TiVo seemed so innocent--such a downtrodden but plucky survivor
, doing things right in the DVR market. Sure, it hid the 30-second skip functionality, but we looked past that. But now TiVo could take away your ability to record what you want and watch it whenever you want, which is the whole point of using TiVo.
Macrovision protects you from yourself
The problem is Macrovision, a copy-protection scheme that among other things can prevent you from recording shows on a VCR or from a DVD. TiVo's implementation of Macrovision has recently caused the company to introduce a crippling feature to the TiVo service. A recent TiVo software update limits your ability to record or keep some shows. For instance, a show may delete itself after seven days whether you want it to or not, and you're not allowed to change that option. Also, some shows will delete themselves within 24 hours after you start to watch them, whether you're finished watching or not. Even worse, Macrovision can designate some shows CopyNever--not allowing them to be recorded at all. There are already real examples
of this happening.
Why would TiVo do this?
Got an alternative to TiVo or to Tom's opinion? Post one or both in TalkBack.
TiVo says it is doing this only to comply with Macrovision's protection scheme. That's all well and good, but it apparently means that many, if not most, of the advantages of TiVo are now null and void. I record shows and keep them on the drive for long periods of time, sometimes for months. I find it outrageous that I would be prevented from using my TiVo in the way that best fits my lifestyle. It's one thing to the prevent copying and burning of shows. It's quite another to mess with my time schedule. That's getting personal.
Alternatives to TiVo
You should know that you have alternatives to TiVo that don't (yet) implement this kind of draconian "protection" of your ability to watch what you want, when you want. The best and easiest to use is a PC running Microsoft's Media Center
. So far, Microsoft hasn't implemented the Macrovision strictures. I'll lay odds that it will one day, but for now it's a great option.
If you have a little more time, smarts, and energy, you can also experiment with open-source TV recording software. The different apps vary in how well they work, and none of them have the slick user interface of a TiVo or two integrated tuners, à la DirecTV TiVo
. But all reports say they're fun to play around with. MythTV
is open software that works as a PVR. It is reported to be fairly stable but is still being developed.
Cory Doctrow at BoingBoing
suggests disgruntled TiVo users take a look at TeraTelly
from Interact TV. It does everything TiVo can do and more, with a terabyte of storage but a price of about $3,500.
can run on any Windows PC and is a bit cheaper than Windows Media Center. We liked what we saw of it at CES
There's also SnapStream's Beyond TV.
This is not a comprehensive list by any means, and I have yet to get off the TiVo crack myself, so I have no direct experience with any of them. If you have messed around with these off-brands, tell us about it in TalkBack. Also, make sure to let us know about any other good options I've missed.
In the other corner, IPTV
Instead, the advent of IPTV (TV over the Internet) may relegate DVRs to dumb storage devices. The promise of IPTV is that it will be able to deliver millions of programs on demand right to your normal TV set. At that point, not being able to record and store shows becomes less of a problem. Why worry about storing programs if you can watch anything from Star Trek
to Tenspeed and Brownshoe
whenever you want at the click of the button? In the IPTV and video-on-demand, situations the debate shifts from the right to store shows and back to fair use.
Still, we'll have to wait a while for IPTV to become a real alternative, and we'll have to see if the broadcast industry tries to cripple its more promising features. Looming behind it all is the larger question of when we will finally grapple with the real problem of outdated intellectual property laws that worked well in the days of the printing press but fall far short of what we need today. But it's hard to solve that underlying problem. So they'll just treat the symptoms by disabling your TiVo.
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