Is a Subscription Service Right for You?

Are you checking out your DVR options, yet remain unsure about whether a subscription-based DVR service is right for you? Essentially, it depends on what sort of circus tricks you want your television to perform for you. Digital video recording has become the new hot service among satellite and cable companies, with many offering services for as little as $5.99 a month. Many of the companies lease the box to consumers, either for free or for a relatively small monthly amount.

DirecTV, for example, recently offered a $99 rebate on DVR upgrades to new customers, enabling them to get the cheaper DirecTV DVR offered for free. The box is theirs to keep even if customers discontinue DirecTV's services. Unfortunately, the box is entirely useless if they choose to discontinue DirecTV's satellite service; the DVR is only compatible with DirecTV services. This isn't unusual; most companies that offer DVR subscription services provide hardware that's only compatible with their viewing services.

If you want more than basic DVR capabilities and a limited search function, then a subscription service such as TiVo would be the best choice. Chatter across the internet consistently praises the glories of its channel guide. TiVo fanatics insist a DVR is no good without this super-duper channel guide; therefore, TiVo is the only way to go. Also, unlike hardware provided by satellite and cable companies, TiVo is not limited to recording from one particular service provider. The TiVo service has complete listings for over 13,000 cable systems, DirecTV, and Dish Network.

Paying the Cost to be the TV Boss

If you purchase a subscription to TiVo, you also have to purchase a compatible DVR. TiVo currently offers three boxes with progressively larger storage capabilities. The lowest priced box available is the TiVo® Series2™ DT DVR with 80 hours of programming storage. For around $99, this box comes broadband ready meaning you don’t have to use a phone line to set up the system and it can function with your home network. However, be sure to have an available Ethernet cable or compatible USB wireless network adapter on hand as it does not come with the system.

For about $199, you can increase the storage capacity to 180 hours of standard programming. If you have a little extra cash to toss around, TiVo offers the Series3™ HD system with 300 hours of standard recording time for $799.00. The Series3 is the only recorder with THX®-certification. TiVo's also recently rolled out a stripped down version of the Series3, the TiVo Series3 Lite. For less than $300, the Lite offers consumers a bare-bones version of the Series3 that sports a smaller hard drive and lacks THX certification. If HD is a must-have for you, and you're balking at the high price tags on most of the HD units out there, the Lite's definitely the way to go.

TiVo periodically offers excellent savings incentives for the Series2™ as well, as long as you purchase directly from TiVo.com with a service plan or a service gift card. This way, you can buy the box, sometimes for virtually free, and are only required to pay for the actual service. TiVo service plans can be paid either monthly or by the year. Of course, if you choose to pay by the year, the cost is reduced significantly.

TiVo recently promoted a limited offer deal on a three year plan for $299.00, the same price as a prepaid two year plan. It cost subscribers $19.95 a month if they purchased a one year plan and paid for it monthly. Purchasing a three year prepaid plan reduced the cost to $8.31 a month, bringing it close to the cost of subscribing to your local cable or satellite company’s DVR service. Check TiVo's web site for these offers and more; the deals are always changing.

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The TiVo Lifestyle

When digital video recording devices were introduced in 1999, the major player at the time was ReplayTV. However, TiVo quickly outstripped ReplayTV by offering innovative functions not available through any other provider. TiVo continues to be an innovator in the DVR field, offering services currently not available through any other provider. In that effect, TiVo is blurring the world between television and the internet at a faster rate than its competitors. Here is a short list of snazzy TiVo exclusive available with a home network:

  • Access online services through your TiVo® Series2™ DVR such as Yahoo! Weather, Yahoo! Photos, Yahoo! Traffic, Live365 Radio Network, Fandango, and podcasts.
  • TiVo Online Scheduling – Schedule your TiVo DVR to record a show from anywhere with internet access
  • TiVo® Mobile – Verizon customers can review and schedule TiVo recordings via a Verizon Wireless cellphone.
  • TiVoToGo™ – Transfer shows from a networked TiVo® Series2™ DVR to a desktop or laptop PC
  • DigitalMusic Player – Access your digital music collection on your television
  • DigitalPhoto View – View digital photo albums and slideshows on your television
  • TiVoCast – Access internet-based programs not available on regular programming.
  • Amazon Unbox – No more trips to the video store or waiting by the mailbox for your Netflix DVD to arrive. Rent or buy movies through Amazon Unbox through your TiVo box and you have 30 days to watch the move. (Be careful and research Unbox as I’ve run across some negative reviews that are worth considering.)
  • One True Media – Harass fellow TiVo family and friends with your home movies for as little as $3.99 a month!

TiVo offers a host of other services that are also offered by other companies. However, these companies do not seem to do it as well as TiVo. Season PassTM allows you to record every episode of your favorite shows even if the schedule changes. This service also skips over reruns so you don’t waste valuable hard drive space. The TiVo WishListTM is a search engine that finds shows by title, actor, genre or keyword. This search is more advanced than other the leading cable DVR which will search by title only.

Also, TiVo strives to be family friendly. With TiVo KidZone, parents can enter a child’s age, desired rating, and set channel limits, then the system automatically sets up parental locks for them. Not only does KidZone block inappropriate content, but it also helps find age appropriate shows. Enter a single password (don't let the kids know what it is!) and the Tivo box will regain full access. If you leave your box inactive for four hours, it will automatically reset to KidZone so children aren't watching Robot Chicken or Bible Fight on Adult Swim when they're supposed to be in the bed.

All that Glitters is Not Gold

Have I sold you on a TiVo subscription? Consider these cons before you make your first purchase.

  • First and foremost, the Series2 does not work with HDTV. Only the $800 Series 3, or the new TiVo Series3 Lite, will function with HDTV. However, the Series3 will not support satellite services. So if you have HDTV and a satellite service, TiVo isn’t for you.
  • TiVo is also not compatible with C-Band satellite dishes. Those are the gargantuan satellite dishes popular twenty years ago. Seriously, if you still have one of those, you should consider upgrading your program to at least 1995 before attempting to jump into the new century with a DVR.
  • TiVo is not compatible with programming outside of the United States and the UK. So if you really, really don’t want to miss those telenovelas out of Chile, consider another source for your personal recording needs.
  • If you cancel your subscription, you are subject to a cancellation fee. TiVo offers a thirty day money back guarantee. However, if you cancel a monthly subscription before the end of the contract, you may have to pay as much as $200 to get out of it.
  • Some privacy concerns have been expressed since TiVo collects detailed data on household viewing habits from the TiVo box. However, any DVR subscription has the ability to collect data in this manner and TiVo is not the only one who does so. This information is collected for in-house research and is even sold to other corporations such as advertisers. However, the data collected is collected by zip code and TiVo does not track individual viewing habits. TiVo users can opt to block this information.

DVR users have a variety of services to choose from, but making the right one can be overwhelming when so many options are available. TiVo certainly offers a wide array of services not to be found with any leading provider, however it is not without its negative issues. Consider these carefully and consider researching local providers before committing to a contract to be sure a subscription service is right for you.

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