By Marianne Evans
For those of you reading this review, who are unfamiliar with TiVos, a brief description of what a Digital Video Recorder (DVR) can do is in order. A DVR, such as TiVo, records television shows like a well programmed VCR, but onto a large hard disk instead of removable VHS tapes. You can program it to record particular channels at specific times like you would a VCR or you can set it to record every episode of a certain show, with a wish list. You can even instruct it to record a show, but to skip reruns so your disk doesn’t fill up with multiple copies of syndicated episodes. It keeps all of these recordings until you delete them, or until the disk space fills up, at which point the TiVo deletes the oldest ones. You also can pause live TV, or rewind or fast-forward through live or recorded shows.
TiVo Hacks is a recommended book for the seasoned hacker, would-be hacker, could-be hacker or want-to-be hacker in all of us. The book works well as a light read for anyone who enjoys reading of the possibilities as well as a wonderful reference tool for those working through the directions. Even a non TV enthusiast will not only find the TiVo infinitely useable after reading this book, but infinitely hackable as well.
One of the greatest features of this book is the fact that it realizes that not all of us are seasoned Linux veterans. In fact, for those too afraid to venture into, “getting under the hood” or using a Linux command line, there are plenty of hacks to be explored. Most of the beginner level hacks are done with the TiVo remote. These hacks allow you to do such things as change the speed of fast forwarding, switch it into thirty second blocks like Replay TV, enabling advanced wish lists, or making the play bar disappear faster. These tricks in themselves are worth the book. For the more technologically savvy or brave people out there, the advanced hacks can provide some advanced functionality you will have to have. These hacks range from adding hardware, such as additional hard drives for more viewing hours to using a shell command line to do such things as playing mp3s on your TiVo or having the caller ID of your phone display on screen. There are also advanced hacks for bringing Internet access and the Web on your TiVo.
For those a bit more brave and experienced with hardware and a willingness to learn, the under the hood operations are just what you’re looking for. The steps are clear enough that even a newbie can do wonders. The book does an excellent job of pointing out differences between models and how to handle them. The Series 1 and Series 2 are two separate entities, each of which has advantages to its design. The major differences in hardware are summed up in an easy to use table to determine the type of upgrading equipment you will need, ranging from cables and screws to brackets and Torx.
One of the elements of the book’s design, which I found particularly useful as I was skipping from section to section, was how in one hack, it would note which previous hacks were necessary to complete prior to attempting the current hack. The book also uses different colors of fonts to mark different types of directions. Talk about clarity. The images of hardware and where things are located are especially helpful as they follow the directions given in the hacks. The book itself is divided into 7 main chapters, starting from easiest (remote hacks) to the more difficult (writing code). Whatever your level, you’ll easily be able to find the material you need!
The biggest downside of this book would have to be that it can make you feel overconfident for something you may not truly be qualified to do. The best advice I can give is proceed with caution. If you’re not comfortable with hardware, think twice before attempting any hacks that involve taking apart your TiVo. Remember warranties aren’t valid when you start getting to this level. If you’re a brave soul and can risk the couple hundred dollars of the investment, go for it! You’ll be surprised at what you’re truly capable of doing!
Although I am not currently a TiVo owner, I already see a great value in its service from reading this book. I will definitely be putting it high on my wish list of techie toys!
Posted: Thursday, September 1st, 2005