Why we want TiVo

I've been using the HR-series DTV DVRs now for many years, along side old DirectTV-TiVos. I think I can speak with authority on the real-world differences between the HR-series and TiVo. People at first always said "Just give it time, you'll come to like the HR-series better than TiVo." While there are a few things I like better, the key parts of the experience are unreservedly worse.

Look, the HR boxes have gotten better, in many ways, since 2008 when I first had mine rammed down my throat. They don't crash as much, for one thing and many annoying bugs have been removed or improved.

But here's the deal. The HR-series DVRs have more features than TiVo, in some respects. But TiVo still wins in the basics: finding shows, setting up recordings, and watching TV (recorded or live). The HR-series DVRs suffer from feature-itis and they're guilty of one of the most deadly sins of UI design by focusing too much on the least-used functions and features while not focusing enough on the most-commonly used functions and features.

Here's a breakdown of the major issus, wins and losses, between the two interfaces/devices:

1. Speed

HR-series advocates often slam TiVo for being slow - and some of the functions are slow - but here's the thing: the things you do all the time are really, REALLY, fast and responsive on TiVo - not so on the HR-series DVRs. Pause, Fast-forward, menu navigation. When you click one of these functions, the response is near instant with TiVo and you also get the TiVo bleep-bleep feedback. While some advanced (i.e. seldom used) functions are faster on the HR-series DVR, the basics like hitting Pause, or fast-forward, or Menu, are tortuously slow on the HR-series boxes. You subconsciously train yourself to do things like hit Pause, wait.. and wait. Or arrow down a menu, and wait, etc. You don't want to click, click, click, because things can get crazy when it finally responds to that queue of events. Its almost comical, if it weren't so painful to deal with.

For the basics, the stuff you do all the time, Pause, Fast-forward, menu navigation, switching tuners, the TiVo wins - hands down. For these basic, and most-frequently used, functions the HR-series DVR is SOOOO SLOOOOOW and frustrating.

2. Recordings

Even with all the steady changes (sometimes improvements, sometimes steps backward, IMHO) to the HR-series searching and recording options, the TiVO is still better.

It's faster to find stuff on TiVo and faster to set it up to record - and the Wishlist model on TiVo is way easier to understand and use than the 'Recent Searches' and other weird search options on the HR-series - and I'm not a newbie here. I have been using this thing for a long time and I do a lot of searches, simple and complex, on the HR-series.

For many programs that I want to make sure I don't miss, I set the both the TiVo and the HR-series box to record the show/event. I have found that there are a few cases where the HR-series box recorded a program that the TiVo missed - but there have been many, MANY, more cases where if I hadn't set up the recording on TiVo, I would have missed the program. TiVo seems to handle when the guide changes better than the HR-series software does. It seems to be able to find the show after a guide change and still record, whereas the HR-series software doesn't seem to be able to do that and it simply dumps the recording-event and misses the showing. FWIW, when I've raised this issue with DirecTV Customer Service, their "solution" was to make sure I was there at the time the show started to make sure it recorded - Thanks, DirecTV. That's why I have a DVR, so I can be there when the show starts to record it.

Navigating the recordings is much slower and more difficult on the HR-series - it's back to that issue of not enough focus on the most commonly used tasks. It's push button on remote, wait... wait. Push button. Wait. etc. Whereas on the TiVo, it's bleep, bleep, watch.

3. Features

For obscure features I seldom use, the HR-series wins. Here are some of them:

It has Apps. I wish I could turn the damned things off. This feature is a waste of time - a lot of time, because the UI is so painfully slow.

Whole-Home DVR - this is a feature I would possibly use, if I had more than one HR-series DVR. But who would want more than one of these friggin' things - my wife won't let me get another one. She is happy with her 10-year-old, SD TiVo in comparison - she does NOT want one of these HR-series boxes - she knows what it's like from the one we have.

DirecTV2PC App - lets you watch shows on a PC. Unfortunately, they only offer a Windows App and we don't use Windows. There is no Mac version of the app, so I can't use this feature and according to DirecTV there are no plans to ever offer a Mac version.

