Drobo Firewire 800 Review


My buddies have been raving about Drobo for over a year. For some reason I was just not getting it. Maybe it was the name or the tagline of “data robot” that was throwing me. Anytime someone mentioned Drobo, I would have a vision of a robotic arm that would move drives from slot to slot.


What is Drobo?

Well, I finally took a closer look. Drobo is not a robot! At least not in the mechanical sense. Drobo is a 4 bay hard drive array (RAID) that continuously monitors the health of the drives you install. Drobo automatically combines the drives you install into a single volume mounted on your desktop. The drives are also automatically mirrored/stripped for data protection. For example, if you put in two 750GB drives you will only have 696.8GB of available storage to you. This is because Drobo is using the other space (drive) to constantly protect/mirror/backup your data as it’s writing it. It’s also reserving a little bit of space so that you can hot swap out a drive if needed because you want to install a bigger one or if one is failing.


What sets Drobo apart?

I have used and written about other RAID systems. What sets Drobo apart from the rest is that it doesn’t require that the drives be the same size. You could for example start with a 750GB drive and 1TB drive. This won’t buy you any extra space if you’re only using two drives, but it will allow you to grow your available space by adding say a 3rd drive. The Drobo website has a fantastic “Drobolator” (space calculator) that will allow you to play out all your “what if” scenarios on how much space you will have depending on how many drives you install. The other thing that sets Drobo apart is the way it works with multiple drives. Drobo uses a technology called BeyondRAID. This allows it use both Mirroring and Striping. Drobo is also different in that it constantly monitors the health of your drives and doesn’t just tell you a drive has failed, but also tells you that a drive is going bad so that you can replace it BEFORE it dies. Even if you didn’t notice the warning (red light) and it died, you would still be protected as your data would be on the other drive(s) in the unit.


Great design

I love the way Drobo is designed. No screws or software to install (although the Drobo dashboard app makes it much easier to format your drive). You just pop off the magnetic cover and slide your hard drives in. The original Drobo was USB 2.0 ONLY. Many of the reviews I saw complained that this made it too slow for use as your main drive. The new Drobo is a Firewire 800 model (also has USB 2) and that makes it fast enough for regular use! The indicator lights on the front tell you all that you need to know including health of the drives and amount of space used.


What’s my configuration

I put four 1TB drives in it for a total usable capacity of 2.7TBs. Drobo is not bootable. I have it as a data drive on my Mac OS X Server. So far after a week, no major issues. It does take a few seconds longer to spin up, but that’s to be expected on any RAID system. 


Archiving, Backing up and Data Drive

The original Drobo, which was USB 2.0 only, wasn’t really fast enough to be used as a main drive. At least that’s what most people said about it. Therefore, most people looked at Drobo as an archival solution only and not for active use. Now that the Drobo has Firewire 800 support, it is fast enough to be used for your main drive or online storage. However, keep in mind that the Drobo is NOT bootable (even if you got it to work, it’s not recommended). This is why I have Drobo attached to my Mac OS X Server as a data drive, but not as the boot drive. I still boot from the internal drive which runs the Server OS and then I have the Drobo shared on my network via Mac OS X Server. Speaking of Archiving, the question becomes how much "stuff" do you need to keep? I’ve watched my server storage needs grow each year. I quickly went from a 250GB, to a 500GB, to a 750GB, then to a 1TB and now to 2.7TB’s of storage. What’s taking up so much space? You guessed it: Digital Photos, Music and Videos. I recently had a conversation about this very topic with Scott Kelby and he even wrote a blog post about this important topic with some tips. As a photographer, let’s say I do a shoot and let’s say I end up with 500 captures. I’ll do my best to narrow that down as best I can, eliminating the bad ones, the ones that are very similar or the ones that I just don’t like. Now let’s say that I’m down to 300 shots. I’ll then post a web gallery for the client, model, friend, etc. to pick the ones they want. So now let’s say they’ve picked their favorite 10 or so and I’ve picked my favorite 10 or so. Those are the ones that get retouched. Those are the ones that are delivered as the "Final" shots. So what do I do with the other 280? You guessed it, I keep them! Not once has anyone ever come back to me and said, "hey, you know those shots you took 6 months ago that I really didn’t like, well I’d like a couple of those shots now." So I literally have thousands of photos on my Drobo that will likely never see the light of day. Now keep in mind I know that family photos should be cherished and photos from wedding shoots should probably be kept, but where do you draw the line? Should those photos that no one wants (you or the client) be deleted? Should they be moved offline to some cheaper storage? Should they be deleted after so many months or years because they will likely not be needed? Everyone is going to have a different take on this. One thing I don’t trust is storing photos on a CDR or DVD as they will eventually fail. Putting them on a hard drive that you don’t use regularly could be risky too. Drives have lubricant in them that will eventually dry up or seize up if not used regularly. Online storage can be expensive too. I’m intrigued by the use of Flash drives for archival use. They are increasing in capacity and coming down in price. For example, Micro Center sells a 4GB drive for $12, a 8GB drive for $20 and a 16GB drive for $40. They are small and therefore easily stored. You could even bill it into the cost of the shoot. For example, if you were doing a portrait shoot and you expected to end up with 300 12MB RAW files, those would fit on a 4GB flash drive. So you could bill an extra $12 to store these photos. Slap a label on it, put it in an envelope and staple it to the contract/model release. However, the question of longevity still comes to mind. What’s the shelf life of these flash drives?


