Thursday, June 16, 2011

DIY PVR 1: TiVo Grievances

I've been an avid TiVo supporter since I bought a Series 1 back in 2001.  The leap beyond VCR was incredible- seeing episode titles and descriptions, season passes, suggested recordings, not running out of tape, and not being shackled to live tv.  You could watch one show while recording another!  I even upgraded the hard drive (20 hours is just not enough) and added a network card (to archive/share shows).

Over the years we've upgraded to a Series 2 and a TiVo HD.  The HD was another leap forward- both by recording HD and adding a separate tuner: now we can record two shows at once while watching a third and downloading a fourth!  They even added YouTube, Amazon Instant video, and Netflix (others, too, but these are the ones we use).

I still love TiVo, but it's showing its age.  Sure, you can download videos off it (using TiVo ToGo) to put onto your iPad, but putting video onto it is a real bear- StreamBaby and pyTivo make it possible, but it's not a pleasant experience.  It has Netflix, but the interface only allows you to watch your instant queue- no searching, no related movies, etc.  The YouTube interface works well enough but is painfully slow to search; even just navigating the menus (favorites, for instance) is slow.

For these past ten years, TiVo has been great about updating its software- we got such essential features as the Deleted Items folder.  But since the introduction of the Premiere, things have changed.  They've come out with an iPad app for controlling the Premiere; they've promised an update to make it work with the HD with reduced functionality.  The Premiere interface is nice, but it's slow.

The introduction of the premiere cuts off hope for improvement on the HD.  I can't imagine that they'll come out with an update that will make moving or removing a season pass take less than the several minutes it currently takes (we have 50-100 season passes).  It's unlikely that they'll add multiple user support (I just want the kids shows to not show up in the Now Playing List- they can just go into Kid Zone).

I've recently decided to digitize our video collection.  I've been encoding DVDs, and have a modest collection.  I setup a Mac Mini server running pyTivo and Streambaby in order to serve up to the TiVo- but so many headaches.  They both can push the video so it shows in the Now Playing List, but good luck getting the ratings to show up consistently (important if you have parental settings turned on), and good luck maintaining a consistent folder list (like making a folder for all the Star Trek movies, so they don't litter your Now Playling List).  And pushing Blu Ray rips take forever (literally- I cancelled the transfer after 2 or 3 days, with no indication that it transferred any of it).  Cancelling transfers can lock up the UI.  If the audio isn't in the correct format, transferring it will cause the machine to reboot.

For all its woes, the TiVo still does what it does well.  I think that I'm just outgrowing it, and I'm looking for better solutions.  It's the standard, but I think that I can do better- though not for cheaper.  I'm going to build a Windows Media Center computer- an HTPC, if you will.  We'll try it out, see how well it works, and if the TiVo is better, then we'll continue to use it (maybe even upgrade to a Premiere).

In the upcoming posts I will detail my expectations, hardware, and what the reality turns out to be.

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