TiVo-Myth

Chris posted yesterday about why he thinks MythTV is a better PVR solution for him than TiVo. I was responding in his comments, but I got a little longwinded and decided to post my response here instead.

Read his post first, then read this knowing that I love my TiVo, probably inappropriately, and Chris is a geek to the nth degree who really enjoys hacking and subverting “the man’s” commercial grip on the world (and I say that admirably!).

I don’t doubt that MythTV is better for some but I’d still argue that you fit into a very small niche for whom that applies. For the sake of this particular discussion, I’ll assume that one can get all the necessary MythTV hardware (an entire, functional box, assuming one would have to procure all these things) and have the software installed for less than $300CAD and the cost of 1h of labour (which is how long it took me to setup my TiVo out of the box, including time waiting for software downloads to complete).

However, for most people the Linux (or even basic computer assembly & setup) know-how alone already puts that option out of reach. Of course, based entirely on personal experience, someone who does have the Linux knowledge generally also has enough spare computer parts hanging around to make it work….

But! back to features…

The most significant thing you’ve listed so far that TiVo doesn’t have is the index of console games. It does have a bunch of Yahoo games (bejeweled, etc.) built in, but I have yet to try them out. Ditto with the photo gallery – it may offer zoom and rotation options, but I haven’t tried those yet. Those aren’t important functions for me to have on my TV – and I hung up my video gaming hat after I couldn’t pass Level 3 at Echo the Dolphin for Sega Genesis.

I can listen to streaming audio and mp3s on the TiVo through the shared home network, and transfer files off the TiVo onto my PC (no Mac software yet, bad TiVo!), but I don’t know about transferring other content onto the TV through it.

Though you state you don’t have any use for it, I’ve found the wishlist feature HIGHLY useful in my experience. It took a while, because I started off always having far more TV recorded than I could possibly watch, though having had a PVR for about a year now, I’ve really evolved my recording habits to more closely match my PVR experience. Now I use it if there’s a particular actor I like or a show I know is coming to Canadian Cable eventually but hasn’t made it onto the programming grid yet, and I can rest assured I won’t miss him/her/it.

The other big feature that MythTV doesn’t offer is profiling. With TiVo I can give all the shows I encounter 1-3 thumbs up or down, and TiVo will additionally record its own TiVo suggestions based on my input on likes or dislikes (and you’re right – these should be advertised on the main site! They used to be…). I’ve discovered some great TV that way without even knowing it existed (Weeds was one such suggestion, Boston Legal was another – arguably my two favourite shows), which I’m pretty grateful to TiVo for. It also caught Neil’s preferences and started recording Monty Python’s Flying Circus (which I’m not quite as grateful for – but those are the compromises you make in a relationship). As far as I know, this is the “big thing” that sets TiVo apart as a bona-fide service over any other PVR device out there, as nobody else offers it.

I also didn’t see on their website if MythTV does automatic firmware upgrades. TiVo does.

Now about that monthly subscription fee. There are two kinds of people in the world: those who say “why build it when I can buy it” and those who say “why buy it when I can build it.” Neil and I happen to be the former (which is why, despite his knowledge and our collection of extraneous computer equipment, we have TiVo instead). Financial guy David Bach (Finish Rich Books) said “calculate your hourly wage – if you can hire someone to do the things that keep you from being the best you can be at your $work for less than your hourly wage, you should. Then you can focus on getting that raise, promotion, etc. while someone else scrubs the toilets.” Whether that involves being able to rest so you’re fresh to think about being innovative at work, or freeing up time to hack at some extracurricular project you’ve been working on that will expand your $work related knowledge, it makes sense to me.

You may enjoy hacking at and customizing your MythTV box, but again I’d suggest that’s a trait more unique to the niche that would use MythTV. And knowing your approximate salary range, you’d have to spend less than 1 hour per month working on the MythTV box before it became “more expensive” for you than subscribing to TiVo.

What I’ve figured out most about all this is that MythTV seems to be a product designed to appeal to those who really enjoy a computer-based multimedia experience and want to add manipulating broadcast television to that experience.

TiVo is for those who really enjoy Television, and want to enhance their TV-based multimedia experience with an out-of-the-box solution that “just works.”

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3 thoughts on “TiVo-Myth

  1. Chris

    Fair enough. I definitely wouldn’t consider myself “someone who really enjoys television”, so I guess TiVo is not for me :).

    Since I’ve got the box set up, I’ve done no hacking on it, and see no need to do any more hacking on it, so I doubt I’ll spend an hour a month fixing things up.

    David Bach has a point, but there’s a key phrase in that quote that makes it not apply in my situation – “if you can hire someone to do the thigns that keep you from being the best you can be at your work“. The Myth box was made entirely in my leisure time – I basically took the time that I would have played video games and made the machine instead. I didn’t skip work or work-related activities for it – I found that hacking on it was fun and relaxing. I also ended up learning a little bit about linux and computers, which I could argue is tangentially work related.

    I agree wholeheartedly with your summary – I’m not about to recommend that my parents build their own PVR, nor was my intention to evangelize with my comment. That said, since I fall firmly into the “people who enjoy a computer-based multimedia experience” category, I still consider Myth to be better for me 🙂

  2. Courtney

    What I want to know is where you got your TiVo (I thought it was only available in the States) and how much it cost initially? Also, are you subscribed to Shaw cable or do you go with something else?

  3. peechie Post author

    I bought the TiVo at BestBuy in Bellingham. The 40 hour Series 2 single tuner box was $299 USD. It’s true, the boxes are only available in the US, and you should be declaring it and paying duty & tax on it when you bring it over.

    One of the great things with TiVo is that it works with any cable or satellite provider. (or no provider at all, as the case may be). I use Shaw cable, but you can set it to work with a satellite or alternative cable provider, or just an antenna as well.

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