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New Aussie TiVo XL - an eXtra Large disappointment?

 

The same old TiVo with a bigger hard drive is an insult to loyal Australian TiVo users.

 

This week TiVo's Australian local backers, Seven and Hybrid TV, unveiled details of a new 'limited edition' $699 TiVo XL with a 1TB hard drive, available exclusively from Harvey Norman, Domayne and Joyce Mayne stores. They're still selling the 320GB model, which is discounted to $399. If you've already got a TiVo, you can boost its capacity with 1TB external expansion drive, which you'll find for $199.

Australian TiVo fans have been waiting for announcements from Hybrid TV for quite some time, especially after a scare when it looked like local operations might fold. The TiVo is reliant on a custom EPG which it downloads from the internet, without which it becomes an expensive paperweight.

Before anyone gets excited about the new TiVo XL, it's important to read the fine print. This so-called new TiVo is a 'limited edition' because it's actually an old model that TiVo doesn't even sell in the US anymore. Don't be confused by the 'XL' tag, this is not a new-generation Series 4 TiVo such as the Premiere XL. The new TiVo XL is exactly the same Series 3 TiVo that we've had in Australia since 2008, just with a bigger hard drive.

When I complained about this to Hybrid TV, I was told; 'Series 4 requires significant investment to create for this market and with the Australian population there is no Return On Investment'. That's not much consolation to Australians who invested in a TiVo on the assumption that the service would continue to improve. Instead Australians are expected to cough up a hefty $699 for what is basically a discontinued model. Meanwhile Australian competitors such as Fetch TV and T-Box, not to mention local hardware makers such as Strong, offer better value and continue to add new features because they're selling Personal Video Recorders designed for an Australian market.

The TiVo copped a lot of flak when it first launched in Australia, due to the high price, small hard drive and lack of ad-skipping. I was one of the few reviewers who actually defended it, because its core PVR features are some of the best on the market. They still are, but the Australian TiVo is stuck in a time warp. For a few months we didn't hear a peep out of Hybrid TV and there were rumours that the TiVo might even lose EPG support. Off the record I was continually assured that big things were on the horizon, but they never materialised. CONTINUED

 


After a nervous wait, it seems that the disappointing TiVo XL is the best Hybrid TV can do. As its advanced features fall further behind the competition, it's becoming hard to defend the TiVo when there are so many exciting things happening in the Australian market.

Fetch TV is unveiling smartphone apps this month for its PVR which offer remote scheduling, bringing it in line with the TiVo and Telstra's T-Box. But Fetch TV and the T-Box also offer a wealth of extra online content including movie rentals and pay TV options, and both have big plans for next year. It makes TiVo's mediocre CASPA movie platform look petty wimpy.

Other PVR makers are also lifting their game. The likes of Beyonwiz, Topfield, Strong and Humax offer tight integration with the slick IceTV electronic program guide, plus they're adding advanced features such as extra tuners, content streaming and Catch Up TV access. Quickflix's move into online movie rentals also offers the chance for many devices to expand their offerings. Australia's PVR market is teeming with innovation and set to explode as the digital TV switchover pushes ahead, but all TiVo has to show for itself is a bigger hard drive and a hefty price tag.

TiVo's high Australian price tag is due to the fact that Hybrid TV believes Australians won't sign up for subscription services the way US viewers do. Initially I agreed with this analysis, especially considering the expense of Foxtel subscriptions. But the expensive and disappointing TiVo XL actually makes the Fetch TV and T-Box subscriptions look like pretty good value.

With the NBN on the horizon, new services emerging and local PVR players breaking new ground, TiVo is starting to look like the dinosaur of the Australian market. It has come close to extinction once and the TiVo XL doesn't look like enough to bring it back from the brink.

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