Saturday, April 19, 2008

TiVo Review: For better or worse (Part 3 - extra features)

After you've let TiVo have fun for a while, it's easy to wind up with seemingly countless hours of recordings -- some of which you may even want to keep to watch again later...if by "seemingly countless" you mean 80, give or take, depending on what quality you have it using for saving your programs.

If this is the case, what can you do? What if you want to take your shows on the road?

Thankfully, you have options. Unfortunately, some of them aren't quite as good as others. You can archive things to a computer, and migrate your videos for viewing on a number of devices, including a PSP if you have one. You can play your iTunes library using TiVo, as well as display photos that may exist on a computer, if you've shared them.

We have a few systems running here, with a variety of operating systems. Our media center is a Mac running OS X 10.3 -- being that it's already hooked up to the TV, network, and has a 500GB drive hanging off it, it seemed like a sensible place to store whatever video we wanted to archive.

Enter stage right -- TiVo Desktop, and TiVoToGo...Desktop was being advertised as supporting the ability to transfer your videos from TiVo to a computer running TiVo Desktop. Not so fast, though -- if you're a Mac owner, it seems as though you actually have to purchase a second piece of software, too! Maybe it's different with 10.4, perhaps they've added features to the Mac version since the attempt, or perhaps I was simply missing a piece of the puzzle in my haste. Nonetheless, I thought I'd add it in to see just what the free component would do.

The installation process was both painless and painful: Installation would seem to proceed without a hitch. No complaints, nothing difficult --once complete, though, the results were anything but obvious. The documentation didn't help in this regard either. By the time I'd fumbled around to grant things the appropriate permissions, and so on, I'd already made up my mind it wasn't going to stay on the Mac.

Take 2 - Hang the archive drive off an XP system, and try again. In the case of Windows, TiVo desktop was actually supposed to allow you to archive things to your pc! Victory! Well, almost. Again, the installation went without a hitch, and there was visible evidence of the fruits of your labour -- a TiVo Desktop icon! Woohoo!

Archiving things to "Ye Big Olde Drive" did go without issues, but with two observations:
- data transfer rates were painfully slow (over 20 minutes to transfer a 1.5GB file); and
- moving isn't handled "seamlessly" -- it's more like a manual copy/delete operation...you choose to move stuff to your separate system, but it still exists on your TiVo and must be manually removed. Interrupting a transfer in progress is time consuming, and the Desktop is very slow to respond in general while one is underway.

You can choose to play things on your TV using your TiVo after they've been archived in that fashion, or you can simply play them on your PC. If you want to play them through the TiVo, in the version I'd played with, it seemed like it was a necessary step for it to transfer the file _back_ to the TiVo, again slowly, before playing it. No reading/buffering/playing over the network here, kids.

Playing iTunes and viewing photos were both painless enough, but not features I anticipate using beyond seeing them work.

In all, the features are good ones, but with a few kinks to work out:
- give the Mac users a break, both in cost and ease of installation/use (better docs would go a long way, and they shouldn't have to buy an extra component, particularly when Windows users get off scott free!)
- sort out the transfer process and optimize the Desktop so that it performs well while busy! (1.5GB shouldn't take 20-40 mins over a 100Mbps LAN to a locally attached drive!) I'm sure usability is under examination here, as I can't see people not commenting on things to them.

In all, very happy with the TiVo...like I said some kinks to work out, but they are continually improving things, which is nice to see, and a breath of fresh air.

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