Review: TiVo Australia + Blockbuster On Demand

Overview TiVo is a DVR that has had a long heritage overseas, but has only arrived in Australia last year. In Australia we pay a once off up front...

TiVo Australia

Overview
TiVo is a DVR that has had a long heritage overseas, but has only arrived in Australia last year. In Australia we pay a once off up front cost, rather than a subscription model offered elsewhere. Avoiding another monthly subscription I think is inviting to many and with the features described below I think the TiVo appeals to anyone with a HDTV.

Size
TiVo contains a 160GB Hard Drive. This allows for around 30 hours of HD recording, coming soon is an external 1TB eSATA drive. This allows up to 230 hours of HD, but no pricing details yet. Unfortunately choosing your own external storage is out of the question, TiVo forces you to purchase their own proprietary drive. 

TiVo 1TB Expander Drive eSATA

Interface
TiVo Australia Interface
The interface while reasonable styled, could definitely benefit from some spit and polish. The loading icon especially is overly large and low-quality and you’ll be seeing it a lot. The TiVo won’t break any speed records, loading pages can take between 2 –5 seconds. This is heightened when connecting to network resources like in the “Music, Photos and Showcases” menu. I hope a firmware update will speed things up, although I fear its a limitation of the hardware inside the box.

Price
Prior to TiVo Australia’s launch last year, I was seriously considering buying it at launch. When pricing was announced ($699) that changed my decision.

Despite the price not dropping (I still think it needs it’s too expensive for most consumers), TiVo now provides more functionality, making the deal better value for money. The thing that really sealed the deal for me was the TiVo partnership with Internode. Also make sure you look around I managed to pickup TiVo for $610 from Harvey Norman.

This allows downloads of multiple GB video downloads from Blockbuster On Demand (see below) without counting towards our monthly download quota. (40GB).

Online Scheduling
TiVo Australia 
One of the best features of TiVo is the ability to schedule shows to record via the internet while your away from home. TiVo Australia’s association or tie in with Channel 7 means that you’ll need a Yahoo account. What’s really lacking is the ability to remotely subscribe to a season pass for a show.

Whilst this feature is great in concept, the reality is that it doesn’t always work. Despite it appearing to have worked correctly, a number of times I’ve received a message on TiVo explaining that show xyz could not be found. This needs to be fixed and and fixed quickly.

TiVo iPhone App

tivo iphone app
Whilst you can schedule your shows via the web, if your out and about and need to record a show, the ideal solution would be to create an mobile app that lets you schedule from anywhere. Being an iPhone user TiVo Australia could really benefit from an iPhone Application, not only that allows scheduling and management of season passes, but viewing and editing your scheduled downloads as well as using your iPhone as a remote for the TiVo. Simple swipe gestures would work great for this as the TiVo interface is controlled by up, down, left, right navigation.

Obviously other mobile devices shouldn’t be left out, but the popularity of the iPhone and iPod touch would make a great starting point.

Searching the App Store for “Tivo” reveals a number of applications that claim to work with TiVo, but don’t work with TiVo Australia. If anyone knows of an existing application, then please leave a comment.

Obviously you can use mobile Safari to browse to the Yahoo 7 TV guide page, but as we know that’s really not the same experience as a dedicated application.

Season Pass
One of my favourite features is the ability to subscribe to shows you like and then TiVo takes care of the rest. This means if your favourite show is rescheduled then TiVo will adjust it’s recording schedule accordingly ensuring you don’t miss your show.

Remote 
TiVo Australia Remote

This is my largest complaint with TiVo – The Remote. It seems that no-one at TiVo actually used the remote before stuffing it in the box. If they had, they’d quickly discover that it fails in 2 key ways. The first is the layout of the buttons. The most commonly used items should within easy reach as your control rests in your hand, requiring minimal effort to operate. The TiVo remote requires constant shifting of it position in your hand, almost like climbing up and down the remote.

The second failure is the ability to distinguish key buttons without looking at the control. This is especially important in dark environments considering the control isn’t backlit.

Dual HD Tuners
Very few DVRs are offering dual HD tuners right now, Tivo does and it’s brilliant. This provides the flexibility to record 2 of your favourite shows at the same time without becoming a problem if they both happen to be in HD. As delivering free-to-air HD content increases this will increasingly become an issue for single HD tuner DVRs, so TiVo is really a device for the future.

Feature Expansion
More than just a dumb box, TiVo’s internet connectivity allows for updates and additions to the feature set over time. The Home Networking Package and Blockbusters On Demand are two examples of this. In the future I hope to see support added for online delivery of content such as podcasts and video streaming sites (i.e. YouTube) to bring the Australian TiVo into line with its US counterpart.

Home Networking Package
TiVO Australia Home Networking Package
For an additional $99 (until April 1st, then $199), you can connect your TiVo with your home network. This enables you to stream co
ntent from you computer via the TiVo to your TV. For those of us who already own an Xbox 360 or PS3, this won’t be a draw card feature, however it is nice to have this and DVR functionality all in one box.

The Home Networking Package also lets you download a desktop client to get content from your TiVo to your desktop or laptop, and even transcode for mobile devices.

TiVo Desktop Plus

More info @ http://tivo.com.au/whatistivo/tivois/newfeatures/homenetworking/

TiVo Desktop Plus on Windows 7
Just as a side not to this review, anyone running the Windows 7 beta may have experienced issues inputting their TiVo Desktop Plus Upgrade key, here is some instructions to get it working.

1. Start Regedit
2. Find HKEY_CURRENT_USERSoftwareTiVoDesktop
3. Modify the PlusUpgradeLicenseKey entry
4. Enter your key

Blockbuster On Demand
image

One great feature is that you can start to play the movie before it’s finished downloading. This means as long as your connection is fast enough you can let the movie buffer for a couple of minutes, then start play the movie and not see any buffering. Testing on an ADSL2 connection works great.

Unfortunately there’s no ability to see the download speed or remaining time left to download. The only way of knowing if the movie is ready to play is by checking the ‘Now Playing’ menu.

After beginning playback you’ll have 2 days to watch or re-watch the movie before it’s removed from your TiVo. This is a reasonable timeframe that allows for interruptions but still satisfies the movie studios.

So far there’s been 2 movies (1 per week), the first being Big Daddy staring Adam Sandler which around 2GB. This was fantastic quality even when playing back on a 52” screen. There was some artefacts during playback so while Blu-ray still remains the best method of delivering premium video quality, Blockbuster On Demand quality is more than adequate.

The same cannot be said about the 2nd movie of the week – Hook staring Robin Williams, despite it being over 3GB, it’s only delivered in SD (or 576i).

Whilst the size and diversity of the catalogue is important, the biggest question will be price. Blockbuster is yet to announce what price movies will rent for, but one great advantage of renting this way is you’ll never get slapped with late fees.

Overall
To put it simply, the price is too high. TiVo has an opportunity to become default option for DVRs in Australia. The limited sales numbers since launch confirm this. Partnering with TV manufacturers to offer a HDTV + TiVo bundle would certainly move units and seems long overdue.

The details of the Blockbuster On Demand movie store will reveal just how important that Internode unmetered partnership is. If it turns out to be popular, Internode will definitely receive an influx of subscribers and they’re involvement should be really applauded.

Having had my TiVo for less than a week, it’s already become a fundamental part of my home theatre setup, I’d suggest anyone else when a HDTV should definitely check it out !

More @ TiVo Australia

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Creator of techAU, Jason has spent the dozen+ years covering technology in Australia and around the world. Bringing a background in multimedia and passion for technology to the job, Cartwright delivers detailed product reviews, event coverage and industry news on a daily basis.