The Deliverator – Wannabee

So open minded, my thoughts fell out…

Tivo, if I ruled the world

Posted by Deliverator on September 20th, 2005

Ever since my recent rants on Tivo, a number of people have asked me about those self evident missing features or problems with the way current features are implemented. I have been giving this some thought and here is an extremely rough (and poorly formated)draft of what I came up with:

Improved buffer management.
When watching Live TV, Tivo keeps a buffer of the show being watched that can expand to up to half an hour long, but no more. There are a number of problems with the way they do buffering.

  1. Say I am watching a show and the phone rings. I pause the Tivo to answer the phone. It is a lengthy business call. As soon as the buffer hits 30 minutes, the TV starts up again at full blast. It would be nice if the maximum buffer length could be specified, or at least have Tivo handle buffer full scenarios more gracefully, say by converting the buffer into a recording, beginning playback again but with the sound muted, prompting the user for a decision, etc. All of these actions would be far more preferable than the way Tivo currently handles it.
  2. I am watching a show and accidentally hit the change channel button. The channel changes and I instantly loose the accumulated buffer. There is no way to recover the buffer and if I want to resume watching the show, it is now half over. I should be able to buffer surf
  3. If I am watching the news (for example) and see a segment that interests me that I want to record for a friend, if I hit the record button and the buffer spans two shows, it decides ARBITRARILY that I must want to record the show currently being broadcast, rather than the segment that I was watching. It begins recording and…you guessed it, deletes the buffer!

Improved program search functionality, program scheduling, wishlists, season pass

Despite detailed guide data looking forward more than a week, delivered daily, Tivo supports only rudimentary abilities to search that information and make scheduling (wishlist) decisions based upon that data. I should be able to create wishlists that at the very least use Boolean logic and can discriminate between the title, actor and description fields.

  1. For example, I could not currently schedule my Tivo to record shows where actor includes the word Eastwood and description includes the word western. The best I could do currently is either items anywhere in the guide information. This would be the equivalent of record all shows where either Eastwood or western can be found anywhere in the guide information. This would result in my hard drive rapidly filling up with every western out there, more than a few Dirty Harry movies and very little of what I am actually looking for, which are Clint Eastwoods Spaghetti Westerns.
  2. Say I hear about a show from a friend that sounds interesting. Lets pretend that the show is one that has a distinctive story-arc, and watching the episodes out of order will serve only to confuse me. A good example would be HBOs The Wire. I rent the first few seasons of the show from netflix and manage to get relatively caught up. I want to have Tivo record this seasons episodes as they air, but also last season’s (which havent made it to DVD yet) episodes as well. Despite airdate data being plainly visible in the guide, I cannot tell my Tivo to record all episodes of The Wire where airdate = 2004 or 2005. The best I can do is create a Season Pass that records either First Run episodes or all episodes including reruns.
  3. Say I want to record all new episodes of The Simpsons. I also wouldnt mind watching a rerun every once in a while, but while I want to make absolutely sure that I dont miss any new episodes, I dont really care about reruns that much. I certainly dont want to have reruns take priority over another first run program. Currently, there is no way to do this. I cannot create more than one Season Pass for a given show on a given network. If I create a single season pass for The Simpsons that specifies all episodes and place the season pass high up in my season pass ordering, I will record all episodes of The Simpsons, but given that shows longevity and popularily, my Tivo will spend almost its entire time recording reruns of the Simpsons and block out other shows I want to watch. What would be ideal is to be able to create a high priority pass for first run episodes and a low priority pass for the rerun episodes.
  4. Tivo does a very poor job of reconciling programs. Say for example I tell it to record a movie on HBO. Later that week, I see something else in the guide that peeks my interest. I press the record button and Tivo discovers that I have attempted to record two things at the same time and asks me which to record. It is smart enough to recognize a conflict, but is too stupid to reconcile it intelligently. For example, that movie on HBO might be showing again that same night at 3am and could be recorded at that time instead. Or, if a second showing of the same program couldnt be found in the existing guide data, how about offering to create a wishlist entry to record it when it airs again sometime in the future?

Tivo needs better hardware

  1. Although there are a number of different hardware vendors for Tivo units, each offering a slightly different take on the basic Tivo unit, there isnt enough differentiation in those offerings. Right now, consumers have 3 basic choices. You can have a standalone unit with a single tuner, a unit with a DVD recorder (with some features crippled), or a DirecTivo, a DIRECTV only unit capable of recording two shows simultaneously, but with a number of features crippled at DIRECTVs request. Where are the standalone units with 4 tuners? How about a multi-user Tivo capable of streaming to multiple TVs via analog outputs or ip broadcasting to thin client boxes, ala Microsofts Media Center Extenders? How about a unit with an RF remote control? How about a firewire port for adding on additional storage via removeable hard drives or capturing video from DV cams? How about a built in ethernet port/wireless adapter?
  2. Tivo doesnt make good use of the hardware that is already out there. The USB ports on my Series 2 Tivo support USB 2.0, but Tivo runs them at 1.1 speed. This limits Tivo 2 Go transfers to an acheingly slow speed. Tivo 2 Go currently transfers my shows at about 150% greater than real time. Tivo also only supports a very small number of USB WiFi and Ethernet adapters and doesnt do a good job of documenting which hardware revisions are supported.
  3. Most Tivo units still have slow processors and limited memory, relying on dedicated hardware compression/decompression chips for most of the serious number crunching. As a result of inadequate general processing power, Tivos user interface is often sluggish, reordering/reconciliation of scheduling information often takes a long time, etc. With more ram and faster processors, Tivo could be a much more versatile platform.

Tivo needs to be an open platform for application & hardware development.

  1. For Tivo to survive, I feel they need to become an more open platform upon which other companies and individuals can build applications. Tivo is currently being squeezed by users on the one side and the entertainment industry on the other. By creating a plugin/extension architecture, 3rd parties could begin adding value to Tivo platform, without burdening Tivo with the cost of development, support or legal liability. Tivo needs to give people a reason to keep their boxes and their service, especially as other companies begin offering far more compelling hardware & software. Otherwise, Tivo is going to become the Kleenex of DVRs. Nobody carries around handkerchiefs any more, everyone uses disposable facial tissues. People still call them Kleenex, but almost everyone buys generic.
  2. Tivo has much too limited an idea of what a DVR can be/do. Here you have a general purpose computing device connected up to TV, phone and/or network connections. How about creating the first widely successful video phone? How about VOIP? How about displaying caller-id info on screen when the phone rings, so that you can decide whether to pause the TV or go on watching? How about some truely interactive TV? How about TV based networked games? Tivo could be used for unimaginably many things. Just like the PC moved beyond being a glorified word processor/spreadsheet and has become a platform to fill myriad niche uses, Tivo could be for the PERSONAL Entertainment Center what the PC has become for PERSONAL Computing. As is, Tivo has somehow stagnated into a role of being a glorified VCR.