A TiVo primer for Canadians

By Peter Nowak, CBCNews.ca
With the launch of TiVo in Canada last week, Canadians are now spoiled for choice when it comes to PVRs and so-called "media extenders," which are devices that take all that digital content off your computer and put it onto your TV and home theatre system. Joe Miller, TiVo's senior-vice-president of consumer sales and affiliate marketing, walked me through the device today and fielded some questions. Here is the quick and dirty paraphrased version of our conversation.

Q: What does the TiVO do?

A: Its basic use is recording TV shows, much like a VCR, with a host of other features. The viewer can watch one channel while recording another, although satellite TV subscribers don't get this feature. It can also be set to automatically record a show every time it airs. The TiVo is quasi-intelligent and updated regularly through its broadband connection, so if the show changes dates or channels, it will still be recorded.

The TiVo also has Wi-Fi so it can be hooked up to a home network, so music, video and photos stored on the computer can be played on the TV. There's also TiVo-to-Go that allows recorded shows to be transferred to a PC or laptop, where they can be viewed or burned to DVD. The TiVo can also be accessed remotely through a website and programmed to record shows.

Interestingly, TiVo's interface completely replaces the television provider's, so it uses its own channel and listings guide. And yes, it works with every kind of television service in Canada - from rabbit-ear antennae to analogue cable to digital cable and satellite.

Q: The Canadian TV market is very different from the U.S. Many Canadians already complain about high TV bills - won't they be put off by the monthly subscription fee?

A: The device itself is $200, and the monthly fee is about $13. The fee comes down with longer-term contracts, amounting to just over $8 a month on a three-year deal. Miller says consumers in the U.S. have found the monthly fee still presents a value proposition, given all the extra features. Plus, the device and a yearly subscription together are still cheaper than many PVRs out there.

Q: There's a high-definition TiVo box in the U.S., but not in Canada. Is the standard-definition version basically testing the waters here?

A: More or less, yes. Miller says TiVo definitely wants to release its HD box here sooner rather than later, but there are also technology issues to deal with. Cable subscribers in the U.S. have a cable card in their television receivers, whereas Canadians do not. A special design is needed to account for this.

Q: The TiVo replaces the television service provider's interface and also competes with their own PVRs. It wouldn't be surprising to see pushback or resistance from Canadian TV providers as a result.

A: In the U.S., Miller says there's a "if you can't beat 'em join 'em" mentality starting to take root. Comcast and Cox Communications have acknowledged that TiVo is superior to their offerings, so they've agreed to use TiVo software on their own PVRs. He wouldn't say how Canadian providers feel about TiVo's entry. He did say he thinks the TiVo adds to what the providers offer and encourages consumers to spend more on additional tiers of service.

Q: It sure looks like just about everything the TiVo does would be illegal under Canada's proposed copyright reform rules (which, incidentally, have been scrapped until at least the end of January). How closely is TiVo as a company following those developments?

A: Miller somewhat sidestepped the question, saying that the company exceeds industry requirements in providing copyright protection on what viewers record.