Leo Laporte's Guide to TiVo

Leo Laporte's Guide to TiVo

by Leo Laporte, Gareth Branwyn
Written by Leo Laporte - one of the most widely recognized voices in consumer technology today - along with Gareth Branwyn, a veteran Wired magazine writer, editor book author and certified "TiVo-holic." Sure, there are other TiVo books out there, but none, and we mean none, are written with real users in mind. All of the competitor books assume that the reader is a


Written by Leo Laporte - one of the most widely recognized voices in consumer technology today - along with Gareth Branwyn, a veteran Wired magazine writer, editor book author and certified "TiVo-holic." Sure, there are other TiVo books out there, but none, and we mean none, are written with real users in mind. All of the competitor books assume that the reader is a Linux programming, certifiable geek. We assume two things and two things only - one, you have a TiVo, and two, you love your TiVo. That's it. We arm you with the information you need to grab your tools, pop the hood on your series 1 or series 2 TiVo, and get to work: adding more storage space, networking your TiVo, adding more cache memory, and more. Not only for the hardcore hardware hacker, we cover everything from doing it all yourself, to using a prepared upgrade kit (no computer required!), to even sending it to a service center and having them do all the heavy lifting. Leo Laporte's Guide to TiVo is as user-friendly as TiVo itself, a book you can start utilizing right away, but that grows in sophistication and detail as your mastery of TiVo grows. We cover basic advice on buying, setting up, and using your TiVo, to more in-depth coverage of advanced software features and the most popular hardware hacks (such as adding more storage space and networking your TiVo).

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IntroductionWhat in Sam Hell Is a "TiVo"?

If you're new to TiVo—and the whole concept of digital video recorders (DVR)—we'd like to take a few minutes to enthuse over how much media-manipulating fun you're in for. If you already have a TiVo, you'll likely smile at the very question of "what is TiVo?" 'cause you know the discoveries that await the asker. You also know how challenging it can be to explain all facets of TiVo to the newcomer.

The unenlightened description of TiVo is that it's a digital answer to the VCR. With a few presses of a remote control while scanning an onscreen programming guide, you can set your TiVo to record your favorite TV shows and movies. No more entering in times, dates, or channels, and no more resetting that damn clock every time the power goes out (or watching it blink "12:00" for days 'til you get around to resetting it). Once programmed, TiVo will record desired programs to a hard drive (or drives) inside the TiVo unit. There are no more VHS tapes to buy, insert, eject, lose, or to pile up like plastic stalagmites in the corners of your family room.

But TiVo is far more than a tapeless video recorder. At its core, it is a dedicated audio/video computer, and that means it's much smarter and more versatile than a VCR. Using the onscreen menus, you can ask your TiVo to record as many episodes of a program as you like (from one to five, or all episodes, subject to your hard drive capacity) and tell it how long you'd like to hang on to these episodes before deletion. You can also create program-recording requests (called "WishLists")that will tirelessly hunt down shows in the program guide based on titles, actors, directors, and keywords that you've entered. This ability of TiVo to lie in wait for something good to capture is an eternal delight. You can see a trailer for the theatrical release of a film on TV, create a WishList item for it immediately, and then many months later, regardless of what channel it shows up on for its television premier (and whether you happen to catch it in the program guide or not), TiVo will remember and dutifully record it for you.

Note - TiVo has become popular enough that most people know it by name and basically what it's for. But even the most evangelical user can struggle to explain all of TiVo's wonders in a casual conversation. TiVo, Inc. has answered the call with its "What is TiVo?" e-brochure for your Palm handheld. Okay, so whipping out your Palm and handing it to a friend across from you at Starbucks may seem silly, but how positively Star Trekkian: "I have the information you requested right here on my dataslate!" Make it so at http://www.tivo.com/

Then there's the ability to pause, rewind, and fast-forward through "live" TV. You can't imagine how spiffy this is! You know the drill: You're just sitting down to an episode of Jeopardy to impress your kids with your frightening intellect (who cares if they're still in diapers?), when the phone rings. Or you're about to marvel at the surrealist splendor of the so-not-funny-it's-almost-funny "Will it Float?" segment on Letterman, when baby wakes up wailing. Pre-TiVo? You missed out on the entire Potent Potables category on Jeopardy and you never found out that a 10-pound box of dog biscuits does, in fact, float. Post-TiVo? You just hit the Pause button, answer your phone, your baby, the call of nature, the siren song of the fridge, etc. and pick up right where you left off. The incoming TV signal is constantly being temporarily stored (buffered) to the hard drive, so when you come back to your easy chair, you can fast- forward through the commercials (or the next goofy Letterman bit), if you'd like.