The bottom line

If your storage needs continue to grow, then Drobo is something that you should look at. As you need more space, you just add/replace with bigger drives. the drives are even hot swappable. You have to also remember that even though your data is much safer in a Drobo than a single drive, this doesn’t protect you in the case of a fire, flood or theft. So you should still have a strategy for offsite storage. I’m currently backing up my Drobo to an external Firewire drive (actually I rotate between two) that I put in the Safe Deposit Box at the bank. Drobo is cross platform and works on both Macs and Windows PCs. An empty Drobo (no drives) goes for $499.99. You can then buy whatever SATA drives in whatever capacities you want. You have to start with at least two. Use it for data, use it for archiving or use it for backup. If you want to share a Drobo and you don’t already have a fileserver set up, you can buy an additional piece of hardware called DroboShare ($197.48). Note: Although DroboShare has a Gigabit Ethernet connection, DroboShare connects to Drobo (up to two Drobos) via the USB 2 port and NOT the Firewire 800 port. So I wonder if that creates a bottleneck in performance? See how Drobo works from the Video demonstrations here.

iPhone App of the Week – i.TV

I never thought I would get excited about a TV guide app on my iPhone. However, if it’s well done and FAST, then I’m all in and that’s exactly what you get with i.TV. i.TV answers the question: "what’s coming on tonight?" The app is pretty straight forward. You start off by telling it where you are. Although the App supports location services, I still ended up putting in my Zip Code. Once I did, I got the choices for the providers in my area including Comcast Cable which is what I use most. As soon as a I made that my choice, that app started downloading the guide. I was on Wi-Fi at the time so the guide only took a few seconds to download. Once It was there, I could not only see the channels, but also little thumbnails for the shows that were currently on.

Great customization options

The one thing that is a must have in an app like this is the ability to narrow the list of channels down to just the ones YOU care about. I could care less about what’s on HGTV or the QVC channel. One quick trip to the "My Media" screen and I was able to edit down the list of channels to just the ones I watch.


But wait, there’s more

Not only do you get the listings for the shows, you also get a synopsis of the upcoming episode as well as a listing of upcoming episodes. If you register for an account on their site (free and optional), then you also get the ability to write reviews and give ratings.

Although there currently is no way to watch the show live on your iPhone, you can watch previews as well as see available photos from the show. There’s also a great search feature and the ability to see your listings by genre.


There are a couple of bugs

The first thing I noticed is that a few of my channels were missing! For example ABC HD in my area is on channel 231. NBC HD is 232, etc. Channels 231-234 and channel 300 (HBO) were simply not there. This wasn’t a big deal since the non HD equivalents were there (except for HBO). It was just weird that it choose not to show these channels. Perhaps on the next data update, they will appear.

