A Close Look At TiVo's New Series 3 Remote

| About: TiVo Inc. (TIVO)

When most people think about TiVo (NASDAQ:TIVO), they only think about being able to record TV. They might be aware of some of TiVo’s extra features, but unless they’ve actually tried the service, it’s hard to understand the little things that make TiVo so great.

It’s easy for consumers to understand the appeal of features like suggestions, wishlists or internet scheduling, but it’s the more subtle differences that actually make TiVo such a luxury product. Things like being able to clip out that extra minute of programming the networks schedule just to punish DVR viewers, or being able to skip forward 15 minutes at a time, so that you can get back to the middle of a ballgame, in case you happened to fall asleep before the end.

When I had my generic DVR, I was forced to navigate several menus just to get to my recorded content, but with TiVo, all I need is to hit the TiVo button twice and I’m right at my 'now playing' list. It’s a very small detail, but one that makes the user interface so much more enjoyable to interact with.

Of all the subtle differences that make up the TiVo experience, the remote control probably has the greatest impact. The cable companies' remote might get the signal to your set top box, but the TiVo remote looks better and gets you where you need to be faster.
tivo remote
From the very start, TiVo got the remote down right. Its peanut shape fits perfectly in the palm of your hand and the buttons are placed in areas where you optimize them most. When the remote first came out, it was recognized by the Consumer Electronics Association for its excellence. I used my first remote so much, that I wore off the fast forward icon on my button.

I was always happy with the original remote, but when TiVo released the series 3, I was excited to see an upgraded remote included with it. While the series 3 remote doesn’t offer any functionality that you can’t live without, some of the the new features are still worth checking out.

One of the things missing from the first remote was an input key for your TV. This time around, TiVo did not leave it off. This makes it easier to switch between TiVo and the Xbox, without having to fish around for the TV remote.

Its old remote was built before widescreen TVs really became popular, but with HDTVs selling like hotcakes, TiVo included an aspect button that lets you change the ratio of the screen, depending on what you are watching. When it is in HDTV mode, it automatically displays the correct aspect, but for standard def content, this button is very useful.

I’m not sure if it was wishful thinking on TiVo’s part, but it also added a switch that lets you use the same series 3 remote on two different TiVo boxes. I haven’t tested this one out personally, but it could come in handy if I was still running my old box concurrently with my new one. Two tuners is usually more than enough to catch everything that I want, but if someone really wanted to go nuts, they could hook up two TiVos and run a quad tuner setup from a single remote.

When TiVo first released its peanut-shaped design, it maximized comfort, but it also made it hard to tell which end you were using, especially in the dark. To help solve this problem TiVo added two new features to make sure that your signals ended up beaming at the screen, instead of at yourself. It added ridges to one end of the remote so that you could feel which end is the bottom and it weighted it heavier on the end, so that when you lift it, you know which direction you should point it.

It’s hard to describe, but I found that the change in the distribution of weight, made the remote more fun to play with. During programs I find myself tossing the remote and flipping it through my fingers, so when commercials come on, it feels more like an ad zapping pistol than the previous model.

To help you see which button is which, TiVo added a backlight that lights up all the buttons every time the remote is used. Most of the time, you will not need this, but it’s nice if you want to slow mo and are having trouble finding the button in the dark. The backlight feature is one of the more noticeable features on the new remote, but there is one dark side to this latest innovation. The backlight is a power hog.

I’ve had my series 3 for about 6 months now and already I am on my third pack of batteries. The first time the batteries went out, I almost had a heart attack. I was getting a delay when I hit play after fast fowarding commercials and I thought that TiVo had updated its software down generic cable levels. It turns out though, that when the remote dies, it goes slowly, so some of my signals would hit and some would not and I was blowing past my commercials.

After the first set of batteries went out, I figured TiVo must have given me low life batteries when it shipped it, but it only took about four months before my replacement batteries also wore out.

It could be something else, but I suspect that it’s the backlight that is being the hog. I don’t think I would give up the feature, even if I could make the batteries last longer, but it would be nice if consumers had an option to be able to assign specific keys to trigger when it goes off. This might help save on AAA batteries and would still make the remote easy to navigate in the dark (it turns out that you can turn off the backlight by pressing and holding the thumbs down).

While I’d love to give TiVo’s remote a perfect 10 rating, there were a few features that were lacking. Given that the series 3 is THX certified, it would have been nice for TiVo to incorporate a button that turned home theater systems on and off. You can program it to control your TV, but there is no room to also include a home theater system.

When I had my first TiVo remote, I reprogrammed the mute button to act as the input button on my TV. Since the new remote has settings for two DVRs, I had hoped that I could program in my own signals on the number 2 setting, but still keep the normal functionality when I had the remote switched to the primary DVR. Unfortunately though, when you use the learning feature on TiVo’s remote, it impacts both the #1 and #2 setting, so you can’t reassign keys without picking something to give up.

Overall, the new remote is a small upgrade, but it’s characteristic of the many things that makes TiVo stand out. It’s not something that will make a major difference in how you time shift your TV, but collectively, these small advantages add a lot to the quality of your television experience.

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