TiVo History 101, How TiVo Built the PVR

ACM Queue – TiVo-lution – DVR services have taken off in recent years. TiVo’s cofounder discusses the method behind the magic. Jim Barton, Co-Founder of DVR favorite TiVo, has written an excellent write up on the history of TiVo.

In the article he addresses what their initial challenges were as well as why with the collision of cheap hard drives, cheap chips and the advent of open source software TiVo was able to breath life into that magic little recording box.

Central to TiVo’s intial goals were that their PVR be “simple, reliable and easy to use.” And here TiVo has succeeded. More than any other PVR I’ve ever played with (and especially in contrast to Microsoft’s more ambitious Media Center PC) TiVo has a lock on simplicity and reliability.

It has been a very rare day that I’ve ever had to reboot my TiVo vs. frequent reboots from my Media Center PC.

Barton puts it this way, ” It just works. This means that the product itself should always work as expected. No surprises. No ambiguity. Not “works most of the time.” Not “mostly works.” It just works. In the consumer experience, if something doesn’t work right the first use, it is usually abandoned. So you need to get it right the first time.

Remember, it’s television. Everybody knows how television works (even those who claim not to watch it). Television never stops, even when you turn off the TV set. Televisions never crash. You never need to reboot your television. Television always has perfect lip-sync.”

Barton also writes about what he calls the “Soul of the a DVR”:

“The soul of a DVR is remembering things: when shows come on, what channels a user receives, how long shows should be kept around, and so on. Remembering has to occur reliably, even when the power can drop at any time and the receiver may be offline for days or weeks.

The number of things it needs to remember is enormous. A subscriber using a satellite receiver can potentially receive 1,000 channels; stretched over 24 hours a day for 14 days, this is a lot of program information. Obviously, this data could always be re-acquired from the service; however, that process would be expensive and time-consuming, and it would be visible to the subscriber.”

Although the article doesn’t really address some of the largest challenges ahead for TiVo (Series 3, HDTV, etc.) it is an excellent primer on where TiVo has been and worth a read for those interested in the technology.

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