TiVo turns 20 this week! A look at how far the DVR has come in 20 years (and a look at our first commercial from Y2K 🙀).— TiVo (@TiVo) March 28, 2019
TiVo is now 20, and looking back I realize I've had one for 19 years, getting my first TiVo in March of 2000 through a contest on their site. I used that TiVo for the next several years, adding and upgrading hard drives and doing it all from the Linux command line until later, I got the DirecTV with its early pre-HD DirecTiVo box which I loved (it recorded digital streams natively, no compression artifacts). Then a Series 2 TiVo, then every new version that followed after that. The only TiVo model I haven't owned is the new Bolt since my 4-year-old Roamio seems to do it all just fine.
For the last two years I've asked myself why I feel no need to buy a TiVo Bolt, and it's mostly because of Apple TV. I try out a lot of gear and I've owned every version of the Apple TV since its launch. In the early days, I hacked mine to mirror browser video and any downloaded movies I had. Later, it was the easiest way to use loads of video streaming apps like Netflix and Hulu.
Eventually, every app ended up on every device (with varying quality of experience), but Apple TV continues to boot up faster, fly through menus, and play video faster and smoother than other platforms. About the only thing wrong with Apple TV is the dreadful remote control. A year or two ago, I noticed that I watch stuff on Apple TV about 50% of the time, with 50% of the time spent browsing shows on my TiVo when I have time to sit down and watch some shows.
As streaming TV offerings have matured, that ratio has slid into the solid 80% Apple TV/20% TiVo range these days. Most shows I record on my TiVo can be found on Hulu. I have dedicated apps for the NBA and MotorTrend, and have slowly transitioned to watching most network shows on Hulu instead of my TiVo.
The kicker to all this is my home internet connection is a fiber optic cable, installed in 2007 with a couple hundred HD channels and 100Mbps internet, both of which were revolutionary at the time. But in 2019, that same fiber line delivers HD television that is still 720p and my internet caps out at 200Mbps. I know my fiber line has so much more capacity, but not much has changed in 12 years.
I've never been a stickler for resolutions. I used to think 720p and 1080p were nearly indiscernible in most living room setups, but as my TV has gotten bigger and become OLED and 4K and gotten properly closer to my sofa, I really notice it now, especially with 4K streaming films available. A few months ago, my TiVo missed recording an episode of Brooklyn-9-9 after a football game, so I caught it on Hulu and realized it looks way, way better there. And with my commercial-free Hulu option, there aren't even ads to skip. The experience was light years ahead of the one on my TiVo. I tapped two buttons and Hulu tracked every new episode for me, and now Apple dutifully notifies me when there's a new episode ready to watch.
I'm an early adopter to a lot of technology, but it's mostly in the mindset of "try anything and everything to see what works best." I don't typically make rash decisions about technology (I had a landline up until 2012 in my house). And though I have friends who were cord-cutters over ten years ago that seemed too drastic back then, since I'd miss out on a lot of casual TV programming, and have to run a PC next to my television that wouldn't have a good (or easy) user experience. These days I'm frequently the only person I know in a group of people that still has cable TV.
But I have to be honest and look at the writing on the wall. My cable company charges me about $90 per month for their biggest HD package, and yet, most of the same shows are available on apps in higher resolution completely free of commercials. I'm not a huge sports fan and only rarely watch live TV at all, but if I was in a pinch and was throwing a party where people expected it, I could grab a YouTubeTV subscription to watch the Oscars or the Super Bowl or any other event live on the major networks.
Today I realize I have no need for a TiVo Bolt, and frankly, have no need for cable. Hulu plus Netflix plus Amazon Video plus HBO plus Showtime plus Motortrend plus YouTube give me about 90% of what I watch, do it cheaper, and do it at a higher resolution than cable. I don't expect my cable TV provider to offer up 4K streams any time soon, and I don't feel good about the future of TiVo given it is hitched firmly to a declining technology like cable TV.
I don't know what TiVo's next 20 years are going to look like, and as much as I love their product, they need to aggressively seek out other options, maybe pitch themselves as a killer device for over-the-air TV and embrace cord-cutters wholeheartedly because simply being a premium experience for recorded TV isn't enough of a market anymore when cable TV remains a stagnant, expensive product that each day feels more and more like an anachronism for customers.