I’ve been waiting for months for the Tivo iPad app. I got emails saying it was coming out in November, shortly after buying my first Tivo, and when I got an iPad for Christmas, it was one of the first things I looked for in the App store. Except it wasn’t there. The Tivo iPad app spent several months prominently featured on Tivo.com and yet when you went to install it the words “Coming Soon” where there instead of “Install App.”I woke on Saturday and found out it had been released. I downloaded it, installed it, connected it to the Tivo box just like the instructions said, and it seemed like it was working. But the application couldn’t download information from the box. I’ve got the Tivo wired directly into the router that’s broadcasting my wireless signal, and have managed to download entire episodes and other shows at decent speeds over that network link so I’m pretty sure that the network isn’t the problem.The Tivo box itself isn’t recording anything either, so it didn’t seem to be under load. Possibly the most frustrating thing I noticed is that when I tried to use the remote function on the iPad, I could see the router connected to the unit blink exactly when I pressed the buttons (there’s nothing else active connected) and yet the unit wouldn’t respond. Even the information which should be streaming in directly from the internet (things like actor bios and show information) loaded slowly and usually not at all.Midway through playing with it, my iPad lost its internet connection, which has literally never happened in my house, and even though I could join back up, I could never get it working well. Last night I noticed that the App Store was signaling an upgrade was available for the application, so I downloaded it and when reading the change log I noticed the rather bizarre note: “Users who are experiencing slow performance should try turning off Bluetooth”. For the life of me, I can’t figure out why this would matter, but I turned it off, and all of a sudden the application was usable, with fairly decent speed.How is the application? I’d say it’s consistent with my opinion of the rest of the Tivo experience: OK, but a very long way from great. My overwhelming impression of the entire Tivo experience is that it feels like the people who design their products don’t use their products. Case in point: it’s extremely irritating that you can’t filter your channels on the box or the iPad application to show those channels that have HD equivalents AND those standard definition channels which don’t come in HD. This is the case with almost any cable subscriber: certain channels like ESPNU just aren’t available in HD. I don’t want to hide those, but if an HD channel exists, I want to use the HD channel. Give me a filtered list that matches the usage pattern of most of your subscribers!The search experience on all devices (including Tivo.com) is completely horrid, so you end up paging through all your channels (you can’t just filter sports channels for example) at the prescribed time of your event, then finally get to ESPN. Then you schedule it, but it’s not HD ESPN, because that’s fifteen pages down with the other HD channels. On the web, they have a drop down which lets you pick t he HD channel quickly. This feature is missing from the iPad, which makes it useless for scheduling recordings, just like the Tivo box itself.The remote works pretty well, but so does my physical remote. A keyboard is nice for searching, but the search functionality is completely broken, so that’s not a very big win. I don’t understand why they chose to not include a streaming function on the iPad app which would have made it a killer application – watch your recorded shows on your iPad, thus doubling your TVs.All in all, this app feels like a meaningless addon. You can’t easily search or schedule HD shows. There’s no filtering of events. Sports season selection is still completely nonexistent (can’t schedule all games the Wolfpack play in, for example). You can’t stream video to the device, and you can’t watch netflix or other web videos from the iPad. The main benefit the iPad gives you is the ability to browse your Tivo and see your Todo list while someone else is watching.I’m afraid that Tivo is rapidly approaching irrelevance. They have maybe a year or two left until someone at Boxee or XMBC or Apple builds a box that is Cablecard equipped and can search internet listings. The complete lack of basic features (another example: on the program guide, you can’t tell if a program is scheduled to record, you have to go back to your Todo list) makes it a bad DVR. Netflix and other internet streaming options are available on almost every other device. Place shifting is available from Slingbox, and other devices like XMBC and Boxee and most Bluray players can stream local content via DLNA.This is how companies die, and it’s a shame because Tivo has had plenty of time to get all of those things perfected.
After our third busted Comcast provided DVR (every one of them being a different model, with different capacities), we decided to get a Tivo. I’d long been after one, mostly because I’ve long wanted to be able to actually..uhh..SAVE shows that I might want to watch again without leaving them on the unit. Ever since NC State’s triumph over UNC got erased from our DVR a couple years ago back, I’ve been a different man. I need to relive these moments from time to time, usually when my good friend Dan (UNC fan) comes over for any reason.In the past, I’ve been successfully spooked by both Google and Apple and avoided buying a Tivo precisely because I thought either of those outfits would have come out with a solution by now, but neither company has executives that care about sports. If they did, they’d care about live TV, but they don’t, and instead are focused on delivering TV Shows and other serial type shows over the internet. This works great if you don’t like sports, don’t watch sports, don’t care about sports. It doesn’t work at all for watching sports, which for me fall into two categories: must-watch-live and can-wait-until-later. Wolfpack basketball and football: category one. MotoGP, Soccer, baseball playoffs, Tour de France: category two. Both categories must have HD, and 720p is not HD.So for my setup, here’s what I need: high definition video capture, with the ability to offload shows in HD to my Network Attached Storage. I can then transcode and eventually playback any stored media using my very impressive LG Blu-ray player for the TV, or on any other internet connected device. I also needed the ability to quickly and easily schedule things via the web. Tivo provides both of these capabilities and does so fairly reasonably. That’s good.Now for the bad: the interface mostly sucks. And the product is completely unfinished – half the menus are in High Definition, and half are in Standard Definition. For the life of me, I can’t understand why they wouldn’t convert them to be completely HD. It seems like it would be more complicated to support two menu systems, but there’s probably more than meets the eye. The box is sluggish too with the menus. There also seems to be a host of missing features that should be no brainers to support. Here’s a list, guys at Tivo, in order of preference:
- Slingbox: there’s an entire company out there providing a set top box to stream content over the internet. Do this too. It’s valuable and means one less device I buy. You can even route the service through Tivo.com and charge me a premium to not munge with my firewall settings and provide a nice Content Delivery Network optimized experience.
- More one-click operations. I should be able to delete shows in the list, or select multiple shows and then click delete.
- The guide seems poorly setup for sports viewers (and trust me, this is the only demographic that will matter in the future). Sports is the only reason I still have cable, still pay a premium for HD content, still pay a premium for premium channels, need to be able to offload shows from the unit. Provide me the ability to choose a favorite team for each major sport, then give me an ESPN like ticker across the bottom with any news, scores, upcoming games, etc. Provide me an in-program HUD that I can bring up that shows stats loaded while the game is in progress.
- Set up the box so it can stream from a NAS. Everything can do this now, even the blu-ray player. Why can’t you?
- Ship an iphone application that provides all my settings and tivo.com program listings in one spot, and lets me watch my content slingbox style.
- If I miss a show (power outage, forget to set it up, etc.) and then later say I want to record the season of “Glee” then automatically download the past few episodes for me if they’re available online.
- Provide an option to auto-skip commercials. Content providers don’t like this, so make it an option I can turn on myself, and ship it with the default as off. Partner with them to give me perks if I leave commercials on, like behind the scenes stuff, and still rip out half the ads.
Right now, the Tivo, TV, Blu-ray, Wii, and other devices are wirelessly bridged from the office GigE network, which sucks. Early this week, I’m getting two powerline ethernet adapters that should route my network via power outlets for a consistent networked throughput of up to 200Mbit, which should be a huge performance boost, and introduce stability to the entire setup. I’ll update more when we see how that works out.