In a Quandary About TiVo

I’ve been looking at getting some type of Digital Video Recorder (DVR) for some time, and I’m really confused now as to what I should get. My needs are pretty typical:

  • A good quality unit
  • Lifetime service (from a company that will be around for a long time)
  • Copy some shows to DVD (ideally using my iMac)
  • Connect to my network (easily and cheaply)
  • Having something that I can tinker with
  • Spend not much more than $400

When I first starting into DVR products over a year ago, the one that caught my attention was ReplayTV. They have a solid product, but the company was sold once, then went bankrupt and was purchase by someone else. They are still around, but have a relatively small market share. They were the first product to offer networking built-in. Their units come with an Ethernet jack built-in as well as Component out for higher quality video. Additionally there is a great free product called DVArchive.

DVArchive allows your computer to act like a “Virtual ReplayTV.” You can download shows from your ReplayTV to burn to DVD/VCD, play shows from your ReplayTV right on your desktop (without having to download them first) and play shows that are stored on your computer right from your ReplayTV/TV screen. You can also search TV listing, see what upcoming recordings on your ReplayTVs there may be and access those listings from a web browser or GUI.

The OS on the Replay unit is a proprietary OS so it is not that hackable, but ll in all ReplayTV seems like a good solution. The biggest drawback is its longterm viability. A final small issue for me is that while it has wired Ethernet built-in. I don’t have an Ethernet jack in the family room, and running one would not be fun. If I was going to go this route, I’d need to get a wireless bridge device and their not that cheap.

Then there is the Kleenex of DVRs TiVo. The TiVo product has a large and loyal following. Its product is Linux based and extremely hackable. The company now facing much greater competition has yet to turn a profit. That makes it long term viability somewhat dubious also. TiVo’s are networkable, but only be adding a USB to Ethernet adapter. This means that their network performance is much slower than Replay’s. They even have units that DVD recordable drives built-in (however they are out of my price range). I’ve read that 2/3 of TiVo business came through their DIRECTV deal where put TiVos in the DirecTV satellite boxes. That deal has been terminated. Also TiVo pulled out of a deal to put their stuff in Comcast cable boxes at the last minute. In the end its still a good box and hard to go wrong purchasing it.

Another option would be the Comcast DVR digital cable box, except that it is not available yet in our area.

Two really neat options would be MythTV or Freevo. Both are open source DVR products that run on Linux. It would be really fun to build one these units. All it takes is a good TV Recorder card and a decent PC. I could get the card for about $200 and use my current PC, but then I have a load PC in the family room and no PC in the office to use. So I’d need to buy another PC which puts me over my dollar limit again. Yes there are options for the Mac as well as Windows, but neither of those solutions work very well for my situation.

So when its all said and done, I’m not sure what I will do. If you have ever used a DVR device, hacked one, or even built one I would love to hear your experience or advice.

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2 Comments

  1. Apple is getting ready to release a new product called the Mac mini http://www.apple.com/macmini/. The scuttlebut is that this will be a competitor for Microsoft Media Center Edition 2005 and only cost $499. I too have been looking at MythTV and possibly embarking down the road of building a PVR, it would certainly be fun setting it all up and getting it working.

    Keith

  2. The Mac mini is shipping, but as for a competitor for Media Center, I don’t know. All you get get is a nice pretty little box with Mac OS X. If you want to do any type of DVR functionality then you need an external USB or Firewire video capture device as well as software.

    When they first came out my first thought was that it would make a great DVR box, but in my case I don’t think so. If I had an HDTV with DVI input then it would be great, but I don’t.

    Anyway with the van being totalled and having to buy a new one, I don’t think I’ll be doing anything about DVRs for awhile.

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