Posts Tagged ‘TiVo’

Useful Gadgets: TiVo BOLT OTA

I’ve been a long-time fan of TiVo, going back to my first Model 1 in 1999 – almost 20 years ago. That product, manufactured by Philips, used a dial-up connection to get program guide data and recorded about 14 hours maximum of analog composite video.

How times have changed! I replaced the first model with the TiVo HD in 2006, installing (and constantly fidgeting with) a pair of CableCards so I could get everything to work with my Comcast service. Various other solutions were out into place to record over-the-air (OTA) programs over the past decade, and along the way, the TiVo HD gave way to an xFinity DVR (manufactured by Samsung), adding a satellite (slave) receiver for the master bedroom.

This is likely the only house in my neighborhood which has both cable TV service and a bevy of roof-top and attic antennas, a combination that didn’t make sense to my neighbors until Hurricane Sandy blew ashore in 2012 and the high winds it generated took down a 75’-tall oak tree nearby, cutting off not only electric power, but also landline telephone and broadband access.

No problem for me – I hauled out a truck battery and an inverter and put my TV back online, watching weather and news updates from my local off-air broadcast stations. Since then, I’ve experimented with a variety of OTA DVRs and antennas, most recently Channel Master’s DVR+ product. The DVR+ combines OTA television with selected streaming channels, so it’s attractive to cord-cutters.

But no one to date has come up with a program guide and DVR combo like TiVo had. The xFinity platform borrows a lot from TiVo (and in fact, Comcast had been sued over patent infringement by TiVo, which is why the voice control feature on xFinity boxes was disabled for a while earlier this year).

The distinctive remote, the “thumbs up” and “thumbs down” buttons, and a mix of “clicks,” “beeps,” and tympani “thuds” all added up to a product that became a verb. “Should we TiVo this show?” and “Boop it to skip those commercials!” became everyday expressions.

Way back at CES 2018, I met with TiVo executives and proposed a test of the new Bolt OTA, which was in the development stages. I also asked for the remote Mini box that would operate as a slave to the Bolt OTA and connect to the TV in my master bedroom, using Multimedia Over Coax (MoCA) connections.

Well, here it is, 9 months after that conversation, and TiVo has just announced the Bolt OTA is shipping. So, it’s as good a time as any to post my review!

The BOLT OTA continues TiVo’s off-kilter chassis design with minimalist indicators.

 

OUT OF THE BOX

In contrast to 2006 when I set up the TiVo HD, the Bolt OTA is a much simpler proposition. It comes in that funny slightly-bent chassis with a black gloss finish and only a pair of indicator lights on the front – one green to show that it’s operating and one red to indicate that either a program is being recorded or program guide information is being downloaded.

To get up and running, you need to make a few connections. The first is obvious – some sort of antenna for receiving TV broadcast signals. You can get away with an indoor antenna if you are 10-12 miles max from the TV towers and I recommend an outdoor antenna (or amplified indoor antenna) for reception over longer paths.

I use two antennas in my roof – a Channel Master 7-element highband VHF yagi and an older Channel Master 4308 UHF yagi, both feeding a CM 7777 UHF/VHF mast-mounted preamplifier. With this system, I can rotate the antennas and pull in signals from New York City (64 miles away) as well as Philadelphia, Allentown, and even Scranton, PA.

There isn’t much to connect on the rear panel – HDMI, power, Ethernet (unless you use a wireless connection), and an RF connection to your antenna.

 

You’ll also need an Internet connection. Bolt OTA supports WiFi (802.11ac channel bonding modems are highly recommended for faster streaming speeds) and wired Ethernet, which is what I use to connect to my modem. The third connection will be HDMI to your television, and I should mention that Bolt OTA supports 4K video – you’re not likely to find any 4K OTA broadcasts, but you will find 4K video online from the likes of Netflix and Amazon.

