TiVo Sucks

My premise is simple: TiVo sucks.  I will defend it, but I do want to make one thing clear: TiVo sucks, but having used TiVo, Comcast and DirectTV DVRs I feel confident in saying “so does everything else.”  This will not be an exhortation to switch brands of DVR but rather a lamentation of the state of an industry so dominated by what’s become a mediocre product.

The World’s First Smart DVR?

TiVo bills the TiVo Premier (the model I happen to own) this way: as a “Smart DVR”.  I see little evidence of this.  For my (substantial) service fee I expect a little more than bog standard and I’m not seeing it.  To be clear here are some issues that I would think a “smart DVR”, one connected to the network as TiVo is, could easily solve but doesn’t:

  • Shows being cut short.  I understand some blame here lies with the cable companies (I use Comcast) but why are nearly all my shows cut short by upwards of 30 seconds?
  • Shows being missed due to known delays.  State of the Union Addresses, big games, award shows: they all run long and usually mean significant delays for shows.
  • Season Passes for cancelled shows.  You may laugh that we had a season pass for “How to be a Gentleman” but we did.  We also had one for “Mr. Sunshine”, “Chuck”, “V”, “The Cape” and many, many others.  All set to “record only new episodes”, all cancelled and all needing manual deletion.
  • Season passes for moved shows.  “Southland” was cancelled on NBC but renewed on TNT.  My TiVo didn’t know this.

All of these issues could be solved by TiVo taking proactive efforts on behalf of it customers.  The fundamental purpose of a DVR is to ensure that I don’t miss my shows; everything else is icing.  For a company that lives or dies by the quality of the its service TiVo makes confusingly little effort here.

The HD (Most of the Time) Interface

One of the largest selling points of TiVo is the quality of its guide and menus.  Way back in 2010 TiVo made an exciting announcement: a brand new HD interface!  Now – almost two years later and after a small handful of updates it’s still not done.  You will still be faced with jarring resolution changes when moving around the interface as TiVo switches between new HD and old SD menus.

Granted most of the non-updated menus are less-used features so this won’t be a minute-to-minute occurence but why should it be an issue at all?  Why should any company of this size not be able to complete this task in less than two years?  At best it’s simply unprofessional; at worst a sign of serious mismanagement.

The Cost

The cheapest TiVo is the $100 Premier.  Buying also incurs a mandatory $20/month fee that drops to $15 after a year.  So your cheapest is $340 for the first year and $180 per year after that (plus any costs to your cable company).  Multiple rooms incur multiple hardware costs and there are no options for hardware upgrades.

Most cable company options will cost you about $190/year and hardware upgrades, while rare, are most often free.  Most importantly the quality of these “stock” DVRs are nearly as good as TiVo for essential features.  Extra features touted by TiVo such as online and cell-phone schedule management are becoming commonplace.  Even if they lack the media consolidation features TiVo offers like internet video or home media streaming these are available in any game console or the cheapest of Blu-Ray players.

TiVo Sucks

The fundamental problem is that while the costs associated with TiVo have remained essentially the same the quality of the service hasn’t kept pace with the competition.  At one time you could honestly say that TiVo service was head-and-shoulders over the competition.  That you got what you paid for and that the cost matched the quality.  That time has passed.

We’re now faced with paying a premium for a marginal increases in quality, half-finished interfaces and a glut of non-core features getting all the attention.  Pricing is still unrealistic (really TiVo, a larger hard drive and THX costs $200 more?) and (admittedly mostly due to the cable companies) the installation process is still a nightmare.

Five years ago having a TiVo was a statement: it said you would only accept the best and were willing to pay for it.  Today having a TiVo is a question: why bother with TiVo?

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25 Responses to TiVo Sucks

  1. Max Howell says:

    Agree on every point. TiVo is still *slightly* better than cable company options, but the gap is not significant and TiVo improvements barely come at all. The fee they charge feels—frankly—offensive. I don’t want to downgrade to the cable companies’ worse offerings, so I am seriously looking into cutting the cord and surviving on Internet services.

