Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Product Review: Gotta Have My TiVo

I'll admit, I wasn't a TiVo fan from the get-go.

The DirecTV with TiVo package we got several years ago was Kyle's project, something that he desperately wanted to get and that I fought tooth and nail against.

TiVo I wrote off as expensive and useless, and the DirecTV offended me even more deeply, as it required the installation of an ugly satellite dish which now looms over my garden patio.

I fought as hard as I could, citing the problems with satellite TV (weather interference, equipment malfunction) and the cost of the TiVo.

In the end, I lost.

And I have never been happier over losing a battle in my life.

I say this completely without irony: DirecTV with TiVo is one of the greatest things in my life.

First of all, TiVo is awesome.

When I try to explain why TiVo is so awesome, non-TiVo users just blink and say, "Isn't that where you can skip the commercials?" like, "Oh, that's kinda cool, I guess...", as if THAT'S ALL THERE IS TO TIVO!

And I try to explain, with all the passion and love I can muster, that TiVo is oh so much more.

Skipping the commercials? Yes, it's great, but that's not even TiVo's number one convenience!

What about pausing live TV? How awesome is it when you have to get up and change a diaper or help a kid go potty that you can, with the touch of a button, stop time and make the final scene of American Idol wait for YOU?

Not impressed? Well, how about this. How about NEVER EVEN WATCHING LIVE TV?

Because I don't think Kyle and I have watched live TV since we got our TiVo.

We prefer the season pass option. It works like this. Any show we are interested in seeing, we look up in TiVo's directory (which is essentially a TV Guide) and choose it. We can choose to record just one episode, or get a season pass, which means that TiVo will automatically record ALL the episodes for us. You can set it to record the reruns, too, or only the first-runs. And once it's done, you NEVER HAVE TO TOUCH IT AGAIN.

Each day, you go to your list of programs, and your TiVo has magically recorded all of the things you want to watch. You never have to rush through dinner or rush the kids off to bed because one of your favorite shows is on. You never have to miss a scene of your favorite show again. You never even have to miss a scene of one of your not-so-favorite shows again. Best of all, you never have to screw with setting your VCR to record a show when you're going to be gone. BECAUSE THEY ARE ALL RECORDED FOR YOU, AUTOMATICALLY, and you can watch them ANYTIME YOU WANT.

Think about it. Can't watch ER tonight because your kid has a dance recital? No problem. TiVo's got your back. Grey's Anatomy has begun and you're still blowing out the john? No worries. Your TiVo is there for you.

You see, TiVo is so much more than just skipping commercials. It's a LIFESTYLE. It's a brave new world where YOU watch TV when YOU have time to relax and enjoy it, rather than letting network schedules run your life.


If all of the above hasn't convinced you yet, let's talk children's programming. Let's talk about all the money you've blown in the last few years on Dora the Explorer DVDs so that your little one can watch Dora whenever she wants. But you can't just buy one DVD. No, she'll get tired of watching the same episodes over and over. You have to buy multiple DVDs featuring Dora, Blue, and SpongeBob, because God knows that when you really need the little sweetheart to sit down and shut up for five minutes, NONE of the shows she wants to watch are actually on.

Now imagine this. You have a season pass for Dora the Explorer. Another for Sesame Street. Another for Blue's Clues, and so on. Every morning at 6 am, while you are still in dreamland, your TiVo is hard at work, recording Dora when she's on and storing her so your child can unlock the magic whenever she wants.

Do you see why TiVo has changed my life? Are you starting to get it?

Now I'm sure some of you are probably thinking that I am some kind of TV junkie and that it's pathetic that I could harbor such intense feeling about some TV recording device.

"Hmph," some of you are probably clucking. "Why doesn't she try reading or playing with her kids instead of watching TV all the time and recording all those mindless shows?"

Well, cluck away, but the truth is, Kyle and I actually watch LESS TV since TiVo came into our lives and so do the kids.

The reason for this is two-fold.

The first reason is that since we are only recording the things we want to watch, we only WATCH the things we want to watch.

We don't sit around watching filler TV like we used to.

Before the kids, Kyle and I used to watch TV during dinner, but since primetime TV didn't start until 8, if we were eating at 7, we'd end up watching back to back reruns of The Simpsons or Married With Children, or something else that we'd never bother wasting time on if we had something better.

With TiVo, it's a different world. When we're ready to sit down and watch TV, we look at our TiVo list and pick a recording of a TV show we actually want to watch instead of watching an hour of filler before-hand like we used to.

When our TiVo runs out of programs, we are much more likely to pick up a magazine or a book, or do something non-TV related because we know that there's nothing else we want to watch, rather than getting sucked into stupid shows just because they're on AFTER the show we just watched.

It's the same with the kids. Instead of turning on Playhouse Disney and letting it run for two hours just so the kids can see Network Wiggles, we can TiVo Network Wiggles so they only watch the one half hour of show they actually want to see. When the program is over, the TiVo stops and they stop watching. Sometimes they ask for more episodes, and sometimes we let them and sometimes not. But it's much easier to say "No more TV" when the TV stops ITSELF than when it keeps running and tantalizing them with the next thing in the lineup.

The second reason that we end up watching less TV overall is that we never watch commercials. A thirty minute program can be watched in 22 minutes. An hour of TV, we can take down in 45. And an hour-long American Idol episode, which is often 75% filler anyway, can sometimes be jetted through in 10.

Not only do Kyle and I hardly watch commercials, but the kids are the same. They always ask Kyle and I to fast forward through them and we ordinarily comply. It's great because even though they occasionally see commercials (like when I am in the shower and let the TiVo run) and request dumb products like Zoo Pals and Baby Bottle Pops, overall the requests for such things is much less (I think) than with kids who watch commercials all the time and HAVE to have Cookie Crisp cereal or Scooby Doo fruit roll-ups.

The only negative thing about TiVo is that sometimes there are conflicts. Sometimes, there are TWO shows on that you want to watch at the same time (those CRUEL network schedulers who put Lost up against Idol should DIE).

Well, for Kyle and I, that's where the hideous satellite dish comes in. Yes, DirecTV. Because we have satellite TV, we have two tuners, which allows us to record TWO THINGS AT ONCE while we are watching a THIRD.

We have very few conflicts- only on the rare occasions when there are THREE shows we want to see at the same time- and we usually get around these by buying them online (thank God the networks have finally decided to sell TV episodes individually instead of making us buy those $70 DVD sets).

All the equipment malfunctions I predicted for DirecTV turned out to be nonexistent.

No matter what the weather has been like here in Santa Monica, we have NEVER lost the signal on our satellite dish or had to watch a program that was fuzzy.

So what are you waiting for? DirecTV is no longer partnered with TiVo, but they do have their own knock-off TiVo that they provide for customers who want it. All you need is a clear view of the Southern sky and DirecTV will do the rest (installation is part of the deal).

Trust me, if I can get used to having a satellite dish on my house, so can you.

At the very least, invest in TiVo for use with your current cable or satellite provider. Even if you are only able to record one show at a time, trust me, it's worth it.

Once you experience the convenience of life with TiVo, you will never be able to go back to watching plain old television. Most people who have TiVo treat it not as a luxury but as a necessity on par with food, water, and a working toilet. Some people even treat their TiVo units as cherished family members (our friends Dave and Connie named theirs Thomas).

So please, do yourself a favor and see what you can do to bring TiVo into your home.

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