If you want to connect the audio output to an older AV receiver, there’s an optical (SPDIF) socket for plastic optical fiber cables. Newer receivers will automatically extract audio from the HDMI connection. There’s also an analog stereo audio output for REALLY old systems.

For the Bolt Mini VOX slave receiver, you must have a coaxial cable or wired Ethernet connection to operate the Bolt OTA remotely, schedule and play recordings, and stream content. Unless your house has wired Ethernet ports in all rooms (and few do), a standard coaxial connection will do the trick.

WHAT YOU GET

For starters, the well-known TiVo program guide (plus most of those beeps and boops). The Bolt OTA also comes with either a 500 GB or 1 TB hard drive or recording, along with four separate tuners. Figuring about 6.5 GB/hour as a rule-of-thumb for recording HD programs, you can get about 75 hours of recordings with the 500 GB version.

TiVo’s Home screen has changed quite a bit in the past decade.

TiVo’s APP screen is loaded with streaming services.

 

While the primary focus of this product is over-the-air reception, the Bolt ITA also supports streaming video from a variety of services. If you subscribe to Netflix, HBO Go, Hulu, or Amazon Prime, and also enjoy watching YouTube, those four services are available in the Apps section. You’ll also find EPIX, Vudu, MLB.TV, HSN, Yahoo!, Tubi, iHeart Radio, and Pandora (now part of Sirius) in this menu. (What you won’t find is Google Play or iTunes.)

For a dedicated cord-cutter, that’s not a bad lineup. Add those to the multiple digital channels carried by broadcasters – our local CBS and NBC affiliates each broadcast 2 different programs on their channels, while the ABC affiliate offers three – and you’ll have quite a selection of TV programs to choose from, although not any of the popular cable and satellite channels like USA, AMC, Fox News, MSNBC, Discovery, and ESPN. (You may be able to stream those on mobile devices, though.)

UNDER TEST

When you connect Bolt OTA to your television via an HDMI cable, the receiver uses your TV’s Extended Display Identification Data (EDID) to determine and automatically set the correct output resolution. For most late-model TVs, that will be 1920x1080p/60, although TiVo claims Bolt OTA will drive a TV at 4K (3840x2160p) resolution with 24Hz or 60hz frame rates.

Once you complete the TiVo boot-up process and authenticate your account, the next step is to perform a channel scan. In my area, I found 69 such channels, performing a scan while writing this review. Many of those are in HD, such as the first minor channels for KYW (CBS), WPVI (ABC), WCAU (NBC), WHYY (PBS), and WTXF (Fox).

The FCC recently auctioned off all TV channels above UHF 36, causing some local broadcasters to shut down their stand-alone transmitter operations (like WFMZ in Allentown, previously on channel 46 but now channel-sharing on VHF-9) and combine program streams in a single, lower channel – something that was against FCC rules as recently as 2009, but is now permitted and in fact encouraged. Don’t be surprised if all of your channels have been found halfway through the scan!

In the Los Angeles market, you could find well over 120 channels of programming, albeit with many of those channels in foreign languages. Even in a smaller market, you could still wind up with over 30 different channels of programming – and that would include local weather and news, which is handy in case of natural disasters or other emergencies.

Scanning for channels takes very little time. Once my antenna was connected, it took less than a minute to find all of the available local channels, which will show up in a channel list. This list matches what’s scanned with channels that TiVo’s program guide thinks you should be able to receive, showing up as a blue checked box. You may find additional channels on the list that aren’t checked because the TiVo receiver couldn’t lock up cleanly on them: Try checking those boxes and watch the channel to see if reception is consistent.

Still one of the most ergonomic remote controls available today

 

To watch TV channels, push the “Live TV” button on the remote control and go to a saved channel one of three ways: (1) Using the channel up/down button, (2) selecting the Guide button and scrolling to and selecting a channel, or (3) entering channel numbers directly using the numeric keypad. Streaming is just as easy. Click on the appropriate app and enter your login and password just once – TiVo will save them automatically – and you’re ready to stream programs.

