Tuned In

What Price Perfection? 800 Freakin' Dollars, Apparently

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TiVo owners: we’re discerning, we’re loyal, we’re annoying as crap. Get trapped next to one of us at a party, and we’ll soon be jawing your ears off about how our digital video recorders have changed our lives, freed us from slavery to the network schedules and to the lousy knockoff DVRs foisted on us by cable and satellite companies. Our evangelical zeal is matched only by that of Atkins dieters and certain celebrity Scientologists; our dedication knows no limits.

Or maybe it does. Mine anyway. That limit would be somewhere south of $800, which is where TiVo has priced its newest, finest, Holy-Grail-est of DVRs–cue the choir angelic–the TiVo Series 3. Among the beauties of the Series 3: it has a CableCard slot (meaning you can ditch your cable box), can record two shows while you watch a third and–most important for people like me with HDTVs sitting underutilized because our old TiVos can’t handle HD programming–it is fully HD-ready.

Bliss, except for the fact that TiVo has decided to reposition itself in the market by pricing its unit four times or more as much as its past boxes (this in addition to the monthly $12.95 service fee). TiVo, which has long been a niche market (the Apple Computer of DVRs) now seems to be betting its survival on becoming a nichier luxury product (the DeLorean of DVRs?).

I’d been holding out for months on getting an HD DVR box from my evil cable provider (that being Time Warner–hi, bosses!) while waiting for TiVo’s. But seeing this price tag (early speculation had placed it at $400, $500 or so), I’m afraid this is where I get off. I love my TiVo–the reliability, the ease of use, the elegant interface. But I also have two children to send to college someday. (Although really–I wonder, looking longingly at the Series 3–do they both have to go? Can’t one of them go and make enough money to support the other? Isn’t that what brothers are for?)

This is coming, mind you, from someone who not only has TiVo but watches TV for a living. (Even for me, a self-hating TV critic’s instinct kicks in: $800 for something that helps me watch television better? This is why John Walker Lindh went Taliban.) If I can’t rationalize a Series 3 purchase, I’m not quite sure who the company thinks can do it. I’m still rooting for TiVo: their product is far better than the almost offensively poor, ugly interfaces of the glorified toasters like the one I will probably get from Time Warner instead, and I don’t want to see a great company tossed on the Betamax pile of history.

But I can’t imagine this latest move is going to help them. As we annoying evangelists like to say, TiVo did change my life. Sadly, though, a lot of us are going to end up choosing life over TiVo. At these prices, who can afford both?