Thursday, March 09, 2006

Static From The Geek in Chief: The Final Thumbs Down For TiVo?

For years, I’ve been a borderline Tivo zealot. I’ve relentlessly plugged TiVo to friends and relatives. I’ve given countless units as gifts. And as cable operators began offering generic, cheaper DVRs, I never withdrew support for the more versatile, user-friendly features of the machine that changed my TV viewing life forever, even as the company’s growth stalled and forecasters continued predicting doom and gloom for the technology pioneer.

Alas, I think TiVo has finally programmed itself a season pass into the great beyond.

Yesterday, TiVo announced it would start giving away their hardware for free, opting for a subscription-based cost model instead. On the surface, it doesn’t seem like a bad idea- until you look at the specifics. The primary flaw: they’re eliminating the lifetime service option, effectively wiping out the biggest cost advantage to owning a TiVo.

Instead, they’re offering yearly subscriptions, ranging from one to three years. With the exception of the three year plan, DVRs offered by your local cable provider are now cheaper, and only require a month-to-month commitment. Oh, yeah- they can also record two channels at once, and some can even record in HD. TiVo can’t do either of those things, and even though its software is far and away superior to the other DVRs I’ve seen, it’s now not the slam-dunk better product.

And that’s bad. Especially when a cable installation mook can just lug in a DVR from his truck when he’s wiring your house.

Let’s face it- a three year contract is quite an exorbitant investment for a piece of video equipment these days. With technology changing so rapidly, in basically a rental model, I’d much rather go month to month. Especially when I can record The Office and CSI, in HD, at the same time.

I never wanted to allow the possibility that TiVo could die. Now, it’s clearly more than a possibility- it’s a probability. I know I won’t be buying another TiVo under this model, especially until they figure out the two-tuner, HD thing.

I have three DVRs- two TiVos and a Scientific Atlanta DVR offered by Cablevision. The Sci-At is awkward. The interface is clunky. Its Season Pass style recording options are limited and unintuitive, and the damned thing frequently deletes unwatched shows without explanation. As a user-friendly experience, it fails miserably.

Yet it pains me to admit that despite those massive flaws, the HD picture has relegated my TiVos to secondary status. And thanks to this new plan, it looks unlikely a TiVo will ever surpass it again. And that’s a shame.

I never thought my allegiance would waver from the TiVo camp, especially in favor of a product that is essentially a faceless, generic clone.

So it’s with a heavy heart that I announce that I’ve likely purchased my last TiVo, which seems destined to be the Betamax of the ‘00’s. It will always have a place in my heart- but only when I’m not watching something in HD.