Tivo Home Media Option First Impressions

I just started my free trial of Tivo’s Home Media Option (HMO) and thought I would share my thoughts. I signed up for the trial via my Tivo, and then some time between Monday night and Wednesday afternoon the “Music & Photos” menu item appeared in the main menu. Because I had been getting my updates via a USB ethernet adapter already (my cable modem is a lot closer to my Tivo than my phone line), I was already set up when the update came down.
I’ll run through my experiences below, the only thing I have for comparison is my Qcast.
[Update: 2003-08-11: PVRBlog has a review of the HMO too.]

Setup

The first thing I saw in the menu was “Manually add a server…” which struck me as odd, because I had heard that Tivo would support Rendezvous for the HMO. I added the IP for my Powerbook, and still had no joy. I then decided to RTFM and found out that I needed to download software to get it to work.
I downloaded the software, installed it and got upset that it didn’t prompt me for an installation location. <tangent>The Applications directory on OS X can get kind of cluttered, so I created a Programs directory to install new applications into and sym linked /Applications and /Applications/Utilities into it so that I can leave them where they expect to be while installing new software into subfolders of /Programs.</tangent> I got even more upset when I couldn’t find the program it had installed at all.
It turns out that the Tivo software installs a PreferencePane, which means that you have to open System Preferences to configure the Tivo software. It would have been nice if the software had mentioned that at some point. And this time I couldn’t RTFM because the FM wasn’t F included. After telling the software to share all my iTunes playlists and iPhoto albums I was in business.

Music

Before I got the system set up I played with a menu option for “Music on TiVo Online.” In there I found a Universal Music folder, which had some generic pop music from TaTu, Queens of the Stone Age, No Doubt, Eminem and a few others. This gives people who haven’t set up the software a chance to see how the Tivo end works.
When I did get my software setup, I suddenly had all my iTunes playlists accessible, as well as folders for artists, albums, songs and genres. They use the folder metaphor pretty well, all your playlists are considered at the root folder for music, and sorting by artist, albums, songs and genres gets done hierarchically. It is very reminiscent of the iPod’s interface. Like the iPod, hitting play on any higher-level folder will immediately start playing sequentially or randomly from the songs below, depending on your settings.
The first thing I did was test one of my smart playlists. It passed my first test by actually showed the current information, but it failed the second test because it didn’t update the playlist.
I have a playlist of good music I haven’t listened to in a while, the criteria are my rating is greater than 3 and last played is not in the last 1 month. After listening to one of the songs in the list, I checked the playlist and it was still there. A small thing to overlook on a small platform, but it would have been nice to see Tivo do this better than my ill-fated iPod which did not update smart playlists either.
The interface is very much like playing shows, they spent a lot of time making the buttons on the remote do what you would expect them to. Channel up/down is next/previous song; play, pause, fast-forward, and slow motion all work as expected. Slow motion doesn’t work; skip-to-end works the way it’s supposed to, it doesn’t work as a 30 second skip button even if you’ve programmed it. While songs are playing, the TV displays the ID3 tag information about the song.
The player sounds a little tinny (even for mp3s) and I would have liked an equalizer to tune down the midranges. Also nice would be visualizations, although probably outside the processing capability of a Tivo trying to record shows while processing mp3s.
I found the music portion to be much more full featured than the unfinished interface of the Qcast. You could browse your music while listening to a song (Live TV button gets you back to the current song) and a wireless remote is much easier to use than a PS2 controller. The Qcast does allow you to create your own playlists on the fly, a feature glaringly missing from the Tivo HMO.

Photos

Like the music, the photos automatically recognized all my photo albums from iPhoto. You can either look at your entire library or specific albums that you’ve set up in iPhoto. Again, the Qcast benefits from allowing you to make custom albums in the program. The Tivo HMO provides thumbnail views of all the pictures in an album, which as some would say is “clutch.”
The interface keeps with the theme of Tivo-only-with-folders, and seems to work pretty well. The pictures look as crisp as they can be expected to on my TV, they have good color depth and contrast too. One thing that impressed me was the inclusion of the date taken information from the JPEG EXIF header. This doesn’t just tell you when you imported your photos – it is a timestamp from your camera of when you actually took the picture. Sure it’s a small thing, but I’m a metadata whore.
My complaint with the photos comes from the slideshow. I would have liked to see an alpha fade between pictures instead of a quick jump, although like visualizations I could see this being a processor issue. There are also a couple problems with the remote. Instead of speeding up the slideshow, fast-forward simply skips photos in the slideshow; when hitting play on an image it displays the image and you have to hit play again to start the slideshow.
I don’t feel that I speak with great authority on Tivo user interface problems. One of the things that differentiates Tivo in the market is its UI. They have spent a lot of money on figuring out what’s intuitive to users, and I haven’t. Still, this what I would have expected to happen and suspect other people may be in the same boat.

Remote Scheduling

I just tried this out about an hour ago, and found it a little skimpy. I only poked around for a few minutes, so this is my first impression. I would like a full web interface to my Tivo instead of just getting to search for shows. I did like that I could view the same show summaries that my Tivo has. Also, the responsiveness was pretty good, I had a message waiting after about half an hour saying that it would record a show I scheduled from tomorrow.
It’s a shame that the only thing you can do is scheduling. The TivoWeb project gives an excellent example of what kind of window the web can provide into the Tivo. I would love to manage my season passes and delete shows from the comfort of my own cubicle.

Sharing

I have no idea, I only have the one Tivo and it won’t let me share with other people.

Summary

Those are my initial feelings about the Tivo Home Media Option. When my free trial is up, I’ll sum up how I feel about it and let you know if I will be spending the $60 to $100 Right now it’s pretty nice, but I don’t know if it’s $60 better than my Qcast.

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