The TiVod Revolution - great TiVo deal, expiring soon
Published: Monday, March 27, 2006
According to numerous friends - and I say this only half-jokingly - the “TiVo revolution” has been underway for years. The sales pitch is this: like other digital video recorders (DVRs), TiVo lets you stop making appointments to watch your favorite TV shows. Instead, you just turn on your TV whenever you want, and the shows are sitting there waiting for you. Think VCR, only 20+ times more powerful, with the bonus that you can also pause and rewind live TV.
Up until now, I haven’t been won over to TiVo for only one reason: price. And I’ve either owned or used many of its competitors. Urged on by one persistent, evangelistic friend this past week, I found a really superb deal, gave in and bought one. Since I’m happy with the TiVo and the deal’s still active for a little while, I wanted to share it - and some iPod-related details - with you. Click on Read More for the story and the deal.
Though I’m not going to dive into the TiVo-versus-the-world story in depth, there are a few facts that need to be summarily noted up front. So here they are.
People have been buying TiVo boxes for over 5 years now. Still, the company’s installed base is something around 4 million people - it was 4.008 million as of October 31, 2005. This isn’t very impressive, a fact attributed by TiVo fans to poor marketing. I personally think that pricing is at least equally to blame.
But TiVo fans, like Apple fans, are very enthusiastic. According to the company, 98% of surveyed TiVo owners said they “couldn’t live without” the service. 40% said they’d sooner give up their cell phones than TiVo. Many own more than one TiVo box.
I have tested leading alternatives to TiVo, and TiVo owners are correct: theirs is the best. The boxes run quiet, they’re easy to install, easy to use, and easy to find addictive. Key to the appeal is a proprietary, Apple-like interface that lets anyone (grandma, kids, you) program its recording features without a manual. Grandma can even tell TiVo to automatically record every TV show where Matlock’s Andy Griffith appears, just by entering the first few letters of his last name (shown right). Within 30 minutes of completing my installation, my TiVo box knew 15 TV shows I wanted to record on a recurring basis, and around 15 more (including movies) that I wanted to record as one-offs. Waking up the next morning, I found 8 of them waiting to be watched whenever I was ready. It’s awesome. And you don’t have to leave your computer (with fans, power supply, etcetera) turned on, or plugged into your TV set.
49% of TiVo owners have lifetime subscriptions to the TiVo service. The rest pay a monthly service fee. I personally bought the lifetime subscription.
The company will stop offering lifetime subscriptions on April 15 of this year - around two weeks from now. Effective then, you’ll have to pay between $17 and $20 per month. There are strings attached, and I don’t like strings, but if you don’t mind them, go straight to TiVo’s web site and sign up for the rental plan.
At $1.99 per download, you’d only have to download 9 or 10 individual TV episodes per month from the iTunes Music Store before renting TiVo becomes a better value. Buying TiVo? If the box lasts 4 years at the price below, it would cost more for *4* video downloads a month than the TiVo deal here. We won’t even discuss the music video side of that equation.
So here’s the deal, and I ask only one thing if you take advantage of it - use my e-mail address firstname.lastname@example.org as your referrer, just as I used my friend’s name when he referred me.
This is the TiVo I bought. It’s an 80-hour, TiVo-branded model that sells for
$89* after rebate through Amazon.com, the same place I ordered from. Now Circuit City is offering the same box for $40 after rebate. The $150 rebate process is painless, and best handled through this web link. It’s much easier than filling out a form by hand, and trackable.
When the box arrives from Amazon, which is very quick - four days in my case - or you get it elsewhere, you contact TiVo and activate it. This step must be done by phone, rather than through TiVo’s web site. The telephone number is 1-877-367-8486. This takes between 5 and 10 minutes, and the people are friendly.
The cost of a lifetime subscription - until it disappears on April 15 - is $299.99. In other words, the total cost of the TiVo hardware and a lifetime membership is $360 plus a $10 Amazon shipping fee, which comes out to $7.70 per month over only four years of ownership. In my humble opinion, that’s a much smarter buy than TiVo’s new prepaid packages, which are:
$224 for 1 year of service and the hardware.
$369 for 2 years of service and the hardware.
$469 for 3 years of service and the hardware.
You can do the math yourself, but it suffices to say that this deal is as good as I could find - the one I’ve been waiting 5 years to see. You’ll need to ask the TiVo rep for it, and you’ll get it without a hassle. Call before April 15th, or you’re stuck paying monthly fees.
It should also be noted that Circuit City is offering a second $40 TiVo - one with half the storage (40-hour).
Why prefer 80 hours of recording to 40? Two reasons. First, that’s 80 hours on low quality. You’ll want to use at least “medium” quality (nearly indistinguishable from TV), which limits an 80-hour TiVo to 57 hours of recording. A 40-hour TiVo gets only 28 hours, and of course less on higher quality settings. Second, the price difference is too small not to do it. (* Note: Amazon raised its price following publication of this article; see the link to Best Buy in the comments below.)
What about the iPod stuff? Good news. I heard this weekend that the Mac- and iPod-compatible versions of TiVo to Go - a free, official way to watch TiVo content off the TiVo - are nearing completion, which may be the closest we come to the Mac mini-esque DVR solution we’ve all been hoping for in vain. My guess is that - like Elgato Systems’ Eye TV2 - you’ll probably have to leave your computer running iPod-ready conversion tasks in the background for hours, but on the bright side, unlike Eye TV2, TiVo doesn’t require your computer to be on or near a cable TV line during recording; you can just use a wireless adapter to transfer files from TiVo to your computer when convenient.
Windows users? The PC-compatible version of TiVo to Go (shown below) is already done and available for free online, though it doesn’t yet handle the iPod conversion part itself. For now, a program called TV Harmony AutoPilot will convert TiVo files into iPod ones, assuming you can’t wait.
So why the TiVo Revolution half-joke at the beginning? Frankly, 4 million people does not a revolution make, and though my friends have been TiVo fanatics for years, the company’s $600-and-up price tags have killed a lot of the buzz these otherwise awesome devices deserved. As a direct consequence, lots of people are instead using inferior DVR options - provided for a monthly rental fee by their cable or satellite providers - and there’s little prospect of iPod compatibility from many of them.
Having made a great product, TiVo clearly needs some support right now. With this temporarily attractive price level, and the promise of iPod-ready video files in the very near future, I think the time is right for iPod fans to come to the rescue. What do you guys think?
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