I upgrade my gear on a fairly regular basis. People ask me all the time "what are going to do with your old ________?" Normally I pass the equipment down to a family member or sell it locally to a friend. When there is no one to pass it down to or no local friends that are interested I turn to Ebay next. When I upgraded to the Nikon 28-300mm lens many of you asked about my 18-200mm VR lens that I was selling. I finally got around to getting it up on Ebay and along with some other items.
For years TiVo has been my favorite set-top box! There's no question about it I'm a TiVo fan. However, even as a TiVo fan that doesn't mean I like upgrading just for the sake of upgrading. When I upgrade ANYTHING I weigh the pros and cons and decide if the upgrade is necessary or will benefit me. I encourage EVERYONE to do that! When TiVo introduced the TiVo Premiere I looked at it and decided that there wasn't really anything there to justify an upgrade for me. My TiVo HD's were (are) working just fine and although for anyone NEW to TiVo the Premiere is a great choice, it just didn't offer "enough" things for me to spend the money. As a matter of fact the only real advantage for me would be the larger hard drive (which I could do to my existing units). See TiVo's own comparison here. If you look at that comparison you'll see that most of the differences between the new Premiere boxes and the HD boxes revolve around the user interface and searching. The New TiVo Premiere definitely has better searching and suggestion features than the older model. However, I'm not usually trying to discover "new" shows.
So what changed my mind?
You're going to laugh! Actually I replaced one of my TiVo HD XLs with a TiVo Premiere XL because I was forced to! No I'm kidding. No one can "force" you to upgrade. However, there was something that TiVo announced that I've been wanting and waiting for for years and that's…here it comes…an iPad App!
I was both excited and ticked off at the same time when I saw their announcement (and cool video by the way) of their upcoming TiVo iPad App. I've been beating up TiVo for a while now for not having an iOS App for scheduling, remote control, account management, etc. and when they finally announced it I cheered until I saw that it will only support the TiVo Premiere and Premiere XL. ARGGGHHHHHHHHH! While it's easy for me or anyone else to say c'mon! Really? You can't make that app work with the thousands of TiVo HD's out there? I know how these things go from a development standpoint. You want this really slick experience that takes complete advantage of your new UI on your new box, that will take twice as long and twice the development effort to make work with a box that you don't even sell anymore. Anyone who has been using a computer for more than a couple of years has faced this already. Some new OS or piece of software you want won't work on your older hardware. If you want those capabilities you "have to upgrade". So here we are! I want those capabilities and "I" decided to upgrade ONE TiVo HD to get them.
Two Upgrades for the Price of One
After I got over the emotional part of upgrading something that was working fine, I decided to plan a box swap. I have an existing TiVo HD XL with a larger drive in my theater. The XL has the larger drive which means it can hold more shows without having to delete as often. I decided to move that one to the living room (which is always running out of storage space) and eBay the TiVo HD from the living room. The New TiVo Premiere XL would go in the theater. This plan made me feel a "little" better about it as I would be solving two problems with one purchase. I would also recoup some of my money on selling the perfectly working TiVo HD. That brings me to another point. TiVo.com offers UPGRADE pricing to existing customers. This means that you don't lose out on your Lifetime subscription and you get a bit of a price break. I'm feeling even better now.
