TiVo and the Insidious Feature Creep

This post was published more than a few years ago (on 2004-01-16) and may contain inaccurate technical information, outmoded thoughts, or cringe takes. Proceed at your own risk.

Well, I signed up on my TiVo for a free one-month trial of their Home Media Option because... well, because all it took to sign up was a click on a button on my remote, and because it sounded pretty cool-- TiVo access to my server full of digital music in iTunes, playback of slideshows from iPhoto, plus remote scheduling of my TiVo from the Web, and... well, the last item is multi-room viewing, which would certainly be a cool thing if I had multiple TiVos, and wanted to watch one TiVo's recordings on another box somewhere else in the house... but I don't. Not yet. Still, three outta four ain't bad.

So, the signup was about a week ago, and tonight it shows up in my TiVo Central menu. I download the TiVo Desktop software onto my server, and... long story short, ten minutes later, I am totally and inextricably hooked. Just the music playback feature alone is enough to make me lust after the H.M.O. (hmmm... though, the initials are starting to look disturbing). This is the missing link that I've been looking for all this time-- the ultimate multi-tasker for the living room. A handy TV-recording device (ooh, look! four new episodes of Good Eats!) that also allows me to peruse my entire music library in MP3 format on my server with an easily accessible, easy-to-use interface. Huzzah!

Now, for the caveats...

No .mp4 support... yet. It's the MPEG-4 audio format (also known as AAC) that Apple uses for the iTunes Music Store, and it's actually a more efficiently compressed, better sounding format than MP3. Unfortunately, that means anything I buy on the iTMS, I can't play on the TiVo. Fortunately, I kept putting off re-ripping my entire CD library in the new format, or I wouldn't be able to play anything at all. Apple says they are working with TiVo on providing a solution for .mp4 playback "in a future update." I'm guessing it's mainly working out a mechanism for "authorizing" a specific TiVo as a registered playback unit for the copyright-protected iTMS AAC files. No official date yet, but I'm going to go out on a limb and predict before the end of 2004.

No search mechanism. It allows to you access all your iTunes playlists, and to browse through your collection by artist, album, song and genre, but there's no ability to type in something to search for, like there is for recording TV shows. I tend to use the search field a lot when I'm looking for a specific song in iTunes, so I expect it would be just as handy here. Maybe in the next software update.

No QuickTime/MPEG movie playback. This is totally a wish list item at this point, but let's get it out there. If this thing can play back the MPEG-2 files to which it records your TV shows, surely it can handle a little QuickTime or tiny MPEG-4 video file. Oh, c'mon-- you know this would be a killer app.

Here's the real kicker: ninety-nine bucks. I once had a replayTV, and it had some of these features-- the online scheduling, the DVR-to-DVR show sharing, and these things were part of the basic package. Now, it's obvious that this is some small software download for the TiVo, or it wouldn't have taken a week to get to the free trial period. This begs the question: Even if this isn't included out of the box, and requires a software download, obviously this is a fairly small piece of code-- why isn't this included at no cost? Well, obviously, because TiVo wants to make a few more bucks from me post-sale. But seriously, if I'm paying my $12.99/mo subscription fee, and I go to the trouble of getting a $50 wireless adapter to connect the happy little TiVo to my LAN (mainly so my kids stop tripping over the phone cord stretched across the living room), why not toss these great features in, free? Why not sweeten the deal on the front end?

I'll have to give this some more thought. $99 seems like an awful lot to pay for what seems like a very small software upgrade... but then again, I've been sitting here, effortlessly listening to music from all over my collection for about an hour, but I haven't had to get up once to change CDs, and I've been out here listening on the good living room speakers, and sitting in The Comfy Chair. Nothing to sneeze at.