30 August, 2006

OnDemand Vs. TiVo: The Great War Rages

I've been a TiVo junkie for awhile now. TiVo's been the best thing to happen to television since colour.

But I must say that Comcast OnDemand has lately been giving my TiVo a run for its money.

Let us analyse both services by their various aspects.

1. Interface

TiVo has a much more user-friendly interface. Within the Tivo universe there are several ways to locate a program, which gives the viewer a more direct way to select her viewing. This is preferable when the viewer knows exactly what she wants to see. Want an episode of Friends? Search aphabetically. Want a Harrison Ford movie? Search by Actor Wishlist, subcatagory Movies. Want a Comedy? Search by Genre.

By contrast, the OnDemand service is more akin to an onion. The intro screen opens with the broadest categories (Free Movies; Pay-Per-View Movies; Premium Channels; etc.), forcing the viewer to drill down to her ultimate choice.

I'd say that TiVo wins this round.

2. Response Time

The TiVo responds automatically to remote control inputs in most cases. Drag time is very rare.

The same can not be said for OnDemand. Drag is a huge problem with this service. Fifteen- and twenty- second waits are not uncommon. This is frustrating when the viewer is in the mood to simply relax in front of the television.

TiVo also wins this round.

3. Program Selection

In this area it is somewhat akin to comparing apples to apple pie. A TiVo will allow you to select any program available to you via broadcast at the time the program is broadcast, provided you would normally receive the channel. Let's use my new favourite show, The Wire as an example.

I can program my TiVo to record episodes of The Wire automatically. Whenever HBO broadcasts an episode, my TiVo will grab it. I can then save this episode for as long as I want. If I want to keep all episodes of The Wire indefinitely, that's my perogative for as long as I have the hard disk space.

With OnDemand, I can watch all of the available episodes of The Wire whenever I want, as long as HBO has them up. They had been rebroadcasting Season Three at the rate of one per week. But they had the entire season available as a block on OnDemand. However, they will rotate their stock of programs. If you want to see Season Three of The Wire, you had better do so before mid-September when it rotates out of availability.

I'd call this a draw. There are ups and downs to both methods of program selection. This is definitely one of those areas where it pays to have access to both technologies.

4. Program Quality

Everything on OnDemand is at the highest possible digital quality, with HD selections now on the way.

TiVo, on the other hand, records at variable qualities, with better-quality recordings eating vastly more hard disk space. We currently have an 80-hour TiVo...if we record everything at low quality. While this makes me nostalgic for the antenna-fuzzed programming of my childhood it doesn't always add to the viewing experience. It is possible to record everything at Best Quality. That, however, will pare down my recording capacity to about 20 hours. Again, the only limitation is hard disk space. Expand the hard disk and expand your quality options. But that value-added expansion is also a dollars-added option. Not cool.

I'd have to say that OnDemand wins this round.

5. Advertisements

This is the BIGGIE. Both systems feature onboard advertisements...or they did until a few days ago.

TiVo's ads have generally been the "gold star items". They are listed unobtrusively on the main screen, and you can select to view them if you wish. Because all Gold Star items tend to have a bit of cache (movie trailers, high-budget concept ads, etc.) they draw viewers.

But the OnDemand advertising....Dear Lord, what can I say? A never-changing video with an obnoxious and infectious soundtrack ran in the upper right hand corner during all the menus, save the final program info box. Given the Onion style of menu browsing, this meant exposure of several minutes in many cases. It was horrible, intrusive and ate bandwidth. This had the twin drawbacks of being horribly irritating and slowing the navigation process even further. Yet for some reason (common sense?) this doohicky went away a few days ago. Hopefully it will never return.

For right now, both services are tied in this area. But if OnDemand brings back that stupid video you can bet they'll lose.

6. Recording

Both services allow you to record broadcast programming as it is being broadcast. However, given the interface difficulties with OnDemand, I've never been able to get this to work properly. For instance, hitting "record" means that the program will start recording...in about 30 seconds to a minute. No such foolishness happens with TiVo. And I'm not quite sure how long the "saved programs" are kept in the OnDemand Queue. I believe it's only a few hours.

With TiVo your recording starts right away, and in some cases it can start in the past. If you have been watching a channel for up to thirty minutes and decide that you want to record the program you're currently viewing, selecting "best quality record" will actually store from the thirty-minute buffer, not just from the record-request point. And you can save programs for as long as you like.

TiVo wins this round handily.

So in summary I'm definitely still preferring TiVo, but I'm quite glad to have both options available. If I had to give one up right now I'd say farewell to OnDemand. Yet I don't, so I'm keeping both. They work well together.


At 10:07 AM, August 30, 2006, Blogger Chance said...

Good to know, in case I sign up for cable.

I'd be curious about the comparison of NetFlix vs. the new online service BlockBuster has.

At 10:39 AM, August 30, 2006, Blogger Ivy, the Great and Powerful said...

:D Or you can get comcast on demand plus the DVR and have it all!

At 4:51 PM, August 30, 2006, Anonymous shauna said...

Yeah, what Ivy said. $9.99 a month.

At 9:39 PM, August 30, 2006, Blogger Lee said...

[William Shatner voice] Must... resist... Dish Network... pitch....

Must... resist... [/William Shatner voice]

Aaarrgh.... DVR on Dish Network, 5$ a month, free equipment with 18 month agreement.

I am so weak.


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