|TiVo Home Media feature/TiVo To Go|
| CNET review|
(5/27/03; updated 2/23/05)
By John P. Falcone
Setup and installation | Music and photo sharing | TiVo To Go | Remote programming | Multiroom viewing | Conclusion
To enable remote programming, we again went to TiVo's Web site, this time to create a TiVo Central Online account. With this feature, you can program your TiVo from any Web browser in the world. Working late and don't want to miss American Idol? Just log in to the site, search the program listings, and choose the show you want to record. You can set priority (that is, you can tell your TiVo to record only if nothing else conflicts) and quality and even get a confirmation e-mail. The remote scheduling worked flawlessly, even when we submitted requests only 30 minutes before a show's start time, although TiVo recommends doing it at least an hour in advance. ReplayTV's remote scheduling, by comparison, requires one day advance notice--totally nonsensical for a broadband-enabled device that's always on.
The Home Media feature's final trick works only if you have a second TiVo. Multiroom viewing allows programs recorded on one TiVo to be viewed on another; for instance, you can record something in the living room and watch it in the bedroom. Once the second TiVo's network adapter has been configured, you can use either unit to browse the stored programming. Just click the recording TiVo's name in the "Now playing on TiVo" menu (you can name your TiVos anything from Upstairs and Downstairs to Frodo and Gandalf) and choose what you'd like to see. The TiVo you want to watch on will download from the remote unit.
Unfortunately, sharing video between TiVos suffered from the same tortoiselike transfer speed as the TiVo To Go function. While you can begin watching a program during download, the transfer times we experienced with larger video files--those recorded at High or Best quality--were noticeable. A 60-minute TV episode recorded at Best took 70 minutes to transfer. That meant a 10-minute wait for uninterrupted viewing, and a somewhat longer one when we planned to fast-forward past commercials as well. Of course, less than optimal signal strength from your wireless access point could lead to even greater delays. While the USB 2.0 ports on the Series2 TiVo could theoretically support faster wired and wireless speeds (with appropriate USB 2.0 network adapters), the software currently bottlenecks at the original USB specification's 10Mbps limit.
Happily, the transfers are completely transparent, so if someone is using the TiVo in the other room to record or play back another program, he or she is completely oblivious to the fact that you're downloading from that unit. Likewise, you can queue up multiple shows for downloading and watch live or recorded TV, listen to music, or view photos while transfer progresses in the background. TiVo had no trouble multitasking.
Unlike with ReplayTV, video sharing is limited to other TiVos within your home network--it's not permitted over the public Internet. However, within a single subnet of your home network, you can share programs among 10 (!) different TiVos enabled with the Home Media feature.
The Home Media feature is a worthwhile upgrade for users looking to maximize their TiVos' capabilities. The remote scheduling means you'll never have to miss a show again. The photo and music features are well designed and just as easy to use as the TiVo's video functions. However, we'd like to see support for more music file formats; TiVo says it may add WMA and AAC support in future upgrades, but in the year since the feature was released, it hasn't done so. (If you're feeling ambitious, check places like the TiVo Community Forum for information on third-party plug-ins, which add this kind of functionality.) Only TiVo To Go and multiroom viewing were disappointments; programs recorded at the two highest-quality settings take too long to transfer. Being able to watch shows in other rooms and burn them to DVD are great concepts, but TiVo's slowpoke networking speeds will have you watching the clock rather than your favorite program.
John P. Falcone, an associate editor for CNET Reviews, no longer owns a VCR. Have a question for him? Let us know!