Like early adopters of cellphones and the Internet, the first wave of users of personal video recorders swear that the devices have fundamentally altered their lives — changing domestic routines, making it possible to live a life free of commercial interruptions and even providing the satisfaction of a rebellion against network goliaths.
Well I’ve been using my Tivo for 3 weeks now, and God damnit, the verdict is in. Tivo has been a great investment, so indispensible now that I don’t know how I could ever bear watching television without it.
For the uninitiated, here’s the low-down: Tivo is “a kind of VCR on steroids” that can record 80 hours of programming onto its internal hard drive. The most talked-about feature is the commercial skip, but wait, there’s more:
- I can pause live television when the phone rings or duty calls, and Tivo will record the remainder of the broadcast while simultaneously letting me pick up where I left off. I can even speed through the boring parts and catch up with live TV. No more being chained to the couch for fear of “missing something.”
- I can tell Tivo to record the entire season of, say, Six Feet Under or Meet the Press, with the touch of a button. No more missed episodes.
- I can set up “wishlists,” with my favorite actors, actresses, genres or movie titles, and Tivo will record those shows that match the criteria. No more scouring TV Guide listings or, worse, realizing I just missed a show that I really wanted to see.
- I can rate any show using the thumbs-up and thumbs-down buttons on the Tivo remote. Tivo will then suggest shows that I might like based on those preferences. It can even record them automatically while I’m out, so I can peruse “what Tivo grabbed” later. The programming interface is so clean and intuitive that it reminds me of the original Macintosh.
- I can count myself among the cutting-edge insider elites who use “Tivo” in verb form: “Oh yeah, I Tivoed that last night.”
Ah, freedom. Now you see why the company hasn’t even had to advertise since 2000.
But as always, with that freedom comes certain possible caveats:
A recent Wall Street Journal article hilariously documented this phenomenon, most memorably illustrated by the complaint “My TiVo thinks I’m gay.” It seems some straight men, who recorded programs TiVo considered gay-themed, found that their devices were collecting all kinds of gay-oriented programming in an effort to please them. Some of these viewers say they’ve begun overcompensating: They’re now recording war documentaries, the Playboy Channel, and MTV’s fleshy spring break coverage to prove their manliness to their TiVos. As a result, one man complained to the Journal that his TiVo now thinks he’s a Nazi. Another says his wife is growing alarmed by all the bikini-babe programs he’s accumulating.
Oh yeah, before I forget: Please, spare me the obligatory Orwellian, Big Brother nonsense. Don’t be stupid. I use Amazon’s wishlist feature, which they undoubtedly use to push similar products front and center. I also subscribe to XM Satellite Radio with the knowledge that they’re keeping tabs on which stations they’re beaming to me, as well as where I’m pulling them down from. And I also subscribe to Netflix, an excellent online DVD rental-by-mail service that keeps a database of all my past rentals and my movie ratings to recommend other flicks.
So yes, my Tivo “phones home” in the dead of the night to download new program information and probably send my personal info to corporate. The point is, as long as my personal information allowes for an improved, customized experience, then then I don’t mind companies knowing what my tastes are.
If Netflix or Tivo showed tawdry adult flicks, I’d be more worried.
More haranguing: The way I see it, this only becomes a problem when companies use it to hassle you and interrupt what you’re trying to accomplish. I’m talking about spam, of course, and also heavyhanded and laughably ill-conceived schemes like movie or music subscription services that take away the customer’s fundamental right of ownership.
Okay, back to Tivo. In short: buy it. It’s worth it. The only drawback I’ve found thus far is that Tivo doesn’t record HDTV. But they’re working on it.