This app also has a Movies/Theater option. Although my Zip Code and Country have been entered correctly, i.TV insists on showing me movies and theaters in Puerto Rico. I already have a great movies app (One Tap Movies), so I really don’t care about this feature not working, but it would be nice if this app could do both TV and Movie listings for me.  These aren’t show stopper bugs, but let’s hope the developer gets this stuff worked out soon.


My wishes for the next version

Other than fixing the bugs I noticed, I would pay money if this app could also schedule recordings on my TiVo HD. I know that the developer has no control over this, but I wish that either TiVo would release their own app or partner with these guys to add this functionality since their app already does everything else I would need.


The Bottom Line

i.TV is FREE. It’s got a couple of minor glitches (at least I ran into a couple, your mileage may vary), but they are definitely off to a GREAT start! It’s also faster than going to web based TV listing especially for jumping to a specific time or day, so it’s definitely worth a try. i.TV works on both the iPhone and iPod touch. You can download it here.

Apple TV finally gets Video Playlists!

Although I’m a fan of Apple TV, one of my biggest pet peeves is that there was no way to play music videos back to back. This made no sense to me at all. I think it’s cool that if you’re throwing a party or just having a few friends over that you could not only have music playing in the background, but also the music videos themselves. Some music videos also make for good entertainment and conversation pieces.

Well Apple finally fixed this in the most recent Apple TV software update. Not only did they add Genius Playlist support (new in iTunes 8), but they also quietly added the ability to not only play videos back to back, but also shuffle them as well.

You can build music video playlists in iTunes just like you do music playlists. As a matter of fact you can even mix the two. This way you could create a mix of your favorite songs and throw in the music videos you have without worrying about be limited to just music videos.

While we’re on this subject of fixing things, the next thing on my list is support for the iTunes visualizer. I’m still stunned that Apple doesn’t include this in the Apple TV. I guess as a work around you could record it with a screen recorder app (such as iShowU) and then add it to your library as a video and play it that way, but it’s just not the same. This feature should be built-in to the Apple TV, iPhone and iPods.


Movie Rentals Appearing Sooner

I also noticed that Apple is getting some movie rentals quicker than others. I remember being very disappointed when Steve Jobs touted the iTunes movie rental feature and then said that they would get titles to rent 30 DAYS after they made their debut on DVD. That pretty much killed it for me. I was thinking "long live Netflix!" However, I see that they are getting some titles at the same time that they come out on DVD/Blu-ray for rent.

For example, "The Happening" just came out yesterday and it’s now available on the iTunes store for rent as well.

If this trend continues, it could sway me away from Netflix. We’ll just have to wait and see.


The Bottom Line

The Apple TV continues to get better with each update. It has become an essential component in my home theater setup. Apple TV starts at $224 (40GB version) at Amazon.com.

Lightroom 2 book for Digital Photographers


People always ask me, "where do you find the time to do all that you do?" The truth of the matter is that there are only so many hours in the day. While I do love technology, have a full-time job and a family, there really isn’t enough time to do all the things that I want to do. So that means that I do have to give some things up. One of the things that I almost never have time to do is to read books. I write them, but rarely have time (make that, never have time ) to read any. So when I do read a book, it better be good and I better learn something.

That leads me to my buddy Scott Kelby’s latest Lightroom 2 book for Digital Photographers. While I do work for Adobe and use Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 2 almost daily, that doesn’t mean that I know (or remember) everything there is to know about it. I got a chance to spend some time with Scott’s book this past weekend. Scott’s new book is a complete rewrite of his first book. Lightroom has changed in so many ways and Scott wanted to make this edition even better than the first, so he pretty much started from scratch.

The step-by-step instructions are clear and to the point. The photography is great too. However, the one thing that really stands out for me in this book is that he ends each chapter with a page or two of "Quick Tips." Like I said, I already know how to use Lightroom. I use it all the time. So these tips are the little things that are often missed when you’re self-taught.