The wizardry of TiVo comes into play with the remote. You have one-touch recording from the remote or guide, and you can fast-forward or rewind during any program you happen to be watching, up to a maximum of 30 minutes without recording. A large “Skip” button lets you instantly skip through commercial breaks during your recordings, no matter how long they are. You’ll see a notification on-screen that you can use this feature at the start of a commercial break.

For Netflix users, you’ve got a dedicated button that will take you right to the app. Just north of the Guide button is a blue button with a microphone icon for 100% voice operation of Bolt OTA. Just push and hold the button and say what you want to do, like “Watch CBS3” or “Record Sunday Night Football,” and it will happen! (What’s more, the Bolt OTA now works with Amazon’s Alexa voice recognition system for complete hands-off operation.)

The voice control button works most of the time, although it did get confused when I asked to watch specific channel numbers.

 

This function works well most of the time. I had more luck asking TiVo to change to “CBS3” and “6ABC” than when I requested to “watch channel 3” or “switch to channel 10.” I could also activate the program guide and other functions, but the best use of this button is to locate programs – you don’t need to know the channel if the program listing appears in TiVo’s program guide.

The famous “thumbs up” and “thumbs down” buttons have been retained so you can build up a list of favorite programs and channels based on viewing habits. Looking for a particular program, but don’t know if it is available from a broadcast channel or a streaming channel? TiVo’s OneSearch function will find it for you, and OnePass finds all available episodes of a program. (This works really well with voice control.)

CONCLUSION

So, what will all of this cost you? The Bolt OTA carries a retail price of $250 and the monthly program guide service is tagged at $7 per month or $70 per year. You also have the option of paying a one-time fee of $250 for a lifetime subscription to program guide information. (I opted for the lifetime subs for both of my previous TiVo systems.)

Is that too high? Just right? In my area, a loaded cable TV subscription with fast broadband, digital voice (telephone), and just about every channel you can imagine will set you back well north of $250 a month, including rental of the DVR. That’s your BOLT OTA purchase price.

Even if you opted only for fast broadband service, you’ll be spending between $80 and $100 a month anyway to access your streaming video channels. So, going all-in and dropping $500 once might be the smarter approach, especially if your monthly cable bills are going up 4 to 5% a year, as mine have. TiVo’s web site claims savings of over $800 over three years, based on a survey of different cable service packages. From that perspective, the Bolt OTA would pay for itself in a little less than two years.

As for competitive products like Channel Master’s Stream+ that I reviewed back in July, the Bolt OTA is a big step up in both price and performance. In particular, the voice control function works more reliably and smoothly on Bolt OTA, and the “skip commercials” feature is something you will get attached to very quickly. For those users who think 1 TB isn’t enough storage, TiVo has also provided an e-SATA port for an external hard drive. (Really? 150 hours of recorded shows isn’t enough?)

TiVo Bolt OTA Receiver/DVR

MSRP: $249.99

Available from TiVo, Amazon, Best Buy, and other retailers

More info:

https://www.tivo.com/products/ota-detail

Everything Old Is New Again: Goodbye To The VCR

This past summer, the Funai Corporation of Japan decided to stop manufacturing videocassette recorders (VCRs) after several decades, citing their inability to source parts as the reason.

What’s that you say? You didn’t even know anyone was STILL making VCRs in 2016?

A reporter for the Washington Post was referred to me by The Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE) for some pithy quotes about the demise of the VCR, which had its debut in the United States 40 years ago this past summer. Yes, the ½” videocassette format has been around for some time, with the most popular iteration being the VHS format developed by Japan Victor Corporation, better known as JVC.

Sony also had a ½” videocassette format for home use called Betamax, and in many ways, it was a better way to record and watch TVs shows along with movies. But Sony’s insistence at keeping Betamax a proprietary format (a la Apple with Mac OS and iOS) eventually doomed it.

