My premise is simple: TiVo sucks. I will defend it, but I do want to make one thing clear: TiVo sucks, but having used TiVo, Comcast and DirectTV DVRs I feel confident in saying “so does everything else.” This will not be an exhortation to switch brands of DVR but rather a lamentation of the state of an industry so dominated by what’s become a mediocre product.
The World’s First Smart DVR?
TiVo bills the TiVo Premier (the model I happen to own) this way: as a “Smart DVR”. I see little evidence of this. For my (substantial) service fee I expect a little more than bog standard and I’m not seeing it. To be clear here are some issues that I would think a “smart DVR”, one connected to the network as TiVo is, could easily solve but doesn’t:
- Shows being cut short. I understand some blame here lies with the cable companies (I use Comcast) but why are nearly all my shows cut short by upwards of 30 seconds?
- Shows being missed due to known delays. State of the Union Addresses, big games, award shows: they all run long and usually mean significant delays for shows.
- Season Passes for cancelled shows. You may laugh that we had a season pass for “How to be a Gentleman” but we did. We also had one for “Mr. Sunshine”, “Chuck”, “V”, “The Cape” and many, many others. All set to “record only new episodes”, all cancelled and all needing manual deletion.
- Season passes for moved shows. “Southland” was cancelled on NBC but renewed on TNT. My TiVo didn’t know this.
All of these issues could be solved by TiVo taking proactive efforts on behalf of it customers. The fundamental purpose of a DVR is to ensure that I don’t miss my shows; everything else is icing. For a company that lives or dies by the quality of the its service TiVo makes confusingly little effort here.
The HD (Most of the Time) Interface
One of the largest selling points of TiVo is the quality of its guide and menus. Way back in 2010 TiVo made an exciting announcement: a brand new HD interface! Now – almost two years later and after a small handful of updates it’s still not done. You will still be faced with jarring resolution changes when moving around the interface as TiVo switches between new HD and old SD menus.
Granted most of the non-updated menus are less-used features so this won’t be a minute-to-minute occurence but why should it be an issue at all? Why should any company of this size not be able to complete this task in less than two years? At best it’s simply unprofessional; at worst a sign of serious mismanagement.
The cheapest TiVo is the $100 Premier. Buying also incurs a mandatory $20/month fee that drops to $15 after a year. So your cheapest is $340 for the first year and $180 per year after that (plus any costs to your cable company). Multiple rooms incur multiple hardware costs and there are no options for hardware upgrades.
Most cable company options will cost you about $190/year and hardware upgrades, while rare, are most often free. Most importantly the quality of these “stock” DVRs are nearly as good as TiVo for essential features. Extra features touted by TiVo such as online and cell-phone schedule management are becoming commonplace. Even if they lack the media consolidation features TiVo offers like internet video or home media streaming these are available in any game console or the cheapest of Blu-Ray players.
The fundamental problem is that while the costs associated with TiVo have remained essentially the same the quality of the service hasn’t kept pace with the competition. At one time you could honestly say that TiVo service was head-and-shoulders over the competition. That you got what you paid for and that the cost matched the quality. That time has passed.
We’re now faced with paying a premium for a marginal increases in quality, half-finished interfaces and a glut of non-core features getting all the attention. Pricing is still unrealistic (really TiVo, a larger hard drive and THX costs $200 more?) and (admittedly mostly due to the cable companies) the installation process is still a nightmare.
Five years ago having a TiVo was a statement: it said you would only accept the best and were willing to pay for it. Today having a TiVo is a question: why bother with TiVo?