Thursday, April 13, 2006

RIP, Tivo #2

I first bought a Tivo in 2001, for $200 (Philips Series 1, 20 hours). The lifetime subscription cost me $250, and an 80GB hard drive (to upgrade to 120 hours) cost $200 back then, so I'd plunked down a total of $650 for the machine and its service.

You might ask why a new college graduate would blow $650 on a fancy VCR, but you'd be mistaken about Tivo. It's really hard to explain to anyone that hasn't used one for at least a couple of weeks, but Tivo changes your life. You never worry about missing TV shows anymore, you always have TV to watch that you actually enjoy watching, and you take pausing and rewinding of live TV as a matter of course.

My top five essential Tivo use cases:

  1. Season Passes (with prioritization): You add a show, rank it with respect to all your other shows, and never worry about it again. If that show comes on, and it doesn't conflict with a higher ranking show, it gets recorded. Tivo does a really good job of getting updated service data, so even when the networks play with their schedules and start a minute early or end a minute late, the show usually gets taped in its entirety. I had over 35 shows in my season pass list.
  2. Skipping Commercials: For five years, pretty much the only commercials I ever saw were for beer and cars (or whatever else was shown during sporting events). People would mention commercials that had been playing for months and I would have no idea what they were talking about.
  3. Pause and Rewind: Once upon a time, we were at the mercy of the networks. They might choose to replay a particularly interesting/controversial play, or they might not. They might show it in slow motion, or they might not. With Tivo, you do it yourself; instant replay, whenever you want.
  4. SportsCenter: I had a season pass set up to record every showing of SportsCenter, but to keep only the most recent two (in case one was in progress). This meant that at any time, I could turn on the Tivo, and watch whatever SportsCenter had been shown most recently; great for any sports fans, and a must for fantasy fanatics.
  5. Reruns and other non-essential shows: I had a bunch of season passes set up to tape reruns of Friends, The West Wing, ER, South Park, MacGyver, Get Smart, whatever. I also tape some shows that I was mildly interested in, but could live without: Will & Grace, That 70's Show, and maybe some cooking shows. I mostly never watched these shows, but every so often, I'd just feel like watching TV, so I'd turn on the Tivo, and there were all these shows that I'd actually enjoy watching. After that, even when I was at home sick, I never had to watch daytime soaps and stupid talk shows again.

Sometime in early 2003, Tivo #1 gave out, which meant that my lifetime subscription was also invalid. I tried replacing the hard drive, but that didn't work, so I took drastic measures, and paid Philips $100 (plus some amount of shipping) to send me a new refurbished one, so that they would move over my lifetime subscription. At this point, I'd spent almost $800 on Tivo-related expenses, so I thought about it and concluded that if $800 bought me five years of Tivo ($160/year, ~$13/month), I'd be happy with my investment.

Ironically, almost exactly five years later, during some particularly nasty weather last month, my industrial strength Belkin surge protector apparently blew up, causing failures in my TV itself (power supply), my Tivo (audio output) and my VCR (write head). I cared very little about the VCR, which probably cost about $30 to begin with, and the TV was soon fixed, but I'm still grieving the loss of Tivo #2.

Last week, I decided I'd wait to buy a new one until Tivo comes out with an HDTV model that can record two inputs simultaneously, is broadband-enabled, and includes a DVD burner. We'll see if I can hold out that long.

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