In contrast, JVC licensed VHS to a long list of companies: Panasonic. Hitachi, Philips. RCA. Zenith. GE. Sharp. You name the CE company; they probably sold a VHS VCR at some point. And that had a lot to do with the success of the format, which soon migrated to consumer camcorders. There was even a short-lived digital version (D-VHS) for recording HD programs and playing back movies in HD, starting in the late 1990s. Blu-ray soon killed that off, though.

When you think about it, the VCR was really at the top (or bottom) of a family tree that leads directly to today’s streaming, on-demand video services. And here’s why – the VCR created the concept of time-shifting; recording a TV program so you could watch when you wanted to, not when CBS, ABC, or NBC said you could.

VCRs also gave us the ability to skip through commercials, pause, and rewind to watch a clip over and over again. Or the entire show, for that matter. After Hollywood lost the famous Sony vs. Universal Studios Supreme Court decision in early 1984 – which ruled that making recordings of TV shows for home viewing was considered “fair use” under copyright statutes – the floodgates opened.

Not long after, studios started making movies available on VHS and Betamax cassettes for sale. Enterprising individuals, noting the $90 and $100 price tags for movies on cassette, opened small video rental clubs. For having your credit card on file, you could rent a movie for $5 or $6, making sure to rewind it (or paying an extra fee) and returning it for another movie.

Hollywood studios weren’t happy with this turn of events until smarter heads realized the additional revenue stream could add millions to the bottom line. And so companies like Blockbuster and Hollywood Video came into existence, happily raking in the cash as stacks of rental cassettes walked out the door every night.

The introduction of the DVD format almost 20 years ago (yes, it HAS been that long!) posed an immediate threat to the VHS format. (Betamax had long since folded its tent and left town.) Now, you didn’t need to rewind anything, and there was no annoying, blinking “12:00” indicator staring at you the entire time.

Bet of all, you could now jump through chapters of a movie by looking at I-frames. Fast forward, pause, and reverse were still available, but in theory, an optical disc would long outlast a VHS tape. It didn’t take long before video rental stores started replacing VHS tapes with DVDs, and by 2005, it was almost impossible to find a movie on VHS.

That was the first year that DVD sales began to decline, although rentals held their own for a few more years. Looming on the horizon were two new HD optical disc formats – HD DVD and Blu-ray – and Hollywood was giddy anticipating wheelbarrows of cash coming in. (True fact: The first Austin Powers movie was largely ignored at the box office and made most of its money through DVD rentals and purchases.)

But there was a fly in the ointment. About 7 years earlier, a company called TiVo unveiled something called the digital video recorder, or DVR. This gadget would let you record analog broadcast and cable TV programs to a hard drive – no tape or disc needed. TiVo sold a subscription program guide service, which is where they made most of their money. I had one of the first Philips-made TiVo units (14-hour capacity) and bought a lifetime subscription for $99 back in 1999, using a dial-up connection to refresh the program guide.

So now we could record a TV program, skip the commercials; fast-forward, pause and rewind, and simply delete the file when we were done. “Did you TiVo Letterman last night?” soon became water cooler talk. Along the way, we had obviated the need for any kind of recording media – tape or disc – in favor of solid-state storage.

A year after DVD sales started their decline, I bought one of TiVo’s first HD DVRs. It accepted CableCARDs, so it would work with Comcast. And it had dual DVRs (Wow!) so I could record two programs at once. It was big and noisy, but it served me well for 9 years.

Along the way, companies like Comcast, Time Warner, Charter, Dish Network, Verizon, and DirecTV came out with their own DVRs, some of which could record 4 or more shows at once. Now, you could record movies in high definition and watch them at your pleasure on your brand-new big-screen plasma or LCD TV.

And that brings us to the present day. Hollywood Video is long gone, and Blockbuster is bankrupt; its assets bought by Dish Network. The Blu-ray format, having vanquished HD DVD, isn’t the cash cow that Hollywood anticipated as more and more video and movies are watched via ever-faster streaming connections. DVD players – once selling for $1,000 – can be found for $19.99. And Blu-ray players with WiFi are widely available for about $50 – $70.

