments.
JavaHMO, an open source replacement for the TiVo Desktop, has released version 2.0 of their software. It cleverly exploits the developer API's ability to publish pictures to display all sorts of useful information such as movie times and weather. New in 2.0 are email, RSS feeds, stock prices, web page viewer, USENET and more.
Check out the screenshots to get a better idea of how it works on the TiVo end. It also has support for the TiVo Beacon API which means that you can run it alongside other HMO servers like TiVo Desktop.
Kevin Kelly's excellent Cool Tools site carries reviews of gadgets and helpful technology, and last week he featured a review of the Toshiba SD-H400 DVD playing TiVo which carries the distinction of being the cheapest standalone TiVo you can buy that doesn't require a monthly fee. TiVo Free is a bit of a crippled product and I'd personally pay for the full feature set, but $12.95 a month can get expensive and I can see why folks would look for a free monthly DVR. You don't get the basic Season Pass functionality, but if you don't mind constantly having to save the same shows in the 3-day window, it's a good basic box.
Prices on the unit go down to about $210 at the lowest end for this unit.