Whenlaunched in Australia late last year, one of the features that was notably absent from the local version was home networking. The ability to stream multimedia content to your TiVo, or, critically, take recordings your TiVo had made and transfer them to your PC or to portable devices was, we were assured, an upcoming feature that would cost in the "tens of dollars". Home Networking has finally arrived for the TiVo, and the price is a little more than the tens of dollars quote would have you believe. It's a set price of AU$199, although at the time of writing TiVo was offering it for a reduced cost of AU$99.
So what does your AU$199 actually buy you? Well, aside from some client-side PC-centric TiVo software — Mac users will need Roxio's Toast Titanium to access their TiVo over a network — the key thing that the Home Networking Package gives you is an unlocked Media Access Key. The package is only sold through TiVo's local portal, and once you've entered in your details and made your payment, the same network connection that delivers the TiVo EPG updates and the recently launched Blockbuster-branded VOD service will deliver your media access key. It's a 10-digit code that you then enter into the TiVo Desktop software, although some other packages do work with the MAK, such as TiVoButler. With the Media Access Key you also get the ability to download TiVo Desktop Plus to a single PC, which allows you to transfer recordings from your TiVo to a PC, as well as convert them to formats suitable for iPods, PSPs, the Nokia N80, Palm Treo 650 and generic profiles for H.264 and MPEG-4 conversion.
There's really not much to say on the installation front. Local TiVo distributor Hybrid Television Services provided CNET Australia with a complimentary account, and around 24 hours later we could access the Media Access Key functionality within our TiVo. The Desktop Plus software was likewise a simple install, and it splits in between your TiVo's recordings and sharing music photo and video files from connected PC systems on the same network. We had to slightly tweak our firewall on our test system, running Norton 360 v3 in order for the TiVo to be seen.
The TiVo Desktop Plus software is simple enough to navigate, but TiVo, it seems, is incessantly careful not to annoy any lawyers out there. Pretty much every step you take with the transfer software includes a mandatory click-through disclaimer to assert that you won't distribute files any further than your own system and for your own viewing, which gets rather tiresome after a while. One nice touch is that you can opt to transfer titles individually, or tell the transfer software to automatically transfer an entire series as episodes are recorded.
Once you've selected items to transfer, TiVo queues them up, and then you start to wait. And then wait. And then wait some more. For what is pure data, transferring from the TiVo takes utterly ages, even over a decent gigabit Ethernet network; we can only imagine it'd be much slower again over wireless. Typically, we found programs transferred at roughly double time, so a one hour program came through in around 30 minutes. This makes it impractical for setting up if you want some quick video to watch on the train, but acceptable for large, late night transfer queues. It wouldn't take that much effort to set just about everything on a TiVo to transfer overnight and clear the TiVo itself (although this can't be done remotely) to give you a lot of space for recommendations and VOD movies almost permanently.
AU$199 for a 10-digit code is undeniably pricey — logically it's AU$19.99 per digit, after all — and we do wish it was quicker on the transfer queues. Given the space extending alternative is currently limited to only the Western Digital My DVR Expander, however, and that's more costly and nowhere near as portable or backup-friendly, we'd still suggest it's a worthwhile buy for TiVo-owning TV junkies.