Netflix has now evolved into a streaming media monster, as has Amazon. YouTube, a pioneer in streaming shared videos, now offers a “red” premium tier, free of commercials. HBO and Showtime, along with ABC and CBS, have started subscription streaming services that can be purchased without a cable or satellite subscription. Episodic TV series are being produced for streaming channels and they’re not scrimping on production values.

So we’ve come full circle. My Comcast Xfinity set-top box is a DVR, but it streams channels from a cloud server, not from an internal hard drive. My contacts at Comcast tell me we’re not far from the day when there won’t be any set-top (or sidecar) receivers at all – your smart Ultra HDTV with WiFi will do all the heavy lifting. (After all, smart TVs are basically computers with big display screens these days.)

Today, you can go quite happily through life without having to wind a tape or load a disc in order to watch HDTV.  And that’s exactly the way things were forty years ago. Weird, right? Except you now have hundreds of channels to choose from; all of which can be streamed on-demand depending on the service you subscribe to.

Time-shifting. Commercial skipping. DVDs. Blu-ray. DVRs. Chapter searches. Video streaming. All of these grew directly out of that first VHS VCR that was sold 40 years ago.

And all you need to watch it is a smart TV and a remote. Everything old is indeed new again…

 

 

 

 

Stuffing Your Brain With Video

A recent poll conducted by the Harris organization revealed that 81% of respondents engage in “binge viewing” on a regular basis – that is, watching two or more episodes of a TV program in a single sitting.

The survey, conducted in mid-March on behalf of Comcast, included over 2,000 adults nationwide and 200 viewers in each of the top ten media markets. Dallas, San Francisco, and Washington D.C. had the highest number of binge viewers among respondents (88%), according to a story on the Home Media web site.

Philadelphia, New York, Los Angeles, and Houston also placed well above 80%, with half of the Los Angeles respondents saying they “binge view” at least once a week. Typically, a viewer decides to check out a new series via pay TV on-demand or streaming from Netflix or Hulu, and settles down in a comfortable chair with food and drink.

I’ve engaged in binging in the past. After CBS began running older episodes of Dexter on late-night TV during the writer’s guild strike a few years back, I got hooked on the show and downloaded Season 2 in SD to my TiVo HD DVR. I followed that with a download of Season 3 in HD, and then began watching on a regular basis via Showtime.

My wife and I would knock off two or three episodes at a time, for that was as long as we could remain seated comfortably. (Dexter episodes, like other premium channel series, usually run about 50 – 52 minutes each without commercials.)

Binge viewing is actually nothing new. The major broadcast TV networks used to run miniseries programming on a regular basis, playing out all episodes of a program during the course of a week. Roots started it all back in 1977, but the difference then was the absence of DVRs – you couldn’t skip the commercials. Miniseries programming ran its course in the 1980s and was largely gone by the end of the 1990s.

To binge view, you need a Netflix, Hulu, iTunes, Google Play, or Amazon Prime account, and an Internet streaming connection (Roku, Apple TV, etc.) or a DVR connected to your pay TV service. And in recent years, we’ve seen DVRs become increasingly powerful: TiVo’s Roamio Plus system has six channels of recording and you can add TiVo Mini satellite terminals to record and watch in different rooms – each Mini takes over one of the DVRs and uses Wi-Fi to stream the program.

Many of us wonder (and rightly so) why we’d want to record six programs at once in the first place. With my circa-2006 TiVo, I can record two shows at once and if need be, use my TV’s antenna to watch a third. But there have been a few times when a third DVR would have been really handy.

Apparently, I’m a piker. Verizon just announced it will roll out a set-top box with the ability to record 12 shows at once, offering enough storage capacity for 200 hours of HD programming. (A good rule of thumb for determining DVR capacity is about 8 – 9 GB per hour for HD programs, so I’m guessing the solid state/hard drives used in the Verizon box, manufactured by Arris, have a maximum capacity of 2 terabytes.)

