Saturday, May 19, 2007

TiVo Swivel Search

TiVo Swivel Search


People have continually predicted that TiVo was toast as the Cable Companies began to bring out inexpensive DVRs. The theory was that although TiVo was a pioneer, like many pioneers they would be overtaken by the second wave of companies that were more nimble and cost conscious than TiVo, who would become complacent and slow to innovate a second time.

I have to admit that I actually fell for the Motorola DVR from my cable company (RCN) -- a cheap DVR for the HDTV in my. Actually at the time, I had no choice because the MOTO DVR was the only DVR that I knew of that could record HDTV. But I was sorely disappointed by the only game in town: Having been a TiVo user for years, the MOTO DVR was vastly inferior in my view. Not only was it unreliable (requiring frequent reboots) but the program listings were vastly inferior -- one of the most annoying things was that they only went out ahead four days, where as TiVo's listing went out two weeks.

After a while, TiVo came out with the Series 3 machine which was capable of recording HDTV, but it cost an arm and a leg ($800)! I was in a dilemma: Was I being too picky, was my experience with the MOTO DVR unusual? Then I read an article by Walt Mossberg in the Wall Street Journal (The HDTV Dilemma: Pay for TiVo’s Recorder Or Settle for Cable’s?) that advised people to dump their Moto HD DVRs, bite the bullet and move over to the TiVo Series 3. This was all I needed and, combined with TiVo's offer to transfer my lifetime subscription to the new machine, I ordered immediately ordered one. I haven't been disappointed!

The TiVo Series 3 is a wonderful machine: it does everything my old TiVos have done in a seamless way for both SDTV and HDTV. Very smooth.

But, now back to the concern I had heard by many pundits that low priced DVRs from vendors like Motorola would eventually overtake TiVo. You have to take these analyses seriously because they are based on experience with many comsumer products, not just TiVos. The argument was that TiVo was like Betamax -- high-end, really good, but you didn't need really good, you would be just as happy with a more universal VHS quality product.

And then I read an article by David Pogue (TiVo Plays a Trump Card: Web Smarts - New York Times) which indicated that TiVo had some cards up its sleeve that would distance itself ahead of the pack of wolves nipping at it tail. In particular, it was taking advantage of the Web to make the TiVo box be the true Living Room Media Controller. All sorts of innovations were coming to TiVos in the near future. Well, that was a long introduction to the subject of this entry...

TiVo Swivel Search

There have been several recent additions to TiVo features that I have passed up on using: I don't really have need to watch a TiVo program recorded by one TiVo on a TV connected to another TiVo -- or on my PC. Also I'm unwilling to pay Verizon to allow me to watch recordings on my TiVo on my cell phone -- I just don't find myself in places where the only way I can access TV is on a cell phone. But, there are two services (one old, one new) that I do use and these along justify using TiVo. The old one allows me to access photographs and music from a variety of sources on the internet, including my own PC. In addition, it allows me to access other sources of information (Yahoo Weather, Traffic) on the Internet - -but not a complete browser. And finally it supports a small number of games -- a capability that I like when I'm really interested in pushing in the clutch. In addition, I find that simple games on the TV in the living room (rather than on a PC in the home office) is reminiscent of the old days with parlor games: you can actually play with multiple people sitting in comfortable chairs.

But, (finally) the new feature that I really like, and think is a huge improvement, is Universal Swivel Search (wow, they must have been desperate for a unique name: I think they could have left out the in the title, and captured the entire sense of the feature). Currently TiVo searches a database of listings of upcoming TV programs. In what must have been a test, a while back they added some product review and video blog Video streams from the Web to the database. If you selected one of these, TiVo would download the video using it's internet connection.

Today, my TiVo informed me that I has just received the latest update which included Swivel Search, a generalization of the previous test capability. Now I the database is augmented with both free video on the Internet as well as paid downloads from Amazon. Just as important as being able to search this expanded database is the integration of this in with the capability of examining an existing program that you have recorded on your TiVo and ask to see related programs -- related by subject, actors, directors, etc.

For example, I had a recording where Chris Cooper was one of the stars. I asked to see more programs with Chris Cooper and I found Syriana. I'd already seen Syriana and liked it, so I asked to see more like the subject of Syriana and came across The Good Shepherd, a film I had wanted to see, but didn't. I clicked on it and discovered that I could download it from Amazon for $1 to be able to play it one time or $15 to own it. This is really a big thing because it allows me the same sense of searching the web and with a couple of button clicks to be able to download for a very reasonable price a video.

TiVo as usual is way ahead of the pack.


Richard Jennings said...

You can get free access to those articles though

My free tip!

Harry said...


Thanks. I forgot that I have a subscription to the WSJ. I may change the reference to a PDF version that I store on the server...

-- Harry