  2. Todd says:

    I have owned a TiVo premiere for 18 months and agree completely with your assessment. This model is a total piece of crap and should never have been put on the market. It never works! It’s like a dog that pees on the floor every other day: you know it is going to happen but for some stupid reason you convince yourself it won’t. If your life lacks frustration and disappointment, order yours today. The price is great but the experience couldn’t be worse!

  3. tired of tivo says:

    Yeah, wait until you have to cancel…2 hours with Tivo customer service:

    “My original request was to cancel in April 2011 due to being charged for years for two dvrs and only getting a $120 refund for a mistake that was caused by the representative not deactivating the replaced tivo device when we called to activate the upgraded device. Again, I’m getting ripped off by tivo due to their “auto-activation” of a 6-month free service I never asked for and now refusal to refund services at least for this year (all 2012 months) since the device was actually unplugged when I moved in December. This is not one, but two incidents and I really can’t for the life of me understand why it is so hard to deactivate service when asked AND to get a refund for services I was charged for this year that clearly show the device was not plugged. I accept my share of the responsibility of not unplugging the device until moving in Dec 2011. I do not, however, accept the responsibility for checking to make sure that Tivo actually followed through on deactivating my service a second time, especially since charges appear to have begun six months after I called to deactivate all services in April 2011.”

    End result, cancellation but no refund…What a horrible philosophy and a sure way to keep their leaving clientele looking elsewhere. I’m disappointed and know I’ll never use them, again. By the way, 20-45 minute hold times per each of the 3 transfers to the next person in the chain. The second person in the chain (Amy) was rude and blamed me for not calling, again, until now. OK, so, I should have reviewed my account 6 months after cancellation to ensure I didn’t get charged for a 6-month free service option for which I never opted. Shame on me.

  4. Mike says:

    I agree with all you said but you missed a few points.

    The “Warranty” only covers 1 failure and the replacement hardware closes it. It does not matter you think your buying 3 years coverage.

    They say they can’t update the old Series 3 software to have a 30 second jump like the new one. Please that has to be a simple bit of code to fix. But after having the new Premier unit and the new interface. I can see why they can’t handle a bit of new code. The Premier software is so buggy I had to run in SD Formate for a year.

    And you touched on the Season Pass. I don’t fault them for most of your issues but when I say New Only I expect that. That is nothing that needs constant updating. I don’t know how many times I had to delete repeats. And I missed a season of Top Gear because they decided it was not New.

    I bought the life time service. I wish I never had.

  5. kiwidust says:

    Mike thanks. I haven’t personally had the joy of dealing with Tivo hardware or warranty issues so I can’t speak to it personally – but from what I’ve heard I’m not suprised.

    I think my season pass and timing issues and your “new episode” issues are all of a piece. Tivo seems to rely completely on publically available data from providers for all of this. It doesn’t seem to matter to them that the information is often crap.

  6. Mark Williams says:

    I’ve had 9 tivo boxes over the years and have 4 active ones right now. Can you believe that tivo wouldn’t give me more than $100 off of a lifetime service plan on my newest box, even though I have already paid $180 in service charges since buying it?! Given my customer loyalty, I would have expected better!

  7. Bill says:

    I was all set to buy a tivo premiere box but after reading all the negative comments about the box and the service I guess I will just stick with my Comcast dvr and hope something better comes along some day. I have had a series 2 TiVo for several years and was very happy with it but it died and while looking into getting a HD dvr for my main TV I was sure that a HD TiVo was going to be the way to go there are too many people saying that TiVo has gone to crap not to believe it.

  8. Michael Zen says:

    I used to be a big proponent of Tivo, but in the last few years they’ve added more and more advertising to the interface, jacked around pricing and the customer service is just horrible. I’ve been replacing their product with HTPCs running Myth or Windows 7 Media Center all fed by HD Homerun products.

    One of my HTPCs is booted and running in about 30 seconds; the tivo takes nearly 5 minutes to get running. The tuners are crap and constantly tile and break-up despite the cable company stating the signal levels are fine and the cable card being fully functional.