The Comcast CableCARD Factor
The other thing that always makes me think twice about a TiVo upgrade is the fact that I have to get Comcast involved. Since Comcast is my cable provider I have to get a CableCARD from them to go inside the TiVo. My experience with CableCARDs has been hit or miss. Sometimes everything works on the first try. Other times I've had to have the tech come back multiple times before it worked. The problem is that they don't deal with them often and not many reps know how to configure them on your account. I planned and scheduled my appointment for one day after the TiVo Premiere XL was to arrive and in typical (sorry but I have to say it) Comcast fashion they screwed up the appointment. Let's just say they went to the wrong house! As they called to apologize and reschedule it dawned on me that I had a CableCARD sitting in my hands. I had the one from the old (now factory reset) TiVo HD that I was going to turn in. I figured I could just swap them myself, but I've had bad experiences trying that in the past. The CableCARD must first be UNPAIRED before putting it into a different TiVo. I know that now after having to send two TiVos back in the past. Luckily since I went through the factory reset process I saw on screen where it said that it was going to unpair the cableCARD during the process. This made me feel a little safer in suggesting to the Comcast rep on the phone, "well I have a card from the old one can someone just configure this one over the phone and then you won't have to send anyone out?" She informed me that she could and away I went to the Premiere XL to plug the card in. The result: A happy ending! It WORKED! No problems whatsoever. She knew what she was doing (rare when dealing with Comcast and CableCARDs). I was up and running without having to have a tech/contractor come out . Rant alert: By the way (Comcast if you're reading this) I never understood and still don't understand why Comcast has to come out for this anyway. Why can't I pick up a CableCARD from the office? When you order a CableCARD the tech comes out and plugs it in! That's all he/she can do anyway. This brings up a dialog on screen with the necessary ID numbers. The rest has to be done over the phone anyway (by anyone that can read off numbers!) I can go to my local Comcast office and pick up a Cable Modem or Comcast DVR but not a CableCARD , which is the EASIEST thing to install. You just PLUG IT IN and READ OFF NUMBERS. End of Rant.
Online Season Pass Manager: Gotcha!
One of the recent additions to TiVo.com is the new online Season Pass Manager. One of the things that TiVo brags about during the upgrade process. They say you'll be able to easily copy over all your Season Passes (show scheduling) from the old TiVo to the NEW one. Great! Except for one problem. When I ordered the new Premiere, it was done as an upgrade. Therefore replacing one on my account. TiVo in their infinite wisdom replaces the box on your account with the New one even before it arrives at your door. When I logged into my account the new one was there and the old one (along with its Season Passes) was GONE! When I called TiVo to complain about this to their credit the tech rep was able to temporarily put the old TiVo back on my account long enough for me to copy over the Season Passes. I will admit that this feature definitely makes it much easier to upgrade, but TiVo you should think about upgraders and the way your process works now. The old TiVo should go in an inactive state so that the user can grab the info they need for the new one!
Now that I have it and it works, how is it?
The TiVo Premiere XL has a much more modern looking interface! It's hands down easier on the eyes than the previous UI (user interface). Being a visual guy, I love the movie poster art all over the place. TiVo HD already had integration with Netflix, Amazon Ondemand, YouTube and Blockbuster, but the TiVo Premiere interface brings that content closer to the surface and makes it easier to get to. I still think that the new Apple TV has the best Netflix integration, but the TiVo Netflix integration works just fine.
The "old" TiVo HD interface
A couple less ports. The Premiere drops the S-video out port, which probably won't be a big loss to many. It still has Component, HDMI, Optical audio and Composite, which are all active at the same time. There is also only one cableCARD slot so you'll definitely have to get a Multistream CableCARD. Again not a problem as there probably aren't very many single stream cards being handed out these day by the cable companies.
1080p is here! Another nice update is that the Premiere goes up from 1080i to 1080p. I'm happy to see this for sure, but not sure how often I'll see it in use. My cable service still maxes out currently at 1080i. Perhaps some of the online ondemand content will stream at 1080p at some point if not now. My old TiVo HD XL was THX certified and so is the NEW Premiere XL. This new one even comes with a set of glasses to allow you to tweak your TV for optimum THX performance during the setup process. I love the THX trailer that plays at the end! They even suggest that you "crank up your sound system" before it plays. Nice! Lastly I like the smaller physical footprint of the Premiere. The case is noticeably smaller than the HD and leaves me more room on the stand I have it on.
It is very smart! As you know famous actor/comedian Leslie Nielson recently passed away. One of the "finds" at the top of my TiVo Premiere Screen was the "The Best of Leslie Nielson". It's basically a list of every movie that he has been in. While you could go through and choose individual favorites to buy or search for recording, my favorite feature in this case was a ONE BUTTON add all to my To Do List. In other words if ANY of these movies come on TV in the future TiVo will now automatically record them. Now that is freakin' sweet!
Why not just get a DVR from your service provider?
