Categories: RokuTiVo

Reflecting On 20 Years Of DVR

As TiVo reflects upon 20 years of DVR, and pitches it continued relevance, we too shall do the same.

While there’s some debate as to whether it was TiVo or Replay TV that “invented” DVR, they essentially launched at the same time in television history (and the underlying concept of a hard-drive recorder to advance the tape-based VCR seemed inevitable… as concluded by at least one patent court).

Both TiVo and Replay TiVo were released in 1999, although I didn’t get in until 2001 with a used RCA TiVo Series 1. I wasn’t particularly interested in recording shows at that point. Rather, I wanted a “cable box,” without actually having to rent one from the cable company, with a guide — including the months when I didn’t have cable, as back in those days, I’d often only subscribe to cable during college football season. Further, I was motivated by being able to pause a show at 8PM, begin playback like 15 minutes later, and then fast forward through all the commercials. Alas, I didn’t love TiVo and my next stop some months later was Replay TV.

Replay TV featured a traditional grid guide, which I found more accessible, composite output (to feed my 720p projector) well before TiVo, and… the ability to offload recordings. That was huge for me, given my subway commute — being able to load up a PDA, like a Dell Axim, with video was a great way to catch up while passing time. The more progressive Replay TV also introduced commercial skip and show sharing at some point (…which was a factor in their ultimate demise).

I obviously ended up back on TiVo, a Series 2… some months before TiVoToGo was to launch in 2005. In fact, this site morphed from a personal homepage into a TiVoToGo tutorial (and then the blog you’re reading). Because the functionality was obscenely restricted, we needed a safe space, outside the the TiVo-bankrolled forums (at the time), to discuss methods of freeing our content. The timelines are fuzzy at this point, but I ended up running two Toshiba SD-H400 TiVo units — beyond providing the traditional TiVo DVR experience, they also featured a progressive scan DVD player with TiVo’s interface. I also actually preferred Toshiba’s remote (above) to the iconic TiVo peanut.

Fast forward many years, beyond TiVo’s first, late HD model that I covered for Engadget, to 2011: ReplayTV founder Anthony Wood heads up Roku, the trailblazing streamer, and declares DVR is dead. It was a nutty comment at the time. Now, in 2019, twenty years after DVR’s debut, I wonder if it’s been a transitional technology… soon to be superseded, much as the VCR was.

It’s not exactly the DVR hardware and mechanics many of us love. It’s taking in the content we want on our terms. And many streaming services meet that need, for many, in various ways. I can’t stream TiVo recordings to my iPhone over cellular. Yet, Netflix and Prime feed me just fine – without commercial interruption, plus offline options as needed. Further, I often hear about shows after the fact, that I can binge as needed, without pre-planning, on something like Hulu or CBS All Access. Or purchase outright through Amazon. And what some online services, like YouTube TV, label “DVR” is more akin to digital bookmarking. Of course there are obvious content limitations, as not all shows/episodes are available at all times, and another major compromise is potential commercial interruption. But, as a television lover and the last TiVo blogger standing, I can’t remember the last time I watched a DVR-ed show.

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  • I bought a dual tuner DTivo (DirecTV) back in 2001. I used it for several years and then transitioned to various HTPC solutions, the first being a tuner card that also dealt with video output since most computers/video cards were not up to the task at that point, and culminating in an HDHomerun Cablecard solution. Finally I went back to Tivo with their Cablecard Bolt product.

    I have a love/hate relationship with Tivo. I view them sort of like Apple. Reliable but not a lot of user choices allowed. It drives me nuts.

  • I'm still a diehard Tivo user and unlike you I think the Tivo Peanut is one of the greatest UX designs in the history of the universe! ;)

    I use all of the online services (Amazon Prime, iTUnes, Vudoo, Hulu, and Netflix) through either the Tivo or my Apple TV. But I still record a ton of shows and I do prefer (most of the time) watching Tivo recorded shows over streamed versions, even though I have to skip the commercials. I have always hated the Apple TV remote. And I still feel everything is so scattered around and disjointed. Hopefully the new stuff will make it seem more unified.

  • Oh, I grew to love the peanut. Especially when they went premium with the original Glo remote. And I've used it as a universal remote at times. For example, the TiVo Slide remote has a power button that can control three things. Agree with you on Apple TV remote and app clutter - Alexa and Siri voice control is a frequent "interface" for me these days to reduce reliance on the graphical mess.

Published by
Dave Zatz