For example, here’s a Grayscale Conversion Tip from page 288:

If you click the word "Grayscale" in the HSL/Color/Grayscale panel, it converts your photo to grayscale, and it’s kind of a flat-looking conversion, but the idea is that you’ll use the color sliders to move when the photo is now in black and white? Try this: once you’ve done your conversion and it’s time to tweak those color sliders, press Shift-Y to enter the Before & After split-screen view (if it shows a side-by-side view instead, just press Shift-Y again). Now you can see the color image on the left side of the screen and the black and white (grayscale) on the right, which makes it much easier to see which color does what.

It’s little tips like this that I love and this book is full of them.


The Bottom Line

If you’re using Lightroom 2 and you want to learn more about it, this is your book. Amazon has it for $29.69.

iPhone App of the Week – EmailContact AND vCard Mailer

It never fails for me. I’ll ask one of my friends something like, "do you know a good carpenter?" Of course the answer usually is something like "yeah, I got a guy." Well I get asked for recommendations all the time. If you have someone that’s good enough to recommend, chances are that person or business is in your Contacts list. My problem with the iPhone since day one is that there was never a way to easily share a Contact with someone. So needless to say, I was pretty happy to see some apps on the App Store that actually allow you to email a contact to someone. That leads me to this week’s iPhone App of the Week:




This app allows you to select one of your contacts and email it to someone. That’s pretty much it! It converts the Contact’s info into text and puts it into the body of the message. What’s nice is that you also have the option of turning on/off various fields that you want sent or don’t want sent. For example, I sometimes put notes on my Contact records that are personal to me. So I wouldn’t want the Note field to be sent. No problem, just turn off the Note field. Or maybe you want to send the work phone number, but not the home phone. That’s not a problem either.

Like I said and show above with the first screen capture, EmailContact sends the Contact information for the Contact that you select, as text. So the recipient is going to receive the information as text in the body of the email. It would be nice if this app offered the option to also send the Contact info as a vCard.


Sadly it doesn’t, but I do have an app that does. So this week you get two iPhone app recommendations for one. I also use an app called vCard Mailer. vCard Mailer works very similarly to EmailContact, except that it sends a vCard attachment instead of text. So it really depends on what you want to send (text or vCard)? For me it depends on why I’m sending the info and who I’m sending it to. Just the other day one of my friends needed the phone number for someone that we both knew. Since the iPhone doesn’t yet have Cut/Copy/Paste, I wasn’t able to just copy the phone number to an email. So I used EmailContact to send the info that he needed. Next my wife asked me for the address of a friend of ours and I knew that she would want to put all of this particular friend’s info in her Address Book, so I sent her a vCard using vCard Mailer. This way she could just double click on the attached vCard and automatically import it into her Address Book.


The Bottom Line

Both of these apps are necessary because neither app does what the other one does. Could you get by with one or the other? Sure. However, if you want the option to send text OR vCards then you’re gonna need both. The good news is that they are both economically priced. EmailContact goes for 99¢ and vCard Mailer goes for $1.99. Both apps work on either the iPhone or iPod touch.




Bonus App of the Week – Obama ’08

OK, so now I’m going to recommend a 3rd app to take a look at. Let me start by saying that I recognize that you may or may not support Obama for president. So please don’t respond with comments on how much you love or hate him (I’ll just delete them anyway). I’m not interested in your political views just like you’re probably not interested in mine.

My point for talking about this app is that I’m impressed with the use of the technology! This app allows you to get news about the Obama campaign, see videos and even find your local Obama headquarters based on your current location (it uses Location services). There’s even a feature (Call Friends) that displays YOUR contacts in order by the battleground states (that they are in) that Obama needs to win the most so that you can call your friends and persuade them to vote. Pretty innovative, although I’m not sure that I would feel comfortable calling all my friends and trying to tell them "how" they should vote (just like I don’t want them trying to tell me how I should vote), but it’s a cool feature nonetheless. Republican or Democrat, this app is cool and very well done. Whether you support Obama or not, you should check it out from a technology stand point. I think this app could be the model for a lot of other apps that could provide similar info/features for celebrities and organizations. Get the Free Obama ’08 app here. Works with both the iPhone and iPod touch.

Although I don’t care which way you vote, I do encourage EVERYONE to get out and VOTE! This is one of the most important elections of our time!

iPhone Photo Contest!

