Saturday, June 21, 2008

Hopelessly TiVoted

I've been a long-term TiVo fan (and definitely not a Grease fan, so no love of the OLJ singing here, just the pun). I have a first-gen TiVo, with a lifetime subscription, and an HD DirecTiVo which I bought off eBay last year (prices have fallen by 75% since) when I finally bought a JVC HDTV. I knew I wasn't getting all the HD channels I could get, but I wanted my TiVo.

Then lightning struck two weeks ago. Killed the TV ($461 repair), the doorbell ($10 repair DIY), the Sony VCR (no big loss, if I ever need to watch something, I'll go out and buy one), the DirecTiVo (a $70 power supply didn't fix it), and the old TiVo (which the kids were still using in the other room).

(The old TiVo isn't even quite dead, but its modem died in an interesting way that no only can't it dial out, it caused a short on my phone line that if you didn't pick up on the first ring, it would go to a busy signal)

Anyway, DirecTV offered to replace my DirecTiVo with an HR21 DVR for no cost, and for $5/month, put a second DVR in the family room (they had no sat receiver previously). I was told by friends that I would hate the DirecTV DVR, but in the words of Monty Burns, "I know what I hate, and I don't hate this."

There are some things the TiVo did better: I think it changed channels faster; the searching for titles was nice because you could filter it by show type, and "Suggestions" were useful, because unless you fed your TiVo the wrong info, you'd usually have something worth watching that it "thought" you'd like. It also shows more shows and channels one one screen when browsing (on an HDTV, more rows should have been easier on the HR21)

But the HR21 has some benefits. Aside from a slightly more modern menu scheme, that doesn't look like you're playing "You Don't Know Jack", it has a Picture-In-Picture of what's playing while you're fiddling with menus, or a mini-menu over the show. It has 30-second skip built in instead of a key hack (it's not instant, but it's acceptable), and it's got oodles of more HD channels. So yes, I can live with this, but I still wish DirecTV and TiVo would kiss and make up.

The big loss, though, is that the HR21 does not have an Over-The-Air antenna. I see no reason to pay $3/month for 5 HD local channels, when I get about two dozen in Chicago OTA for free. Sure I never watch 3/4ths of them, but it's the principle of the thing. I complained about this, hoping DirecTV would give them to me free. Instead, they're shipping me an AM21, which integrates an OTA receiver into the HR21 through the USB. Innnnnteresting. We'll see what it's like when I get it.

That reminds me of one more gripe: Food Network in Stretch-O-Vision. Food Network broadcasts everything in HD, even if it isn't, by applying a variable stretch filter to fill the screen. Wacky. Ugly. No point to it. I'm perfectly happy to 'pillar-box' my SD shows on the HD set when you'll let me. Watching Emeril's face swell to twice its width when he goes to the right or left of the screen is pretty nasty.

More HD is a Good Thing. But it will fill my DVR faster, sadly.

p.s. The TV and DirecTV DVR are now connected through a UPS, instead of a cheap-ass surge supressor.

p.p.s How did I find out the modem died on the TiVo? I called AT&T again complaining about the busy signal problem -- they said to check inside, which seemed unlikely, but unplugging the TiVo fixed the problem.

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