I admit it. I'm a TV junkie. Yes, I'm one of those guys that actually enjoys TV. Now while you may be picturing this guy laying on a couch with empty potato chip bags all around, I'm not quite that bad. I use TV as a form of turning my brain off. I work long hours every day. I travel for a living and that in and of itself adds layers of stress on my life. I'm constantly on my computer working or reading up on the latest things in tech. When I've had enough! It's time to veg in front of the TV. This means that I'm not looking for inspiration. I'm not looking for a message on life. I'm not looking for controversial issues. I'm looking for simple entertainment. That's it.
With that said, I've got all the latest TV gear in my home. HDTVs, a theater room, TiVo HD, Apple TV, Comcast HD Cable Service, Slingbox, Playstation 3, Nintindo Wii, Xbox 360 and a Netflix account. At one point I even had both DirecTV AND Comcast until DirecTV all but accused me of lying about a pay per view that I didn't order (as a result I'm no longer a DirecTV customer, their loss!). There is no shortage in ways to watch TV in my life.
When do I find the time to watch?
I almost NEVER watch a live broadcast. I just don't have the time to sit in front of a TV on someone else's schedule. That's why TiVo HD is my favorite piece of gear out of all of the above boxes. I set up the Season Passes and one time recordings for the shows I want to watch and when I'm home and done with work for the day, I can usually get 3-4 shows in (fast forwarding through commercials) in one sitting. My second favorite box is my Slingbox. This allows me to stream my own TiVo recordings anywhere I happen to be traveling on my computer or my iOS devices. Lastly I also like to watch on those long flights. Therefore I either bring Netflix DVDs or rip the TiVo'd shows to my laptop or my iPad. That pretty much covers that ways that I watch content. I'm not a regular Hulu user and I rarely if ever watch shows on the network websites. The biggest reason for this is that I'm either watching at home and using TiVo or I'm in the air and don't have an internet connection to stream content. So streaming shows to my computer is the least interesting option for me.
The road to Google TV
I was intrigued by Google's initial teaser video on the upcoming Google TV and put it on my list of gadgets to check out. At the same time I was looking to replace the HDTV in my bedroom. The one I had was a Sony 32" 720p lower end Bravia. While this TV worked fine, I wanted a few more HDMI ports, Full 1080p resolution and the power saving aspects and clarity of the new LED sets. I was in no hurry and was just waiting for the right deal to come along. Also I had no particular brand in mind. I have no love or hate for Sony. I have several Sony products, but if a better set came along by another manufacturer I'd consider it.
Then I got an email from Sony announcing "the world's first HDTV powered by Google TV". I thought "perfect timing"! I was in the market for a TV and I wanted to tryout Google TV and this would kill two birds with one stone.
Last week I shared with you TiVo's announcement of their NEW 802.11n based WiFi adapter for their Dual Tuner DVRs including the TiVo HD and New TiVo Premiere. I said then I that I thought this adapter was over priced, but I still wanted to test it to see how much of an improvement it was over the 802.11g based one. I was totally surprised by what I saw when I opened the package.
It's nothing like the old adapter
Don't let the design and pictures fool you. The reason that I thought that the new adapter was over priced was that it looked just like the old one and therefore I figured it connected to the USB port like the old one. It doesn't! This NEW Adapter is a completely new design and instead of connecting via USB it connects to your TiVo's Ethernet port. You also have to plug it into the AC to get power to it. Actually there is nothing TiVo specific about this new adapter. It's just like any other Ethernet based 802.11n Wireless Bridge. Unlike the old adapter you can't even configure it from the TiVo HD. You either have to use your computer or you have to have a wireless router that has a WPS button. Although my New TRENDnet router does have the WPS button, I opted to just configure it directly by plugging into my MacBook Pro via Ethernet. Configuring it was pretty straight forward and once I was done I plugged it into my TiVo HD and it worked perfectly!
I applauded TiVo many times in the past for making a relatively inexpensive 802.11g adapter for their DVRs. It's great to be able to put a TiVo on your WiFi network just by plugging in a simple adapter and having the support BUILT-IN to the DVR itself so it's drop dead simple to setup. Although 802.11g isn't the fastest in the world it does work and I've been happy with it here in my rooms where an Ethernet drop wouldn't be easy. So needless to say I got excited when I saw yesterday's announcement that they finally came out with an 802.11n version until I saw the price! $89.99 Seriously? Now I don't want to get into the "hey they can charge whatever they want and you can either buy it or not argument". I invented that argument 🙂 However, for a company that is struggling to remain relevant in this world of "we'll give you a DVR FREE if you sign up with our service", I think that this smacks of "they don't get it." The former adapter was under $40. I can't imagine that this one costs more than twice as much to produce or even invent, but hey TiVo it's your business at risk, not mine. Continue doing what you're doing. It's your call.
