Sunday, 29 July 2007

When my Tivo gets the heave-ho...

My Tivo is a thing of wonder. Conceived when Sky+ was nary a gleam in Mr Murdoch's eye, when a 'Mediacenter' was the place WNBC6 Boston beamed their Action News from, when Freeview was the nineteen minutes after midnight the softcore adult channels broadcast unencrypted to entice the dirty mac brigade in...

So I bought the first PVR available (early adopter, as ever) and have lovingly maintained it through three remotes and two new hard drives (thanks eBay!). It's a bit slow and can't hold many shows; it only has one input so if you're recording something that's all you can watch, it takes around 4 seconds to change channel (by feeding the adjacent Sky box through a hidden wire) and it's the size and weight of three VHS recorders glued together, but it's a lovely, lovely thing.

Until recently I had no choice in what PVR I could have. I live in a block of apartments with a communal dish. When I rang Sky to ask about Sky+, they put me through to their 'local authority housing' department. Harumph. The results weren't good. Sky+ needs two inputs and the whole 39-flat block would need to be rewired. But, hey, they'd send the new dish for free.

So Tivo it was, and it still is my recording option. It has three features I love. The first is a cartoon opening sequence when you switch it on. It's champion. The little Tivo logo surfs along on cogs and chips to a grand trumpet fanfare and stands in the top corner, swaying slightly. The second is the fact the backgrounds all animate nicely too, and there's no Sky-style muzak. And the third is that, bless it, the Tivo tries to predict what you should like to watch.

You're supposed to give shows thumbs up or down if you like them or not, up to three each way. That, along with what you record, tells Tivo what you might quite like to see coming up. It's hilarious in how wrong it can be.

I once set it to record American Queer as Folk on E4 (much better than the UK one) then the ten millionth repeat of seminal doc series The World At War on the History Channel. Tivo struggled with this information for a wee while then decided that the Five documentary Was Hitler Gay? was the motherlode, it's best recommendation ever. I'm sure the little Tivo logo man was actually jumping up and down*

For work I record a lot of cartoons, and I have an unhealthy appetite for Sunday afternoons full of light tat and rubbish, so mix repeats of QI with US TV gossipfest The Soup from E! Entertainment Television and the aforementioned World at War. Tivo therefore gets very confused. I had to switch the feature off in the end as it would sit for minutes at a time, stuck, pondering what the hell to say I should watch. And then recommending The Hoobs. There's never any need to watch The Hoobs. Ever.

Exciting news has just reached me though - our block can now get Sky+ and even Sky HD by putting up a new dish and some sort of frequency splitter to send out the two different feeds down one wire. Finally I can record one thing and watch another! At last I can have a picture feed to my HD screen that doesn't look like Teletext close up! And, wonder of wonders, I can go back to hopping channels in fractions of a second instead of pressing channel up and waiting for Tivo to slowly type '1...0...2' and move it on.

Tivo is hardly used now. Some of the newer channels have no programmes listed on Tivo, even when they do on Sky. I imagine an old lady typing them up on a manual typewriter inbetween knitting jumpers. She'll be in Sky's call centre in Scotland as that's where you call if you have a Tivo problem. I've called a few times. It's always the same woman. I think she's the only Tivo employee now.

But I'll feel a pang of affection for my Tivo, the hundreds of hours of television I've watched on it. The ickle dancing Tivo logo man with his lovely cartoon sequence. The way it thinks I live in BBC West's catchment area as the new hard drive I bought came from a man who did - and I have to retell it I live in London every few months.

But it was the first way to pause live telly, to record series with ease and to get rid of clunky, nasty VHS tapes. And for that I love it.

*By the way, the answer is no, Hitler wasn't gay. Another example of a programme with a stupid LOOK AT ME! title which sets up something that can't possibly be true. Thanks to Tivo, I ffw'd to the last three minutes with three button clicks and saw the expert saying Hitler was hetrosexual, possibly asexual, but not gay.

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