If there are two inventions that have most significantly changed my life in the last five years, they would be: satellite radio and PVR. PVR is really just a catch all term for Personal Video Recorder. There are several brand names that offer distinct vibes, but their essence is the same.
What PVR does is act as a hard drive buffer for your TV. It takes the signal from the cable, and spits it to a hard drive. From there, you can do all sorts of things, including, but not limited to:
- Pausing live TV. If something happens while you are watching TV, you can hit the pause button and take care of business. When you come back, press play, and it will take off where you left off.
- Expanded programming guide. You end up with an on screen programming guide that is much more detailed than you can get anywhere else. You can search for shows and movies; see what is on further out into the future than the normal guides.
- Record TV. This is probably the most important aspect. What you can do is pick TV shows from any timeframe you want, or just surf the online guide looking for interesting shows. You tag your shows, and it records them without fail. You can later (via an onscreen menu) pick and choose what you are going to watch.
As a whole this really sounds like a fancy VCR. In reality, that is all it really is, but one that has a 40 hour tape, random access, and one button programming.
The hassle with VCRs was that you had to find the shows you wanted to watch, set the VCR to tape them, hope that no one in the house would mess with it, and then, you would have to keep track of millions of tapes.
PVR makes it simple. Press a button to record a show. At some later time, watch the show at your convenience. Skip the commercials. When you are done, press one button to delete it.
This is more of a lifestyle device than a techno gizmo. It takes the control of your TV watching away from the networks and puts it in your hands. It takes every hour of your TV time and compresses it into 40 minutes, tops. I have found that I NEVER watch live TV anymore. If, for whatever reason, I have the TV on and see something interesting, I press record and walk away. I then watch the show when I am able to skip commercials.
The biggest thing that has happened to me is that I have ended up just surfing around the program guide and randomly selecting things that may look interesting. After five minutes of viewing, I can tell if suckiness is about to ensue. I click delete, and forget about it. This also means that I always have a backlog of twenty hours of good viewing on tap.
Like I said, it has liberated me from network TV schedules, and given me the opportunity to watch things I never knew existed. It has also saved me HOURS of commercial watching. I love this machine.
There are three top players in this game:
TIVO - This is the best known player, and the defacto PVR. When someone says TIVO, they are most likely talking about any old generic PVR. This is the one I would have bought if I could have found some good customer service. I had my credit card in hand, and was at the checkout, and I asked one question: will this work with my digital cable? I have Armstrong Cable in Ashland. They had no idea, nor did they have any idea how to find out. I left it at the checkout and called their customer service. I went in circles with TIVO’s customer service and just said “forget it.” I gave my money to the cable company for the service.
TIVO also has a reputation of turning the other way while hackers tinker with the system. That has led to a huge cult following of Linux geeks who trick their TIVO’s out.
For more info on tricking them out:
Replay TV - This is TechTV’s darling. It is upgradeable, networkable, and accessible via the internet. This one was not out when I was buying mine, but if it would have worked with my cable, I would have tried this one out.
Here are some links on this nice box:
Your Local Cable Company - I use Armstrong Cable. It costs me five bucks a month, and it ROCKS. I have never had any trouble with the system, and I could not live without it. Their customer service is perfect, and the system does everything as promised. I have heard that TIVO has a more robust operating system, but at this point, there is no way for me to know.
Questions or comments? Feel free to email our Gadgets Editor, Sergio Ruiz, at firstname.lastname@example.org.