I’m happy to announce that my NEW iPhone Book (co-authored with my buddy Scott Kelby) is on press and days away from hitting store shelves. The original iPhone Book was chosen by Amazon as their #1 Editor’s Pick for Books on Computers and Internet for 2007! Needless to say, I was floored and humbled by such an honor. So that made me work even harder on the The iPhone Book 2nd Edition. I’m very pleased with the way this new book came out! We took it to a “whole ‘nother level.”

To celebrate the new edition we’re kicking off an iPhone Photo Contest! That’s right, you could win valuable prizes by submitting your best photos taken with your iPhone’s built-in camera.


  1. You can enter up to three photos (total) taken with your iPhone (doesn’t matter if it’s the original model, or the new 3G).
  2. There are five different categories; Friends, Pets, Family, Fine Art, and Office. The winner in each category gets a $100 iTunes Gift card and a copy of “The iPhone Book” 2nd edition.
  3. The Grand prize winner gets a $500 Apple Store Gift Card, and a copy of “The iPhone Book” 2nd edition.
  4. From the photos submitted by the deadline of Oct. 24, 2008, Scott and I will choose three finalists in each category, and then the public gets to vote for the winner in each category (the one getting the most votes wins). Then, from those Winners Scott and I will choose a Grand Prize Winner on November 3, 2008.
  5. This may seem obvious, but of course, the photo has to be taken with your iPhone’s built-in camera.
  6. You can edit your photos using any iPhone application available from the iTunes Apps Store, or any other image editing application, but no other non-iPhone photos may be included in your entry (so you can’t take your iPhone photo and composite it with a photo taken with your DSLR, point-and-shoot, or a stock photo).
  7. You may not give your iPhone to Jay Maisel, Joe McNally, or Moose Peterson. Not even to make a phone call.
  8. There is no entry fee, and the contest is open to everyone; You do not have to buy “The iPhone Book” to enter, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt. 😉
  9. Whining of any kind, about anything, is strictly prohibited.
  10. You can submit your photos, and learn more about the contest at the official contest site (here’s the link).


I can’t wait to see all of your cool shots. Good luck and happy shooting!

iShowU Pro HD


I use a variety of apps that record what I’m doing on my screen. I use these apps to produce my Creative Suite Podcast, online training, tutorials and training DVDs. Although I recently became enamored with ScreenFlow, I found myself drifting back to my old favorite iShowU. When I want to do something longer and have the ability to edit it, there’s no question that ScreenFlow is the best choice. However, when I want to do something quick/down and dirty my favorite app is iShowU!

So needless to say when I saw that there was a new version of iShowU I was very excited to check it out. This NEW version of iShowU, dubbed as iShowU HD Pro offers some of my favorite features of ScreenFlow. The biggest feature of interest to me is the ability to have webcam video floating over the screen as needed. Sometimes I need a minute to explain something in more detail. I’m just talking and not really showing anything during that time. So it’s nice to be able to pop up a window of my "talking head" video and then when I’m done I can hit a key to make it go away.

Another feature that I like is the ability to show keystrokes automatically on screen. So for example, If I’m recording a tutorial on how to do something in Adobe Photoshop, I may say, "hit Command-J to duplicate the layer." As I hit that key sequence it’s displayed on screen. One cool thing that it also does is it shows an animation of each time you click so that the viewer can easily see where your mouse pointer is and where you clicked it.


Actually there are now 3 versions of this app

So far I’ve only been talking about iShowU and iShowU HD Pro. There are actually 3 version. There’s the original iShowU "classic" that we all know and love. Then there is iShowU HD and iShowU HD Pro. To see the differences between these versions, check out this handy Comparison Chart. The Pro version offered a couple of features that I wanted that the HD version didn’t offer, so I popped for the Pro version. Those features were the ability to Embed Watermarks and as I mentioned earlier, the ability to Record Keystrokes. The ability to Embed Watermarks helps me by allowing me to have my logo superimposed over the video during recording. This eliminates the need to do it in post production.


How well does it work?

