What is TiVo?

Since the invention of the VCR, TV viewers have been blessed with the ability to record a television show and watch it at a later time. However, VCRs have never been perfect, since setting up recordings on a VCR isn't always intuitive, and using a removable medium like a tape makes them inefficient.

A VCR is a dumb box. It has no idea what it's recording, but only that you told it to record a channel at a certain time. Today, recording devices are getting smarter and more efficient.

Millions of people have replaced their VCRs with a hard-disk drive recorder (also known as a DVR, which stands for Digital Video Recorder) that time-shifts programming by compressing your shows in real time and saving it on a hard-drive, which is similar to how your computer stores files, web pages, and documents. This means that you no longer have to bother with tapes, or fast-forward and rewind, to find your previously recorded show.

Some of these recording devices operate in conjunction with a service called TiVo.

What is TiVo, and what do they do?

TiVo is a service. What they do is provide an EPG (Electronic Program Guide) that contains channel and show information for your hard drive recorder, as well as write the software that makes the device easier to operate. The EPG is downloaded to your hard-drive every night when it calls out (which is why it has to be hooked up to a phone line or internet connection). Without the EPG, these hard drive recorders would be just as dumb as VCRs were, and no one would know how to use them. It's the Electronic Program Guide that makes these things so darned useful, which is why they are becoming immensely popular.

The gloriuos benefits of TiVo are not without their costs. TiVo charges $12.95 a month for the service, or you can pay one lifetime payment of $299.95. Don't be confused by the term lifetime, which means the lifetime of the TiVo unit, not your lifetime. If you choose to buy another unit or add a second TiVo, additional fees are required.

TiVo is the company that has pioneered hard-disk based recorders. Their brand name has almost become a generic term for hard-disk recorder, similar to everyone referring to tissue as "Kleenex". Though TiVo is the most popular name in hard-disk recorders, they are certainly not without competition. Rival ReplayTV has been a competitor from the beginning, but cable and satellite providers are quickly chipping away at the market, selling or leasing their own hard-disk recorders at much cheaper price. Others are choosing to use a media center PC, which includes many features similar to TiVo, but without a service charge.

Whether you buy a TiVo or another make of hard-disk recorder, the end result is that you can begin to "time-shift" television programs, which is the term used to describe shifting the television network's schedule to yours. TiVo is known as the company that makes this concept easier to perform than any other kind.

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