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TiVo ( ) is a brand and model of digital video recorder (DVR). TiVo was introduced in the United Statesmarker and is now available in New Zealandmarker, Canadamarker, Mexicomarker, Australia, Taiwanmarker, and the UKmarker. TiVo DVRs provide an electronic television programming schedule and features such as Season Pass recordings which ensure subscribers never miss an episode of their favorite shows; and WishList searches which allow the user to find and record shows that match their interests by title, actor, director, category, or keyword. TiVo also provide a range of features when the TiVo DVR is connected to a home network, including film and TV show downloads, advanced search, personal photo viewing, music offerings, and online scheduling.

History and development

TiVo was developed by Jim Barton and Mike Ramsay through a corporation they named Teleworld which was later renamed to Tivo, Inc. Though they originally intended to create a home network device, it morphed into a device which records digitised video onto a hard disk. They began the first public trials of the TiVo device and service in late 1998 in the San Francisco Bay Area.

After exhibiting at the Consumer Electronics Show in January 1999, Mike Ramsay announced to the company that the first version of the TiVo digital video recorder would ship on March 31, 1999, despite an estimated four to five months of work remaining to complete the device. Because March 31, 1999 was a blue moon, the engineering staff code named this first version of the TiVo DVR "Blue Moon".

The original TiVo DVR digitized and compressed analog video from any source (antenna, cable or direct broadcast satellite). In late 2000, Philips Electronics introduced the DSR6000, the first DirecTV receiver with an integrated TiVo DVR. This new device, nicknamed the "DirecTiVo," stored digital signals sent from DirecTV directly onto a hard disk.

In early 2000, TiVo partnered with electronics manufacturer Thomson Multimedia and broadcaster British Sky Broadcasting to deliver the TiVo service in the UK market. This partnership resulted in the Thomson PVR10UK, a stand-alone receiver released in October 2000 that was based on the original reference design used in the United States by both Philips and Sony. TiVo ended UK unit sales in January 2003, though it continues to sell subscriptions and supply guide data to existing subscribed units. TiVo branded products will return to the UK during 2010 under an exclusive partnership with cable television provider Virgin Media.

TiVo also integrates its DVR service into the set-top boxes of satellite and cable providers.

TiVo was launched in Australia in July 2008 by Hybrid Television Services, a company owned by Australia's Seven Media Group and New Zealand's TVNZ. TiVo will go on sale in New Zealand on the 6 November 2009.

TiVo Digital Video Recorder

Front view of a TiVo Series2 5xx-generation unit
Back view of a TiVo Series2 5xx-generation unit
A TiVo DVR serves a function similar to a videocassette recorder, in that both allow a television viewer to record programming for viewing at a later time. Unlike a VCR, which uses removable magnetic tape cartridges, a TiVo DVR stores television programs onto non-removable hard disk storage. Also, the TiVo device does not have any buttons on the front panel; its functions are solely manipulated by remote control.

What distinguishes TiVo from other DVRs is the sophisticated software written by TiVo Inc. that automatically records programs—not only those the user specifically requests, but also other material the user is likely to be interested in. TiVo DVRs also implement a patented feature TiVo calls "trick play," which allows the viewer to pause live television, and rewind and replay up to a half hour of recently viewed television. More recent TiVo DVRs can be connected to a computer local area network, which allows the TiVo device to download information and even video programs, music and movies from the Internet.


TiVo polls its network, receiving program information including description, regular and guest actors, directors, genres, whether programs are new or repeats, and whether broadcast is in HD. Information is updated daily from Tribune Media Services.

Users can select individual programs to record or a "Season Pass" to record an entire season (or more). There are options to record First Run Only, First Run & Repeats, or All Episodes. An episode is considered "First Run" if aired in two weeks of the original air date.

When user's requests for multiple programs are conflicting, the lower priority program in the Season Pass Manager is either not recorded or clipped where times overlap. The lower priority program will be recorded if it is aired later. TiVo DVRs with two tuners record the top two priority programs.

