Sunday, June 17, 2007

Tivo + HD -- no good choices

I've been a Tivo addict since the first DirecTivo boxes came out.  After getting a big screen TV, the standard definition picture looks pretty bad (especially as it seems that DirecTV compresses the hell out of their signals to make room for more pay-per-view channels.)  So we wanted to upgrade to some sort of HD service, but of course Tivo is a must (no third-party DVRs -- no one who has had both a third-party DVR and Tivo has ever said anything good about the third-party DVRs.) 

Option 1: DirecTV's HD Tivo.  This was released a few years back, but is going to be incompatible with the HD locals that DTV is rolling out, which will be using a different encoding.  (Some people have combined this solution with OTA HD, but I have no interest in playing games with antennas.)  And DTV has yet to roll out HD locals in this area anyway, and there's little sign they're coming soon.  So even if there was HD local channels here, there's no Tivo solution that can record them, only the DirecTV DVR.

Option 2: Digital cable + Series3 Tivo.  This seems like the obvious choice, except for the high cost of the Tivo box (600+, plus the increased cost of the Tivo data service which I'd been insulated from since DTV customers were grandfathered in at the low rates). TivoToGo or MRV on the Series3 yet, which means you can't transfer videos to the video iPod.  This has to do with content restrictions surrounding their CableCard certification, but annoying it applies not only to protected HD but also to unprotected SD content.  Ugh.  (As to MRV, if you have two Series3 Tivos with CableCards, why is there a problem moving the content from one Tivo to another?) 

Option 3: Comcast DVR with Tivo.  Comcast did a deal with Tivo where you can get their Motorola DVR and upgrade to Tivo software as it is rolled out.  But its going to be a long time before the rollout reaches here. 

MythTV is not an option; you can't put a CableCard in a MythTV box. 

So far, no hacks have appeared for the Series3 (other than those that involve reprogramming the PROM and resoldering it) that get around these restrictions.

We're going to bite the bullet and go with Option 2, and hope that eventually Tivo resolves its dispute with CableLabs and reinstates some form of TivoToGo and/or MRV.


  1. I agree -- the world of HD DVR is pretty lame right now. I've had a series 1 and series 2 Tivo and loved them, but switched to the Comcast dual tuner HD DVR a couple years ago. The Comcast box is garbage -- I should say "boxes" because I've gone through at least 3 of them. At least it's dual tuner (so I can record two shows at once), the HD quality is good enough for me, there's no upfront cost, and the rental fee isn't terrible, but the software absolutely sucks and they recently added a very annoying banner ad at the bottom of the program listing (using up valuable real estate).

    I'd go with DirecTivo but they seem to have switched to some crappy DVR. I've heard/read good things about the DISH PVR, but I've had a bad experience with DISH Network (terrible installation and customer service) and I'm not sure I'm ready to go back. I'm actually moving in a couple of weeks and I'm trying to decide what I'm going to do. It's probably going to be either DirecTV or Comcast -- maybe I'll try to get them to bid against each other.

  2. Ordered the Series3 and got Comcast Digital Cable installed yesterday. So far, only one of the CableCards is working, but the Tivo doesn't realize it, so it ends up outclevering itself a lot. Comcast coming tomorrow to try and fix, I'll have more detail then. I did notice that my receiver seems to be confused every time the Tivo switches video modes over HDMI; for the time being, I put the Tivo into a mode where it just always upconverts to 1080i, and told the receiver to take the analog audio instead of digital, but these are nasty workarounds. HDMI switching is still pretty new, and it wasn't a very high-end receiver, so I'll replace it someday with something better.

    Comcast digital cable takes more time to switch channels than DirecTV -- didn't think that was possible. But the quality for SD does appear to be better than the SD quality on DirecTV (less compression?), and the HD does look good. Still not sure if Tivo has figured out to always prefer the HD channel over the SD on the season's pass yet. Stay tuned.

  3. Update; TTG finally came to Series3. I tried TivoDesktopPlus (which has an automated transfer from Tivo, reencode, push to iTunes), but found that the video and audio encodings got out of sync; instead now using ffmpeg to do the H.264 reencode.

  4. I remember hearing that DirecTV and Tivo are once again working on new DirecTV Tivo boxes. To be released as a premium upgrade sometime towards the end of this year if I remember correctly.