TiVo Series 3 – Facts and Fiction
Tuesday, September 12 was an exciting day for TiVo, as Series 3 (S3 for short) was officially released. S3 is the first TiVo device to support CableCards and paves new ground in consumer DVR.
There's a lot of confusion over TiVo S3, as demonstrated by the outpouring of negative feedback by TiVo fans. They'reconcerned over the high price and apparent lack of popular features like TiVo-To-Go and unit-to-unit video streaming.
Let's clear up some TiVo Series3 confusion:
The high price reflects TiVo's view that this is not a product aimed for the general consumer – it targets the high-end market. The S3 is the first DVR to ever be THX certified, and sports high-end features like native resolution output. (It also supports fixed resolution output, which is common in most DVRs today). Native output is important to the high-end market because it allows us to use dedicated external video scalers. The S3 also sports a true learning IR remote so we can control equipment not in a pre-determined IR database built into the remote (lots of high-end stuff is not on those lists).
It is also important to remember that the early adopter tax is in full effect right now. In time, the price will come down. TiVo devices have retailed in the $1,000 price range before, so this is not uncharted territory. In time, the price should come down drastically.
TiVo S3's Missing Features
Now, let's move on to the missing features. There are a number of features that are still in the works because the release deadline was already passed. Features like KidZone are supposed to be added at a later date.
Other features, like TiVo-To-Go, are in a questionable position. The reason is because TiVo had to get the S3 certified by CableLabs in order to be able to use CableCards. CableLabs doesn't like the idea of sending video from the device to another device or recording the data onto external media, and are currently disallowing such actions. In time TiVo may be able to work out a deal with CableLabs, and release these features or some derivative of these features. It's also possible we may never see these features on the S3. It is important to remember that this is not TiVo shafting their customers but the problem of dealing with CableLabs.
One other huge source of contention is the lack of inputs on the S3 to receive HD input from external sources (like a Set Top Box). This is actually due to cost constraints and technological limitations. Simply, an HD DVR works by taking the raw data from the cable company and recording it to a drive. The data is already encoded and is decoded on the way out to the TV.
Data from a DVI or HDMI port has already been decoded so in order to accept this, it must be re-encoded by the TiVo before storage on disk. Encoding data is a much more complicated process than decoding data for playback – it would take an immense amount of processing power in order to encode data in real-time (which the TiVo would have to do). If you thought an $800 price tag was bad, imagine the $3,000+ price tag of a unit that packed this extra power!
For most people, the HD DVR they are renting from their MSO is more than good enough. TiVo knows this and can't really compete against a unit that you rent for $10 / month. If you want to have the luxury of TiVo's service, however, or if you want to get access to high-end features and top-notch hardware, TiVo is more than happy to step in…but it'll cost you.
Stan is the lead designer and founder of Binary Metal. Binary Metal is a leading-edge designer of control and automation software for homes, home theaters, and computer-based media systems.