Screwed by TiVo, saved by Apple TV
Last night, it happened again.
I purchased a movie on TiVo’s "Caspa" download service: the Vince Vaughan rom-com Couples Retreat (hey, I had to disengage my brain after deadline).
But it failed to materialise - despite my account immediately being billed for $6.95. It was third time unlucky, although this time it didn't ruin the evening (keep reading).
The first time this happened, a couple of months back, I thought it could be my home’s wi-fi network (wi-fi can be used to beam on-demand content from your wi-fi/DSL modem to your set-top TiVo box, via a wireless dongle).
But after an hour (by which time I’d purchased the movie again; unlike iTunes, TiVo has no onscreen warning if an item has already been billed), the movie finally appeared.
(Unlike TiVo’s regular broadcast TV service, which takes its feed from Freeview HD, Caspa uses a broadband connection to tap on-demand films and TV series via the internet.)
God knows what happened the second time.
Last night, I restarted my wi-fi, as TiVo support suggested (by email, after a day) last time. No dice.
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Still, I thought, after half an hour - wi-fi is inherently hairy. Who’s to say it’s not some fault with my home network, and I’m fuming at the one-third TVNZ-owned TiVo for nothing?
To rule this out, I switched on the Apple TV set-top box I also have plugged into my TV.
It also connects to my DSL connection via wi-fi, tapping the same Telecom Broadband account.
Couples Retreat (which is appalling, incidentally) also figured in the iTunes movie download line-up (no surprise, Apple, Microsoft with its Xbox Live download service and TiVo offer an almost identikit selection; it’s the studios that are dictating things here).
Unlike TiVo, Apple TV also gives you the option to download a 720p HD version of a movie, for a buck extra (that is, $7.99). I chose that.
After about five minutes, the enough of the movie had downloaded for us to start watching. No worries.
I find this really curious. Both players share my Telecom Broadband connection (which has average to good performance), and both beam content from my DSL connection to set-top box via wi-fi.
My guess is that Apple is doing an excellent job of caching its iTunes ondemand movie content locally and TiVo is, well, badly screwing it up somehow.
Apple TV (pictured) performed flawlessly, and it had a much larger HD file to download (720p HD movies run to about 4GB; TiVo movies, whose quality is sub SD, run to around 1.2GB to 1.5GB; in both cases it depends on the length of the movie). Again, TiVo stiffed.
Throw in the fact that Apple TV has a snappy interface (TiVo’s Caspa seems to move between menus in slow motion) and is more user-friendly (Apple TV shows you download progress onscreen, TiVo makes you guess whether a movie has even started to come down the pipe), and it should be game over.
It reality, it’s still more even-stevens, because TiVo downloads don’t count towards your monthly data cap (if you’re a Telecom customer), while Apple TV does (I am envious of Australians, who can get unmetered Apple downloads if they belong to iiNet).
I continue to rate TiVo has a Freeview HD recorder (despite it being dogged by itslack of Prime listings). It’s fast and user-friendly, can pull unique tricks like letting you set programmes via your iPhone, and has a liberal attitude to shuffling content between devices.
But TiVo’s Caspa download service? Bin it, and start again.