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Series 3 TiVos and plasma remotes

It sounds like one of the first reported problems with the series 3 TiVo is that the infrared sensor might not work if you have a plasma/LCD TV and set the TiVo close to the TV's own sensor. People are saying it'll require a hardware change to fix and one enterprising owner has already done that on his own (here are the full instructions).

I have a plasma and a series 3, but the TiVo is in a lower cabinet about 8 feet away from the TV, which is mounted back up on a wall. I get great remote coverage, easily out performing the Comcast DVR it replaced. From reading the tivocommunity thread, It's unclear if this is due to certain models, backlights, or just faulty hardware.

If you're running into these issues, be sure to check out the thread on it. [thanks for the tip Wook]

September 26, 2006 in TiVo | Permalink | Comments (4)

Will Tivo box the Amazon Unbox?

Unboxlogo Interesting news/rumor from TechCrunch: Will Tivo box the Amazon Unbox?

Although Amazon's Unbox has already caught some heat for the lame DRM behind it, I have to say I think it'd be a great fit if this turns out to be true. Two years ago, Netflix and TiVo were going to work together but eventually that idea died. Also, Apple entered the fray by announcing the iTV player to come out next spring and Amazon could beat Apple to the punch by using the already-installed hardware of TiVo boxes nationwide.

I'm a big fan of watching stuff on the couch. Currently I run a hacked xbox wired to a plasma TV and I frequently use usenet and bittorrent to grab missed TV shows. I have it completely automated to where I just click a single download link and about ten minutes later I can enjoy it in the living room. Video quality varies but is usually pretty good but I do wish HDTV were possible (and that my xbox had hdmi out).

I don't just download ripped TV shows, I also pay for video downloads. I've got a video ipod and I buy a lot of shows from the iTunes Music Store to enjoy on planes, trains, and automobiles. It is kind of frustrating when you come home and want to finish a show on your TV and instead you have to use a computer.

I'll likely buy an iTV when it comes out, but given Amazon's endless inventory and my already existing TiVo sitting in my living room, I'd go that route as well if it meant quick access to any movie or DVD in their inventory.

September 22, 2006 in News | Permalink | Comments (13)

Pogue Loves TiVo

Pogue David Pogue's amusing video love letter to the new Tivo. Here's his full review in today's New York Times.

September 21, 2006 in News | Permalink | Comments (6)

Adventures in CableCards

Cablecard The first thing you learn after you get a new Series 3 TiVo is that soon after unpacking the box, your next major hurdle is getting two CableCards from your cable provider so you can get all your HD and pay channels directly from the TiVo.

The TiVo Community boards have loads of threads on the (mis)adventures of getting customer support reps and techs to understand what a CableCard is and how to get one. I'm a Comcast customer trying to get one and I've really enjoyed the official Comcast CableCard Thread.

If you read a few pages of it, you'll find a small number of people are able to pick up CableCards from their local office, plug them in, and call Comcast to instantly activate them, while everyone else is being told only cable technicians can do it. Some are saying only one card was delivered, and lots are finding out there are many bad CableCards on hand. Then there is the pricing. Cruise through a few pages and you'll find people hearing everything from $15/month/card to both cards being free. Installations are running from $75 to $17 to free as well. People are calling Comcast's 1-800 number several times and getting several different prices.

For the record, here's my experience so far:

  • Called toll-free Comcast national number, was told two CableCards were free, but it'd be $17 for an installer to come to my house next week, with no chance of picking up cards locally. I'm turning in my Motorola HD DVR and saving $10/mo on my bill as well.
  • Went into my local Comcast office today, asked if they had CableCards to give out and they said no, only techs are authorized to do it. I said I'd heard of other offices handing them out, and having the customers just call into Comcast to activate and the person behind the counter said "only techs have the clearance to do such a thing."

It sounds like a lot of people in the Seattle area are able to walk in and get perfectly working CableCards. On the whole, Comcast is being weird about this -- it's not rocket science and shouldn't require a tech to install (even those sound way more complicated than they should be).

Here are the main takeaways everyone should keep in mind:

  • You should NOT be paying for CableCards, per FCC mandate or just nominal fees (see comments). Comcast should give you two cards for free. If they are insisting on $6.95 monthly fees, hang up and try another Comcast support rep.
  • Almost everyone is requiring a tech to come out to install them, even if it only takes five minutes to slide a card in and call a phone number. If you are forced to go this route, don't pay more than the minimum $17 for the visit.
  • TiVo's site has everything you need to know about installing CableCards on this page. Remember "If you see error 161-4 during installation, you can ignore it. If you see Error 161-2, it means that the card is damaged and needs to be replaced." Also keep the CableCard install notes handy for the tech that visits.

