Digital Slob


TiVo makes
regular TV
thing of past

P.T. Barnum once said, "There's a fool born every minute," and, like everything else in the Digital Age, that birth rate is growing exponentially.

Never mind climbing K2 or outrunning the Pamplona bulls, it seems the most foolhardy thing we can do is buy the latest PDA or 3G cell phone.

As exciting as the new 3G wireless world promises to be (Internet access on handhelds at dial-up modem speeds), if most of these first-generation gadgets were made to last only until obsolescence, they would likely disintegrate in our hands at the moment of purchase.

That said, there are at least a few must-have items before the prophesied "digital convergence," when we'll all write one big check to Bill Gates himself (or digital Bill Gates, whichever is more lifelike by that time) for an all-in-one digital experience. Until then, my medieval analog friends, one such interim item that illuminates our dim journey out of the Dark Ages is TiVo.

If regular cable TV is a hamburger, then TiVo is a Double Whopper with Cheese. If regular cable is a pig, TiVo is a pre-smoked, spiral-cut, honey-glazed ham (I'm writing this column before lunch).

TiVo is not a replacement for cable or a dish, but rather an add-on (yet another VCR-size black box to test the load-bearing limits of your entertainment center) that does your channel-surfing dirty work better than Tony Soprano's henchmen.

It is a digital filter that allows only the best TV into your cerebellum. Sure, you can still channel surf, the same way you can still churn butter or forgo a nanny and raise your own kids -- it's crazy but still possible.

Recently I decided to give both TiVo, and some new TV shows, a try. I searched TiVo's onscreen channel guide (data it downloads daily using your phone line). I then told it to give me a "season pass" for the "Alias" TV series, so it would digitally record it whenever and wherever it appeared.

Then one day I turned on my TiVo to find a high-quality episode recorded, along with hours of other nuggets I either asked it to pan for or it found on its own by making eerily accurate guesses about my tastes. How? Maybe it calculates based on my previous viewing habits. Maybe it monitors my R.E.M. sleep. Who cares? It works.

There are side effects, however. Days later, I told a friend, "This new show is pretty good. You should watch it."

"Oh, OK, when? What channel?" he asked.

To my surprise, I had no clue. For me it came on when I decided to watch it, and because I didn't need to spoon-feed it a channel to record (like a VCR), I couldn't recall which network aired it. Oh, well. Like a Washington bureaucrat, I'm now blissfully ignorant of how things work, in this case my TV.

It'll run you a few hundred dollars for the box and about $10 a month for the service. But, for those who are just one traffic jam away from a must-see-TV stress-induced aneurysm, TiVo may be just the pill.

Your best shows will wait willingly for H-1 to clear up (you can make TiVo save shows "until I delete," which might be useful, given Hawaii traffic flows).

One other warning: Once you're addicted to TiVo, watching regular TV is downright aggravating. So, on your next mainland vacation, forget about the hotel's free basic cable and actually try one of those travel brochure activities, because TiVo will have plenty of homework for you when you return.

Curt Brandao is the Star-Bulletin's
production editor. Reach him at

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