Gadgets TV

Possible takeover target TiVo has awesome customer service (not to mention easy TiVo upgrades)

TiVo Premiere XL

TiVo has been taking it on the chin lately.

The recent blog post in the New York Times entitled TiVO, Nice Service if You Can Get It, is the typical drivel written by somebody who hasn’t taken the time to properly research and use the product they’re talking about. 

As an example – the writer, Joshua Brustein, says that TiVo has an expensive fee of $19.99/month.  He doesn’t mention that you could purchase a lifetime subscription for $499.  If you’re planning on keeping your TiVo for longer than 24 months, the lifetime subscription is the way to go.  (Web Watch won’t mention the number of deals that are on the TiVo website that may lower the overall cost even further.)

The article goes on, with the writer’s cable company trying to pimp their own DVR over a TiVo — hey, that happens. Same thing with the account of what he went through to get a cable card, involving multiple trips, phone calls, and a service tech who never showed up.    Obviously not an issue with TiVo, but with the cable company the writer is using.  For our TiVo service, Web Watch drove over to our local Cable Shoppe and picked up the cable cards directly.  Installed them into our new TiVo ourselves, and were up and running in just about an hour or so.

Obviously each user’s experience is going to be different, but none of what the writer included in his article is specific to problems with TiVo.

That’s not to say TiVo doesn’t have issue of its own. Now that TiVo has won its DVR lawsuit against DISH Network and brought in some money, BusinessWeek says that TiVo IS A TAKEOVER TARGET of some worth. Web Watch agrees, and would love to see TiVo integrated into either an Apple or Google settop box. The power of TiVo is not the hardware (although our TiVo boxes work flawlessly), but in the TiVo software.   Heck, there’s no reason why the cable companies don’t just license the TiVo software for inclusion in their own boxes — but they’re too scared to make that leap of faith.

Licensing the name and the pieces of the product to local manufacturers works for the inventor of MOOSE TRACKS ICE CREAM, so why couldn’t it work for TiVo?  Yup – every local ice cream manufacturer that wants to make Moose Tracks has to license it all from Denali Flavors.  Neat idea, and could be applicable to TiVo.

So even if TiVo is taken over, the new owner would need to ensure that the rabid TiVo hacker fanbase continues to be supported.  Here’s an example of some INCREDIBLE CUSTOMER SERVICE that Web Watch had recently when we called TiVo with a problem of our own — the drive in our TiVo died.

Western Digital WD Green WD10EARS 1TB Drive
Buy a
Western Digital WD Green WD10EARS 1TB hard drive,
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It’s not the first time we’ve had a TiVo drive fail.  We’ve gone through the drive replacement process about 6 years ago on an older TiVo model – so we knew the signs of what a failing drive would look like.  Slow UI menus. Stuttering while playing back live TV.  Pixelization on playback of recorded shows.

Drives fail.  It happens.

That’s why you should always be backing up your computer(s) onto a network drive of some type, just in case something dramatically bad occurs.

So following upgrade and diagnostic directions from the kind users at TiVo COMMUNITY and ROSS WALKER’s guide, we ran a KICKSTART 54 test on our TiVo hard drive.  Yup, it came back with a drive failure error — we knew that we would have to do something, but what?

Here’s where the famed TiVo customer service comes into play.  We called, just to be sure, and spoke to “Larry”.  Explained our issue with the drive and what we’ve done thus far.

Larry thought for a moment and said, “well, you can send the unit back to us and we can replace the drive for you for [this price] — or you could buy a new TiVo unit for a little bit more than that.  Of course, you could always just open up the box and replace the drive using a kit from WEAKNEES or DVRDADDY – or upgrade the drive yourself. Up to you.”

We asked Larry if that would void our warranty.  Larry replied, “You’re already out of warranty, and as long as the hardware other than the drive is working, you can’t break anything.  If it were me, I’d just open the box and replace the drive.”

So here’s an official representative of the company, actively telling us to screw the warranty and just hack the TiVo box ourselves.  Web Watch applauds Larry for his honest assessment of the situation and rundown of all available options.  That’s the type of customer service that you don’t often get from the local cable company (as our friend at the NYTimes experienced).

USB-to-SATA adapterSo we went out and purchased a new drive for our TiVo and two USB TO SATA ADAPTERS (one for the failing TiVo drive and the other for the new drive).  Connected them to our computer and ran the WinMFS program.  A few clicks and about 8 hours after we spoke with Larry, the new drive contained an exact copy of the original TiVo drive and we were back up and running again – with all our previously recorded programs intact.  (If we had chosen not to copy all those saved programs, we could have saved ourselves about 6 hours of waiting and been back up much, much sooner.)

Seriously, if you can connect a printer to your computer, you can connect two drives and run one application to do this yourself.

The hardest part was needing to run a 2nd program called WDIDLE3 on the new drive. Some Western Digital drives need to have their idle status turned off in order to let TiVo do its magic.  Unfortunately, running this requires generating a boot CD and connecting the new drive directly to your motherboard rather than through a USB connector – all to issue a single command that takes all of 5 seconds to type and run.  You don’t have to do this with other drive brands, so you may want to save yourself some trouble if you’re uncomfortable doing this type of technical work.

The only wacky part is needing both a TORX-10 screwdriver and a TORX-15 screwdriver (both with long shafts compared to some of those TORX kits with replaceable bits.  There are about 18 screws to work with to get that TiVo open and drive removed.  Not a problem if you have the right tools, and now we have more than enough recording space to work with – even before adding a DVR Extender drive to TiVo’s eSATA port. 

Long story short – if you have a TiVo, you can keep expanding and fixing it to add years to its useful life.  That’s something you can’t do with a standard cable box from the cable company – they don’t want you messing with the internal workings of Their Equipment.

Compared to what Web Watch had to go through the last time we did a drive upgrade, the new tools available make this process as easy as pie.  So simple, even a caveman could do it.