VCRs, Part 1
future, tapeheads, is all about the digital media
John “jaQ” Andrews
Summertime is racing
Every weekend my dad
tapes the Formula 1 and IndyCar races and lends me the tapes so I can
Half the time those
tapes are unwatchable. The sound is garbled, or the video jumps and
stops unexpectedly, or the whole screen just goes blank. Whether it’s
because they spend time in a hot car, or they’re jostled around too
much, or our respective VCRs are somehow incompatible, we’ve never been
able to determine.
VHS tapes are a lot
like cassette tapes in that they use a magnetically encoded ribbon to
store content. Cassettes have pretty much disappeared in favor of the
CD, and VHS tapes are probably headed to the same place — and good
riddance, I say. There are better options available this century.
TiVo is probably the
best-known DVR. Their entry-level box comes in just under $100 these
days, and as of this writing $12.95 a month buys you a subscription to
their service. You can also opt for a lifetime subscription for $299 up
Everyone I’ve known
with a TiVo sings its praises heartily. The phrase “pause live TV” comes
up a lot. What TiVo is really doing is recording live TV, and you can
start watching that recording from the beginning while TiVo continues to
You can also use it
like a traditional VCR, “taping” shows to watch later. Unlike a VCR,
though, you don’t have to fuss with rewinding and fast-forwarding to
find the beginning of your program. Just select it from the on-screen
menu. You can even set it to record an entire season of your favorite
ReplayTV is virtually
identical to TiVo, right down to the monthly and lifetime subscription
prices. They both let you search for new shows by actor or other
criteria, and both let you program new recordings from the Internet.
They also both require a phone line for initial setup.
ReplayTV does have the
advantage of letting you pause live TV for however much recording time
is available on the box; TiVo is limited to 30 minutes. ReplayTV also
has a couple impressively cheap models after rebate — we’re talking less
than $50. TiVo, on the other hand, has more options for getting your
recordings off the box and onto your PC or a DVD.
There are DVRs without
subscription costs, but they cost significantly more. It’s almost as if
some technology companies are selling hardware at a loss and trying to
make it up with subscription costs ...
DVR on the PC
With the right add-in
cards and software, the PC can do almost anything a stand-alone box can
do, and recording TV on the PC has really come into its own the past
couple years. Several companies like Hauppauge and ATI offer TV cards
with software that lets you do just about everything a TiVo or ReplayTV
can do — with no subscription fee.
WinTV-PVR-USB2, for example, plugs into a USB 2.0 port on your computer.
It comes with software to not only record TV, but edit video and master
DVDs. Its MSRP is $150.
John Andrews, also known as jaQ, is not only a technical wiz but he also
writes and sings his own songs. Each week in Hippo he examines some
facet of the gadget techie world and offers his advice for how to get
the most technology bang for your buck. Have questions for Jack? E-mail
him at email@example.com.