TiVo in Canada

By Lyle Bateman
Contributing Writer, [GAS]

A staple for serious TV viewers in the US, the TiVo box revolutionized the way people watch TV. At least, that’s what the marketing says. The reality is that it’s closer to a nifty toy than a revolutionary device, but it does afford a level of control over the television experience that was previously very difficult to achieve. VCR Plus+ and a lot of video tapes, along with a good database and a lot of time might have allowed you to come close to replicating the TiVo experience of easily recording your favorite programs, and watching them in your own time and way, but the TiVo put it all under one hood and provided a product that really did enhance the experience, both for serious and casual TV watchers.

News of official availability in Canada might bring excitement to Canadians, but I tend to think TiVo is trying to catch the end of a wave. You can replicate a TiVo almost completely with any decent PC, a basic capture card like a Hauppage, and Windows XP Media Center, or Linux/MythTV. In addition, nearly every major Canadian cable and satellite provider has their own version of a PVR with a similar (or better) feature set.

One of the main problems with the “new” TiVo offered in Canada is that it’s not really new. TiVo will be selling the Series 2 DT unit in Canadian stores, a unit that doesn’t support high definition input, and we all  know that HD is definitely the way forward from here. As Basem Boshra said in the Montreal Gazette (on Canada.com) “Purchasing a DVR that doesn’t record in HD at this point isn’t that far removed from buying a VCR; it will be little more than a $200 paperweight in no time.”

There’s a further issue, one that hasn’t been discussed as much, though I doubt it’s a problem that is limited to Canada. In today’s world of satellite and cable boxes, there will always be limited value to an external recorder like the TiVo. One of the main advantages of the device is that through the subscription and programming service, the TiVo allows you to search TV programs easier, and it can learn your viewing habits, so it can record things you might like, but don’t know about. It’s a great idea (and one that you can do with your Media Center or MythTV box as well, for the record) but it only has limited application in today’s world. My Bell satellite box only pumps out one channel, and the feed going into the box is encoded such that it can only be decoded by the box. Even if my TiVo had the best TV listings in the world, my satellite decoder box needs change the channel at the right time… as far as the TiVo is concerned, it will record only “channel 3” in my setup, and I have to ensure that the right channel is set feeding out to that.

For myself, and others like me, I’m not sure I can see the usefulness, especially given the subscription fee for a service that I wouldn’t really be able to use. For someone using a cable system, with clear signals coming directly in from the cable, the TiVo would certainly work well with the un-encoded channels (basically, the channels you’d get by screwing the cable directly into your TV), but I would imagine the same problem would crop up with encoded channels that require the box to decode, and the TiVo would have to be inline after the cable box to record those channels.

Overall, it really is a great idea for people on basic cable with no plan to get an HD box in the near future. For someone who isn’t very technically savvy, the TiVo might be an excellent product, but it’s a product with a limited lifespan and usability in today’s world of HDTV and encoded signals.