A user rating a program
TiVo pioneered recording programs based on household viewing habits; this is called TiVo Suggestions. Users can rate programs from three "thumbs up" to three "thumbs down." TiVo user ratings are combined to create a recommendation, based on what TiVo users with similar viewing habits watch. For example, if a user likes American Idol, America's Got Talent and Dancing with the Stars, then another TiVo user who watched just the American Idol might get a recommendation for the other two shows.

A limited amount of space is available to store programs. When the space is full, the oldest programs are deleted to make space for the newer ones; programs that users flag to not be deleted are kept and TiVo Suggestions are always lowest priority. The recording capacity of a TiVo HD DVR can be expanded with an external hard drive, which can add 65 additional hours of HD recording space or up to 600 hours of standard definition recording capacity.

When not recording specific user requests, the current channel is recorded for up to 30 minutes. (Dual tuner models keep two channels.) This allows users to rewind or pause anything that has been shown in the last thirty minutes: useful when viewing is interrupted. Shows already in progress can be entirely recorded if less than 30 minutes have been shown. Unlike VCRs, TiVo can record and play at the same time. A program can be watched from the beginning even if it's in the middle of being recorded, which is something that VCRs cannot do. Some users take advantage of this by waiting 10–15 minutes after a program starts (or is replayed from a recording), so that they can fast forward through commercials. In this way, by the end of the recording viewers are caught up with live TV.

Unlike most DVRs, TiVo DVRs are easily connected to home networks, allowing users to schedule recordings on TiVo's website (via TiVo Central Online), transfer recordings between TiVo units (Multi-Room Viewing (MRV)) or to/from a home computer (TiVoToGo transfers), play music and view photos over the network, and access third-party applications written for TiVo's Home Media Engine (HME) API.

TiVo has added a number of broadband features, including integration with Amazon Video on Demand, and Netflix Watch Instantly, offering users access to thousands of movie titles & TV shows right from the comfort of their couch. Additionally, broadband connected to TiVo boxes can access digital photos from Picasa Web Albums or Photobucket. Another popular feature is access to Rhapsody music through TiVo, allowing users to listen to virtually any song from their living room. TiVo also teamed up with One True Media to give subscribers a private channel for sharing photos and video with family and friends. They can also access weather, traffic, Fandango movie listings (including ticket purchases), and music through Live365. In the summer of 2008 TiVo announced the availability of YouTube videos on TiVo.

On June 7, 2006, TiVo began offering TiVoCast, a broadband download service which initially offered content from places such as Rocketboom or, The New York Times—now there are over 70 TivoCast channels available for TiVo subscribers.

TiVo is expanding media convergence. In January 2005, TiVoToGo, a feature allowing transfer of recorded shows from TiVo boxes to PCs, was added. TiVo partnered with Sonic in the release of MyDVD 6.1, software for editing and converting TiVoToGo files. In January, 2007, TiVoToGo was extended to the Macintosh with Toast Titanium 8, Roxio software for assembly and burning digital media on CD and DVD media. Other means of manipulating files are described at the TiVoToGo Unleashed tutorial. In August 2005, TiVo rolled out "TiVo Desktop" allowing moving MPEG2 video files from PCs to TiVo for playback by DVR.

Parental Features

TiVo KidZone is designed to give parents greater control over what their children see on TV. This feature allows parents to choose which shows their children can watch and record. It also helps kids discover new shows through recommendations from leading national children's organizations. TiVo KidZone provides a customized Now Playing List for children that displays only pre-approved shows, keeping TV as safe as possible.

Subscription service

The information that a TiVo DVR downloads regarding TV schedules as well as software updates and any other relevant information is available through a monthly service subscription in the US. A different model applies in Australia where the TiVo media device is bought for a one off fee, without further subscription costs.

