TiVo and DIY Network Programming
Wrapping your noggin around all of the things that TiVo can do is only the first step. The true "ah-ha" moment comes when you realize that TiVo is really like a search engine for your television. It constantly scans the TV guide listings for the upcoming two weeks, looking for the shows or keyword search strings that you've entered. It will then show you its search results, and/or record programs based on your choices (or what it thinks you'll like based on previous choices). Over time, as you get smarter about using TiVo, and TiVo gets smarter about understanding what you like, you'll start seeing an impressive list of shows in TiVo's Now Playing directory. It's kind of like Fantasy Baseball or Football, where gamers get to assemble their ultimate teams based on all available real-world players. With TiVo, you get to play Fantasy TV Network Executive, programming your own network with all of the available TV content. And what's so positively 21st century is that you not only have unprecedented control over what shows you watch and when, you also have control over how you move around inside of these shows.
Unless otherwise noted, all of the tips, tricks, and hacks in this chapter are Level 1.
TiVo Viewing Habits
Perhaps the greatest innovation of the digital video recorder is the ability to transcend the strict clock structure of real-time TV programming, offering the ultimate in what has been dubbed "time-shifting" or "time-shift viewing." Sure, people have been doing this for years with the VCR (for example, taping The Late Show at 11:30 p.m. and watching it over breakfast the next morning), but DVRs have taken this ability to a whole new level, with ease of recording and deleting, and greater control over the programs being recorded. This digital functionality is making time-shift viewing increasingly the norm. In this section, we'll look at some of the ways in which you can use your TiVo in creative ways to have a more enjoyable and time-saving TV experience.
Ah...the joys of the commercial skip! Not since the advent of the mute button has a TV development been so welcomed by viewers (and so hated by advertisers). If you're watching a recorded program (or a live signal that's been paused for a few minutes), you can skip over the commercials when you get to them. The official way to do this is to use the Forward/Fast Forward button on your remote. There are three fast-forward speeds (3x, 20x, and 60x), so a quick triple-click of the Forward button will race you through the commercial block. The little green triangles on the TiVo Status Bar show you which FF mode you're in. When you see your program again on the screen, and press Play (or the FF a fourth time), the TiVo software does something called "overshoot correction" (a.k.a. "auto-correct"), an automatic rewind so that the 20x or 60x FF won't cause you to overshoot the beginning of show (the reflexes of even the most seasoned channel jockeys among us are not that fast). Using the Forward button and being quick on the Peanut, it'll take you only about five seconds to get through a 120-second commercial break.
You can change the values of the three fast-forward speeds that your TiVo uses. We'll discuss how to do this in Chapter 5, "I'm Your Backdoor Code."
But there's even a quicker way. All Series 1 and Series 2 TiVos (with the exception of Toshiba DVD/TiVo units) have an undocumented 30-second skip feature. This feature can be easily enabled using one of the Select-Play-Select (SPS) remote control tricks. We'll cover these remote hacks in more detail in Chapter 4, "Remote Control Freak," and Chapter 5, "I'm Your Backdoor Code," but in the meantime, here's how to enable the 30-second skip:
Start playing back a program that you've recorded.
Press the following sequence on your TiVo remote:
Listen for the three system chimes (a.k.a. "dings") that tell you this feature has been enabled.
Try out the skip by pressing the Advance button on your remote. It should skip through the recording by 30-second jumps.
By enabling this feature, you will no longer be able to use the Advance button to skip to the end of a program, but that may not be a feature too many people will miss. The 30-second skip mode will remain in effect until you restart your TiVo (in which case, you'll have to redo the previous procedure) or until you enter the code again.
With the 30-second enabled, you can leap over drab ads in a single bound...okay, so it actually takes several bounds (clicks of the Advance button), but you get the idea. The 30-second skip is also handy when watching sporting events, where you can skip from play-to-play (leaping over the sometimes slow setups). The period between a tackle and the next snap in a football game and between pitches in baseball is often nearly perfectly attuned to the 30-second skip.
As you might imagine, the networks and their advertisers are not happy about viewers being able to skip over commercials. The networks sued the makers of ReplayTV when they introduced a CommercialAdvance feature that allowed viewers to jump blocks of commercials altogether. It is probably this fear of litigation that has made TiVo, Inc. keep their 30-second skip mode an unofficial feature. One can hope that knowing viewers have this choice will only "inspire" advertisers to make more commercials that are actually worth watching. Let's face it, regardless of how anti-consumerist you profess to be, you likely still watch and enjoy commercials that are clever, funny, cinematic, and that don't insult your intelligence. Here's to seeing more of those. Go ahead, Madison Avenue, try and make me not dismiss you with a few well-placed clicks on my remote.
In Raffi Krikorian's book TiVo Hacks (O'Reilly), he coined the term "must-skim TV" for those types of shows where you don't really need to watch the entire program to get the best of what it has to offer. If you're a fair-weather baseball fan (or have the attention span of a hummingbird), you might already watch the late-night highlight version of your home team's games (where the game is edited down only to the hits, runs, outs, and spectacular plays). TiVo allows you to create your own on-the-fly highlight show with any sporting event, home improvement program, reality show, or any other programming that may have a lot of setup time or segments that drag. When TiVo, Inc. coined their slogan "TV your way," they probably were thinking more about the ability to record at any time, watch at any time, and pause at any time when you needed to go to the can. They probably didn't realize to what extent TiVo users would actually change how they consumed the shows themselves. One can imagine that as DVRs become more common and time-shift viewing, program skimming, and other digital TV viewing behaviors become the norm, programming might actually change to reflect this.
