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Third, TiVo, or the Digital Video Recorder.

One time, when I was a kid, we rented a VCR and two movies from a video store, hooked it up and watched them. One of the movies was the Road Warrior, and when it was finished, we rewound the movie, and played it again, and again. I believe we watched it seven times over the next three days. Basically, Mike and I memorized the Road Warrior. Soon, our family bought a VCR and we were renting movies on a regular basis. Life was awesome, and the VCR was the reason. However, one feature of the VCR was pitifully underutilized: The ability to record television shows and watch them later.

Like most people, we started out pretty good at recording shows, but not so great at labeling videotapes. Within a year we had 50 tapes around the television, with a bunch of Simpson's episodes, 90% of the 1988 Olympic games, Saturday Night Live and Martha Stewart. It was a swamp of data, and no one person really knew what was OK to erase. Looking back, if I had to guess, I'd say that 90% of those tapes were 70% blank, with the remaining 30% at least 50% garbage. 

When I was comfortable enough to have a VCR of my own, I found I only needed ONE blank videotape. I would hardly ever record something, because I didn't want to burden myself with cataloguing some old, recorded television programming.

When Stacy and I opted for Satellite television in our first house together, our Dish Network package came with a "free" Digital Video Recorder (DVR). It didn't sound like a revolutionary product, but it was, oh, my, God. It was.

The DVR does the same job as a VCR, but it is so easy to use that you just fall in love with it. My experience with new labor-saving devices, or kitchen utensils, e.g., electric juicers, egg yolk separators, spaghetti measurers, electric knives and crepe makers, has been mostly negative. The DVR pulls it off. 

Ye Olde VCR Awesome DVR
50 120 minute tapes, $3 each  1 100-hour hard disk drive
Paper labels and sharpie on-screen menu 
FF and REW FF, REW, skip forward & back
Clock setting & Programming with TV guide Automatic Onscreen Programming guide, Search all TV listings for an actor or special interest. 
No monthly fee $5 Monthly Fee


Also, the DVR is always recording whatever you are watching at the moment, so you can pause and rewind at a whim. You don't ever have to write anything down, because the show titles are already programmed into your onscreen guide. You can scroll through everything on your hard drive and start it up, or erase it with ease.

In the image to the right, the pause-status bar is shown, indicating about 12 minutes worth of TV "saved up". As long as you are paused, the bar will grow longer, as more and more CSI Salt Lake City is saved.

And! When the 100-hour drive is full, it will free up room automatically by deleting older recordings from the bottom or your stack (you can override this by flagging must-saves)

And! The shows are recorded with 3-minute bumpers around their start and finish time, so the system usually avoids clipping the "scenes from next weeks show" or the credits.

And! If you happen to have paused a show while it was playing, when you get back to it, you'll discover that you've banked a bit of show, and that you are now watching the scenes that were broadcast a few minutes ago. This is actually an advantageous position, because when a commercial break arrives, you can skip forward, leaping over the saved commercials and get right back into your show. You'll actually grow to dread arriving back at "Live TV", because you won't be able to skip forward any more.

In the image to the right, some of the 59 shows we have recorded are displayed on this menu. It is a cornucopia of entertainment at our fingertips!

The DVR accomplishes what the VCR promised: To give you the whole week of programming, and let you pick through and pluck out the best 7 hours of TV, and allows you to pain-in-the-asslessly record and watch it just when you want!

If you don't already have one, get yourself a DVR, and turn your TV time into awesome time

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May 27th, 2006 

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