You know it's time to move the Long Tail from the wired column to the tired column when USA Today starts talking about it. The paper assembled an all-star panel including TiVo chairman Michael Ramsay, Firefox developer Blake Ross and Chuck D to talk about what's ahead for the internet and digital entertainment.
Q: What does the "long tail" mean for entertainment and media?
Ramsay: ... We can measure it. There's maybe only a hundred people who watch bass fishing or speed knitting or whatever. So they watch it, and it's important to them.
What we've found is that the viewing patterns of people who watch live television — and are therefore restricted to prime time whenever they're home — are dramatically different than the viewing patterns of people who have the choice of just picking whatever they want.
Given the choice, people will migrate towards a much greater variety, and the deal is you've got to make everything available to everybody so that they're not restricted. And if you do, the market for that more esoteric, more specialized stuff is just as big as the market of the mainstream stuff.
There's plenty more good stuff in the article, including Michael Ramsay talking about "storage anxiety" when people have too many things saved on their TiVo that they're never going to get around to watching.
My friend Meg has posted about her problems with a DISH Network receiver, where after four hours of inactivity, it puts itself to sleep and her TiVo can't record anything. I know having an external TiVo hooked up to another DVR may be a rare use case, but it is a weird issue and Dish techs have told her non-DVR versions do the same thing to conserve energy and wear and tear, even though a TiVo needs 24/7 access to the stream. Anyone that has ever experienced it or found a way around it is encouraged to leave a comment on her site.
If you own a TiVo you've never upgraded but are considering it, and you've seen my writeup of my own upgrade process, and my review of a prepared drive installation, you are probably wondering what would work best for you. Before you can answer that question, a summary may help.
For my recently purchased Series 2 tivo (purchased for $199 - price still good until Thursday), I bought a bare 120Gb drive from newegg.com for $98, and an upgrade bracket and kit for $58. It took approximately 3 hours to complete the work, start to finish, including a couple hours wasted on research and trial and error, with about one hour of actual dismantling and rebuilding. The final product was a 188 hour TiVo at an upgrade cost of $156.
While the DIY upgrade may appear not for the faint of heart, if you've ever built your own PC you can definitely tackle this project. If you've worked with hard drive upgrades in PCs before and understand what master and slave jumpers are and what they do, you can totally do this.
The instructions that are out there are very detailed and easy to follow, and you can skip most of the tedious backup and restore steps. In reality, once I had my tivo opened up and the drive removed, I only had to connect up the two drives to my PC and run a single linux command from a bootable CD. The script was finished in a matter of seconds and the drives were prepared and ready to go.
I spent probably 15 minutes taking the TiVo apart initially, and putting the Twinbreeze kit in took another 30-45 minutes or so of reading detailed directions and piecing things together.
Your other option is to buy an upgrade drive ready to drop into your TiVo, and your task is simply to open it up, follow the supplied directions, and add the second drive. There is no shortage of small companies, websites, and professional hobbyists that offer this sort of package, including Weaknees, Hinsdale (the guy that wrote the upgrade how-to), TVrevo, 9th tee, among many others.
But what are you really paying for?
When you buy a prepared upgrade drive for your TiVo, you are essentially paying about double the price of a bare drive you could buy online. The dark secret of all these upgrade kits is basically that someone is sitting in an apartment running a program called BlessTiVo(scroll down to part 10, then configuration #1 to see the how-to on it). It's another single, one-line command from a bootable linux disk that takes seconds to complete. Then they tack on a $100 premium to the drive they bought for less than $100 and ship it off to you.
On the bright side, you're also paying for your valuable saved time. With most of these kits, all the steps that feel dangerous and cause nail-biting are handled by someone else. When your drive arrives, you pop open your tivo and put the new drive in, and you're done. In my DIY upgrade, I probably could have completed the drive install job in about a half hour.
I would even go so far as to say the Weaknees kit looks like the best deal of the lot, since they throw in their Twinbreeze kit. Where I paid $156 for my own drive and kit, they offer the same parts for $208 with the drive. If two hours of your time and some slight risk are worth more than $52 to you, the prepared drive and kit is a pretty good deal.
Most all the sites offering prepared upgrade drives also offer an upgrade service for those phobic to tivo tinkering. It's usually another $50 on top of other charges, and again, you're really paying someone to run a single command in linux and screw some drives in. I could imagine these guys getting the whole process down to maybe ten minutes with some practice. The main downside is that you have to give up TiVo for several days-to-a-week when you ship it off. The upside is aside from disconnecting your tivo and putting it into the mail, there's not much you have to do.
Adding in my $199 cost of the TiVo, the bottom line is that my DIY upgrade cost me $355 and 3 hours of my time. If I went with an upgrade kit, the total cost would have been in the neighborhood of $400 and cost me about 30-60 minutes of time. If I would have paid someone else to do it all for me, it would cost about $425-450 and no TiVo for a week, which you can't really put a price on :). Before I set out to upgrade my TiVo, I would have guessed the price differences would be more pronounced, but keep in mind I bought an expensive kit that most TiVos do not require, so it could have been $50 less.
When weighing the options to determine what path you should take, the most important consideration is the cost of your time. If you're busy, pay someone else to do the time consuming bits for you. The second most important consideration is assessing your own level of technical expertise. If you've tinkered with PCs before, it shouldn't be any problem, but if you're new to digital gadgets you are probably better off paying someone to do it, and as you can see, it's not that much more expensive for a total upgrade service.
When you go to buy a PVR like a TiVo, the first question you're faced with is the size of it: do you want a 40 hour or an 80 hour for a bit more? 40 and 80 hours sounds like a lot, more than anyone could watch in a week, but try not to think in those terms when determining what works best for you. The size of your TiVo really just means how quickly things auto-delete themselves, and answering what size is best for you depends on your lifestyle and viewing habits.
Say you had a 30-40 hour maximum Tivo and you watched maybe two hours of TV a day (say, The Daily Show, an episode of Frontline, and a Simpsons episode). Typically a TiVo will record more hours than you can watch (especially as it grabs shows it thinks you might like), so there will be a good deal of attrition, and sometimes that is a problem. For the ~40hr tivo, this would mean that shows would typically last 3-4 days on your Tivo before deleting themselves to make way for new shows. If you have time to sit down and watch recorded TV every couple days, a smaller tivo drive will work fine. If, on the other hand, you only find time on weekends to watch the previous week's TV you will run into problems. Problems take the form of things like being furious that last week's Six Feet Under was deleted before you ever got to see it, and the repeats of it weren't taped because TiVo already had a copy of it (which was eventually deleted).
For me personally, bigger is better due to my habits. I go for days without turning a TV on, and sometimes I lie around all weekend catching up on the previous week or two. It all started with the last World Cup of soccer, and a 10 day vacation that started just as my tivo would be taping dozens of 2+ hour games. Right before I left I added a 80 hour drive to my Directivo that meant all the games were waiting for me when I got home. Later when I had problems with the tivo motherboard (not related to the upgrade), I decided to upgrade the fresh new unit Tivo sent me. I eventually had 200Gb of tivo storage, which meant I always had a couple dozen movies taped off HBO that lasted literally for months and months. I ended up quitting Netflix when I got this setup, and instead relied on HBO and a few pay-per-view movies to fill my needs. I had dozens of episodes of my favorte shows going back about six months.
Upgrading a TiVo after you've bought one is pretty easy if you are comfortable with taking apart your PC. If not, it is much easier to just start with a new larger drive in a new TiVo that won't need upgrading so soon.