Shoebox effect



TiVo (pronounced ) is a brand of digital video recorder (DVR) in the United States, Canada, and Australia created by TiVo, Inc.. It is a consumer video device that captures television programming to hard disk storage for later viewing ("time shifting"). The device also provides an electronic television programming schedule, and provides recording options based on that schedule. It was formerly also available in the United Kingdom, but was withdrawn from sale in 2003.

The TiVo Digital Video Recorder

A TiVo device 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 device 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 controlled by remote control.

A feature that distinguishes TiVo devices from similar digital video recorders 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. The TiVo device also implements 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. Finally, more recent TiVo devices can be connected to a computer local area network, which allows the TiVo device to download information and even video programs and movies from the Internet.

TiVo Functions

TiVo gets program information for the next two weeks, program 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" which records 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 requests for two programs conflict, 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 systems with two tuners record the top two priority programs.

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 The Simpsons, American Dad and Futurama, then another TiVo user who watched just the The Simpsons 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. (Programs which users flag to not be deleted are kept.)

While watching TV, 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. A viewer can also decide to record a show that they have already started watching. The TiVo will capture the previous recorded segment, up to 30 minutes, to ensure the start of the show is included.

Unlike VCRs, TiVo can record and play at the same time. A program can be watched, 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, the TiVo Series2 is easily connected to home networks, allowing scheduling recordings on TiVo's website (via TiVo Central Online), transferring recordings between TiVo units (Multi-Room Viewing (MRV)) or to/from a home computer (TiVoToGo), playing music and viewing photos over the network, and accessing third-party applications written for TiVo's Home Media Engine (HME) API. TiVo is adding 3rd party content. TiVo users can access Yahoo Photos, Weather, Traffic, Fandango movie listings (including ticket purchases), and Live365 music.

On June 7, 2006, TiVo announced TiVoCast, a broadband download service which initially offered content from the NBA, WNBA, The New York Times,, iVillage, CNet, Danger Rangers, H2O: HipHop on Demand, Union on Demand, Rocketboom, and Here! TiVo announced an agreement with Brightcove for more broadband content.

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.

Subscription service

The information that a TiVo device downloads regarding TV schedules as well as software updates and any other relevant information is available through a monthly subscription, or at a prepaid level. Customers can purchase a 1 year prepaid plan, 3 year prepaid plan, or service for the lifetime of their product. Monthly and yearly subscriptions are referred to as recurring plans with recurring billing.

Once a unit's commitment expires, it will continue to be billed at the current monthly rate. If the rate later goes down, TiVo will continue to charge the maximum monthly rate that applied at the time of purchase of the unit.

Service availability

The TiVo service is only available to the United States, United Kingdom, Canada (except Québec), Mexico, Australia and Taiwan at present. On November 26, 2007, TiVo announced that TiVo would be available at Canadian retail outlets in early December. TiVo HD launched in Australia in July 2008. TiVo Series 1 DVRs have also been modified by end users to work in Australia, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Ireland and South Africa.

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 UK for other digital platforms, including free satellite, terrestrial, cable and IPTV.

Hardware anatomy

The TiVo unit 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 OEMs, 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 systems 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 Series 3 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 or lock up the TiVo box.

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 systems 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 systems also have USB ports, currently used only to support network (wired Ethernet and WiFi) adapters. 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 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. Efforts are progressing to create a supplemental set-top box with USB connection to the TiVo to enable SDV. Such units may appear sometime in mid or late 2008.

Green Screen with Severe Error Message

In some instances, users have received a green screen display with an error message. This is an error message produced by TiVo machines, sometimes referred to as the Green Screen of Death. The message is displayed while the TiVo attempts to repair the data contents of its hard drive. The green screen is sometimes intentionally invoked as a troubleshooting measure to fix problems that a restart will not. In reality this error message is supposed to repair internal problems. This process should take about 3 hours, but if the process is, in fact, longer than this, then the user can contact customer support for additional help on this issue. This does not mean that the TiVo is completely dead in any way.

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.