I recorded my latest Creative Suite Podcast episode using iShowU HD Pro. While the app worked as advertised and I’m pleased with the end result, there are a couple of interface quirks and oddities. When I first launched iShowU HD Pro, I noticed that there is a fairly large LIVE Preview window. I still haven’t figured out what benefit it provides. You don’t see the window while you’re actually recording and I just can’t see why it’s there. Nor does there seem to be a way to turn it off. Another thing that threw me for a loop on the first day was that they include a sample Watermark. Of course they tell you this in the manual, but I usually only resort to the manual as a last resort. This was one of those times. I just couldn’t figure out that first, it was a watermark and then once I realized what it was, it took a quick peek in the manual to figure out how to turn it off/delete it.

Although I was really pleased to see the addition of recording keystrokes, the current implementation is flawed! It shows ALL keystrokes. Even the ones that you use to control iShowU HD Pro. For example, to show and hid your webcam window, you hit Command-Shift-C. Well, I don’ want that recorded as a part of my recording. Yet, it does show and record every keystroke. I finally just stopped fighting it and turned that feature off.

Lastly, I wanted to set my recording window to a specific size of 1280×720. My display preferences were set to 1280×800. While I could manually size the window to whatever size I wanted to, there was no indicator to show me what size I had just set it to. Nor was there a way to simply key in the size of the recording window that I wanted. In the standard version of iShowU, the pixel dimensions are shown in the lower right corner of the recording window as you drag it.

Although these quirks were annoying, the product performed well! Also the main reason that I like iShowU over any other product out there is that there is no post rendering process. The iShowU HD Pro version also renders in real-time as it’s recording. That’s HUGE for down and dirty recordings that you need to get done quickly! Once you stop the recording there is a Quicktime Movie of your recording sitting there waiting for you.

What about editing? Although iShowU HD Pro doesn’t have any built-in editing capabilities like ScreenFlow does, they have made it much easier to set it up so that it can be easily edited in apps like Final Cut Pro.


The Bottom Line

If you’re a Mac user and you need to record your screen, you should look at iShowU PERIOD. If you need more then check out iShowU HD or iShowU HD Pro. There have already been a couple of free updates for the app since I’ve had it. I would really like to see the quirks I’ve listed above worked out in the very near future.

iShowU goes for $20. iShowU HD goes for $29.95 and iShowU HD Pro goes for $59.95. If you have iShowU and you want iShowU HD or iShowU HD Pro you’ll be able to upgrade for basically the difference in price. Buy it here.

TiVo HD XL is here

I’m a TiVo junkie! There’s just no other way to say it. I’ve had TiVo service for years and years now. Originally I had DirecTV TiVo units (and I still have a few), sadly though DirecTV and TiVo parted ways (they are coming out with a new box in late 2009 though). So I never got the benefits of TiVo Series II. Luckily TiVo came out with TiVo HD for Cable Customers and I was all in! Technically TiVo HD is TiVo Series III (outrageously expensive and I refused to buy it!), which has all the benefits of TiVo Series II including TiVo-2-go which allows you to transfer your TiVo recordings to your computer, take them with you, burn them to DVD or transfer them to your iPod/iPhone. With TiVo HD you also get the benefit of transferring your shows between TiVo boxes.

I was all set with two TiVo HD boxes. I had one in my Theater room and one in my bedroom. There was one more place that I wanted to put a TiVo box and that was in the living room. I had a Comcast (Motorola) DVR there along with the original DirecTV (non-HD) TiVo box there. Redundant I know, but I couldn’t wean my family off the TiVo interface. They would rather watch their recordings in standard def, than use the Comcast box, which supports HD. I always intended to replace both of those boxes with a TiVo HD, but just never got to it until now. I saw the announcement for TiVo HD XL. This is basically a TiVo HD with 3 additional features: you get a 1 Terabyte hard drive (as opposed to 250GB), THX certified sound and a fancier backlit remote control. Since I use Harmony One remotes, I could care less about the better remote that’s just going to sit in my drawer anyway. I was more interested in the better sound and the larger storage capacity. I don’t really keep a lot of shows on my DVR, but I have been burned a couple of times wanting to watch a show again that had already been deleted to make room for new recordings. So having a larger drive means that the shows I record will stay on the drive longer before being deleted to make room for new content. Of course you can always mark a recording not to delete until you say so, but that means that you have to think about it ahead of time.

