Hello, I Must Be Going

Bent and beautiful, the TiVo BOLT. It’s the current best-in-class DVR… If your cable company cooperates.

The only company whose products I’ve spent more time with than Apple would be TiVo. I’ve owned a succession of them dating back to 2001. I became a TiVo user just one year after I switched to the Mac — back when that was still a huge pain in the ass.

My first TiVo was a thick box built by Philips and tethered to the wall by both power and a telephone cord. The now famous ‘peanut’ controlled that magic box and my son knew that nickname before he could say “remote.”

Bona fides out of the way, It’s extremely disappointing to break up after a 17 year love affair. Believe me, it was love. Still, that’s what happened earlier this year when I reluctantly said goodbye to TiVo and switched to Big Cable’s dreadful DVR.

My last TiVo box, a TiVo BOLT, was fast, looked great in my entertainment center with its oddly bent chassis, and was powered by a majorly rethought user interface — its first major UI redo in the company’s history. Sadly, despite the success of The New Experience, the service wasn’t working for me and it wasn’t even TiVo’s fault.

Generic multi-stream cableCARD. Mine had a Cox logo.

A couple of pieces of hardware are necessary for TiVo to get the channels you want to watch. A cableCARD [sic] is a physical card that slots into the back (or a compartment underneath) your TiVo. It’s federal law that your cable company offer these to customers and for a reasonable fee. I believe I only paid Cox Communications $2 a month for the cableCARD in my now-hoarded BOLT.

The second item is known as a tuning adapter. This hot box sits between your TiVo and the wall, and allows reception of so-called switched digital channels. In short, switched digital video allows providers to manage bandwidth by only sending the channels a user is actually watching. In my experience with Cox cable, many higher tier channels — specifically, my most-watched NHL Network and the like — are behind the tuning adapter turnstile.

My problem with TiVo was really a problem with Cox. Not all of my switched digital channels were appearing. Sometimes restarting the tuning adapter would bring channels back for an hour, or a day (or a week). Sometimes only a service call would set things right. After my third service call in about two months, I threw in the towel. Kabletown, I’ll take your shitty box.”

The Cox DVR is marketed under the Contour banner and is essentially a badge-engineered Comcast Xfinity box.

Birds of a feather: Cox Contour (left) and Comcast Xfinity (right).

It. Is. Awful.

Slow and somehow audibly loud, with a remote which often comes unpaired, Contour is everything TiVo is not. And it’s pretty much my only cable choice. I could go with DirecTV (satellite), CenturyLink (fiber) or just cut the cord and subscribe to a hodgepodge of streaming services. But embarrassingly, I watch a lot of TV. I actually use the hell out of my cable subscription. I can’t imagine going without NHL Network during hockey season. It’s a non-starter.

When I called TiVo customer service to end things, I’m not sure what I expected. Still, a 90-second “Okay, thanks, buh-bye” was not it.

If I were selling a complicated, niche product to nerds and diehards, I’d definitely want to know why one of them was bailing after nearly 20 years. I’d also maybe put a man-hour or five into keeping that customer satisfied.

In the ideal world, a flabbergasted TiVo customer service rep would have told me my cableCARD / tuning adapter issues were unacceptable! They’d have escalated my situation to someone above their phone-answerer’s level. That second person would’ve told me (as if I didn’t know) that it’s federal law that Kabletown play nice with cableCARD and third party providers. Maybe a ‘retention engineer’ would get involved and call Cox on my behalf to troubleshoot a lasting solution.

Of course, none of that happened. Here it is several months later, my beautiful TiVo BOLT is in a cabinet in the garage, I’m stuck with a buggy DVR from Big Cable that I hate — on a one-year contract, no less (a concession for ‘free’ installation, natch).

I don’t fanboy out on TiVo the company the way I do Apple or Tesla, but I do wonder whether they’re in it for the long haul? Is putting devices in end-user living rooms still something they want to do? Is selling a yearly subscription to their service at all a priority? If so, they had me. They’ve had me for nearly two decades! I feel pretty let down by them and would love to crawl back (hat in-hand, wallet open) should the opportunity arise.

So, TiVo, what say you? Hit me up if you want to talk. I obviously have a lot to say.



Unfulfilled former journalist

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