What about the performance?
Putting price aside for a minute. I'm even more curious about how much better this thing will perform? The reason I say that is because I have some TiVo HDs on Ethernet and some on the WiFi 802.11g adapter and from my limited testing I can't really see much if any difference in speed of transferring content from say one connected via Ethernet to my computer also connected via Ethernet vs. the one connected via WiFi. However, my daughter often complains that the TiVo in my bedroom (on WiFi) is slower when transferring shows from another TiVo in the house (on Ethernet) vs. the one in the living room which is on Ethernet transferring from another one in the house on Ethernet. So this is a test I'm willing to try. Stay tuned…
If you've followed my blog then you know that I'm a BIG FAN of TiVo HD! I just LOVE the TiVo interface and I have a few of them in my home (ok more than a few). However, I got an email from a few buddies asking if I was going to upgrade to the NEW TiVo Premiere unit. Quite frankly I said "no". I had heard about the New TiVo Premiere and I had read some of the info, but there wasn't anything that jumped out at me as a must have. Now don't get me wrong. If I was in need of another unit for another room or if one suddenly died I'd be getting a Premiere in a heart beat. However, I didn't see anything that would justify the hassle of selling my old one, figuring out a way to transfer/keep the lifetime service and dealing with Comcast to come out and install the new one.
Happy New Year! It's that time once again to take a quick look at my favorite gadgets of last year. The gadgets I've chosen were the ones that I used the most and that had the most positive impact on my day-to-day life. These gadgets were either introduced in 2009 or had significant updates in 2009. These are the gadgets that I would recommend to a friend without hesitation. So let's get to it…
Anyone that knows me knows that the iPhone 3GS is my communications device of choice. The 3GS made my life easier this year with more memory, a faster processor, and graphics to run apps that I never dreamed of right from the palm of my hand. I use my iPhone quite a bit in my day to day routine. I actually get a ton of work/communications done with this device. I get both work and personal email, SMS and MMS messaging, productivity and business apps, and yes even the ability to make calls. This is the one gadget that I now couldn't imagine being without. See my original iPhone 3GS review here. Learn more about the iPhone 3GS here.
See my favorite iPhone and iPod touch accessories here.
Logitech Harmony One Universal Remote
When I am at home and not producing content, I enjoy my home entertainment systems and home theater. The one remote that has worked for me better than any other remote I've tried is the Logitech Harmony One. This remote is configured from your computer to do exactly what you want. Anyone with more than a couple of entertainment components should do themselves a favor and check out the Harmony One. See my original review here. Get the Harmony One Remote here.
Although I knew that you could subscribe to your favorite video podcast right on your TiVo by inputing the RSS feed for the show, I didn’t realize that TiVo actually features shows. Yesterday, Rod Harlan pointed out to me that my Adobe Creative Suite Video Podcast is now featured on TiVo. Not sure how long it’s been there, but I was very pleased to see it right at the top of the list of technology shows.
After 11 years of DirecTV and 10 years of Comcast I’ve finally decided to cut DirecTV loose. Yes, I actually have had both services for the last 10 years. Why? Well it wasn’t the original plan, it just happened that way. Before I moved into the house I’m in now back in 1999, I had DirecTV in my old house for my TV service and life was good. Never had a problem, not a single outage or “snowy” day as the Comcast commercials would have you believe. When I moved here, of course I wanted high speed internet and the best and only option back then was “Media One.” Media One was the local cable company in the area. I got my cable modem from them and still had DirecTV for TV. As the years went by, Media One was eventually acquired by Comcast. Although I had a couple of TV’s hooked up to the Comcast line for basic cable, I wasn’t really interested in Comcast for TV because I was so happy with my Series one DirecTV TiVo units. I absolutely LOVE the TiVo UI (user interface). Although you can get DVR service from any company today, TiVo really gets it when it comes to the user experience. If you’ve never used one, you wouldn’t understand.