Lifetime SubscriptionProduct Lifetime Service includes a "Product Lifetime Subscription" to the TiVo service which covers the life of the TiVo DVR—not the life of the subscriber. The Product Lifetime Subscription accompanies the TiVo DVR in case of ownership transfer. TiVo makes no warranties or representations as to the expected lifetime of the TiVo DVR (aside from the manufacturer's Limited Warranty).

Service availability

The TiVo service is available in the United Statesmarker, United Kingdommarker, Canadamarker (except Québecmarker), Mexicomarker, Australia and Taiwanmarker at present. Over the years since its initial release in the United Statesmarker, TiVo Series 1 & 2 DVRs have also been modified by end users to work in Australia, Brazilmarker, Canadamarker, New Zealandmarker, the Netherlandsmarker, and South Africa.

The TiVo service was launched in the United Kingdom in the autumn of 2000. It sold only 35,000 units over the next 18 months. Thomson, makers of the only UK TiVo box, abandoned it in early 2002 after BSkyB launched its Sky+ integrated 'set-top' decoder and DVR which dominated the market for DVRs in homes subscribing to BSkyB's paid-for satellite TV service. Many manufacturers, including Thomson have launched integrated decoder boxes/DVRs in the UKmarker for other digital platforms, including free satellite, terrestrial, cable and IPTV.

On 24 November 2009, Virgin Media entered into a strategic partnership with TiVo. Under the mutually exclusive agreement, TiVo will develop a converged television and broadband interactive interface to power Virgin Media's next generation, high definition set top boxes. The terms of the deal are not disclosed. TiVo will become the exclusive provider of middleware and user interface software for Virgin Media's next generation set top boxes. Virgin Media will become the exclusive distributor of TiVo services and technology in the United Kingdom. Virgin Media currently anticipates its first TiVo co-branded product in 2010.

In the UK, the TiVo subscription service is still maintained for both lifetime and monthly subscriptions, although new units are no longer sold. A technical issue caused TiVo Suggestions to stop recording for Series 1 UK TiVo customers in late September 2008, but this was fixed in late January 2009.

TiVo will go on sale in New Zealand in the first week of November 2009.

Hardware anatomy

The TiVo DVR was designed by TiVo Inc., which currently provides the hardware design and Linux-based TiVo software, and operates a subscription service (without which most models of TiVo will not operate). TiVo units have been manufactured by various OEM, including Philips, Sony, Hughes, Pioneer, Toshiba, and Humax, which license the software from TiVo Inc. To date, there have been three "series" of TiVo units produced.

TiVo DVRs are based on PowerPC (Series1) or MIPS (Series2) processors connected to MPEG-2 encoder/decoder chips and high-capacity IDE/ATA hard drives. Series1 TiVo units used one or two drives of 13–60 GB; current Series2 units have drives of 40–250 GB in size. TiVo has also partnered with Western Digital to create an external hard-drive, the My DVR Expander, for TiVo HD and Series3 Boxes. It plugs into the TiVo box using an eSATA interface. It expands the High-Definition boxes by up to 67 hrs of HD, and around 300 hrs. of standard programming. Other TiVo users have found many ways to expand TiVo storage, although these methods are not supported by TiVo, and may void the warranty.

Some recent models manufactured by Toshiba, Pioneer, and Humax, under license from TiVo, contain DVD-R/RW drives. The models can transfer recordings from the built-in hard drive to DVD Video compliant disc, playable in most modern DVD systems.

All standalone TiVo DVRs have coax/RF-in and an internal cable-ready tuner, as well as analog video input—composite/RCA and S-Video—for use with an external cable box or satellite receiver. The TiVo unit can use a serial cable or IR blasters to control the external receiver. They have coax/RF, composite/RCA, and S-Video output, and the DVD systems also have component out. Audio is RCA stereo, and the DVD systems also have digital optical out.