TiVo hacking

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

Despite its innovative functionalities and ease of use, TiVo has had difficulty penetrating consumer markets to the extent that it has pulled out of some markets altogether (e.g., the United Kingdom). However, TiVo technology rolled out slightly faster than DVD players did. TiVo is well known for its users' loyalty compared to generic DVRs from cable box manufacturers or Echostar. Nevertheless, TiVo has only a 30-40% market share in the USA of a total DVR market of roughly 10-12 million systems. Since it may take a few weeks of use to fully understand the magnitude of the change TiVo brings to television viewing, consumers may not be comfortable with such technology and opt to continue using their VCRs for recording. Another factor is the cost of the monthly or lifetime subscription fees. TiVo's market share has dropped as cable television operators have offered free or low-cost DVRs.

While its former main competitor, 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 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.


TiVo and cable television giant Comcast reached a nonexclusive distribution deal in March 2005, easing some investor concerns over TiVo's future. The companies announced that they would make TiVo's service available over Comcast's cable network, with the first co-developed products available by the end of 2006, using the TiVo brand. TiVo is porting their software to the Motorola 6412 cable DVR as part of this deal (the software can also be used on the related 6416, 3412 and 3416 models). The software will first be available in August 2007, starting in the New England area. On June 29, 2007, Comcast accepted the TiVo software for deployment.. Currently this deployment is limited and considered buggy.

In January 2005, TiVo announced a long-term strategy that includes support for HDTV recording, integrated tuning using CableCARD technology, the ability to download and view content from the Internet, and a program allowing third parties to develop applications for the platform.

In January 2006, at the Consumer Electronics Show, the TiVo Series3 was introduced. This revision represented an evolutionary step in the TiVo service, adding the capability to record high definition television and digital cable content utilizing CableCARD technology. The Series3 includes two discrete video tuners. Each tuner is capable of tuning QAM (digital cable), analog cable, over-the-air (OTA) ATSC (digital), and OTA NTSC (analog). Encrypted digital cable channels will be decrypted via CableCARD. The Series3 will work only with cable and antenna input, it will not support satellite television. Unlike earlier standalone models, the Series3 has no A/V inputs aside from one cable coax and one antenna coax. All content is recorded via the internal tuners.

The Series3 model also includes a 10/100 Ethernet connection port and an external SATA port which supports first- and third-party storage upgrades—a first for TiVo. As an HDTV recorder, the Series3 also has an HDMI output in addition to composite, S-Video, and component video. TiVo announced the release of the Series3 on September 12, 2006.

On May 29, 2007 TiVo Inc. and Channel Seven Australia announced in a press release named, Seven and TiVo Inc Sign Strategic Partnership to Distribute TiVo Products and Services in Australia and New Zealand, that:

Seven Media Group, one of Australia's leading integrated media companies, and TiVo Inc. (Nasdaq: TIVO), the creator of and a leader in digital video recorders, today announced that Seven will be bringing TiVo to Australia in 2008.

TiVo is set to become "key platform in Australia's development of digital television and interactive communications.".

The price of the TiVo box for Australia and New Zealand is $700AUD with no ongoing subscription fees.

On January 31, 2008, the U.S. Court of Appeals upheld a lower court decision on a suit by TiVo against DISH Networks alleging software patent infringement.

In May 2008 DISH and EchoStar filed a new suit requesting that the courts rule that the current version of DISH's DVR software does not infringe on TiVo patents.

In May 2008, TiVo boss Tom Rogers said that he was hopeful that TiVo would be relaunched in the UK soon. TiVo also revealed they are working on a hub or server box that would record for the entire family and serve to all the TVs round the house.

On September 3, 2008 Tivo and DirecTV announced a renewal of their agreement and their plans to launch an new DirecTV Tivo HD DVR.

On September 11, 2008 Tivo and Research in Motion announced that soon Tivo users would be able to control their system from a BlackBerry phone. The integration is expected by the end of 2008. No price -- if any -- was disclosed.


Privacy concerns

Some users are concerned about TiVo's ability to collect detailed usage data from units via the telephone line. Like most DVRs, as units are downloading schedule data, they transmit household viewing habits to TiVo corporation. Collected information includes a log of everything watched (time and channel) and remote keypresses such as fast forwarding through or replaying content. Some users were uneasy 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 collaborated to track viewing habits.

