Hands-on with TiVo Desktop 2.5

Tivo's newest release of TiVo Desktop enables Windows Vista compatibility, DivX and Xvid support for transferring videos on your PC to the TiVo, automatic conversion of TiVoToGo files for watching with portable devices--and CNET takes a hands-on look at h

TiVo

TiVo released an upgrade to TiVo Desktop application yesterday, a PC-based application that allows TiVo Series2 owners to stream music and photos from networked PCs to the TiVo, as well as download TV shows from their TiVo to a PC--a feature called TiVoToGo. The newest update--TiVo Desktop 2.5--offers some significant upgrades: Windows Vista compatibility, DivX and Xvid support for transferring videos on your PC to the TiVo, and automatic conversion of TiVoToGo files for viewing on portable devices, such as an iPod or a PSP.

The feature we were most interested in was the ability to send DivX and Xvid videos from our PC to our Series2 TiVo. To use this feature, you'll need to spend an extra $25 for the TiVo Desktop 2.5 Plus Upgrade, which also enables the ability to automatically convert TiVoToGo files for portables. Once we paid for the update and input our registration key, the process was pretty simple. The TiVo Desktop software simply looks in the My TiVo Recordings folder on your PC for compatible DivX files. Since most users will probably have the files saved somewhere else, TiVo provides an easy workaround--just create a shortcut in the My TiVo Recordings folder that points to the location of your DivX files. In our case, we just created a shortcut to the My Videos folder; our DivX files then showed up as available to transfer.

The transfer process itself is slow, and it seemed to monopolize our PC. After we set it up to transfer a DivX file, the TiVo Desktop application spiked to 90 percent CPU usage, according to Windows Task Manager. This most likely means that the program is transcoding files to a TiVo-friendly file rather than the Series2 box playing the files natively. In our experience, the transfer process wasn't flawless either--a couple small movie trailers transfered fine, but two larger files got stuck and effectively hung. So while we loved the idea of watching DivX and Xvid files on our TiVo, there were enough hiccups that we felt that burning DivX files to a DVD and watching them on a DivX-compatible DVD player is still a whole lot easier--especially since even bargain DVD players have DivX compatibility now.

TiVo

Converting files for portable use was easy, although very slow. First, we transferred an episode of The Office from our TiVo to our PC, which took about 30 minutes over our wireless network--equivalent to the length of the show. After that, we had to only right-click on the file and tell it to convert for the PSP, and off it went. Unfortunately, it took about 45 minutes before it was ready to go.

What's nice about the 2.5 update is that you can tell the TiVo to automatically convert transferred files to your preferred format, so you can set up a bunch of recordings to transfer and convert while you're at work, for example. You also have the option of whether you want the original, full-size file to be automatically deleted or to keep it. And you can also set up the software to automatically transfer a series, so, for example, every episode of The Office can be set to transfer to your PC, then converted to portable format, and they will be ready for the next morning's commute without you having to do anything. The video quality on our PSP was pretty good, and we were able to watch in its native wide-screen aspect ratio. There's no denying the whole process is slow, but the automation makes it easier to swallow. Unlike the DivX playback, we could actually see ourselves using this feature.

The TiVo HD lags behind the older Series2 in network functionality
The TiVo HD lags behind the older Series2 in network functionality CNET

While TiVo Desktop 2.5 offers new functionality for Series2 owners, there are still many holes in TiVo's support for network media functions across the product line. Both TiVoToGo and the ability to transfer video to the TiVo are not available for the newest Series3 and TiVo HD, which makes it harder for TiVo to differentiate itself from the DVRs provided by the cable company, which are usually cheaper. Mac users are also left behind in this update, as TiVo Desktop for Mac is unable to automatically encode video for portable devices or transfer DivX files to the TiVo. So while we're happy to see TiVo continue to support the Series2 TiVo--a more than five-year-old product--we're really hoping to see this functionality on the newest HD-capable TiVos.

 

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