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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.

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Comments

Al

Here on the East coast, Eastlink cable has been offering a DVR rental for $15/month and it is a high definition box. You don't have to purchase the box either, although Tivo's $200 purchase price is at least half of the cost of a regular DVR.

I understand the software is really intuitive with Tivo but I figured out my VCR's settings 20 years ago so I can probably figure out a regular DVR.

With a monthly rental fee, I just don't see the advantage to Tivo, especially for since it is not HD and doesn't work with Bell or Starchoice. I think they missed the boat by launching so late in Canada.

Posted December 14, 2007 07:46 AM

Guy

Edmonton

If the new copyright legislation is passed, Tivo and PVRs will be illegal in Canada. Time shifting of TV programs is specifically mentioned as one of the many things consumers are not allowed to do under the new legislation.

Posted December 14, 2007 02:58 PM

MEJ

$200 would be money well spent if my understanding is correct that Rogers TV listing will disappear along with my frustration of trying to find out what is scheduled before the first 15 minutes of the program is over.

Posted December 14, 2007 07:00 PM

Andre

Ottawa

Canada's move to HD continues to be surprisingly slow. Although, now it seems that all new tv replacements are HD. HD services are more expensive because of the cost of installing services. That initial cost though should be absorbed and savings passed on to customers in short order for large corporations. Rogers/ Bell etc, should lower their price if people elect to use Tivos. Bell could charge slightly higher rates to those using their lame PVR functionality. Soon we should be questioning why we still have analog. Instead we'll be questioning what this mystic HD our friends from the south have. Technological advancements should be a key governmental initiative. Lets only hope the time off will allow for the many necessary changes to the Copyright bill. The adverse effects of a bill, like this will certainly halt advanced technology development in Canada. Question: How does an unlawful bill transformed into law, enforceable only through infringing Constitutional rights work?

Posted December 16, 2007 11:08 PM

Don

Does TiVo allow me to watch television programs without the commercials. If so where do I sign up?

Posted December 17, 2007 03:26 PM

Ian

Vancouver

@ Guy,

The PVR does not do time shifting for you, but rather the Cable companies. I'm a Shaw subscriber in the Greater Vancouver region and they offer the East Coast shows from Fox / NBC etc and I use my TiVo to record those shows 3 hrs ahead of local programming. Also, TiVo has been available in Canada for at least 2 years. I purchased my TiVo box in Washington state in and have used it locally since then.

Posted December 17, 2007 03:37 PM

Gerry

Calgary

Just got TiVo and I love it already except that I just discovered that I can't use the Amazon Unbox feature. Hope they get that figured out soon.

Posted December 21, 2007 12:53 PM

James

Ottawa

Sorry TIVO you are too late.

I'd love a TIVO but I have HD TV (and an HD PVR) and as far as I understand if you want the digital channels with your cable the TIVO box does not work, as you have to have the digital box of the cable provider to decode the signal.

So TIVO doesn't work with Bell/Expressview/Rogers/Shaw/Videotron or other providers if you want more than basic cable. If you only have basic cable I bet you don't need a fancy VCR to record all your shows.

Posted December 23, 2007 12:37 PM

Philly

Toronto

We have had a Tivo for a year now (don't ask) and I don't know how I ever lived without it. It's a truly brilliant device and no, I don't have anything to do with the company, I just hate endless commercials!

Posted December 28, 2007 08:26 PM

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