Until 2006, standalone TiVo systems could only record one channel at a time, though a dual-tuner Series2DT (S2DT) box was introduced in April 2006. The S2DT has two internal cable-ready tuners and it supports a single external cable box or satellite receiver. The S2DT is therefore capable of recording two analog cable channels, one analog and one digital cable channel, or one analog cable and one satellite channel at a time, with the correct programming sources. Note, however, that the S2DT, unlike earlier units, cannot record from antenna. This is due to an FCC mandate that all devices sold after March 2007 with an NTSC tuner must also contain an ATSC tuner. TiVo therefore had to choose between adding ATSC support, or removing NTSC support. With the S2DT they opted to remove NTSC; the Series3 supports NTSC and ATSC, along with digital cable channels (with CableCards).

The Series2 DVRs also have USB ports, currently used only to support network (wired Ethernet and WiFi) adapters. [5391] The early Series2 units, models starting with 110/130/140, have USB1.1 hardware, while all other systems have USB2.0. There have been four major generations of Series2 units. The TiVo-branded 1xx and 2xx generations were solid grey-black. The main difference was the upgrade from USB1.1 to USB2.0. The 5xx generation was a new design. The chassis is silver with a white oval in the faceplate. The white oval is backlit, leading to these units being called 'Nightlight' boxes. The 5xx generation was designed to reduce costs, and unfortunately this also caused a noticeable drop in performance in the system menus as well as a large performance drop in network transfers. The 5xx generation also introduced changes in the boot PROM that make them unhackable without serious soldering. The 6xx generation resembles the previous 5xx model, except that it has a black oval. The 6xx is a new design and the only model available today is the S2DT with dual-tuners and a built-in 10/100baseT Ethernet port as well. The 6xx is the best performing Series2 to date, outperforming even the old leader, the 2xx, and far better than the lowest performing 5xx.

Some TiVo systems are integrated with DirecTV receivers. These "DirecTiVo" recorders record the incoming satellite MPEG-2 digital stream directly to hard disk without conversion. Because of this and the fact that they have two tuners, DirecTiVos are able to record two programs at once. In addition, the lack of digital conversion allows recorded video to be of the same quality as live video. DirecTiVos have no MPEG encoder chip, and can only record DirecTV streams. However, DirecTV has disabled the networking capabilities on their systems, meaning DirecTiVo does not offer such features as multi-room viewing or TiVoToGo. Only the standalone systems can be networked without additional unsupported hacking.

DirecTiVo units (HR10-250) can record HDTV to a 250 GB hard drive, both from the DirecTV stream and over-the-air via a standard UHF- or VHF-capable antenna. They have two virtual tuners (each consisting of a DirecTV tuner paired with an ATSC over-the-air tuner) and, like the original DirecTiVo, can record two programs at once; further, the program guide is integrated between over-the-air and DirecTV so that all programs can be recorded and viewed in the same manner.

In 2005 DirecTV stopped marketing recorders powered by TiVo and focused on its own DVR line developed by its business units. DirecTV continues to support the existing base of DirecTV recorders powered by TiVo.

On July 8, 2006, DirecTV announced an upgrade to version 6.3 on all remaining HR10-250 DirecTiVo receivers, the first major upgrade since this unit was released. This upgrade includes features such as program grouping (folders), a much faster on-screen guide, and new sorting features.

In September 2008, DirecTV and TiVo announced that they have extended their current agreement, which includes the development, marketing and distribution of a new HD DIRECTV DVR featuring the TiVo service, as well as the extension of mutual intellectual property arrangements.

Other than the recently discontinued Hughes Electronics DirectTV DVR with TiVo model HR10-250, the only currently available HDTV capable TiVo units are the Series-3 models, which will record high definition TV. Other TiVo models will only record analog standard definition TV. The Series-3 "TiVo HD, and TiVo HD XL" DVRs are capable of recording HDTV both from antenna (over the air) and cable (unencrypted QAM tuner or encrypted with a Cable Card) in addition to normal standard definition TV from the same sources. Unlike the HR10-250, the new Series-3 units can not record from the DirecTV service (conversely the HR10-250 can not record from digital cable). Other TiVo models may be connected to a high definition TV, but are not capable of recording HDTV signals (although they may be connected to a cable HDTV set-top box and record the down-converted outputs).

