Digital VCRs

Digital VCRs

By Richard Heller

Digital VCRs

A few weeks back, I mentioned a digital VCR called the TiVo. The TiVo is actually a computer but without a keyboard, mouse or a monitor. It is based on the Power PC chip, the same one that has been used in the Apple Macintosh computer. Inside the case is a TV tuner circuit and a hard disk drive, where the programs that you record are stored. Unlike a conventional VCR there is no clock to flash 12 o’clock at you; in fact, there are no buttons on the front of the unit, just a couple of LEDs and a sensor for the remote control.

The TiVo features an on-screen program guide that allows you to program in what you want to record up to two weeks in advance. All you have to do is scroll through the guide, highlight the program that you want to record and press a button. You don’t have to set a clock, set the start and stop times or even know what channel the program is on in order to record it. You can have it record the same program each week with a “season pass,” and it will record it even if the program is moved to a different night or time.

One of the novel features is that the unit will record programs automatically. By this, I mean if you like Law & Order the TiVo will record similar programs such as The Practice without you telling it to. You can give a program “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” in order for it to determine what programs it will record.

The TiVo is always on and recording. It saves the last 30 minutes of the program that is currently playing, which enables you to place a program on “hold.” If the phone rings, you can talk up to 30 minutes, continue the program from where you were interrupted while the TiVo continues recording so that you can see the whole program. You can rewind or fast forward or go back to watching the program in real time. You can also watch a program that you have previously recorded while at the same time record a new program. Just try doing that with your current VCR.

A TiVo that records up to 20 hours will cost you $300. The program guide costs $10 per month and is updated with a daily phone call. The unit will work with cable TV, a satellite dish or an antenna system.

Computer graphics board maker ATI offers TV tuner boards for the PC that offer similar features. Their “All-in-Wonder” series of cards allow you to watch TV on your PC, save the shows to your hard drive, schedule the recording, and allow you to connect your computer to a TV. With a DVD drive in your computer, you can watch movies while working on your spreadsheet. The ATI card sells for $200-300, while a DVD drive will set you back $100.

Richard Heller is an independent computer specialist who specializes in repairs, installation, upgrades, technical support, Internet sharing, data recovery and diagnostics. If you have any computer or service-related questions, please send them to The Rock River Times or e-mail

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