TiVo claims that all usage data is currently aggregated by ZIP code and that they don't track individual viewing habits. In the United States, users can request that TiVo block the collection of Anonymous Viewing Information and Diagnostic Information from their TiVo DVR by calling 1-877-367-8486.

Automatic software updates

TiVo Inc. has always provided updates of the software that runs TiVo units, usually downloaded along with programming data. These updates have been seen as improvements, offering additional functionality and fixing bugs. Sometimes updates have introduced new bugs or removed features available in the previous versions, which has resulted in criticism from affected TiVo users. TiVo is unable (or unwilling) to roll back software versions.

A small percentage of early TiVo units were marketed without being clearly labeled that a subscription was required for full functionality, and some non-subscribing customers were unhappy when they were unable to use new and improved features that subscribers received. It is believed that early dissatisfied, non-subscribing customers received some form of settlement, probably a money-back offer on the hardware, and TiVo now clearly labels its products with a notation that a subscription is required for full functionality.

Some TiVo hardware can still be used as a normal digital recorder, recording by date, time, and channel, without a subscription: specifically, any Series1 which shipped with software revision 1.3 or earlier, as well as Toshiba and Pioneer standalone units, which include TiVo Basic. Nearly all Series1 units originally shipped with 1.3 or an earlier release, however, late in the life of the Series1 some units did ship with 2.0 and those units require a subscription. All other standalone TiVo systems require a subscription to function. All DirecTiVo units require an active DirecTV subscription to record new content.

Pop-up advertisements

In March 2005, TiVo began testing "pop-up" advertisements to select beta testers, to explore it as an alternative source of revenue. Many of these "beta testers" were simply subscribers who did not know that TiVo had selected them to test software changes and did not sign up for the beta program. The concept is that, as users fast-forward through certain commercials of TiVo advertisers, they will 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 TiVo's lifetime subscribers. Some 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.

Early testers complained that the pop-up detector was glitchy, and would sometimes pop up during unrelated commercials, or even during regular TV programming. They also state that the ads are aesthetically unpleasant, and take up a quarter of the screen, obscuring enough of the image to make fast-forward scanning nearly impossible. TiVo says that they are looking into these issues and will fix all of these problems before the advertising functions are rolled out to the public. It is unclear if these advertisements will be rolled out to TiVo enabled boxes with DirecTV and Comcast or just to their own standalone boxes.

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. TiVo has stated this was a bug in the software. In 2004, TiVo entered into an agreement with Macrovision to make TiVo machines copyright-protection flag aware, ostensibly to make it compatible with future pay-per-view and video-on-demand content.

Service contracts

Also in September 2005, TiVo changed their customer agreement, instituting a one-year service contract for all new activations after September 6, 2005. Customers wishing to cancel the service early are subject to an early cancellation fee of up to $200. TiVo has not commented officially on this change, but with their recent drive to attract new customers, as well as subsidizing new hardware through large mail-in rebates, the company could be looking for ways to discourage users from canceling. Customers have also been discouraged by some of TiVo's Holiday rate increases.


TiVo has been a heavy user of mail-in rebates. According to BusinessWeek, the company recognized $5,000,000 in additional revenue when nearly half of the 100,000 new subscribers to the service failed to successfully apply for a $100 rebate, known as the "shoebox effect" (which marketers typically refer to as breakage). While this rate of compliance is fairly typical in the rebate field, the company's heavy use of the promotional practice caused a large positive impact on its bottom line.

Media industry

Media companies are beginning to acknowledge the influence of TiVos and other DVRs and are using old fashioned tactics of live ads in an attempt to circumvent the problem of skipping past commercials.

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 behaviour, which FSF dubs "tivoization", was to be tackled by a change in the GNU General Public License (GPL) prohibiting this activity. Most of the software included in the TiVo is distributed under the terms of the GPL, and the GPL's goal is to ensure that all recipients of GPL'd software are free to modify the software, to help themselves. 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".

See also


External links

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