    The last Tivo comes up for service renewal in June. It’s gone after that…

  9. Kyle MacDonald says:

    WOW, I agree. Been talking with family about dumping cable for years and using antenna and net content…..so the best models do not take an antenna…WOW…I don’t even know what to say…yes sir, here is your new car, and by the way it does not go in reverse.

  10. Hkjunkie@hotmail.com says:

    Well that finally answers the question for me about wtf happened to series 18 (2012) of Top Gear. I too made the mistake of, after having waded through the nonstop reruns, having set my season pas sto record only new episodes to find not a one was recorded for 2011 other than a few. Best ofs.

  11. Pingback: TiVo Sucks, Part 2 | The DepressedPress

  12. Tim Rumford says:

    Although I agree that they are not the smart machine they advertise and the prices and plans are way too high. I love my Tivos. Compared to any other DVR I have seen.

    I have terabytes of movies and media on my PC and I am able to stream and save them to any tivo in my house, in any format. I use some non-tivo software. But it works great. And its free. (pyTivo)

    I have comcast. Once I did the CableCard thing it works great and I even have access to comcast on demand. I also enjoy some of the podcasts I can get on both the premier and series II. I have never had any HD issues with my Tivo once I got my M-card.

    And, they are just unix computers. Once you ” Own it” you can hack them for those that enjoy tinkering. It is not illegal once you own it and your contract has expired. They work fine as hacked units. I have two hacked units. You can pick them up at a garage sale or online cheap.

    I dont have title problems or many of the other issues I hear about. Not sure what you expected from your Tivo. But I got what I expected. It could be better, sure. But it is what it is. My shows record. There are a few shows that always get cut off so I changed an option and that stopped. You have to program them correctly. I also enjoy the how the newer models will record shows it thinks you like when you have the free space.

    Maybe it is we that suck for buying them and bitching about it rather than making the best use out of what you have. I lve my Tivo. I do not love the company.

    • Any ideas on how to make QAM channels lineup with program listings for us folk in Canada, who can’t get a cable-card from our providers as they don’t support it.

    • kiwidust says:

      Tim, I don’t disagree because as I read your comments you’re saying “good hardware, crappy everything else” and that could sum up my position pretty well. The problem is that it’s the “everything else” is what you’re paying for after the first year.

      Also, a minor point but irritating to those of use still waiting: Comcast On Demand via Tivo is still (after two years) considered a pilot feature in a very small number of communities. Most of us still can’t access the amazing volume of material available without a Comcast box.

      Your comment, “It could be better, sure. But it is what it is. My shows record.” pretty much proves my point: all DVRs do that with no premium costs. TIVO has lost it’s edge and isn’t worth paying for anymore. If you can pick up used units and hack them to suit, great – but it doesn’t really say all that much about TIVO as a service.

  13. I live in Canada, and loved Tivo until i had to upgrade to the series 4 due to the loss of my analog signals. Now i get a lot of lovely QAM channels but because my cable company won’t give me a cable-card, i can’t match up the channels to the shows. My wife has started to call Tivo Max as in Beta-max as it not only offers the same functionality as a vcr.

    Tivo is well aware of this issue since 2009 , as customers have pleaded for a manual remapping service, but “TIVO SAY NOT OUR ISSUE!” How is that for customer service or being smart.

    Tivo Sucks and the Canadian cable companies suck even more!

  14. Jacque says:

    TiVo SUX I don’t know how they got the patent to stop all other innovation but they really have stunted the growth and opportunity for DVR’s They can’t code for crap and these things are so buggy! it’s pathetic how poorly they operate and what are we paying a monthly fee for? There’s no reason for a high monthly fee. Don’t even get me started on having two Tivo’s and not having the ability to use the second with out additional fee’s! Tivo sucks!

  15. aaron says:

    Why waste your money on TiVo when you don’t need it!! Case close!!! I don’t see anything wrong with cable’s DVR and you barley have any problems with cables DVR compare to TiVo!!

  16. DrTorch says:

    Wish I had seen this before we got ours. We got a box used on ebay, at my FIL suggestion. He “loves” his, but then he hasn’t compared it w/ anything else.

    Supposedly we’ll save money…in about 2-3 years time. I guess they do repairs, but posts here make me wonder.

