Tivo HD vs. Satellite vs. Cable (Switched Video)

November 24th, 2007 · No Comments

For awhile now, I have been mentally wrestling with the issues brought about by the release of the Tivo Series 3 — HD Tivo capability baby! When this device was announced late last year, we had a full-fledged DirecTV deployment in our home with 4 active receivers, and contemplating a fifth. In fact, we’d been a constant DirecTV subscriber since 1995 when we bought a house in Illinois in a new housing development where the cable company had yet to lay cable in the ground. Turns out that subscribing to DirecTV was a good move as cable wouldn’t be available for another 10 months or so. But I digress…

Because of our long standing subscription to DirecTV, as of late 2006 we had quite a few DirecTivos and one original Tivo Series 1, and had grown to love the interface and features of Tivo. It was heartbreaking to Kimberly, who I’ll classify as a Tivo-fanatic, when she heard that DirecTV would stop providing Tivo DVR capabilities in their tuners in favor of their own DVR technology. And it was frustrating to me because this coincided with the initial availability of HD channels — not the 100 national channel pitch they’re having now, but the 10-ish channels they originally made available. Having an HD projector and a 120 inch picture, we wanted every bit of quality in our picture that we could get. But there was no available solution for HD Tivo yet — from any provider.

Into this was born the Tivo S3 (Series 3), a dual-tuner Tivo capable of recording and playing HD content, but it would only work with cable via cable-cards. We wanted it! But then we’d have to get cable from the evil cable company! Crap!!! We took the plunge anyway, bought an S3 and transferred our lifetime service from a Tivo S1 over to it, fought the cable company to get two cablecards installed and working, and subscribed to the cable co’s HD package. Everything worked! The picture was awesome! We got broadcast networks in HD, Discovery, HBO, and HDNet in HD, a stunning picture! Ahhhhh……

It wasn’t long before the dark-side fought back. It turns out that Time Warner Austin, our local cable company, is one of the test beds for “Switched Video” technology and that TW Austin had decided that the rollout of HD channels would primarily happen via SV (Switched Video). This wasn’t good for us because the Tivo S3, using its one-way cablecards, will not tune in those channels. [SV works by the tuner making a request over the cable line for the current location in the frequency spectrum of the channel, the cable co’s equipment then sends a response back telling it where that location is, and the tuner then tunes to that location — all without telling you, the user, that channel 1613 has moved, unless of course, there are no available SV channel slots in which case it tells you the channel isn’t available at all.]

As the months have gone by, TW Austin has rolled out more and more HD channels on switched video and there seems to be no movement on a solution enabling our Tivo S3 to tune to these channels. This makes it more and more aggravating to pay for a service, whose monthly rates have gone up, which I’m not really able to fully use. I’ve tried the HD DVR provided by the cable co, a Scientific Atlanta 8300, and that piece-of-crap has more flaws than any product I’ve ever seen! You can’t cancel a recording to record something else at that time. It frequently locks up often and won’t accept commands from the remote to pause or anything else. It misses recordings. It misses parts of recordings. Etc. In short, it annoys me EVERY time I try to use it.

And now that we’re at most a couple days away from finishing the remodeling of our theater room and I need to make a decision on what HD DVR technology to bet on. My choices are the following:

  • Tivo S3 — the best DVR interface but we only get a few HD channels and no good prospect of getting more of them.
  • SA 8300 — a terrible DVR, I hate the device, but it does work with all cable channels when it works at all.
  • DirecTV HD DVR — lots of (compressed and thus lower quality?) HD channels and a different, likely buggy, HD DVR that Kimberly will give me grief over. (We haven’t tried it yet.)

Sigh. This will not be an easy choice.

Tags: Home Theater

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