Saturday, 14 August 2004

Do you use TiVo? Or own a Windows XP Media Center Edition PC (and if so do you use the MCE features at all)? What about PC-based software that does TiVo/MCE-like functionality, such as SnapStream?

I'm a TiVo guy - I have one of the original 20GB TiVos that I "hacked" and now it has 240GB of storage in it, and I can't imagine ever running out of space. I've recorded (literally) every episode of the West Wing, and each and every day I record the Daily Show and Dennis Miller. I love Season Passes, and I still have tons of space left.

But there are certain things I wish it was better at.

I have been considering, for some time, going the route of a Media Center PC. I want and need a new PC anyhow (mine's dead in the water under the desk and I have been lap-topping it the past few months). Two things have stopped me, though. The main problem is the fact that I can't build my own - I have to buy a pre-built machine and none of them really meet my (very specific and picky) needs. The second is cost - I'm not interested in shelling out the premium that the system builders charge, when you consider what you'll end up with. Yeah, I know I could use the MSDN subscription to download it and build a "test" machine, but that's not really kosher. Point is, it's the restrictive nature of the operating system and how it's licensed that's stopped me. Other than that, I'm all game.

There are other options I may just look at. For example, I've played with SnapStream's software in the past. These days they are selling a product called Beyond TV, and they will soon be coming out with Beyond Media, which will will have some nifty features and will work nicely with Beyond TV, they say. It looks very promising, and it's affordable. Hopefully there will be a version of Beyond TV to test soon - I'll be interested to see what it looks like and how it works. If I can arrange an early test copy, I'll even review it here, maybe do a side-by side thing. We'll see.

But for now, I've got the TiVo. I just wish it did more. Yes, I have seen the Series-2 TiVo product with the Home Media option, and the ones that are built into a DirecTV receiver, and the ones that have the DVD recorder in them (yada yada), but it's just not all there for me. I want to detach from the central device and use media anywhere I like. Give me HDTV capability and network sharing and sync capabilities. What is I want to want to view a show or something on my PC? Quit dumbing down the hardware that's already in the box. Let me export my digital media files to whatever I want, and make it easy for gosh sakes.

In the "make-them-better" department, Thomas Hawk recently wrote "Ten things that Microsoft and TiVo must each do to win the living room," which anyone who is tracking the future of digital media for the home will be interested in reading. I think he's pretty spot-on.

What do other people use? Right now I am tied to a Dish Network receiver (but definitely not married to it and I'll change for the right feature set - I just have not seen anything else compelling enough yet). I can't get cable and have not even tried to receive broadcast HDTV yet out where I live (which is very rural, by the way - my broadband is over a wireless connection to a tower on a mountain I can see from here). MY home theater consists of a big cave of a room with a projector (resulting in a 110-inch projected television image in HD), pretty darn good audio and a DVD changer. It rocks, but there's no computers involved.

Hmmmm... Ideas?

(inspired by various content found via Scoble's experimental aggregator blog)

Add/Read: Comments [5]
Saturday, 14 August 2004 18:23:03 (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)
Hmmm...I'm going to read this more carefully later, but..I'm a huge TiVo fan. Was one of the very early adopters, have a lifetime subscription, have only been contemplating the upgrade to Series 2 so that I could get more room.'ve just reminded me that I should re-consider a hack instead. Hmmmm...
Saturday, 14 August 2004 20:47:54 (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)
I wish I knew, I have the same issue as you do. I would like a Media Center PC too but Microsoft haveing the OS only shipping with prebuilt PC's is the kicker. If I could buy the OS I would build a Media Center PC myself and it would cost half that of any of the Prebuilt pc's and would vary likly be better too.

Im just gunna wait and hope they go retail with Windows Media Center...
Sunday, 15 August 2004 21:31:50 (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)
You can download Windows MCE from a MSDN Universal subscription. That's how most enthusiasts get it. It's basically just XP with a special app that isn't even a shell; you launch it by pressing

I built my MCE PC about a year ago, and I've owned Tivo series 1 and (currently) series 2, both modified in various ways. So I have some experience on this topic.

The short version: how much time are you willing to spend to get the features you want? MCE is by far the best Tivo alternative, and it is easy to recommend-- but at heart you still have a PC with all the implied strengths (flexibility) and weaknesses (interface, configuration).
Sunday, 15 August 2004 21:51:31 (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)
Thanks, Jeff. I'd be curious to know, from poeple who have more than one PVR type of techology, which they use the most and find to be the best overall. By the way, I thought your "Why I'm the greatest programmer in the world" was great. :)
Monday, 16 August 2004 17:25:06 (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)
Well, I use both. :P

If I had to choose one, I'd choose MCE, just because you get everything in one box: DVD, DVD-R, CD-R, MP3, WMA, Divx, wifi, even gaming.

That said Tivo is still better as a fixed function box; it does a few things and does them extraordinarily well. Not being able to get the shows off the damn device (series 2 is ROM-locked, like Xbox) is what drove me to MCE, though. There is some "Tivo To Go" thing they're working on, but I'm questioning how practical it will be to pull video data over the USB interface; it's the only external interface on the series 2 box.
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