Couch potatoes go high tech
I recently took the plunge into the world of TiVo, which I justified as a way of actually being more efficient with my time by watching television when I want it, as well as watching more quality TV. While most people have heard digital recorders such as these, many consumers are unfamiliar with the benefits of and the various options available for a system like TiVo.TiVo is actually a service or network that a PVR (personal video recorder), also known as DVR (digital video recorder), communicates with. These recorders function similarly to a VCR or DVD player, but instead of using tapes or compact disks, the unit uses a non-removable hard drive to store, and sophisticated software to record, TV programs. Among the benefits of such a system include the ability to pause live programs, view one program while recording another, use instant replay and the ability to skip commercials. Learning to use the unit is really quite easy; I trained myself on the basics in just one night.TiVo units have been around for a number of years, with just a few physical enhancements since inception, including the addition of more hard drive storage and upgrades allowing users to play audio and show pictures from a personal computer. A recent add-on found in some of units tracks user preferences for shows. In my case, I click on a thumbs-up or a thumbs-down icon on my remote control. This helps build a profile and allows TiVo to record programs that better fit my preferences, thereby allowing me to discover programs that I may have never heard about before. While the most favorable feature for users of TiVo is the option to skip through commercials, many advertisers are not so happy with this technology. This past March, TiVo began testing pop-up advertisements to explore it as an alternative source of revenue. The concept is that as you fast-forward through certain commercials of TiVo advertisers, you will also see a static image ad more suitable and effective (from an advertisers point of view) than the broken video stream.Many longtime subscribers of TiVo are upset since they bought their service for an ad-free experience. This concept is in beta testing now and needs a lot more work before its officially unveiled, but you can be assured that some type of advertising will be incorporated into TiVo and DVR services. Another concern for TiVo is high definition television, which is the latest type of broadcast TV. As opposed to standard analog TV, HDTV offers increased image resolution for better picture quality, more stability, and higher quality audio such as surround sound. At this point, TiVo does not support HDTV recording, but they have plans to offer a HD/CableCard unit in early 2006.While TiVos main competitor is Replay TV (which already supports HDTV), media centers offer another option for this new TV viewing format. A TV media center uses a PC instead of a PVR. By installing a PVR TV tuner card, you can convert your computer into a home entertainment powerhouse. Youll want to be somewhat techno-savvy to tackle this method, as compatibility issues and component requirements can get complicated.Media centers provide the same benefits as a TiVo unit without the subscription fees. Other benefits include the ability to easily burn DVDs from recorded shows or movies and to access video and music across your network. Companies offering this type of technology include Microsofts Windows XP Media Center Edition, Snapstreams Beyond TV and SageTV.Pricing for experiencing this TV viewing format varies, and can depend upon your current cable company. Generally, pricing is $4.99 per month for the TiVo service and $4.99 for equipment rental or receiver service. Expect to pay installation charges and possibly an initial unit purchase price; call your cable/satellite company for details. Another option is to buy your own TiVo unit for as low as $199 and pay $12.95 per month or purchase a lifetime subscription for $299. Media center equipment starts at around $250 for a tuner card and remote control, and as low as $70 for the software. Be ready to devote a lot of time setting it up, however, or to pay someone to do it for you. The real possibility exists that you will need to upgrade or buy additional parts, components and software.While many tech novices still tend to prefer cheaper, more familiar systems like traditional tape recorders, the PVR and services like TiVo have allowed us to change our TV viewing format for the better. It really is easy to learn how to use these systems now its just a matter of time before PVR technology, and its off-shoots, become the norm for television viewing platforms.Heather Austin is the marketing director at Blizzard Internet Marketing Inc., based in Glenwood Springs. Blizzard will write a technology column once a month. For more information on Blizzard Internet Marketing Inc., see http://www.blizzardinternet.com.
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