    We have Verizon FiOS, and used their box for 2 years. Their upgrades made the interface worse, but in general the system worked, and we were used to it. The controller worked fine, can’t say that about Tivo’s. Plus we got their On Demand, which has some very interesting local programming, and they advertised their own specials. TiVo has lots of annoying ads, none particularly useful.

    As I write this, I’m waiting for my Tivo to reboot…again. The system is slow and buggy. I missed the NCAA Wrestling FINALS last spring b/c of it.

    I thought Tivo sucks from the beginning. The only good that has come from this is that I just flat out don’t get any more advice from FIL

  17. Erik says:

    I honestly don’t find the TiVO to be that expensive, or that sucky.

    Hands down, the TiVo remote control is the best remote ever. You don’t have to look at it, it sits in your hand and is intuitive to use. I wish others would learn from it. Seriously, a huge reason I own a TiVo is because of the remote.

    The new 6 tuner models with TiVo Mini are great to watch TV in other rooms. The Mini is $99 and has a $5.99 service fee. I was paying $17.99 to Comcast for a DVR for those TV’s so this pays for itself in no time, plus we have a single place for all of our recordings and with 6 tuners, we’re never stepping on each others programs. (yes, I know other DVR’s offer 6 tuners, some even offer multi-room solutions that have varying degrees of usefulness, but Comcast doesn’t offer them)

    I can stream shows to my ipad, even across the internet. Or a PC. No extra cost.

    I figure it this way. I was paying $17.99 per DVR (I had 3). That’s $53.97 in DVR costs. Now I have bought a 6 Tuner Roamio for $499, and two Mini’s for $99. Over 2 years, that means I paid $1344.28 ($14.99 + $5.99 + $5.99 * 24 – TiVo gives a multi-device discount on service fee), vs 1295.28 for Comcast DVR costs. so roughly $50 premium for a significantly better user interface, faster hardware (Comcast DVR’s are agonizingly slow), more features (for instance, you can’t pull up episode guides on your Comcast DVR, nor does it have Pandora or Netflix).

    And don’t kid yourself. the Comcast DVR’s crash and lock up all the time. Sure, the TiVo’s have had new release problems, but things have been pretty solid for a while now. Almost all menus are HD now (except for settings and a few other rare ones).

    Now, your complaints about it’s “smartness” have some merit. But, we get into the thorny issue of whether the TiVo should be making decisions for you. The TiVo should never go ahead and delete things automatically, or change settings to other channels…

    Is the TiVo a little more expensive? Yes. The problem is that most of those costs are up-front costs. So it seems like more than it really is.

    If you can tolerate the cable companies DVR, then more power to you. I can’t. And the cost is not that different. I’d much rather use the TiVo.

    • kiwidust says:

      I’m not about to try and convince somebody that’s happy – more power to ya! – but I will quickly counter a couple of items:

      1) The remote is nice… and in my case was immediately discarded so that I could continue to use my Harmony Remote to control all of my devices. The cult of Tivo is nothing compared to the Cult of Harmony. ;^)

      2) The article was written over two years ago. It’s great that Tivo’s been improving, but little that you’re writing about was available then (and the service costs were the same).

      3) I’m sure there are regional differences, but we’ve never paid that much for Comcast DVRs. In our case, currently, the first DVR is included in the Triple-Play package and others are $15 each. For Tivo, we still paid a modest fee (I believe $2/month) to Comcast for the CableCard. Also, at the time, Tivo had no multi-room option – it was additional service plans and hardware for each room.

      4) Comcast hasn’t been idle either. The X1 platform is amazingly well done. It’s gorgeous, fast, and stable. It provides many (but not all) of the “smart” features that I think should be standard on Tivo. Minor example: if I mistakenly select to record something on a non-HD channel it will automatically record the HD version.

      Unlike Tivo, which had been promising it for at least two years before I left, I also retain access to the enormous Comcast On-Demand library.

      The DVR is completely manageable/controllable via my tablet/smart phone. This includes an excellent voice search function that all but eliminates typing on the TV screen. It features multiple room functionality similar to the Tivo Mini (although admittedly the units are currently on back-order in my area).

