Tuned In

TV-Free Monday: Morte de TiVo

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My Series 3 TiVo passed away the day after Thanksgiving. This is becoming something of a regular occurrence at the Tuned In household. Since I first bought the machine less than two years ago, we’ve had recurrent hardware malfunctions, resulting in numerous, marathon customer-service ordeals and (so far) two replacement units being sent out by TiVo. The thing may have cost $700, but so far we’ve gotten three of them for our money! It’s a bargain!

The Series 3 is TiVo’s fancy-pants HD model, which serves as a cable box as well. This means, for added convenience, that if the TiVo box dies, you can’t watch TV at all. Hooray! TiVo’s solicitous service people did promptly promise to overnight a replacement for Saturday. But it didn’t happen. So now we’re looking at, fingers crossed, Tuesday. Double hooray! After which, if past experience is a guide, there will be an elaborate negotation between the Time Warner Cable and TiVo technical support staff over actually getting the thing up and working. Triple hooray!

Well, there is the backup TV in my office [Update: meaning my home office], so I’m covered in case of emergencies. But being an all-but-TV-less TV critic has actually been a refreshing experience. I caught up on episodes of Fringe and Chuck through Hulu. (They need to get Top Chef pronto, though.) I downloaded an unreasonable amount of iPhone apps. Somewhere in there, my family members and I talked to each other about things. (The Tuned In Jrs., however, are plenty cheesed about losing their DVRed stash of Clone Wars and Jeopardy! episodes.)

People often ask me whether they should get a TiVo or the take-what-you-get DVR from their cable companies, and I never quite know what to say. I’m a big TiVo evangelist: the features and interface blow everything else away. (Online scheduling, THX, recording two HD shows at once, multimedia networking, Internet downloading features and intuitive menu screens.) And my previous, non-HD TiVo was pretty reliable. My HD Series 3 unit, though, has been a rather finicky and delicate creature. It’s like the sports car of TV accessories: its a marvel of technology and performance engineering—as long as doesn’t break down, which it does.

I’ve been willing to put up with the headaches for the viewing experience; but most people—who don’t get to write off their TV equipment—will reasonably think twice about this for a machine that involves buying a box for hundreds of dollars, on top of a monthly fee (where most cable companies give you the box and only charge the monthly fee—possibly a lower one). My cable-company DVR in my office is an ungainly, unlovable toaster with a poor software interface. And yet it’s humming along, with nary a breakdown in its record. 

In any case, I should be re-Tivo’ed within the week. In the meantime, I’m looking at this as a learning experience. Given how much I can watch through substitute means like Hulu and Joost, I can fully understand the whole give-up-your-cable movement out there. Have any Tuned Inlanders tried ditching their cable boxes? On purpose, I mean?

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