Anyone here have experiences getting a CableCard from their provider for the Series 3?

September 20, 2006 in News | Permalink | Comments (34)

Lessons from the TiVo launch: learning from mistakes

Series3hd_front_1 My TiVo is finally on a truck headed my way, but the buying process was filled with a lot of conflicting information and mismanaged expectations. Instead of making this a big anti-TiVo rant fest, I want to highlight lessons that any company could learn from. Some of these might sound nit-picky, but it's important to always give the customer a clear and consistent message and it would certainly cut down on support costs if buyers weren't in the dark. Support costs money and a lot of it could be avoided by making small changes in email and web server programming.

  1. Mistake: Tivo.com stated the Series 3 would ship in 1-2 days on day of launch.

    Lesson: Your store has to be inventory-sensitive. Not a lot of e-commerce sites excel at this, but it's worth tying your store backend to your inventory, or at the least, doing a little bit of math on the server side. I bet TiVo had 5,000 units ready to ship within two days, but got 5-10x that number of orders and swamped the system. A savvy developer could write some logic that displayed 1-2 days for the first 5k orders, then shift that to 3-4 days for the next 10k orders. After that, put 5-7 days for the rest on the first day.

    Apple does a great job with this (after a history of bad product launches). If you check out a product on the Apple Store on the day of launch, the shipment time will change as the day goes on, depending on order volume. The key is keeping your customer expectations in line with reality. For the past two years, Apple has been great for me, always delivering a day or two before they say, which keeps me happy.

    It sucked to spend $1100 and hear nothing about shipping for over 48 hours, but I ordered late morning Pacific time, or about 6 hours after the first orders trickled in. I wouldn't have minded if it said it'd take a week by that time.
  2. Mistake: TiVo sent a "whoops" email 2 days later, promising next-day shipment with email that never happened

    Lesson: Admitting a mistake early is great, but not following up on the promise killed any help it offered. When you sell way more than you expected, it's great to let people know there will be a slight delay and that they'll get free shipping as a result (everyone loves a bonus for a waiting customer!). The problem here is when you make a promise that everything will ship by the next day and the customer should see an email about this, it has to be absolutely true. You've already delayed the customer once -- when you give them more information, make sure it is 100% reliable because you don't want to delay them again.

    At this point, I setup a CableCard install, knowing I'd get the box on Saturday or Monday. I had to delay it on Monday for an additional week (next available slot), since I didn't know when it would ship.
  3. Mistake: Order Confirmation emails going out with old addresses

    Lesson: Always reference the original order info, not what you have on file for the customer. I never got the promised shipment email on Friday, but on Sunday afternoon I got an order confirmation email that listed the billing and shipping info for a place I lived in three years ago, back when I used to be a TiVo customer. I moved twice since then, had DirecTV then Comcast, but I used the same email when ordering the TiVo that I used to have a TiVo account with. I didn't want my $1100 package going to an old apartment so I called customer service on a Sunday night (couldn't be cheap for TiVo to maintain staff at that hour) only to be told it was going to the address I put down on my order, where I currently live.

    This happened to others as well, and the conflicting information just created more customer support issues.

    Another nit-pick, but the confirmation email said my order was placed on 9/14, not 9/12 when I actually ordered it on the website (I suspect the date is when TiVo put it in the confirmed system -- don't expose that to the customer).
  4. Mistake: Shipment email has conflicting info

    Lesson: Always give the customer consistent information. I got my final shipment email this morning saying I ordered UPS Ground shipping (instead of next day air) and it shows my total order doesn't include the 3-year pre-paid service. I understand TiVo doesn't actually ship 3-year service in a box, but it says "ITEMS ORDERED" and it is left off. Call it "ITEMS SHIPPING" instead because that reflects what you're really describing. Also, if every shipment needs to be UPS Ground in the system to process it as free, tack on a note saying that Next Day orders will arrive quicker.

I'm happy that TiVo's Series 3 sales exceeded expectations and this happens with any highly-anticipated launch (see also: xbox360, Playstation 2, iPods), but I think there are a few small changes that could have gone a long way towards keeping everyone happy and up to date. If the website said "shipping in 5-7 days" and the confirmation emails had information that reflected my order, I'd be a happy camper waiting for my TiVo to arrive sometime today, instead of reading posts on other blogs saying TiVo lied, don't buy from them, and I would have had an easier time lining up a cablecard install appointment.