And this is only scratching the surface! There are many more things that TiVo can do as-is (such as recording programs it thinks you might like) and many official and unofficial ways you can upgrade, add to, and improve TiVo to make it do even more. A vibrant community of users has arisen online and they love to share advice, tips, tricks, how-tos, and sophisticated hardware and software hacks for making TiVo the best darn TV computer it can be. Once you experience TiVo itself, the good vibes and great support of the online TiVo community, and the way that digital video recording can change your life (okay, your media life, anyway), we think you'll become as rabid a TiVo spokesbot as most other TiVo owners.



Tip - If you'd like to take a peek at the fanatical TiVo community we're talking about, point your browser to—where else?—tivocommunity.com.

Why Are We Shouting?

We get worked up over TiVo (and DVR technology in general) because we think it's the greatest bit of lifestyle kit to come along since...what? The TV? The answering machine? The computer? The cell phone? All of these personal tech-tools seriously altered the way we live, work, socialize, get information, and communicate. TiVo is sort of like an answering machine for your TV. Before answering machines, you had to pick up the phone or miss calls. Answering machines suddenly gave you control. You could monitor calls, skip messages, save messages, and delete messages. It was "telephone your way" (to steal a slogan from TiVo, Inc.). A DVR gives you a similar type of control over television. You can store up the incoming messages...er...shows and watch them whenever you like. You can skip over the annoying parts (think of commercials as calls from your mother-in-law) or back up and relive those choice moments (think of Jessica Simpson's "Chicken by the Sea" comment as the TV equivalent of your uncle Louie's drunken New Year's Eve message).

And if you have a mixed marriage of a TV addict and a TV-phobe, TiVo can even help maintain marital harmony! Watch one (recorded) show while you record another. And who needs to know that you're watching half a dozen stored up episodes of Elimidate while nobody's around? "Honestly honey, I don't know how those got on there. They must be some of those misguided TiVo's suggestions. Frisky TiVo!"

Note - One of the first questions that newbies ask is: "What the heck does 'TiVo' stand for?" It's obvious what the "T" and the "V" are about, but how did the "i" and the "o" get in there and what do they mean? According to TiVo, Inc. they mean nothing; it's just a made-up word that they thought was fun-sounding. First there was TeeVee; now there's TiVo.

Gareth On...

I was sent one of the first ReplayTV models to review on my hardware review website (streettech.com). I wasn't really sure what I was going to think of this odd gadget, but it didn't take long for me to fall madly in love with it. My wife, not a big TV watcher, fell for it too, especially its ability to pause a show to attend to the phone, laundry, going over junior's homework, etc. About two weeks into our newfound DVR bliss, in the middle of Friends, there was a knock at the door. She got up to answer it and said, "Pause it." "I can't!" I blurted in a panic, "we're live through the VCR!" I was recording something on the ReplayTV and so had switched over to watch live TV through the VCR's TV tuner. After my wife answered the door, we had a good laugh over our panicked reaction. Nearly overnight, pausing live television had become a birthright.

Why TV Will Never Be the Same Again

It is unfortunate that TiVo has been so slow in catching on. DVRs have been around since 1999, and yet, as of this writing, there are only a few million units in circulation. But this is starting to change. Every technology has a watershed moment, an event that widely demonstrates its usefulness and propels it into the mainstream. For the radio, it was FDR's Fireside Chats in the '30s. For the TV, it was the Milton Berle Show (when the nation would nearly shut down on Tuesday nights in the late '40s/early '50s). Many argue that the Internet came into its own with the online publication of the Starr Report. For the cell phone, it was probably the 9/11 tragedy, where cell phone calls from the doomed planes and struck towers became a central part of the drama (and cell phone sales spiked in its wake). For TiVo, its watershed moment may, unfortunately, be the Janet Jackson/Justin Timberlake "wardrobe malfunction" at the 2004 Super Bowl. The next day, everyone was talking, not only about the incident itself, but the fact that TiVo users had looked at the moment over and over again, making it the most rewound TV event since TiVo, Inc. began tracking anonymous viewer information in 2000. TiVo was even mentioned by FCC chairman Michael Powell (a devout TiVo fan) in discussing the incident and calling for an indecency investigation. Since then, it seems as though TiVo is suddenly on everybody's radar.

Gareth On...

In 2001, I was asked to speak at the annual NATPE (National Association of TV Production Executives) convention in Las Vegas. The panel was on the future of television and the Web. TiVo, Inc. had a booth at the convention, but in general, the TV execs seemed strangely unaware of this revolutionary new technology. During the talk, I told the audience that, since DVRs had entered my life, I hadn't watched a single TV commercial. There might as well have been fainting in the aisles and projectile vomiting; the looks on their collective faces were breathtaking. I was actually watching the captains of an industry being blindsided by the future. Many of them skipped the all-you-could-eat Krispy Kreme donuts and Starbucks coffee being served after the talk and made a beeline for the TiVo booth instead.

