Video IEDs: More Than Just Appliances
Choosing the Right Video IED for You
You've decided to take the plunge into intelligent TV entertainment. Now you face the real dilemma: Which video Interactive Entertainment Device (IED) do you buy? It's a much different proposition from choosing a VCR, television, or most other home appliances for these reasons:
With conventional appliances, versions have been around for decades, and dozens of brands and models are available from which to choose. Choice is often based on a combination of price, features, and brand name. In contrast, video IEDs are essentially first-generation devices. There are few models to choose from, relatively little differentiation in terms of features or price, and the brand names are mostly unfamiliar. Even Microsoft, a mighty name in the software business, currently has no brand equity to speak of in the consumer electronics field.
In the case of video IEDs, consumers are as much choosing a service as they are a product. After a few short years, the monthly subscription fees will have eclipsed the cost of the hardware. (TiVo, which offers a "lifetime" subscription for $249, is the exception.) Like locking into a long-term contract with a mobile phone provider, you must weigh not only the attributes of the physical device, but your confidence that the company offers the best service for your needs, with adequate staying power for the long haul.
Whom do you trust? Another consideration in choosing an IED is the level of comfort you have with the service provider's ability to protect your privacy. The dark side of the video IED's personalization features is the voluminous dossier that the company will be quietly compiling on your TV-related tastes and activities. Consumer groups are gradually raising the level of alarm over these companies' practice of recording your every move, and they're asking for accountability as to how that data is used, stored, and perhaps sold to other companies that want to market products to you based on your viewing habits. The trade-off here is that collecting this information canat least theoreticallyallow IED service providers to tailor programming to your individual taste. However, the user has to decide whether he trusts the company to keep his private data secure from prying eyes, while using it only in responsible and nonintrusive ways.
Unlike a toaster or waffle iron, a video IED is a "lifestyle device." A device qualifies for lifestyle status when it creates a significant impact on your daily routine. A generation ago, washing machines were a lifestyle device, freeing millions of women from hours of tedious manual labor. Today, people buy new washing machines simply as replacements for older washing machines, so the net impact on lifestyle is nil. Mobile phones, on the other hand, still have that lifestyle-changing impact, providing the ability to transact business and social obligations from anywhere and at any time.
The other qualifier for a device to achieve lifestyle status is its cost. A toaster can be had for about $15, representing a marginal opportunity cost because few other things of consequence are available for $15. A video IED, however, represents a significant spending opportunity. By spending money on the new device, you are effectively limiting your freedom in other areas, thus impacting your lifestyle. Lifestyle choices generally are not made lightlythey often require research and a good deal of sober reflection.
Now that you fully realize what you're getting into, how do you choose between ReplayTV, UltimateTV, and TiVo? The following sections look closely at each device so that you can see how they stack up. If none of these devices seem to exactly suit your needs, perhaps you're a candidate for one of the video IED alternatives that will be discussed in Chapter 4, "Playing the Field: Other Video IED Convergence Devices."