September 19, 2006 in Op-Ed | Permalink | Comments (6)

Series 3 TiVos not shipping?

I ordered a Series 3 TiVo off tivo.com Tuesday morning fully expecting to get it by Friday. It said it would ship in a day or two, and I had overnight shipping. Thursday night, I got an email saying there was "excessive demand" and it would definitely ship Friday (and they'd waive the shipping charges) and I should expect an email. Friday came and went, and there's no email.

Turns out, lots of other people have had the same experience. Gear Live has a good wrap-up of TiVoCommunity threads and an HDbeat editor had the same experience I did. It's looking like no one that ordered online has gotten their new TiVo yet.

It's great to see TiVo have such demand for a high-end product, but I'm shocked at how poorly it is being handled. Everything in business is about managing customer expectations. From the outset, the expectation was set at 1-2 day for shipment and even as the orders poured in, you'd think a dynamic website could be programmed to shift that as the day wore on. Apple is a company that deals with high demand online sales and they're fantastic about estimating when something will be in your hands.

I would have skipped the TiVo.com route and bought one at my local BestBuy, but when I called them last weekend, they said they were only getting a couple units 1-2 weeks later. I'm really surprised to hear the TiVo.com online orders can't be canceled, as that seems borderline illegal for an unshipped unit.

I'm hopeful TiVo turns this all around next week. With all the people calling customer service, they must have gotten the message that they have thousands of disgruntled superfans on their hands, so I'd like to see an honest, accurate email Monday letting me know when I could really expect a unit. I'm glad I didn't schedule any cablecard installers yet, but I did buy a TiVo wireless g adapter from Amazon that is sitting here unused.

September 16, 2006 in News | Permalink | Comments (15)

Tons of news this week

While away at a conference this week, I noticed loads of new announcements worth talking about:

  • Apple's iTV set top box. Apple finally announces a TV product -- one that can be used to easily stream their higher resolution video from iTunes to your living room. This reminds me of my current living room setup, where I have a xbox running xbox media center, and I download missed TV shows to a shared video directory on the network which streams to my set. iTV feels like the same experience, only people don't have to muck with networking, bittorrent, and other geeky things required.
  • ABC offering free downloads of last year's major shows from iTunes. It is a great way to catch up and gain new viewers, and it'll run out when they hit a million downloads which could have happened already given the uptake of iTunes.
  • NBC will be offering free streams of this year's major new shows from their own site. ABC's plan seems to be bringing in new viewers based on past shows, where NBC looks to be doing the same thing only using current and new shows. This is great and a handy way to catch all the newest shows you might miss.
  • There's a new release of Democracy, the streaming/downloading video client. Nice to see this continue to evolve, it's both a bittorrent downloader and player, hooking you up with tons of free video out of the box.

September 15, 2006 in News | Permalink | Comments (6)

Series 3 TiVo on sale

Finally, the day I've been waiting almost two years for has arrived: TiVo is selling their HD-ready CableCard ready DVR. At the moment, they're selling with no rebate and no incentives, at $799. The pre-paid monthly plans don't save much money unless you do the 3 year plan, which saves you about $150 in fees.

Considering I pay Comcast $10 a month for a crappy box, I don't mind paying for the TiVo service on top of the price, but hopefully in a few months they'll bring the prices down below $500 with incentives and rebates.

Since I've been waiting forever for the box and keep losing recordings on my Motorola box, I splurged. I'll post a full review after I've had it a few days:


September 12, 2006 in News | Permalink | Comments (24)

Series 3 TiVo at Circuit City, available in October

Someone in the comments (from Circuit City) said the Series 3 boxes are just hitting warehouses this week, while Dave Zatz showed a screenshot from Circuit City's site.

I continued poking around the Circuit City site and found their shopping catalog has a page with the Series 3 marked with "Available in October". Screenshot:


Hopefully they'll be a bit early so I can enjoy the new fall shows on it, but October as a fallback works too.

September 11, 2006 in News | Permalink | Comments (6)

Ad to TV industry: Series 3 Coming Soon

Reader Ryan sent me a scan of this ad from TiVo (click for full-sized):

This ad ran in a television/advertising trade magazine that I happen to subscribe to, Television Week (September 4, 2006)


September 6, 2006 in News | Permalink | Comments (14)