There is no doubt in the mind of anyone who owns a TiVo (or other DVR) that this is the future of television and that there's just no going back. DVR technology is unique in that it's hard to describe to someone who hasn't experienced it, and even harder to get that same person to shut up about it once they have. We've never heard of a single person who's tried a TiVo and decided that it wasn't for them. In fact, we've even heard of people so dedicated to the life-changing impact of TiVo that they buy and install units for their family and friends, promising that they'll take the TiVos back to the store within 30 days if they're unhappy. Nobody's ever unhappy. What other technologies can you say this about?The Future of TiVo (and DVRs in General)

It's not a question of if; it's a question of when. Eventually, everyone will have a digital video recorder attached to his or her TV set. The future of all home media—TV, music, radio, gaming, photography—is digital. Hardware manufacturers and service providers are scrambling to try to create the technology that will serve as the conduit to this all-digital, all-networked home media future. So far, this has created a bloat of digital devices clustered around your TV set: game boxes, DVRs, DVD decks, set-top Internet devices, satellite radio receivers, cable boxes, MP3 players, along with various hybrid combinations of these. But still, the long-promised convergence has yet to materialize and it doesn't look like it'll be happening anytime soon.

There are glimmers, however, of what this future might look like in today's expanded TiVo functions. The current Series 2 TiVos have built-in network capabilities, and with the Home Media Feature, they can become part of your wired or wireless home computer network. From here, you can schedule TiVo recordings over the Internet, share TiVo programs between multiple Series 2 TiVos in your house, and view digital photos on your TiVo that are stored on your computer. You can also listen to digital music stored on your PC through TiVo and your home stereo system. And by using third-party software, such as the (free) JavaHMO, you can add other functions to TiVo, such as Internet radio and viewing local weather maps and movie listings.

Note - If you have a TiVo (or when you get one and start using it), you'll notice special programming showing up in your Now Playing program list under the curious name "TeleWorld Paid Programming." TeleWorld was the original name for TiVo, so it lives on in this content title. Thank goodness they changed it, or we'd be asking each other, "Did you TeleWorld last night's Crank Yankers?"

Within the last year, TiVo, Inc. has made some announcements and created new partnerships that speak of their desire to stay competitive in a rapidly expanding DVR market:

  • HD TiVo—The future of television is obviously high-definition (or HD) TV. For several years now, TiVo has been showing off a standalone HD TiVo prototype, but it's unlikely we'll see such a product anytime soon. TiVo needs a partner in crime to handle the development costs, and cable companies (now hawking their own DVRs) aren't interested. TiVo does now offer (through their partnership with Hughes) an HD DirecTV with TiVo, for DirecTV satellite subscribers who own HD sets.

  • TiVoToGo—As we write this, TiVo has just announced its TiVoToGo service, which will allow owners of Series 2 TiVos to send recorded TiVo programs to your desktop computer for viewing there or for burning onto DVDs for viewing on a laptop.

  • XM Satellite Radio—While the details are currently unknown, a partnership with this satellite radio provider likely means that TiVo, Inc. plans to offer satellite radio as a future TiVo add-on service.

  • BravoBrava—This partner has developed software that will allow owners of Series 2 TiVos with HMO to schedule recordings from cell phones and other mobile devices.

  • Adobe and Picasa—Partnerships with these two software companies will allow TiVo Home Media users (Series 2 only) more tools for and access to their digital photo libraries across their home network.

  • Strangeberry—The acquisition of this small Palo Alto, CA start-up by TiVo, Inc. in early 2004 created a flood of speculation and rumor online. The company, started by former employees of Sun Microsystems, was allegedly developing home networking applications (they had no actual products) when TiVo scooped them up (and their website basically went dark). The general speculation is that Strangeberry is developing plug and play tools that will allow more digital media devices to be effortlessly integrated into TiVo's growing Home Media network.

TiVo, Inc. stands at a critical juncture. Cable giants Comcast, Insight Communications, and Time Warner are now offering their digital cable customers DVR hardware and software built in to their cable boxes. While this technology has been nearly unanimously panned as inferior to TiVo, the massive subscriber bases of these companies and general public ignorance about the superior quality of TiVo could threaten its future. TiVo, now dominating the market, could quickly become the Macintosh of DVRs, superior (and more expensive) tech that's relegated to a small, fiercely devoted market.

