TiVoToGo experiences

Well, apart from yesterday’s short post about the Crossbar system, all plans went out the door the last two weeks. Why? TiVoToGo.

About a week and a half ago my TiVo gleefully reported that it wanted to reboot. Yes! Version 7.1 was downloaded. The reboot and install took not that long (about 20 minutes). Several things have changed as far as I can see:

  • The TiVo-Slow shortcut to get to the Settings menu no longer works. This quickly became our fast way to put the TiVo in Standby. Oh well.
  • The Now Playing list includes the title of an episode.
  • The To Do list includes the title of an episode.
  • Menu’s are a little slower – overall the reaction time of the TiVo seems slower.
  • The commercial-skip (Select-Play-Select-3-0-Select) still works (yeah!).
  • Oh yeah, I can transfer recordings to my PC…

I transferred a couple of shows to my PC, and using 802.11b it was faster than I expected. The average transfer speed was between 400-500Kb/s. If you’re transferring shows, don’t sit and stare at the screen: it will take a while, depending on the quality you recorded the show with. I had a fairly big recording still hanging around on my TiVo (Ronald Reagan’s funeral broadcast – 6 hours at Basic), which I transferred during the night. You’ll do a lot of things during the night if you do show transfers and DVD creation.

Playing back the show on my 19″ monitor was surprisingly easy: apparently I had a good codec installed on my system, so after transferring the file, all I had to do is right-click the .tivo file and tell Windows Media Player to open it. I was asked for the Tivo Desktop password I created 2 weeks ago (a short moment of panic, what was the password?), and then the recording started playing. The quality was pretty good, and I was watching a show on my own private 19″ TV. Purty kewl…:)

After playing around with it a little bit, the next piece I needed was a DVD burner (that was the reason I’d kept the Reagan thing around – my wife recorded it and wanted it preserved. I already copied it to VHS tape, but wanted something easier). After looking at the local shops (I was too impatient to wait for a mail-order burner) the choice was between a Plextor PX-716A and a Sony DRU-710A. Both internal burners, both with support for Dual Layer, very similar, even in price. I decided on the Plextor purely because I’d read about their excellent reputation in the past. So far, I’ve had nothing to complain. The Plextor comes bundled with a Roxio DVD authoring product, so I immediately created a little test DVD. No problems!

So I had the means to transfer files from the TiVo, and I had a means to record files to a DVD. Now the middle part: editing .tivo files.

Since the Roxio software didn’t want to read the .tivo file directly, I figured I had two options: try to convert the .tivo file to a regular .mpeg file, or use the Sonic MyDVD trial software. I researched the first one a bit, and it looked workable, but I wanted to use the ‘consumer’ product first.

Downloading and installing Sonic MyDVD is simple. You click on the link TiVo provides to download the trial version, and after supplying some contact information the download commences. It’s about 280Mb, so don’t do it over dial-up… While it’s downloading, you’ll receive an e-mail with a license code. This will allow you to use MyDVD for 2 weeks or 50 starts. The big advantage MyDVD has is that it can transfer files directly from your TiVo, and it opens .tivo files.

The first project I tried was editing the season premier of Battlestar Galactica. This was a two hour show I recorded at High Quality. After transferring it to the PC, I started removing the commercials. Editing proved a little easier with MyDVD than with the Roxio editor: you’d just split the file at the beginning of the commercial, repeat the process at the end of the commercial, and delete the commercial afterwards. The only way I could find in Roxio was copy the clip, and change the beginning and endings of the two clips – this could be a problem with files running into the gigabytes…

Sonic MyDVD comes with a ton of menu editing options and templates. It was very easy to create a little menu, and add the show’s signature tune as a background option. The show length after editing out the commercials was about 1h 18m, so I selected the Standard Play quality to create the DVD. I first created the disk image from MyDVD (I was not going to waste one of the DVD’s if something went wrong), which takes a considerable amount of time – a couple (4-5) hours on a 1.4GHz with 700+Mb memory. The next morning (I told you you’d be doing a lot of night processing) I burnt the resulting file to DVD with Roxio (the MyDVD trial doesn’t seem to include the option to burn a .iso file to DVD), and tried it out on the TV. Pretty good quality: only during quick camera movements did we see some kind of delays in the display, and there were some artifacts around light/dark transition areas. Considering that the SciFi channel is one of the basic channels, and therefore sometimes pretty fuzzy, I was happy with the results. On to bigger projects.

The Reagan funeral proved more of a challenge, but only because of the size of the file. I tried to use the ‘Fit to DVD’ option in MyDVD, however, I must have ran out of disk space, because the next morning an “Unknown error” greeted me. I split the program in two (hey, 6 hours is too much anyway – even Lord Of The Rings comes on two DVD’s at least!) 3 hour projects, removed the commercials and news, and added chapters to indicate interesting points. I just finished burning the first project, and will check out the results tonight on the TV.

So far, I think MyDVD is worth the $50 they want from you if you use the TiVo promotion. It’s very simple to capture, edit and create a DVD. It lacks some of the advanced features in professional editing software, but then again that professional editing software can easily run you a couple of hundred if not thousand dollars. I’ll probably have to try out the capturing next, since my wife has become excited about the DVD burner now and wants to transfer our vacation video’s to DVD. I hope she doesn’t become too upset if I start editing the 6 hours she shot, and wind up with a 1 hour DVD…

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