The move to HDTV
When HDTV came along, I had to make a decision. It was either go with DirecTV for HD and that would require a new dish and new DVRs that were NOT TiVo based or go with Comcast and just go with their DVRs. So I added a Comcast box to my first HDTV just to get the HDTV and have a DVR to record the shows in HD. The Comcast (Motorola) box sucked on a level you can’t imagine! These boxes, or more to the point their firmware were garbage. Constant crashes, reboots, and other problems. I swapped out my Comcast DVR more times than I care to remember, while the DirecTV TiVo hummed along right next to it with no problems.
Then there was TiVo HD – the deciding factor!
Once TiVo shipped the TiVo HD, it was a done deal for me! That was it. I would finally have everything I wanted. I would have HD and I would return back to the TiVo interface that I loved. I would also get the things I had been missing by not having a Series 2 box like transferring recording to my computer and to other TiVos in the house. So one by one I swapped out Comcast DVRs for TiVo HDs. They were all swapped out except for the one in my office (connected to my SlingBox) and since it was working fine and I don’t watch a lot of TV there, I figured I’d leave it.
This is a bitter sweet kinda review. So let me get to it. When the iPhone 2.0 update came out last year and the iPhone was open to 3rd party app development, one of the main apps on my wishlist way back then was a SlingPlayer Mobile app. After all Sling Media had produced mobile versions of their player for other mobile platforms and the iPhone seemed like a natural for this kind of app. So I waited. Then I thought my dream might actually come true. I actually got to play with an early Alpha fo the SlingPlayer Mobile app back in January at Macworld Expo in San Francisco. The app was beautiful with a nice translucent display for onscreen buttons. I started getting really excited until I heard those words. They said, “well we’re just about ready to begin the submission process to Apple.” That’s when it dawned upon me that even though this app was being developed, that doesn’t mean that it will actually make its way into the hands of users. Unlike most other mobile device platforms, Apple has to approve every app submitted for the App Store. So there’s always a chance that the app could be rejected. Back in late March, the news broke that SlingPlayer Mobile app had been submitted to the App Store for approval. The approval process takes about a week on average. When two weeks went by, I knew that there was trouble in paradise. Something was wrong. Another week went by and I had pretty much assumed that this thing would never see the light of day. I had a suspicion that the problem was not with Apple, but with AT&T. AT&T has recently been reemphasizing their polices on streaming data and bandwidth to wireless devices. The SlingPlayer certainly would violate this policy. Even though they later came back and said that the update was released in error, the writing was on the wall. So it was no surprise to me that when the SlingPlayer Mobile App finally got released this week that the ability to stream video over 3G networks was removed.
How well does the SlingPlayer Mobile App for iPhone work?
Now that we’ve gotten past all of the politics (well not quite, but let’s put that on hold for a sec) and what a Slingbox/Player is, let me concentrate on the app itself. The idea of the SlingPlayer and SlingPlayer Mobile app is that you can watch your TV (DVR, DVD player, Apple TV, basically any video source you have connected to the Slingbox) on the go. I LOVE the ability to watch recorded shows from my DVR anywhere I happen to be as long as I have my laptop and internet connection. The SlingPlayer Mobile app promises to give you that same capability on your iPhone or iPod touch. It’s great to have this ability when you find yourself with some down time or sitting in a waiting room somewhere. Plug in your headphones, fire up the SlingPlayer Mobile App and using the on screen remote control interface you can change channels, switch sources and watch recorded shows from your DVR.
My DVR of choice is the TiVo HD. I have Comcast cable and I do have one Comcast (Motorola) DVR. This is the DVR that I have my SlingBox Pro connected to. Why not connect it to one of the TiVo HDs? There’s a reason that I have it connected to the Comcast box instead of my favorite DVRs. When you use a SlingPlayer to watch your TV/DVR remotely, you are physically controlling that DVR in real-time. So whatever you do will be seen by the people in your home if that TV happens to be on. So as to not disrupt the TV viewing for the rest of my family, I put the SlingBox Pro on the DVR that no one likes to use. Yep, that’d be the Comcast box in my office. This way I can have it to myself when I’m on the road.