      The platform is available in all Comcast service areas but new features are being piloted in smaller roll-outs. The cloud DVR provides “unlimited” storage and view-anywhere capability with no ties to your base unit. The “fling” capability essentially mimics the Google ChromeCast allowing you to send a web page or web video directly to your TV from a PC or mobile device.

      It also features excellent social integration and “lifestyle” options such as local news and weather on the screen saver.

      Tivo still has points – such as netflix support – but considering just the DVR and guide features it spanks Tivo pretty handily and, more importantly, has a clear and exciting road map ahead.

  18. dballing says:

    To refute a couple of your points:

    – Even cancelled shows will show up occasionally, months later, with “NEW” flagged episodes (when a network decides to push out the rest of the unaired content to fill a gap in their programming five months later). Auto-cancelling your season pass would prevent that from being recorded.

    – Imagine the confusion that would happen if the Tivo decided that your season pass for “Daily News” on NBC had been “moved” to CBS or FOX? There’s lots of shows with identical program names, and I’d shoot my TiVo if it behaved the way you’re asking.

    – Following behind live programming (SOTU, football, etc.) .. this is something that can’t really be helped. Often you have no idea when that live programming is going to go off-air until literally when it actually happens. You can’t then initiate connections outbound to a bunch of TiVo units around the country to tell them to start recording “now”.

    – Programming being cut short — 100% blame the networks for this. NBC was actively engaging in it (before there started to be ratings-measurements for DVR use) specifically to discourage DVR use. They would run the programming 30-60 seconds “off-schedule”, one direction or the other, specifically to screw with DVR users. They were also the kings of telling the folks at Reuters that their programming was going to be from 9:31-10:01, which would then cause a conflict with 10pm programming, forcing you to decide if you wanted to watch the 9:31 NBC content or “anything on any other network” that started at 10:00 instead of 10:01.

    • kiwidust says:

      To refute the refuting:

      1) Whether or not remaining episodes of cancelled shows will be shown later is normally announced by the network and again a company who’s sole purpose is to let me get to my shows should be on top of this.

      In any case the simplest fix would be to maintain the entry for the season (to catch up on leftovers as you suggest) but NOT to display them and clutter up the interface. Even just marking them in the interface with a simple notification system would be worlds better than what we have.

      2) I’ve never seen the circumstance you’re mentioning as everywhere I’ve lived news shows are prefaced by the station call letters. However I’ll granted it may happen. I’d also argue that it’s likely so rare that the benefits outweigh the problems

      I can definitely see fairly simple solutions to this… even providing the service for only national or only prime-time shows would eliminate the vast majority, if not all, of the small number of conflict cases.

      3) I’d challenge the idea that you can’t keep subscribers informed about last minute changes. Considering the tiny amount of data, any such notifications could be posted to a simple HTTP server. Units could ping that server for updates – this hardly a technical challenge.

      But again, stupid solutions could also work for the vast majority of cases: the Tivo is recording constantly anyway. Simple statistical processing will give you the most common profile for delays. Then Tivo would simply need to know which programs were live in advance and plan to record after them (if a tuner is free, of course).

      4) I’m not arguing that the networks are playing shenanigans, but it’s also shenanigans that Tivo could predict and react to if they cared to.

      Basically Tivo is asking you spend $15 a month simply for the privilege of connecting publicly available data to hardware you’ve already paid for.

      If instead they became the “company that knows TV” the cost may be defensible. Specifically working constantly to massage, correct and improve that public data for their customers. As I’ve said before this effort could be crowd-sourced relatively easily which would both reduce overall cost and increase customer loyalty.

      In my opinion, for the cost, my Tivo should be engaged in a constant conversation with me to ensure that I don’t miss my shows. Why can’t I get an SMS when a show’s been preempted or moved? Why can’t I build a playlist to share with friends? How about synchronized “party playback” so that I can watch shows with distant friends at the same time? Facebook integration? Reviews? Community updates?

      There are an infinite number of ways to improve DVRs, Tivo should be wowing us and it’s not.