In 2008, some cable companies started to roll out switched digital video (SDV) technology, which is currently incompatible with the Series-3 and TiVo HD units. TiVo Inc is working with cable operators on a tuning-adapter with USB connection to the TiVo to enable SDV. As of Fall 2008, some MSOs have started offering these adapters for free to their customers with TiVo DVRs.

Green Screen of Death

The Green Screen error message
The Green Screen of Death (GSoD) is an error message produced by TiVo machines. The message is displayed while the TiVo attempts to repair the data contents of its hard drive. The GSoD is sometimes intentionally invoked as a trouble shooting measure to fix problems that a restart will not.

The Green Screen text reads as follows:
A severe error has occurred.

Please leave the Receiver plugged in and connected
to the phone line for the next three hours while the
Receiver attempts to repair itself.


If, after three hours, the Receiver does not restart
itself, call Customer Care at 1-877-367-8486.


Many people and groups have organized to hack the TiVo box, some to improve the service and others to provide service in countries where the TiVo is not currently being sold. TiVo Inc. has generally remained on good terms with these projects, although it has lately tried to clamp down on many of the "back doors" in the software, citing threats to their corporate interests.

Many users have installed additional hard drives or larger hard drives in their TiVo boxes to increase their recording capacity. Others have designed and built Ethernet cards, a web interface (TiVoWeb), and figured out how to extract, insert and transfer video among their TiVo boxes.

TiVo enthusiast groups located in countries where the TiVo is not sold have been able to reverse engineer the television subscription service schedule files needed by the TiVo and the protocol used during the transmission of those files to the TiVo. This allows the TiVo to be supplied with television scheduling data not available by subscription from the U.S. In some countries, these groups operate a simulated TiVo central server to make and distribute the necessary files for programs broadcast within their country. In other countries, each individual TiVo owner operates a simulated server and makes his own files using software that obtains free television scheduling data from the Internet. The ability to supply television scheduling data to the TiVo without paying a subscription fee threatens TiVo Inc.'s subscription-based business model in the U.S., therefore, these groups usually have strict controls over who can access the necessary software or join their group.

Improved encryption found in more recent versions of the TiVo hardware and software has made it more difficult to create the necessary files or to simulate interaction with the TiVo server.

Market share

While its former main competitor in the US, ReplayTV, had adopted a commercial-skip feature, TiVo decided to avoid automatic implementation of that feature, fearing such a move might provoke backlash from the television industry. ReplayTV was sued over this feature, as well as the ability to share shows over the Internet, and these lawsuits contributed to the bankruptcy of SONICblue, their owner at the time. Their new owner, DNNA, dropped both features in the final ReplayTV model, the 5500. However, the automatic commercial-skip feature was simply replaced with Show|Nav, which requires only the push of the arrow buttons to jump between segments. ReplayTV now has a negligible market share, as they no longer manufacture DVR hardware.

Other distributors' competing DVR sets in the US include Comcast and Verizon, although both distribute third-party hardware with this functionality built-in. Verizon uses boxes fitted for FiOS, allowing high-speed internet access and other features.

As of October 2008, TiVo has 3.46 million subscribers in the US, down from a peak of 4.36 million in January 2006.

Historical issues

Privacy concerns

TiVo collects detailed usage data from units via the telephone line. As units are downloading schedule data, they transmit household viewing habits to TiVo Inc. Collected information includes a log of everything watched (time and channel) and remote keypresses such as fast forwarding through or replaying content. Many users were surprised when TiVo released data on how many users rewatched the exposure of Janet Jackson's breast during the 2004 Super Bowl. TiVo records usage data for their own research and they also sell it to other corporations such as advertisers.Nielsen and TiVo have also previously collaborated to track viewing habits. Now TiVo has their own service.

