Talking ’bout a TiVo-lution

Imagine you were unlucky enough to be in the bathroom during the Superbowl halftime show and missed Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction.” You would be absolutely devastated that you missed this legendary moment in television history; that is, unless you have TiVo – the digital VCR-like box that lets you pause live television. All you have to do is press the pause button and rewind back to the now-infamous moment of indecency to watch it over and over again. It’s as if you never missed it! In fact, the Janet/Justin incident caused the largest increase – 180 percent – in TiVo audience reaction ever, according to a statement from TiVo.

Yet most Americans do not know much about TiVo. Only one million households across the United States have TiVo out of an estimated 100 million with television sets. Such numbers would seem to suggest that TiVo is merely a niche device, but owners said they believe users will grow.

“TiVo changes lives,” GW freshman Mike Zeeck said.

If you are part of the 70 percent of Americans (Forrester Research) who are not aware of TiVo’s existence, then consider this your introduction. TiVo is the very future of television. It gives you complete control over what programs you want to watch and when you want to watch them. Once you have experienced that freedom, you will never want to go back to regular television again.

How TiVo works

Imagine TiVo as an all-in-one computer hard drive, VCR and TV Guide channel about the size and shape of a VCR. The technical term for TiVo is “digital video recorder” because it uses a computer hard drive to record television. TiVo plugs into your cable, television and phone lines in order to download all the program listings on television for the next two weeks. TiVo has two main features – pausing live television and recording 40 or more hours of your favorite television shows. And it is operated by an easy-to-use remote control.

Using simple on-screen software interface, TiVo allows a viewer to select any program to record onto its hard drive. Searching for shows can be done by title, time, actors, channels and a variety of other options. The viewer can then watch the recorded program at any time, even while TiVo is recording another program. TiVo owners can then pause, rewind and fast-forward the recorded TV shows, and even watch them in slow motion or 3x fast-forward. After watching the recorded program, the owner can delete it to make room for other recordings, or hold onto it.

TiVo also has rudimentary artificial intelligence technology; it tracks programs the viewer often watches and then begins to record similar programming. Today’s TiVo models can hold 40, 80 or 120 hours of recorded programs, depending on the recording quality selected. Every few days TiVo makes a brief local phone call – about 10 minutes long – to download the next two weeks program listings and descriptions.

TiVo also has the ability to pause live television by simply pressing the bright yellow button on the remote control. Once pressed, TiVo records from that point on, allowing couch potatoes to grab a snack, go to the bathroom or make a phone call, and then resume the program from where it was paused. It also has an instant replay feature, perfect for watching sports.

What this all adds up to is a device that is revolutionizing television.

“TiVo separates time from TV,” Zeeck said.

Zeeck purchased TiVo as a Christmas present for his father with his brother Phil, a junior at GW.

“You watch what you want when you want to watch it,” he said.

With TiVo, people no longer have to be in front of their television sets when their favorite TV show airs, or worry about programming the VCR.

What TiVo costs

The Series 2 TiVo recorder is available in two models, with recording capability at 40 or 80 hours. The sets cost $199 and $299, respectively. New models also integrate TiVo with Dish Network satellite receivers, as well as DVD players and DVD recorders with prices from $500 to $1,200.

TiVo or TiVo-like devices, such as Replay TV, are expected to become more common in the next few years as the technology is integrated into low-cost digital cable boxes and satellite receivers.

There is a $12.95 monthly charge for the TiVo service or a onetime fee of $299 for a lifetime subscription. TiVo owner Matthew Schonfield, a senior at Princeton University, recommends paying the $299 for the lifetime subscription. He said the monthly charge is a “suckers’ game” and added that the lifetime subscription “pays for itself after two years.”

TiVo sets can be purchased at electronic stores such as Best Buy or Circuit City, as well as online at Amazon.com and TiVo.com.

Who uses TiVo

This marriage of convenience and freedom has led to an unusually devoted TiVo following, with vocal supporters calling themselves “TiVoholics” or “TiVangelists.” The widely held point of view among TiVo owners is that there are two kinds of people in the world: those who understand because they have TiVo, and those who do not.

Seventy percent of TiVo users are between the ages of 25 and 44. Although it is not uncommon for college students to have TiVo, most who do either have it at home or are new users.

Devoted TiVo fans include an impressive roster of celebrities. Jon Stewart frequently mentions TiVo on Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show.” Donny Osmond loves his TiVo so much that he travels everywhere with it. Also, last December, Sports Illustrated named TiVo “The Greatest Invention, Period.” TiVo has even made it into story lines on popular TV shows. Who can forget Miranda’s obession with “Jules and Mimi” on HBO’s “Sex and the City” this summer?

While the beauty of TiVo is in its enormous utility value – it “liberates you from the hegemony of network scheduling,” as Schonfield put it – it also holds some danger.

“It is not a productivity enhancer,” Schonfield said, adding that the product becomes dangerous because you may feel compelled to watch everything you have saved because it’s so easy.

But for many, TiVo is well worth the risk of becoming a helpless couch potato. It is television as it was meant to be – your favorite programming, without interruption, at your beck and call. Once you go TiVo, you’ll never go back.

TiVo tips and tricks

30-Second Commercial Skip

To enable TiVo’s 30 second Commercial Skip button, turn on a recorded program and press the “select,” “play,” “select,” “3,” “0” and “select” buttons on the remote control, in that order. You should hear three chimes. Your “advance-to-the-end-of-the-program” button is now a far more useful “30-second skip” button, perfect for forwarding over commercials.

Setting up TiVo to work with the GW residence hall phone system

Setting up TiVo to work with the GW residence hall phone system takes a little bit of work but is not impossible. You simply need to know the local TiVo number to dial to download your listings and your six-digit personal phone code. To set TiVo to dial from a residence hall, go to the phone dialing options menu and set the dial prefix as follows: 9,12022221021 ,, then your personal phone code. You must dial 9 to get an outside line, then the comma to tell TiVo to pause before dialing 1-202-222-1021, which is the local TiVo number. Then insert two commas to give TiVo more time to pause before adding your personal phone code. So if your personal phone code is 123456, your final dial prefix should be this: 9,12022221021,,123456.

Voila! Welcome to the miracle of TiVo.

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