As a geek who uses windows, I often get asked why I have a TiVo DVR rather than use Windows Media Centre as a Home Theatre PC (HTPC). There are a number of reasons, which I shall try to explain.
Firstly, I do have WMC – it is one of my 3 dual tuner DVR’s that I have. I have my old faithful Toppy, my newer TiVo and now my main PC with Windows 7 Ultimate. As my Windows 7 box is in the office, not the lounge room, I don’t use it much for WMC use, and I’m still not convinced about it being a total TV watching solution. Here’s why.
About 5 years ago I first bought my Toppy – the Topfield 5000PVRt*. It was at the time, the best DVR out there, and I would still recommend it in certain circumstances. I also bought at the same time my beautiful Loewe CRT TV which is SD only and only has 3 rear Analog inputs, but it still have a great screen (speakers not so much). At that time Plasma was still very expensive and cheap LCD’s were not yet readily available. (If I was to buy now, I would probably buy one of the beautiful new LED TV’s).
* (Note that link shows a model with a 250GB HDD, mine has only 80GB).
So, I watch a lot of TV, and I don’t have Foxtel (I would watch waay too much TV if I had Foxtel). I have a friend who has Foxtel with the original Foxtel IQ box, so I have played with it quite a bit. The Toppy made so much of a difference to my TV viewing that I very rarely watch any live to air TV any more. Even if I am watching TV at the time, I will usually record it and start watching about a half hour in, so I can fast forward through the ads (there is no in-built ad-skipping on the Toppy* or the TiVo). And there are so many shows that you can just fast forward through most of it and just watch bits of – it makes TV viewing very time efficient. (*IceTV now says they have Ad Skipping).
A few years later the TiVo sort of came to Aus via the OzTiVo community and the first version of the WMC came out (years of watching Sex and the City and seeing Miranda’s TiVo love, meant that I knew I wanted a TiVo). I thought about dabbling in OzTiVo and did have a WMC on Vista, but I’m not a hardware geek, and I don’t want to build a box from scratch, and the WMC was a bit flaky. I want a reliable device that works all the time, records what I want it to record and just does TV. I don’t want to have to pull out a Keyboard and Mouse in the lounge room, and I don’t want to have to re-boot my TV viewing device on a regular basis (it may be better under Win 7, granted).
The Toppy worked with XP, I could link it to my PC, sort of link it up with IceTV, sort of transfer TV from the Toppy to the PC (it required so much effort to get it viewable on the PC, it was not really worth it), sort of watch photos on the TV. But when I switched to Vista it just stopped working, and I gave up. So I would just manually set recording times, like an old fashioned VCR, and rely on the substandard EPG available on FTA TV (Note: This has not changed. The state of the standard EPG’s in Aus is terrible).
But when the real, supported TiVo was released in Aus, I just had to have one. The fact that TiVo could learn what I liked and auto record TV for me, and record just by clicking on a show name in the EPG, and series record, and a 2 week in advance EPG were features that I had to have. I waited until it was a reasonable price ($610, but it is now in JB HiFi for under $500) and the Home networking kit was available (and did not cost $199).
So overall, I love AND hate the TiVo. It is still the best TV recording and watching experience out there (and still even better overall IMHO than Foxtel IQ). But things are changing on the DVR front and we now have new entries like PlayTV and the Telstra T-Box and PS 3’s new ability to watch IView.
Here is a Google Doc spreadsheet with some feature comparisons of the major devices, and some comments on the features I love and hate about each device. There is also a great comparison from IceTV here.
Overall, I recommend the TiVo as the number one choice for people who just want to watch and record TV and want a seamless plug and play experience. I recommend WMC (on Windows 7) to the Geek who wants full control over everything and is willing to spend the time setting it all up properly and does not mind having to reboot the PC occasionally. I recommend a Toppy to anyone who just wants a VCR upgrade and who wants to consume and delete TV. And I would recommend a PlayTV device to anyone who has a PS3 and does not yet have any of the other options (assuming the PS3 is already internet connected).