TiVo, Inc. is aware of these considerable threats and is attempting to expand its partnerships with hardware companies as well as extend the functionality of TiVo itself. Some have even speculated that the company's recent business moves and public statements might signal that they're planning on turning TiVo into a full-blown digital hub, a dedicated computer that manages and serves up all forms of home entertainment, not just digital video recording (with a side order of family photos and MP3s). If that's the case, it would put TiVo in the direct line of fire of another corporate juggernaut, Microsoft, who's gunning for the anticipated home digital hub boom with their Windows Media Center technology.

Tip - To find out more about Windows Media Center, check out http://www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/mediacenter/.

If TiVo is to survive, they're going to have to leverage and license like crazy. Part of the reason why the cable companies' DVRs stink is that TiVo owns a boatload of patents related to digital video recording. The cable companies' DVR makers, such as Scientific Atlanta, have to skirt these patents, and that's led to bad interfaces and limited capabilities. Hopefully, TiVo will eventually be able to convince these companies to license their superior TiVo software. TiVo also has its name recognition going for it. TiVo'd has become a verb, for heaven's sake! And as someone pointed out on an online forum, "You don't hear Carrie and Miranda discussing their super-groovy Scientific Atlanta DVRs on Sex & the City." TiVo, Inc. should be able to use that household name recognition to its advantage as it moves forward.

Whatever TiVo's future, today's TiVo sets the standard for digital video recording. It is a consumer electronics device that, overnight, becomes an indispensable and fun-to-use entertainment tool, and takes something you've known all of your life—television—and drop-kicks it to a whole new level. So Why This Book?

There are several TiVo books already on the market, but they're mainly targeted at hardcore hackers who already know a lot about computer hardware and software and want to delve deeper into TiVo's fiddly bits. We wanted to create a book that would appeal to a much broader TiVo audience, from the newbie to the "power user" to the dedicated gadgeteer. We wanted to create a book that was as user-friendly as TiVo itself that you could start utilizing right away, but that would grow in sophistication and detail as your mastery of TiVo grows.

We've tried to cover the range of what TiVo users might be looking for in such a guide, from basic advice on buying, setting up, and using your TiVo, to more in-depth coverage of advanced software features and the most popular hardware hacks (such as adding more storage space and networking your TiVo).

The book is divided into three main sections.Part 1: TiVo Tweaking (Warranty-Friendly Fun)

Everything you ever wanted to know about what TiVo can do (but were afraid to ask), from the very basic to the most advanced. Remote control tricks and shortcuts, enabling hidden features, sophisticated WishList creation and management, getting the most out of TiVo's Suggestions feature: It's all here. Plus: a buyer's guide, a brief tutorial on understanding audio/video tech, how to set up multiple TiVos, useful accessories for TiVo, and more.Part 2: Hardware Hacking (Machine-Monkeying Madness)

Here we'll help you gather up the chutzpah and arm you with the information you need to grab your tools, pop the hood on your Series 1 or Series 2 TiVo, and get to work: Adding more storage space, networking your TiVo, adding more cache memory, and more. Not only for the hardcore hardware hacker, we cover everything from doing it all yourself, to using a prepared upgrade kit (no computer required!), to even sending it to a service center and having them do all the heavy lifting.Part 3: Software Bashing (Playing with Your Penguin)

In this section, we get all ones and zeros on you, heading down the rabbit hole into the heart of the TiVo OS. If you're on a Series 1 machine and want to add Internet-based scheduling and other third-party apps, here's where we show you how. If you have a Series 2 machine and want to add apps like JavaHMO, we'll show you, step-by-step, how to do that too. We'll also cover the many TiVo apps and utilities found on the accompanying CD-ROM.

The book also includes a Resources section, with details on the best TiVo-related books, parts and kit vendors, Web resources, and online communities, and a glossary of jargon and slang related to TiVo and digital entertainment tech.

This book is written by two guys who love technology...when it works. TiVo is technology that works. We're enthusiastic about this tech, what it can do now and what it promises for the future, and we hope some of this enthusiasm rubs off on you. If you're new to TiVo, this book will serve as a handy companion as you learn about and explore this innovative new technology. If you're an old TiVo dog, we still think we've got a few cool tricks to teach you that will allow you to maximize your TiVo experience.

So what are you waiting for, people? Those 200 channels aren't going to watch themselves!

© Copyright Pearson Education. All rights reserved.

Meet the Author

Leo Laporte has made it his mission to help people master technology since 1984, working as an author, speaker and radio and television broadcaster. He hosted two shows on TechTV and is currently a regular contributor to television programs such as "ABC's World News Now" and "Live with Regis and Kelly."

Gareth Branwyn is a well-known technology journalist and self-proclaimed "reluctant geek." He is writer and editor for Wired, ID and Esquire magazines, and he has written many books on technology topics including Absolute Beginner's Guide to Building Robots and Mosaic Quick Tour (the first World Wide Web book ever published).

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