As far as my TV-watching habits go, the last month and a half has been like a bad dream. Oh, I’m not just talking about this being a relatively quiet time for TV. Sure, most of the spring shows wrapped up by mid-May and the summer series have been trickling in with premieres over the last few weeks. The lull usually provides a much needed break from the boob-tube that I generally appreciate. But today was a special day. Today I felt like I was coming home. That I’d finally fixed this small but surprisingly significant thing in my life. Today was the day that TiVo returned to my household.
My husband and I have had TiVo’s DVR service since 2004. If you’re unfamiliar with differentiating the service from the DVR, the DVR box records, whereas TiVo’s service regularly updates with two-weeks worth of programming and can be set to automatically record your shows based on your “Seasons Pass” settings. If the time or date of the show changes, TiVo can usually be relied on to catch the change and update the recording accordingly. That’s the most basic of its functions and one we’ve come to rely upon as we watch a lot of TV in the West househould and don’t like being chained to a schedule.
My husband and my decision to switch to Time Warner’s DVR service came at the beginning of May when we learned that Time Warner’s DVR records in HD. Since we pay for the HD channels we almost never watch (because we don’t have an HD DVR box), we thought we’d “upgrade” to Time Warner. Now I think it’s a mark of the reservations we had, having heard that Time Warner’s DVR was “not as good as TiVo” that we decided not to cancel our TiVo service. We thought we’d give Time Warner a month and if we didn’t like it we would put the TiVo box back. What we came to learn almost right away was that “not as good as TiVo” was an understatement.
We got off to a rocky start with Time Warner’s DVR service as the box they gave us was broken and had to be brought back the day after we got it. My husband got the new box home, set it up and went through the process of setting all of our shows to record. With TiVo, finding a show is as easy as going through the menu, using the remote to select the first few letters (or more if necessary) of the series name and then selecting it from the menu. You can set it to record specific episodes or else choose to get a Seasons Pass for that show and record all first-run episodes. Easy-breasy. If you want to make the process even quicker you can sort based on genre but honestly, going through the menu and punching in the title of the show takes less than a minute if you’re quick with the remote. After you get your shows Seasons Pass’ed, you can rank the shows based on priority, so if more than two shows on your list are recording at the same time, TiVo knows which two to record.
Time Warner’s set up doesn’t give you the option to punch in the show’s title. You can sort alphabetically but that’s it. Our service gives us hundreds of channels, with so many programs (more than half of which I’d never even heard of) that scrolling through the show titles to find the series you want is a lengthy process. There’s also the option to find a show by date/time/channel but doing that takes almost just as long as doing it alphabetically. Add that to fact that Time Warner’s box is much slower than TiVo and the whole process was just a pain. In the end, it was much easier to just wait until the show was on and set it to record then and there.
Finally, we had what we needed set to record for the most part and went about using the DVR for a week. We loved getting to watch TV in HD and that alone might have been enough to compensate for the crappy search options but there were more issues to come. For one thing, we learned that there’s no time listed under the bar at the bottom of the screen to let you know exactly how far into the episode you are and no option to jump to different spots in the episode, at least not as far as we could tell. So if my husband watched a program and left it paused midway through the episode, he had to fast-forward all the way to that point (or somewhere near that point since he had no way of knowing exactly where he left off) if I decided to start the show from the beginning when he was out. Some might consider this a minor inconvenience but as our work schedules are significantly different, we rarely get to watch TV at the same time.
So we have bad search options and a mediocre set-up for navigating through a recorded program. Now for the menu. For some reason, our list of recorded shows was always organized from oldest to newest, so we had to scroll up to find the new shows or else scroll through old recordings before we found the current episodes. If there was a way to reverse the order, we never found it. On top of that, the menu takes up only half the screen, so you can only see a handful of recorded shows from the list. Sure, the other half of the screen held a description and a video box showing the current channel but if you have a DVR (and the option to pause) why do you need to have a box showing what’s currently playing? Get rid of that and the description and open up the menu to the full screen to make it easier to see everything.
Added to all of that, we had issues with pausing shows. Whether we were recording them or not, it seemed if we paused a program and went back to it later, at some point while we were watching it, it would jump ahead to real-time and we’d miss part of the program. There wasn’t always the option to rewind it after that, even if there should have been time to go back (the “slack” time for TiVo is 30 minutes for anything not being recorded).
As I said, we had the service for a week and we were just starting to adjust to the way this DVR worked when the box broke. It froze up on us and there was no way to reset it. DVR #2 had to be taken back to Time Warner and replaced with yet another one. Sure, we could have called Time Warner and had someone come out to the house to fix it but who wants to wait three or four days and take a personal day from work to sit around waiting for the cable guy to show up (which he may or may not do)?
We got the third DVR hooked up and went through the lengthy process of setting up our shows again. We should have kept a list of the programs we had set to record because we forgot a bunch of them. I completely missed Greek this season and the last few episodes of Breaking Bad. That’s not the DVR’s fault but changing DVR boxes three times, added to how annoying it was to set up the recordings each time, it’s not surprising to me that some series slipped through the cracks.
You might look at the above complaints and think I’m whining unnecessarily. Maybe so, but TiVo has spoiled me. I think if we hadn’t been used to the user-friendly set-up that TiVo provides and Time Warner was our first DVR service I might not feel as disappointed as I am with the cable company’s set-up but what I’ve come to realize is that TiVo is far superior to Time Warner’s service. Sure, we'd heard that before but we had to experience it for ourselves and we gave it longer than the month trial run we’d initially committed ourselves to but it just didn’t work out for us. We like easy to navigate menus, fast and simple search options, and sorting functions. We like being able to record based on keyword so that any time Ben Folds performs on a late-night show, or whenever a program features Disney World, TiVo finds it and records it. We like being able to jump to different points in an episode and know where we left off if we have to stop watching something. We like our TV to be a convenience and a source of recreation. TiVo has made that possible and even after getting through the first few weeks of adjusting to the new service, Time Warner just didn't measure up in that respect.
Are we paying a bit more money for TiVo? A few bucks a month more, yes. Can we watch recorded shows in HD with TiVo? No, not unless we shell out money for an HD DVR. But TV was so much easier to watch with TiVo and isn’t that how it should be? It seemed like it took more effort than necessary to get what we wanted out of Time Warner’s DVR service and even then, we weren’t happy with it, which is why the Time Warner DVR went back today and TiVo was returned to its rightful place under our television.