TiVo has three levels of collection data. By default you are in Opt-out status where all usage data is currently aggregated by ZIP code and that they don't track individual viewing habits. Certain optional features and promotions require you to Opt-In, where you they will collect individual information for targeted show suggestions or advertising. Users can request that TiVo block the collection of Anonymous Viewing Information and Diagnostic Information from their TiVo DVR.

Opposition by content providers

One major concern of the media is the fact that advertisements in television programs can be bypassed by using a TiVo DVR. The media industry is highly dependent on sponsorship via advertisements and will lose revenue if viewers adopt TiVo-like systems in large numbers. Knowing this, some countries have taken protectionist measures especially when the media is already struggling due to poor viewing figures. The government of Singapore has banned TiVo, citing the potential adverse impact on the local media industry if TiVo usage were to increase. The government is, however facing difficulty regulating the use of TiVo in Singapore as individuals are bringing in the sets from overseas. TiVo has created a number of ad solutions intended to reach the viewer that fast forwards through ads.

This has not been an issue in Australia where the exclusive rights to TiVo are held by Hybrid Television Services, owned by the Seven Media Group and TVNZ. Seven Media Group is one of Australia's largest free-to-air broadcasters, and as part of the local market adaptations to TiVo prior to launch, ad-skipping was disabled. Users can still fast forward through ads.

Content flagging

In September 2005, a TiVo software upgrade added the ability for broadcasters to "flag" programs to be deleted after a certain date. Some customers had recordings deleted, or could not use their flagged recordings (transfer to a computer or burn to DVD), as they could with unflagged material. The initial showing of this for random shows was a bug in the software. It later was enabled on pay-per-view and video-on-demand content.

Pop-up advertisements

During early 2005, TiVo began test market "pop-up" advertisements to select subscribers, to explore it as an alternative source of revenue. The idea was that as users fast-forward through certain commercials of TiVo advertisers, they would also see a static image ad more suitable and effective than the broken video stream.

At its announcement, the concept of extra advertisements drew heavy criticism from subscribers. Some lifetime subscribers were upset that they had already paid for a service based upon their previous ad-free experience, while others argued that they had purchased the service for the specific purpose of dodging advertisements.

The pop-ups concept was shelved before making it to nationwide rollout.

GNU General Public License and "Tivoization"

In 2006, Free Software Foundation (FSF) decided to combat TiVo's technical system of blocking users from running modified software. This behavior, which FSF dubs "tivoization", was tackled by creating a new version of the GNU General Public License prohibiting this activity. The operating system kernel included in the TiVo is distributed under the terms of the GPL, and the FSF's goal is to ensure that all recipients of software licensed under the new GPL are not restricted by hardware constraints on the modification of distributed software. This new license provision was acknowledged by TiVo in its April 2007 SEC filing: "we may be unable to incorporate future enhancements to the GNU/Linux operating system into our software, which could adversely affect our business". Regardless, the Linux kernel has not been changed to use GPL v3.

See also


  2. Sticking point for TiVo
  3. How to connect your TiVo DVR to your network and the Internet
  4. TiVO Joins with Jaman to Deliver the Best of the Big Screen to Living Rooms Across the Country
  5. TiVo and Netflix Announce Partnership
  6. Freeview/Freeview Playback/Satellite/Cable, PVR UK website, Undated.Accessed: 04-30-2008.
  7. Latest Range Freeview website, Undated.Accessed:04-30-2008.
  8. TiVo Suggestions in the UK - Update, TiVo Community Forum, 09-29-2008.Accessed: 01-11-2008.
  9. EFF:
  10. Bankruptcy Blues for PVR Maker
  11. TiVo Subscriber Numbers Keep Tanking, Accessed at: 2008-12-05
  12. TiVo Loses 163,000 Subscribers In October ‘08 Quarter, Accessed at: 2008-12-05
  13. TiVo's Data Collection and Privacy Practices
  14. TiVo watchers uneasy after post-Super Bowl reports - CNET
  15. TiVo Is Watching When You Don’t Watch, and It Tattles
  17. TiVo copy protection bug irks users - CNET

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