TiVo Series 3 has landed!

My Series 3 TiVo arrived today. I have been a TiVo user since practically day 1, starting with a series 1, then moving to DirecTiVos for years and finally to a HD DirecTiVo in Dec, 2005, a month before the tree fell through the house and I was forced to switch to Comcast and their crappy DVR.

Since TiVo dropped the price on the unit from $899 to $599, this meant that taking the prepaid service contract of $299 for three years pretty much equalled the old price and I was ready to switch. TiVo also threw in free shipping and a nice 802.11b/g USB networking adaptor.

Once the TiVo was here I connected the RF cable, the HDMI and the optical audio and powered it up. First off, this unit is built nicely. Metal exterior with a plain video bar across the front, no LED lights visible etc. Until I powered it on 🙂

Once I powered on the TiVo, I was blown away by how crisp the display on the front is. Yes, a display that shows graphics or “Setting Up,”, etc. It also shows the time when it needs to, or when recording, a red light will come on and to the right of the light, the name of the show it is recording. The display is so nice that it does not need to truncate long names. “American Idol” displayed in full.

During set up I had to tell the TiVo that I didn’t have cable cards yet, and it said this was ok. Next was networking, but the software asked for my WEP password. Hmm, I use WPA. So I turned off wifi security on the second router and connected. I later learned I had the older 8.0 software and 8.1 was needed for WPA. 8.3 is out now as well. I eventually got around to forcing it to connect a couple of times over wifi and it pulled the 8.1 update, which let me connect via WPA(2) but no 8.3 update as of yet.

This TiVo supports Over The Air (OTA) SD and HD reception via an external antenna, analog cable signals with just the RF coax, or if you install two cable cards, full HD and digital channels like HBO. Those come tomorrow morning so I’ll have to post a follow up report.

After the usual setup stuff like zip code, the TiVo connected over wifi and pulled down a day’s guide in about 30 seconds and indexed it. Very nice. The guide is really nice and I can see much more content than with the Comcrap.

The TiVo supports 1080i resolution, so I set it to that. There are two modes for 1080i, “native” which will send out a 480p signal for SD and 1080i for HD, or 1080i only. I chose the latter so the TV would not keep changing resolution as I changed channels.

This is the first time I’ve used HDMI. With the large hard disk, I set it up to record in High Quality since I am on SD analog cable tonight. The quality is pretty good for SD and I can’t wait to see HD tomorrow.

The web interface at TiVo.com lets me add shows to record and view the guide, but its one-way only. Since the TiVo has a network, why not send the current list of shows to record and my channel settings to tivo.com so I can see how the DVR is doing while away on a trip?

I tried the TiVo Desktop software on the Mac which lets you see your photos and play your music on the TiVo. The photos look great and it can pull directly from iPhoto 6. However the music was a bust, as TiVo only plays mp3 and none of the iTunes Music Store software. This is where an Apple TV will come into the home once they support 1080p.

I’d also like an application on the Mac to configure my TiVo. Why should I use the remove and pick letters from a chart 1990s style when there is a network? I should be able to view my guide in an application, my list of recorded shows, my guide, etc and edit it all on the Mac, which can sync to the TiVo.

This is where Apple TV will eventually blow something like the current TiVo software away. We’re often sitting on the couch watching TV while using our laptops. It would be nice to see a reference to a show and just add it on the computer while watching a show on the TiVo and have them sync up automatically.

The TiVo website is a little confusing – Trying to find info usually involves digging down the left hand menu, opening submenus, and then digging down buttons on the main pane. I’ve had to restart on the left several times due to getting lost, or simply not finding what i was looking for.

I set my Harmony 890 up for use with the TiVo and after several tweaks, it works well. However it seems that Logitech is sending older TiVo remote IR codes as the LiveTV option would not swap tuners like it should. Help on tivocommunity.com pointed out how to correct this and I think tomorrow I’ll have the 890 learn the TiVo and LiveTV IR codes from the S3’s remote control.

The TiVo has a “podcaster” which lets you listen to podcasts, but its a mismash of a guide and playback engine. It does not seem to track what I’ve listened to and the only way to track shows is by adding them as “Favorites” and then looking in that list. A properly done podcaster would let me set a season pass for a podcast and treat it like any other TiVo content.

However, TiVo seems to have taken an paid agreement approach with their TiVoCast feature. Via TiVo.com you can browse one of sixteen “TivoCasts” which are nothing more than video podcasts like rocketboom. You can then set a season pass for them. TiVo.com says to “browse the list of our partners” so clearly there is some business arrangement here. This is another place the Apple TV is much better than the TiVo. Let me decide which content I want in my Now Playing list, not you.

So far I am very pleased. I will miss not being able to watch tv or at least listen to it while adding new shows, and I will miss the skip ahead of the comcast(Thanks to KableModem at TiVoCommunity.com and These instructions I have my 30 second skip back!), but I’ll live with those minor issues for all of the things TiVo does much much better.

For example, I set a one time recording for American Idol and because it was marked as a “live” show, the TiVo asked me if I wanted to pad the show with extra time, which I did! Very nice.

Another nice feature is soft padding. Lets say you have a show from 8-9 and another from 9-10. But now show 1 are being jerks and decide to stretch the ending to 9:01. On the Comcrap (and my DirecTiVo), the second show would not record at all because of the conflict. This is called hard padding, when time overlaps and causes a missed recording. In the Series 2 and 3 TiVos, soft padding will allow the final 59 minutes of the second show to record. If I had given the second show a higher priority than the first show, then the first show would only record for an hour and the second show would record in full!

What I would have engineered

The Series 3 can record 2 shows at once which is very nice. I wish they had designed the TiVo a little smarter and made them cheaper, however. What I would have done was built single tuner TiVos and included gigabit ethernet on the units (I am not sure how fast the ethernet is on the Series 3). Then I would have designed the system so when it boots for the first time, it checks the network and finding no other TiVos, it becomes the master TiVo and works just like any TiVo.

Now you buy a second TiVo (and a second account, but at a much reduced rate) and plug it into your network (a nice switch behind the TiVos would work well). This second TiVo sees the first TiVo and asks you if it should be a slave TiVo. You select YES and what this would do is have this new TiVo get all of its data from the first one. You would only connect your video and audio to the first TiVo. But now if you recorded two shows at 8pm on Sunday, the master would tell the slave, over ethernet, to record the second show.

Viewing your Now Playing would aggregate the content on the two TiVos into one list. As far as you were concerned, you had one dual tuner TiVo. If you watch a show on the second TiVo, the video is sent over the ethernet to the first in a streaming fashion, unbeknownst to you.

Now the fun starts. Got a lot of money? Buy a third TiVo, put it in your rack, connect it to your ethernet switch and whammo, you have a three tuner tivo. About all you’d need is a cable splitter, but TIVo could sell those too.

Summary

This is a great box, well made, quick, superb quality and very nice software. I’ll write more once I’ve been through the cable card process and had a chance to watch some HD material.

I’d like to see TiVo integrate the box with my computer and their website more. Why should I punch names into a wish list when I can do it on a computer? Why should I buy a Slingbox just to delete a show when I’m on a business trip?

If the rumored cheaper TiVos coming are cheaper made or lack features such as the nice front display, I’m super glad I picked up this S3 when I did. Heck, regardless of that, I am super glad I did. Goodbye Comcast 6412. I’ve already reformatted you.

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