TiVo buying versus homebrew building
June 04, 2003
Sometimes my buddies and I talk about the things we’d buy if we had real jobs that paid real money. Just the other night, for example, we were discussing TiVo units and related products, and we agreed that we’d probably watch more TV if we could sit down and actually watch what we wanted to, when we wanted to. Obviously, TiVo would be a damned good start.
News that the MPAA has problems with TiVo, and that lawsuits are pending, don’t strike me as shocking in the least, but I don’t believe they’’ll pay off. What I do think will pay off, at least for companies like TiVo, are these giant subscription plans aimed at getting lifetime service for a single flat fee. By “lifetime,” of course, we’re talking the lifetime of the particular unit you buy, but that’s still pretty nice unless you’re forced to upgrade for better functionality in the future. Again, something I wouldn’t be surprised about happening, but not something I expect anytime soon.
What’s interesting to me, however, is the concept of building a TiVo-like device instead of buying it, using open source software and common x86 hardware. The buy vs. build argument comes down to more than just “cool factor” however, and even more than looking at respective feature sets. It’s the cost that strikes me as most important, and how that cost relates to feature set second.
While building using open source software won’t come with a price tag for subscriptions, a PC capable of handling the functionality of this type of unit, and likely nothing else, doesn’t come cheap. Consider a price tag of about one thousand dollars, compared to a three-hundred fifty dollar unit with a three-hundred dollar lifetime subscription, and it’s still hard to justify building, especially when you can pick up a refurbished unit for fifty dollars less.
In the meantime, I’ll still dream about TV-on-demand, but I’ll be dreaming of TiVo rather than a homebrew knockoff. Perhaps by the time I’m ready to make a purchase, however, the hardware necessary to do what I want will be cheap enough to make a TiVo purchase a less attractive idea. As always, time will tell.