Here are my thoughts and comments on living with my RCA DVR80 Tivo DVR now that I've had it for a week or so, as compared to my old UltimateTV:
1. THERE IS NO SCREENSAVER!!!!! I can't believe Tivo has no screensaver capability! My DVD has one, the Xbox has one, my UltimateTV has one, but not the RCA Tivo box. My usage pattern for UTV was frequently "watch movie, fall asleep on couch, wake up hours later, turn everything off, go to bed". My testing has indicated that sometimes it seems Tivo goes to live TV after finishing the movie, and sometimes, like if I pause the movie, it will just stay frozen for hours on that image. A perfect recipe for severe screen burn in on a rear projection TV like mine.
So now I'm obsessive about ensuring the sleep mode on the receiver is turned on so I don't damage my TV. This is really impacting my enjoyment of the system. If someone told me there was another Tivo based DVR with a screen saver, I would switch to it in a heartbeat.
2. It's much easier to find things to watch on Tivo than UltimateTV. The recommendation system, the Showcase channels, etc. propose interesting shows, and the Tivo itself can just record what it thinks you might like. So far that has given me a few things to watch that otherwise I wouldn't have found. Not odd or offbeat things, mind you, just stuff I wouldn't have bothered to track down through the Guide. This is really nice. For example, I watched Windtalkers because it was recorded automatically, but it was not something I was motivated enough to find manually. And I really enjoyed the movie as a result.
I'll note that the last beta for UltimateTV had a much more advanced Showcase system than TiVo, but that was dropped from the final UltimateTV software as Microsoft was getting out of active support.
BTW, the manual system for finding shows on Tivo is clunky but works. You can search in various ways, but not very far ahead in time, and you can use the (horrible) Guide as well.
3. Picture quality is excellent and I do believe better than the RCA UltimateTV box. Not amazingly better, but better. Deeper blacks, sharper edges. And Tivo can record "letterboxed" TV shows like ER correctly, which UltimateTV could not - it tended to chop off a bit of the top of the picture.
4. No picture in picture capability, and no ability to scale the screen image like the UTV box. Which means the UI either replaces the live TV image entirely, or the UI obscures the live TV image. I much prefer the way UTV would shrink the TV image to a small square in the upper right as you went through the Guide. Picture in picture on UltimateTV was nice, but I didn't use it all that much. But I could, right?
5. The UI for Tivo is less computer-ish than UltimateTV . No OK/Cancel buttons, for instance. There are places where this seems better, and there are places where this seems worse. At times, I want the Back button from UTV back. There are several places in the UI that are slow ("Please wait..." on screen). Some things, like clicking Record on the Guide doesn't seem to work as well as it does on UltimateTV. The Season Pass feature essentially matches its UltimateTV counterpart.
I am not impressed that after more than 3 years have passed, Tivo's user experience isn't more feature rich, smoother and more refined, yet easier than UltimateTV. In more than a few ways Tivo is still inferior to the 2001 UltimateTV. But it's functional enough and easy enough for my kids to use.
6. The Guide sucks. It's slow slow slow slow and did I say slow? I was hoping that after a few days it would have all the data and be fast, but it's not. It's horribly 3D beveled edges type UI, which just gets fuzzy on a TV screen, and it completely obscures the picture underneath. UltimateTV would let you choose to change the TV channel along with the Guide channel, but Tivo doesn't seem to have that setting. Wouldn't matter anyway because of the obscured-picture issue.
Most of what you want in a Guide is speed. That's the P0 feature, everything else is lower priority. Get it right, guys.
7. UltimateTV has a record-from-back-buffer feature that I don't think Tivo has, but my testing was inconclusive so maybe it does, but Tivo only has 30 minute back buffer anyway so I don't think so.
What this feature is this: you're watching a movie live, you're 90 minutes into it, and you have to leave. You press "Record" and bingo, the 90 minutes you've been watching are automatically and instantly recorded, and the rest of the movie is appended to that. So you end up with a perfectly recorded movie even though you didn't start recording it from the start of the show. This is really a great feature. Of course it has limitations on UTV, like if you changed channels you lose the back buffer, but all in all it worked really well.
8. The 80 hour recording capability is quite necessary with all the automatic recording Tivo does. I can't imagine that 40 hours would leave much room for those suggested shows, given that I routinely had 25+ hours of TV shows, movies, etc. recorded on my UltimateTV.
My conclusion: Given today's choices - cable TiVo or DirecTV Tivo or a gray-market or repaired UltimateTV - the RCA DVR80 Tivo for DirecTV is an excellent choice. The two tuners are a complete necessity, the 80 hour recording is great, and picture quality is excellent. I would strongly recommend it to someone new to DVRs and/or satellite TV.
UltimateTV wins on UI smoothness and general features, the RCA DVR80 Tivo wins on picture quality, 80 hour recording capability, and the recommendation / Showcase / autorecord system. But since you can't really get UltimateTV anymore, that's a moot point.
But the lack of a screensaver is a complete killer for me and IMO it would be for anyone with a rear projection TV that could be damaged by burn-in. Had I known that there was no screensaver, I probably would have chosen to have my UltimateTV repaired rather than buy a Tivo based unit, or made sure the Tivo unit I purchased had a screensaver. But I just assumed it would have what I view as a basic, necessary DVR feature.
Some quick research has shown that DirecTV Tivos don't have a screensaver (aka "inactivity power off") but some Tivos do, and perhaps the Hughes HD Tivo unit does. There may be some hacks I could put on the box, but please. This is a consumer device that should "just work" out of the box. I have things to do in my life other than hack my Tivo to put in a basic feature.
Update 12/11/04: I no longer own this unit, see my post about upgrading to an HD Tivo. My closing thoughts:
- While I'm still annoyed it didn't have a screensaver, I got over it in time and learned to live without it. It wasn't so hard. It's not a "complete killer" as I said before.
- It can record from back buffer, like Ultimate TV. It's only 30 minutes, so be quick about it.
- You can get the 30 second commercial skip if you futz around with secret codes.
- The "other Guide" that doesn't use the grid UI is much faster than the Guide with the grid. But I want the grid, and I want speed. Performance shouldn't be a consideration in choosing which Guide I prefer.
- I remain unimpressed that more than 3 years later, Tivo couldn't blow UltimateTV's UI out of the water.
- I still recommend this unit. If I had not lost my sanity and upgraded to full HDTV, I'd still own it and I'm sure I'd be happy with it.