One method of must-skim viewing offered is called the "10-FF40-10 solution." Many one-hour format reality shows, home shows, makeover shows, and similar programs rely on a tried 'n' true formula. The first 10 minutes or so of the show are devoted to the setup: introducing the characters, the challenges, the potential conflicts, and so forth. The next 40 are spent teasing out what was presented in the first 10 (fighting between characters, attempts at meeting the given objective, turning the pile of junk into the racecar, and so on). The last 10 minutes constitute "the reveal" (the bedroom wallpapered in wheatgrass, the limo turned into a fire truck, the ugly duckling nipped and tucked to reveal a swan). Applying the 10-FF40-10 solution yourself is easy. You simply record the program, watch the first 10 minutes, fast-forward through the middle 40 (stopping to watch anything that looks particularly interesting), and then watch the last 10. You'll be amazed how many shows you can watch this way and still feel like you're getting a satisfying viewing experience.
Even though you don't have to watch TV in real-time anymore (and you'll do less and less of it as you become more of a TiVo power user), there may be certain favorite shows, movie premiers, and sporting events that you want to watch as they happen (or at least close to it). Sure you could watch the Super Bowl or the Academy Awards later on in the evening or the next day, but it just wouldn't be the same. Such events have a sort of communal imperative. And who wants to not know what's going on when everybody at work is talking about a hysterical Daily Show skit that's sitting unwatched on your TiVo's hard drive? But watching anything in real-time means you sacrifice your control over the TV signal (what TiVo is all about). So, if you're planning on watching a half-hour show, start recording it (or just put the live feed on Pause when the show starts, if you don't care to record), let it run for 15 minutes or so (read a book, wrestle the cat, annoy your housemates) and then start to watch. This will get enough of the program written to the hard drive (or stored in TiVo's live TV buffer), so that you can then skip over all the commercials and still be done with the show on the half-hour. For an hour long show, wait about a half hour before starting. For really long special events, like the Super Bowl, you might want to delay viewing by a whole hour, or even more if you'd like to fast-forward your way through the Shania Twain and Sting tribute to the Captain and Tennille half-time spectacular. Of course, TiVo only stores up to 30 minutes of "live" TV, so if you are going to wait longer than that, you'll have to record the program, not just pause it.
Instant Replay (Not Just for Sports)
While we're talking about the Super Bowl, we should mention one of the obvious features of TiVo, the 8-second Instant Replay button. The slow-motion replay revolutionized sports broadcasting, allowing viewers to get another look at controversial plays and calls by officials. Digital video recorders give you the power to do this whenever you'd like. For sports fans, this is obviously great, but its use goes far beyond that. Forgot the final Jeopardy category? Hit the Instant Replay button a few times to find out. Did President Bush really just hold out his right hand while referring to his left and then his left while referring to his right? Instant Replay confirms that you just saw what you thought you saw. Hear a statistic on the evening news you want to write down? Instant Replay to the rescue. (Did you notice how we tactfully avoided mentioning the Janet Jackson/Justin Timberlake Super Bowl unpleasantries?)
If you happen to have something scheduled to record while you're pausing live TV, TiVo may automatically change channels while you're away and you'll lose the content saved to the buffer. It's usually better to just record whatever you really want to watch to avoid this problem.
The TiVo has been a real boon to my job as editor of the "Jargon Watch" column in Wired. I'm always on the hunt for the latest jargon, slang, and technical and science terms. Sometimes a word or phrase will go by, barely noticed, on the evening news, a talk show, MTV, and so forth. I'll hit Instant Replay to hear what I just missed. If the word is also defined, I can hit Instant Replay (and Back) over and over until I have the definition written down verbatim. Before TiVo, I'd have to jot down the word and then call the network and try to track down the reference. So, the DVR has saved me huge amounts of time.
Going hand and hand with the Instant Replay button is the Slow (a.k.a. slow-mo) button, which allows you to slow the video down to 1/4x speed. Again, this is thought of as largely a sports-friendly feature, but it can come in handy elsewhere. For movie fanatics, especially sci-fi, fantasy, and action fans, slow-motion offers a great way of seeing every last frame of a movie trailer. Ads for blockbusters are often crammed with action sequences, sometimes teasing the viewer with a special effects shot, a peak at a monster, or a shot of a spectacular vista that might only be a few frames long. In the trailer for Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, the Moria cave troll was only onscreen for a few seconds. Use of the Instant Replay and Slow buttons revealed what was barely seen at full speed. For The Two Towers, Treebeard was similarly teased (and revealed via TiVo).
It turns out that "perv-mo" viewing may be more prevalent than even we thought. After the Janet Jackson/Justin Timberlake "wardrobe malfunction" at the 2004 Super Bowl, TiVo, Inc. was widely reported in the news saying that their daily collected anonymous viewer data had shown that these few seconds were the most replayed since the company started keeping track of such data in 2000.
Trying to figure out a dance step, an exercise routine, or a bit of handiwork that goes by too fast onscreen to figure out? You can use the Instant Replay, Slow, and Back buttons to your heart's content.
And then there's...let's call it "perv-mo." Want to draw out Halle Berry's jaw-dropping entrance on The Tonight Show as long as possible? Well, you should be ashamed of yourself. We would never recommend ogling the beautiful people at reduced frame rates. That's just...sad.