I bought the TiVo HD XL to actually replace the one in the Theater. I moved the Theater TiVo to the living room. Since they are all on the same network, this means that if there is a recording on one that I want to watch in another room, I can simply transfer it from one TiVo to the other.

Looking at the New TiVo HD XL from the outside you’d be hard pressed to tell the difference. The case is identical with the same connections as before. However, the startup sequence is new as you can see from the picture at the beginning of the post you get a nice THX startup surround sound sequence just like in the movies. Also the longer startup movie of the TiVo character jumping from TV show to TV show has been replaced by a shorter one with the TiVo icon just taking a couple of bows before you’re presented with your main menu.


Why TiVo?

One of my buddies asked me, "why did I like TiVo so much?" After all, your cable or satellite provider will in most cases throw in a FREE DVR just to get your business. Why would I pay hundreds of dollars for a TiVo box (let alone 3 of them) plus the fees for the TiVo service? It’s one of those things that’s hard to explain in writing. It’s all about the User Experience! I still have one Comcast box left in my office. I don’t watch TV in that location that often, so I’ll probably just keep it. However, there is NO COMPARISON when it comes to the user interface between TiVo and generic DVRs. It’s like asking a Mac user, "why do you like the Mac? Isn’t it just a computer?" Or like asking an iPhone user, "isn’t it just a phone?" Until you’ve used one, you wouldn’t understand. Could I get by with the generic DVR provided by Comcast? Sure. I just wouldn’t want to! With the Comcast box, I can’t transfer shows (easily) to my computer, I can’t transfer shows from one box to another. I can’t schedule a recording via the web (which surprises me!). I can do all of this with TiVo HD and more. Here’s a more detailed comparison.

TiVo has also partnered with Amazon. So you can not only record shows from your cable provider, but you can also download movie rentals and TV shows directly to your TiVo’s hard drive. You can also subscribe to Podcasts directly on your TiVo as well as stream music. I do all of this via Apple TV for a better experience, but it’s nice to know that it can be done all from the TiVo HD.


The Bottom Line

Should you upgrade to TiVo HD XL? If you already have a TiVo HD, there would be very little reason to replace it with the XL model. You’re not going to gain enough to make it worth while. You can already attach an external hard drive to the TiVo HD to increase the capacity (or even install a larger drive inside if you’re willing to void the warranty) and if you wanted a backlit remote, there are better options out there. However, if you’re looking to add a TiVo to your setup, then the TiVo HD XL is worth considering. If you do decide to go TiVo HD or the HD XL, it will require that your Cable company come out and install a CableCARD in your TiVo HD box. This will decode your digital/HD and premium channels. This is actually the main reason I hesitated getting a 3rd one. My first two CableCARD installs by Comcast required multiple visits and was quite frustrating. Luckily this time the multi-stream CableCARD worked the first time! The Cable Installer and I were both floored!

TiVo HD gives you 20 hours of HD recording (or 180 hours of standard def) and goes for $299.99

TiVo HD XL gives you up to 150 hours of HD recording and goes for $599.99

Currently there is no support for Cable Video on Demand.

Now bring on LOST, 24, and Battlestar Galactica! I’m ready!


My favorite TiVo hack – Enable a 30 second skip button

We all hate watching commercials on our recorded shows. Although TiVo doesn’t currently allow you to automatically skip them during recording, there is a way to enable your skip button to skip 30 seconds (the average length of a commercial) at a time.

  1. Play any recording
  2. Press Select – Play – Select – 3 – 0 – Select
  3. You’ll hear 3 dings

Now your Skip button on your remote will skip 30 seconds ahead each time you press it.

iPhone App of the Week – ToDo

todo listsOne of the things that I’ve wanted since day one, last year for my iPhone was a To Do feature. I always thought that it was odd that Apple included To Do’s in both iCal and Mail on the desktop in Mac OS X, but not in the iPhone. I still think it’s strange. However, now that the iPhone is open to 3rd party apps, I no longer have to wait.