Memory is cheap. You can pick up 32 GB micro flash cards for about $16 these days and a quick check online shows 256 GB flash drives selling for less that $200 at Amazon. So that 2 TB drive doesn’t add an awful lot to the cost of the new Verizon set-top box. Until Verizon’s announcement, Cablevision customers had bragging rights for the “monster truck” of DVRs, with the ability to record ten channels at once.

Even so, you can pile up programs in a hurry this way, creating a formidable list of time-shifted programs that you may never get to. (We don’t always watch everything we record.) A study conducted by Motorola Mobility (now owned by Arris) one year ago revealed that at least 41% of the programs we record are never watched – yet we continue to schedule recordings and pile up TV shows in our DVRs and complain about not having enough recording space.

All of this begs the question: Why not just stream the programs when you want, and skip the recording process altogether? For binge viewing, this approach seems to make more sense, particularly since you can access a video stream from any platform – TV, phone, computer, or tablet.

The devil in the details is bandwidth. We never seem to have enough of it, and it is costly to expand. During my booth visits at the NAB Show next week, I’ll be paying particular attention to demonstrations of the new HEVC H.265 codec. H.265 promises to slices bit rates by half for any video content, meaning it should be possible to stream 1080p video at data rates in the range of 3 – 4 megabits per second (Mb/s), with 720p streams requiring as little as 1 – 2 Mb/s.

If H.265 really takes off (it’s already supported in some 2014 models of televisions), the balance could be tipped back towards streaming from cloud storage and away from DVRs – that is, if there is a way to retain the commercial-skipping feature that viewers love so much and which you can’t use with most Internet streams.

Perhaps the future model is an online cloud with a monthly subscription that lets you watch shows when you want, anywhere you want, commercial-free. (Oh wait, we’ve got that already – it’s called Netflix…)

Attention, All Cord-Cutters!

At the September 14 Pepcom table-top show (dubbed the ‘Parisian Holiday Spectacular’ show, as so many gadgets were being pushed for gift-wrapping under the tree), Channel Master showed something that ought to bring a smile to every cord-cutter’s face: A dual DVR for digital terrestrial television.

 

Not only that, this same product also supports Vudu streaming and Vudu apps, in case you’re jonesing for a movie and don’t want to mess with DVDs or Blu-ray discs. It’s called Channel Master TV, and it will start shipping in mid-October. (Yes, I’ve already asked for a review unit. C’est si bon!)

 

You can find out all of the details about this new product by clicking here (the dedicated Channel Master TV Web site still was not up and running at the time I wrote this), or you can read on.

It's smaller than a TiVo Premiere. Dig those three WiFi antennas!

Channel Master’s big selling point for this dual-DVR box is that there are NO monthly subscription fees required. Well, that’s not exactly true: If you are content to rely on the Program and System Information Protocol (PSIP) data transmitted by each station – correctly or not – then you don’t need additional program guide data.

 

But if you want to program recordings more than 14 days out, you’ll want to add CM’s optional enhanced program guide service, for which no firm price was stated at the event. Both basic PSIP and day/time scheduling can be used to record DTV programs.

 

And you’ll have plenty of space to record. The CM TV box comes with a 320 GB hard disk drive, which ought to be sufficient for up to 35 hours of HDTV programs and about 150 hours of SD programs. Like TiVo’s HD and Premier DVRs, you can watch one program while recording another, or playback a program while recording two others.

Mira esto! Una telenovela de WXTV-HD!

Vudu movies are generally pay-as-you-go, so there’s no monthly subscription fee. And the supported apps include Pandora, MTV News, Discovery, Twitter, Facebook, AP, and The New York Times, among others.