      • dballing says:

        1.) You *have* to have it in the interface, because Tivo still needs to make the assessment of ‘which shows are more important than which others”.

        2.) And when TVGN is rebroadcasting “Big Brother 15” in semi-parallel with CBSHD doing so, what then? The box’s job ISN’T to think for you. You need to be in charge of this still.

        3.) They’d have to ALL be pinging it, literally, every minute, to check to see if “now” is when they’re able to finally cut over to the delayed program. That’s ridiculous and doesn’t scale. You can already do what you’re describing now by you, yourself, choosing to pad the programs “most often impacted” by such.

        4.) And then when Tivo participates in the arms-race, the network changes back, or escalates (set the guide data to :01-:31, air the program from :59-:29). Better to take the moral high ground and not participate rather than spend valuable resources measuring dicks against other companies.

        You think it’s so easy, and seem to have all the answers. I look forward to your upcoming product line with bated breath. 🙂

      • kiwidust says:

        1) I’m not sure why it HAS to be in the interface for this, but I’d be happy if it were. As it stands there’s nothing in the interface to inform you of programming changes, cancellations or anything else. I’m never going to argue with getting more information about the things I’ve decided to watch.

        Here’s a possible scenario: I set up a show, “Big New Thing!” to record. I love it, but it bombs and is cancelled. Tivo offers me a notification about this: “Would you like to delete this season pass”? I say “yes” but Tivo, smarty pants that it is, notes that I “thumbs up” the show so keeps it mind.

        A month later when the network schedules a dump of an unaired episode Tivo either automatically records it (if there’s a free tuner) and then notifies me that it did, or gives me a notification in advance that there’s an apparently new episode of a cancelled show I like and offers to record it.

        I get to watch the show and Tivo has impressed the hell out of me by predicting my needs based on past behavior.

        2) Tivo should know that – or at least assume that it may happen. Your argument seems to be “since it can’t be perfect it shouldn’t be done” and while Tivo may agree with you, that’s exactly why they’re become obsolete.

        Again, you also don’t do have to do this for EVERYTHING – do it for the top 1000 shows… or top 20 networks… or just national shows or whatever. Make a list of “Tivo Top Shows” that get some kind of “white glove” treatment. Focusing on the popular shows makes the problem much simpler and also hits the largest possible audience.

        3) Fine – let them ping. It’s a heartbeart – this is old technology. It’s the same way that I get immediate facebook, pintrest, google, instragram, or whatever notifications. It’s a solved problem. In fact this is vastly simpler since it’s a single, static data packet. Enterprise caching services like Akami could handle this in their sleep.

        Of course that’s assuming that you take the absolute simplest method available, but why would you?

        But you also answered the question yourself. If YOU can choose to “pad the programs ‘most often impacted’ by such” then so can Tivo. Statistical collection of data, both from observational studies and direct input from their users, should lead to more intelligent behavior from the box. This wouldn’t require real-time data at all.

        4) Moral high ground is fine if they’re also fine losing the customers it causes them. I WANT Tivo in that ams race: I want them using my subscription fee to fight for me! If the guide data is wrong, fix it! If the networks are playing dirty, play dirty back!

        There is only so much room for shenanigans here in any case. Any wounds a network inflicts on Tivo is inflicted upon itself and its partners as well. Hell – 99% of my problems would have been solved just by automatically recording five minutes earlier and later whenever possible. Sure, a few misses would have still happened, but most would have been eliminated.

        Dismissing an opinion because the person expressing is unable to implement it may be easy, but it’s also narrow-minded and lazy. None of my suggestions are even truly novel. They’re all adaptations of proven, existing systems and concepts.

        Tivo’s limited domain – just TV schedules – is a huge benefit to the kind of things I’m talking about. Siri, Google Now and Cortana make similar decisions about huge ranges of input – Tivo only needs to worry about TV Schedules. There are massive infrastructures, like Facebook, already in place to partner with or integrate that provide applicable off-the-shelf solutions.

        Tivo sells itself as a service company, not a hardware company. In the two years since I wrote this they have, as far as I can tell, lost every significant lead that they had. Innovation is at an all time low at the company.

        Why are they better, again?

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