Update December 2011: That's not to say TiVo doesn't have features that the HR-series lacks. Certainly a real stand-alone TiVo Premier has a lot of features that none of the DirecTV DVRs have.  One example where TiVo clearly wins is the 50 "series links" (season passes) limit on the DirecTV DVRs. Obviously, this only applies if you have more than 50 season passes - but if you do, it's a show-stopper (my wife has over 150 season passes on her TiVo).

4. Some things I like about the HR-series

The Thumbnail video in the upper right corner while navigating the menus. At first I didn't like it, but I have come to like this more and wish TiVo had it.

On-demand. Well, DirecTV calls it "on-demand" but really it is "queue to download and watch tomorrow" (actually I think they have renamed this feature again and now it's called "DirecTV Cinema"). I use this. I don't love it, but it is okay. I wish searching was better and I wish you could filter out extra-cost content and have it only show free (ie. already paid for with my $150/mo check) content, but it's a extra that I like - I could live without it, but it's nice to have. Obviously, stand-alone TiVo boxes play Hulu and Netflix content directly (but not the DirecTV-TiVo boxes).


DirectTV has strung me along for two years now, getting me to wait for the release of a new HD TiVo. I don't think it's ever going to happen - or even if it does happen, from all I'm hearing it's not going to be that great anyway - operating on the slower HR22 hardware. If it doesn't give me what the old TiVo boxes give me, as outlined above, it doesn't solve my problem. I really don't know what we'll do. Probably just live with the old TiVos until they die. Maybe by then we can just shut the whole thing off entirely - or maybe I'll just have to bite the bullet and go with Comcast and stand-alone TiVo boxes. Why haven't we done that already?
  1. We already know Comcast sucks - there is no wondering about that
  2. DirecTV told us they would have a new TiVo box to be released "the first part of 2010"
  3. DirecTV quality is (reportedly) better
  4. DirecTV gives us more east-coast timezone feeds to get the shows earlier and to give us more ways to avoid TiVo overlap where we can't record a show because too many shows we want to record are on at the same time
  5. Cost of (at least) three Stand-alone TiVo boxes, cablecards, etc.
  6. Inertia of changing
DirecTV has strung me along and, because there are so few options, boxed me into a corner - and it's pissing me off.


  1. Chris said...

    Mr Blog Too - Fantastic post. I went through the exact same thing when I "upgraded" our bedroom to a DirecTV DVR. Thank God I kept the ol' HR10-250 in the living room for as long as I did. I totally agree with every word you posted!!!!

    I too was frustrated and finally gave up on DirecTV when the new TiVo Premiere units came out. Here's my story, in case you are thinking about giving up on them soon: http://j.mp/BuhByeDTV  

  2. Anonymous said...

    "I can setup a recording on my iPhone on the HR-series. DirecTV doesn't allow the older DirecTV-TiVo boxes to"

    Maybe you should try again, or investigate this further. I have an SD DirecTiVo and I can setup recordings using the DirecTV iPhone App just fine. My DirecTV TiVo is from 2003, so it's really old. How old must yours be to not have this functionality?  

  3. Mr Blog Too said...

    One is a HDVR2 SD TiVo and the other is a HR10-250 HD TiVo - maybe it does let me record to them. Last time I tried, the app didn't allow me to pick those devices.

    I listed this as a plus in favor of the non-TiVo HR-series boxes so if we can setup recordings on the TiVos via the iPhone app too, that's one less advantage of the non-TiVo boxes.  

  4. Anonymous said...

    Well Dish TV doesn't have Sunday Ticket (and never will). The choice of channels on Dish is very limited. But if Dish got Sunday Ticket I might consider changing (if the have TIVO).  

  5. Mr Blog Too said...

    DISH spam removed. DISH must be paying people, like via Mechanical Turk or something to enter comment spam all over the place.

    Anyway, DISH sucks, as if we didn't already know that - and they don't have TiVo anyway, so it's off topic to this thread too.