A Tale of Two Tivos

-Syndicated from TechLore.com

TiVo is dying.

This statement is common enough on the Internet these days, and there are constant rumors of an acquisition of TiVo.

For a true analysis of TiVo, it is important to note that there are really two separate TiVos. DirecTv TiVos and Standalone TiVos.

DirecTv TiVo

The DirecTv TiVo integrated a DirecTv tuner with the traditional TiVo software. This provides some important advantages. DirecTv TiVos do not do any signal encoding. The signal sent down from the DirecTv satellite is recorded directly to the hard drive. When you watch the show, it is decodes the same way a normal DirecTv receiver decodes it, so there is no quality loss. Additionally, there are 2 tuners in these boxes, so you can record two shows at once (and even watch a third previously recorded show).

However, all is not well with DirecTv TiVos. DirecTv is not expected to renew TiVos contract once it expires (in 2007). Because of this, the DirecTv TiVos have not received several of the recent software updates that are available to the standalone TiVos.

Standalone TiVo

Standalone TiVos record an analog input signal and encode it (at varying quality levels) before writing to the hard drive. Because of this, even the highest quality level on a standalone TiVo will not be quite equal to the original broadcast. Also, the TiVo must integrate with the external source to make sure it is tuned to the correct channel for the recording. This is usually done via an IR repeater or Serial connection. These devices also only have one tuner.

While as a pure DVR, the standalone TiVo is inferior to the DirecTv version, it provides several additional features that make it a better media device.

  • Folders - Multiple ways to sort your recorded shows.

  • Online Scheduling - Set up shows to record from the road.

  • Home Media Option - Listen to music or view pictures using your TiVo

  • TiVoToGo - Transfer shows to your computer or DVD


Subscriber Breakdown

Currently, 61% of TiVo's approximate 3 million subscribers are DirecTv TiVo subscribers. This means that the majority of TiVo users use the DirecTv service and boxes. Because of the strained relationship, none of these users have any of the 'advanced' features available to the Standalone TiVo users. With this in perspective, the loss of the DirecTv exclusive contract is devastating.

In addition to new competition from DirecTv integrated boxes, cable companies are now releasing their own DVRs. While they do not have the full TiVo feature set, they provide 'good enough' DVR capabilities for the mass market. Combine this with the simplicity of a single box that is both a tuner and a DVR, these devices will be very successful.

This squeezes TiVo into a tough market. The mass market will be happy with their Cable/Satellite provided DVR, while the high end users will look to Home Theater PCs (HTPC) and other boxes to provide a full media box. Additionally, there are many new players in this space (think Microsoft among others).

High Definition

TiVo does not currently offer a Standalone HDTV TiVo. There is a DirecTv HD TiVo. This is a gaping hole in their lineup. As people upgrade to HDTV sets and HD Satellite or Cable, they will look for their TiVo features for their new HD channels. With Cable companies providing their own HD DVRs and DirecTv coming out with a competing integrated HD DVR, many users will choose to upgrade, and they will be forced to upgrade away from TiVo.

Bottom Line

The bottom line is this: DirecTv TiVo uses will be transitioned to competitor DVR boxes provided by DirecTv. Standalone TiVo boxes will receive additional competition from integrated boxes provided by their Satellite/Cable providers. Third parties will enter the Media Center device market to compete with the Standalone TiVos.

I should note that I am a VERY BIG TiVo fan. I have owned 5 different TiVo boxes over time (2 standalone, 3 DirecTv), and I currently use 3 TiVos today (all DirecTv). However, the company that defines a new product often does not capitalize on its success. Unfortunately, it appears that TiVo may be another example of the phenomenon.