I downloaded the SlingPlayer Mobile app the minute it became available (something like 1AM my time). I wanted to see how well it worked and of course tell you about it as well. The app works great! I haven’t had a single issue yet. When I first fired it up, it requested that I log into to my Sling account online. I hadn’t actually set up an online account yet, but I did right there on the spot. Took just a couple of seconds to get going.
Once I had my account setup the app/site found my Slingbox and I was watching live TV! Wow! It works! I don’t really have much interest in watching live TV, so of course the next thing I wanted to see was my DVR. The integration was right on the money. I pressed the onscreen DVR button and it sent the proper commands to my DVR to bring up the list of recorded shows. I was able to easily navigate to a show and start playing it. Again, it just worked as advertised. Although I don’t really use the SlingPlayer to watch live TV, I wanted to test these features too. So I setup my “Favorites” buttons so that I could switch to any of my favorite channels with the press of a button. It worked fine.
What could be better?
The one thing I noticed is that I can’t ever seem to get the video to fill the screen. If I watch 4×3 content I can set it to letterbox it. However, if I watch 16:9 widescreen content, there doesn’t seem to be a way to zoom in on it (even if I’m willing to crop some off) to see it fill the screen from edge to edge. Apple allows this in the iPod app. I would like to see this in the SlingPlayer app as well. Although the remote functions well, there will be a few second delay from the time you press a button until the results are displayed. You have to remember that it’s sending these commands over the internet and then via IR to your device. So give it a sec.
Bonus Tip: Since you have control of your DVR via this app, there’s nothing stopping you from using this as a remote control to schedule recordings too.
I can’t ignore the elephant in the room. As great as this app is, the single biggest frustration is that it only works over a Wi-Fi connection. If you’re an iPod touch user, you’re used to this. So it’s probably no big deal. However, if you’re an iPhone user, it may be a deal breaker. It means that you’ll only be able to stream content from your TV source or DVR when you’re connected to Wi-Fi and not over the 3G network. Argggggh! So close, but so far.
The Bottom Line
Here’s the thing with this app, it works as advertised. However, I can’t ignore the biggest problem and that is it’s been crippled by AT&T restrictions and doesn’t not allowed to work over a 3G cellular network. It only works over a Wi-Fi connection. While it’s easy to blame AT&T for this restriction, there is one thing that Sling Media could have done to soften the blow and that is lower the price! I don’t have a problem paying $29.99 for a SlingPlayer Mobile app (heck I just did). However, I do have a problem paying the SAME price as every other version of the SlingPlayer Mobile app (for BlackBerry, Palm, Windows Mobile, Symbian, etc.) and not being able to watch over the SAME 3G network as all the other players do. Think about it! If I go buy a BlackBerry from AT&T, I can buy the SlingPlayer Mobile App for BlackBerry and watch TV over AT&T’s 3G network. Granted, it’s probably in violation of the small print in the agreement I would sign, but there would be nothing stopping me from doing it technically. If caught, AT&T would be within their right to suspend my account. I’m not advocating breaking the rules. I’m just using this as an example.
This is not the first app crippled by AT&T. Remember, it wasn’t long ago that Skype shipped their iPhone app and like the SlingPlayer for iPhone, it only works over Wi-Fi.
Bandwidth abuse or overuse is a legitimate concern especially when you know that your network can’t handle the hit. If you’ve been to the last two Macworld Expos you’ve witnessed AT&T’s data network brought to its knees by the sheer volume of iPhone users simply checking email and surfing the web. Each year after the Apple keynote you could forget about using your iPhone to do anything data related on AT&T’s network. Nothing but gridlock. Streaming video/audio takes way more bandwidth than email and web surfing. AT&T is concerned that thousands or hundreds of thousands of SlingPlayer users suddenly streaming video for hours on end would be a significant impact to all their users. They’re probably right!
I have read many of the angry comments in protest of this and people are saying that they refuse to buy the app without 3G support. Frankly, I don’t blame them. Yes, I know that software development costs money. Remember, I work for a software developer? I know that Sling’s hands were tied over the whole 3G issue, but they are the ones that set the price. Why should we be asked to pay the same price for our app that doesn’t have the same functionality of the same apps on every other mobile platform that this app is available for? So there I’ve said what many of you have been wanting to hear. I agree with you!