We watch... so you don't have to.

TV Plus I/O Equals TiVo

You and I don't watch TV the way my friend Larry watches TV. He's different from us. He's special. And not in that needs-to-be-restrained way, either.

You and I sit around in our underwear, flipping channels until the puddle of drool in our laps gets cold enough to wake us up. My friend Larry sits around in his underwear watching exactly what he wants until the puddle of drool in his lap gets cold enough to wake him up.

Larry's got a TiVo.

A TiVo -- aside from being the 1999 Winner of the NeXT Computer Award for Irritating Capitalization -- is basically a digital VCR. It's one of two new products (the other is made by Replay) that allows television programs to be recorded onto a hard disk instead of a tape.

This turns out to be a big deal. If I were some snotty television writer armed with a thesaurus and prone to arm-waving hyperbole, I would call it "A tectonic shift in the landscape of time-delayed viewing, an event that has the potential to shake the foundation of our notions of broadcast entertainment." If I were a real person, I'd call it "Cool," while my mouth was full of food.

By combining the power, flexibility and -- cough -- reliability of a computer with the cable-ready plug of a traditional VCR, TiVo really might change the way we watch TV, though. It's that much of a change. The digital VCR could be the next thing to rock the medium of television: the next clicker, the next cable, the next Jennifer Aniston's breasts.

TiVo has gotten a lot of attention for its ability to pause live programming and do other voodoo magic impossible with older technology. But its biggest advance isn't some fancy-pants home-digital revolution: It's a smaller but more marked evolution -- simply making the traditional VCR more convenient. TiVo will change the way we watch TV, not because we'll suddenly take an interest in building our own "viewing experience" or whatever other nonsense digital recording offers, but because it's a hell of a lot easier to use than those goddamned videotapes.

How often do you blow off recording something because it's too much bother? Or because you forgot? How often do you not watch something you recorded because you can't find it? Or because you forgot?

TiVo takes care of that. You tell it what you like and it always records it. When you turn it on, it shows you a menu of what it's got saved. You point, you click, you watch. That's all there is to it.

It can make a huge difference. The quality of the shows doesn't improve at all, but suddenly the shows that happen to stumble into quality every once in a while are available at any time, quickly and conveniently.

Larry, for instance, doesn't channel surf anymore. At all. What he wants to watch is waiting for him. This is a profound shift away from the way most of us watch the tube, not using your clicker for up to half an hour at a time. At first blush, it seems unnatural.

When I get home from work and am in desperate need of a narcotic, I turn the TV on, just to drown out the voices in my head. I never end up watching anything worthwhile -- is there such a thing? -- and consistently piss away an hour or two of my life on a rapid-fire pop-culture montage that would leave an epileptic biting on a leather belt to keep from chewing off his own tongue. Occasionally, I'll manage to dig out a video tape I remembered to record a week ago. But only occasionally.

Larry, on the other hand, watches what he wants, when he wants, because it's all there -- all automatically there, in one tidy little list. He didn't have to think about recording it, he doesn't have to think about finding it. He barely has to use his brain at all, which is what television is all about, right? The tube automatically conforms to his schedule instead of the other way around.

Imagine that.

Of course, without channel surfing, Larry now misses stumbling across the occasional worthwhile tidbit. The other night, just flipping around, I got to see a man get his head accidentally stuck up the ass of an elephant.

It's going to be hard to give that up.

In the interests of full disclosure, the author would like to acknowledge that he has another friend who works at TiVo. Not that the bastard has offered him a free one or anything.


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