There are several choices out there

What I thought would be a rather simple app to buy/download, turned out to be more challenging. What I mean is that there are at least a half dozen To Do apps for the iPhone (probably more), and they range in price from FREE to $9.95. What I found is that not everyone thinks of To Do’s the same way that I do. What I wanted was an app that would let me create multiple lists, QUICKLY add items to those lists, and then check them off as they were done. I look at To Do lists in a couple of ways. I might create a To Do list for the things that I need to get done on a given day: ie. go to the cleaners, call my sister, get a car wash, record a podcast episode, etc. Then I might want a list of things not to forget before I leave for a trip. Such as a packing list for a photo shoot. I might also want to put a task on a certain day when it’s actually due and give those items a priority. Pretty basic stuff! No rocket science here. What I found was that most of the apps out there were either “too basic”, which means they didn’t offer the features I wanted or they were WAY OVER COMPLICATED! Amazingly over complicated in some cases. It shouldn’t take 50 taps to enter a To Do item.

I finally found the right one

After trying two different To Do apps, the 3rd one was a charm. It’s called….wait for it…….”ToDo”! Genius! This app shouldn’t be confused with the other one out there called “To Do”. ToDo does EXACTLY what I want it to do (wow, that was bad). It’s by a company called Appigo. Not only does it do what I want, it’s also got a great UI (user interface) too. Very clean and graphically neat.

Two ways to enter your To Do’s

Like I said, it shouldn’t take 50 steps to enter a To Do item. Luckily, ToDo has a “Quick Add” task entry feature. This allows you to quickly add a task and just the task itself. If  you want to get really specific about due dates, priorities, repeating, etc., then you can use the regular task entry method (pictured above) and even that one is well thought out and doesn’t take too long to complete.

Once your list is entered, there is also a very neat selection of “done/strike out” graphics. So when you check things off, you get a nice graphical display (of your choice) to distinguish between the completed items and the ones still left to do.

If you have one or more tasks due “today” then you will see a numeric banner on the app’s icon indicating that something is due today. However, until Apple turns on background processing for 3rd party apps (rumored to be in the upcoming iPhone/iPod touch 2.2 update), this feature will only work, if you actually go into the app at least once on the day that something is due or while the apps is running.


The Bottom Line

There is a feature in ToDo to allow you to sync your ToDo’s to the web or to your desktop. I have not tried this feature as I simply don’t need it. I need my lists on my iPhone while I’m running around. Having them on my computer would be nice, but not necessary. Sure, there are free ones and cheaper ones out there. However, this one does things EXACTLY the way that I want to work and therefore it was worth the $9.95 to me. Although ToDo satisfies my immediate needs, there is room for improvement. For example, if I create a task “Call Steve”, then it would be nice to actually be able to dial Steve’s number right from the ToDo app.

Update: Blog reader Jan pointed out to me that you can in fact setup a task to do a call directly from the app by using the longer entry method and changing the Type from Normal to “Call” and then you’re prompted to choose a Contact from your Contacts. When you actually tap the task when you want to make the call, you’re then presented with a popup of all the numbers you have for that contact to dial. Very slick! Thanks Jan! The other types are “Email a contact” and “Visit a website”. Email a Contact brings up your contacts to choose and Visit a website allows you to enter a URL. I’ll be using that one a lot as I always see ads for websites that I want to visit later and of course forget the URLs by the time I’m able to visit the sites.

Also, I’d like to see a permanent list feature. I’m not sure (I need to do more testing), but it seems that once you complete the items on a list, that list eventually clears itself of all tasks. I’m not 100% sure of this, but one of my completed lists was blank when I went back to it days later. I would like to keep the items on some lists so that I can use the list (say a packing list) over and over again. As a work around you could always keep one item on the list that is not done. Again, I need to do more testing to see how this actually works. I may have lost the items on that particular list due to an update of the app.

An example of one of my packing lists


You can get ToDo from the App Store by going here. ToDo works on the iPhone or the iPod touch.

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