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Bang Your Box

Can Time Warner kill TiVo?

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Diligent readers of these pages may recall that last year I wrote about how Time Warner digital cable and TiVo, taken together, have transformed the idiot box into the smartest, most alluring appliance in the house. But the digital dream team, as it were, could be coming to an end.

Time Warner Cable has quietly introduced its own digital video recorder (DVR) service in an all-in-one box that replaces your existing cable box. (Turns out TiVo’s underlying technology—saving video to a hard drive—is easily imitated without violating patent laws.) A Time Warner source tells me that only a small group of subscribers—“several thousand,” who mostly got wind of the DVR from early buzz on blogs like Gizmodo.com and LockhartSteele.com—have upgraded to the DVR option, though it’s already available (via 800-OKCable, for $8.95 a month) in most city neighborhoods. Intrigued, I got my hands on a box. My verdict: It’s a worthy, competitive first showing. In fact, with a software upgrade or two, it could be a TiVo killer. It lets you do most all of the gee-whiz things TiVo lets you do—pause live TV, do your own instant replays, auto- record entire seasons’ worth of shows, etc. In blogland, some users have complained about buggy, crash-prone boxes (not my experience) and balky searching (yes, I miss TiVo’s brilliant “WishList” function). But it outdoes TiVo with a neato picture-in-picture option and the ability to record two shows at once.

Honestly, I sort of didn’t want to like this DVR as much as I did. Because I love my TiVo. I love saying “TiVo” (great brand, that). And being a TiVo subscriber has felt like getting to be part of a supercool, futuristic club.

But a box that lets me watch Kudlow & Cramer while taping Gilmore Girls? What’s not to like?


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