 

From a technical perspective, CM TV interfaces to your existing HDTV either through an HDMI connection or component video outputs. You can set the video output of the box to 1080p/30, 1080p/24, 1080i/30, or 720p/60. (Sorry, no support for 1080p/60 yet. I did ask…)

 

There’s also a discrete optical digital audio (Dolby AC-3, Dolby 5.1) connection for a separate AV receiver, along with wireless (802.11n) and wired Ethernet connectivity for Vudu access and Vudu Apps, a USB port for viewing photos and videos from a flash drive, and an eSATA connection for an external expansion hard drive.

 

Technically speaking, CM TV will also receive ‘in the clear’ digital cable broadcasts, but you won’t receive any program guide data as cable systems use a different implementation of PSIP.

Scanning for active DTV channels can take a while, as all of the PSIP information is read and stored.

And the price for all of this wonderfulness? Why, just $399. That is a substantial premium over the latest TiVo boxes, but then again, you won’t be paying $12.99 a month for program guide information. (Mark my words, the price on this box will drop below $300 by December. There’s a big psychological difference between $299 and $399 to the average consumer.)

 

So if you’ve been seriously thinking about dumping your digital cable channel package and relying on broadband video and free, over-the-air HDTV, your days of waiting are over. Now you have the missing piece of the puzzle – a dual DVR with a nice electronic program guide GUI (and it is VERY nice and user-friendly.)

 

Watch your local brick-and-mortar store for the first shipments in mid-October. You can also buy the box directly from Channel Master, and I suspect it will also be available from major Web outlets like Amazon.

Made For Each Other

Today at the annual CEDIA Expo trade show in Indianapolis, Antennas Direct and TiVo announced a special promotion that bundles the former’s ClearStream 2 UHF figure-8 antenna with the latter’s TiVo Premiere. Individually, the two items would sell for about $200. But the package will retail for just $99 at Best Buy through October 2.

The press release quoted Richard Schneider, president of Antennas Direct, as saying, “Most consumers are still unaware that HDTV is free, and that TiVo DVRs contain a DTV tuner, allowing that free HDTV broadcast to be viewed and recorded. When paired with a digital antenna, TiVo is the multichannel provider of the 21st century, integrating broadband and over-the-air digital content at a fraction of the cost of cable.”

 

You have to wonder who is getting the better of this deal. It’s possible that TiVo has a pile of unsold Premieres sitting in their warehouse, and figures that this could be a way to clear out some of that stock. After all, TiVo makes its money off the per-month subscriber fees, although it’s hard to imagine someone who wants to cut costs agreeing to pay $9.95 per month to get program guide information and a dual DVR. (TiVo still offers a lifetime subscription for $299, which you’d hit in about 30 months at the current rate.)

 

Best Buy can’t be making a lot of money on the deal, either – not at $100 for that much hardware. That is, unless they are also offering some sort of antenna installation add-on package? As for Antennas Direct, there is a tremendous mark-up on antennas, so they can still make some nice pocket change on this package if they move enough product.

 

The interesting thing about this promotion is that it only runs through October 2nd. If I were in charge, I’d run it through the rest of the year, or at least as long as the NFL season lasts. We all know that football is a big driver of big screen TV purchases, and the possibility of being able to record two games at once is a strong incentive to pick up a TiVo.

 

If you live in an area where you can pick up more than one TV market, you could have a choice of several games to record – an even bigger incentive. I’m able to watch both New York City and Philadelphia HDTV broadcasts of CBS games, and if it wasn’t for the unfortunate co-channel assignment of infomercial TV channel WMCN to UHF 44 in south Jersey, I’d be able to get both Fox channels, too.

 

Given the current mental state of the FCC, free over-the-air HDTV needs all the promotion it can get. The press release claims that more than 46 million households use antennas to watch TV, an increase of about 10% from a year ago. That number needs to be a lot higher for true critical mass, but it’s a start. And my hat’s off to Antennas Direct, Best Buy, and TiVo for promoting something of real value to today’s financially-stressed consumers.