DIRECTV’s TiVo is coming! Is it for you?

It sure has been a long time coming.
DIRECTV and TiVo announced their joint partnership in the fall of 2008, and since then, TiVo fans have hoped that someday soon, their TiVo would come. It took over three years, but the THR22 TiVo DVR with DIRECTV service launched in limited markets in the fall of 2011. DIRECTV is expected to make it available nationwide in February, 2012.

While the TiVo fans have been waiting, they’ve learned how to upgrade the hard drives on old dying DVRs and lived without the ability to record DIRECTV’s HD channels. It hasn’t been a particularly good compromise, but there have been many people who have patiently waited for a new HD DVR that would be as easy and fun to use as a TiVo. Those patient fans can finally rejoice!

But is it for you? The TiVo DVR was the first DVR for DIRECTV and may say it was still the best. However, DIRECTV’s own DVRs have gone from unreliable and worrisome to solid and feature-packed in the last three years. In the meantime, TiVo Inc. has struggled with problems of its own, possibly due to lawsuits that are still pending resolution. Their standalone DVRs have had their share of bugs too, and their branded options with Comcast and Virgin haven’t been very successful.

The new TiVo isn’t much to look at…
that’s for sure. If you have an HR22 DVR, you’re looking at the spitting image of the new TiVo. The only difference on the outside is a little TiVo sticker on the upper right corner and some slightly different wording on the silkscreening. If you were hoping for the slick look of TiVo’s newer offerings, you’re going to be disappointed. However, what really matters is what’s inside, and all THR22’s are based on the solid architecture of DIRECTV’s long-running HR21/HR22 series. This may not seem very exciting but using established hardware allowed the TiVo developers to start writing software right away. It doesn’t explain why the TiVo took so long, though.

The good news is the peanut remote…
which looks almost exactly like the old TiVo peanuts we all knew and loved so well from years past. It feels a little lighter to the touch but it offers a few more buttons as well as keeping the “Thumbs Up” and “Thumbs Down” buttons required for suggestions. Color buttons are added for ease of use in different menus. If you loved the peanut, you’ll love that it can also control any DIRECTV DVR. Or, if you didn’t like the peanut, you can use the white DIRECTV remote and almost every feature is duplicated.

What’s missing, though, is a button to actually turn the DVR “off.” If you’re a DIRECTV or TiVo fan, you realize that these boxes don’t ever turn “off,” they just go into standby so they can keep recording when you’re not sitting in front of the TV. (That’s the point, right?) On older TiVos this was not a problem since they had so little decoration on the front panel that it was actually pretty hard to see whether they were on or off. The THR22 has the super-bright lights on the front that every DIRECTV DVR has, and unlike the regular HR21/HR22 series it’s impossible to turn them off. So, unless you want to use the TiVo as a nightlight, you’re going to want to turn it off when you’re not using. it. This means either getting up and pushing a front panel button or keeping a white DIRECTV remote on the coffee table just for the {PWR} button. Or, buy a universal remote… although you don’t get the peanut shape at that point.

TiVo will probably come up with a maintenance release that addresses the front panel, at least lets you turn it to “off” if you want.

Same as it ever was…
If you thought there was nothing wrong with the look of the old DIRECTV TiVo, you’re going to be thrilled with the new one. The user experience is lifted straight from the old HR10 high-definition recorder. There are very few changes to be found here. The colors are different but the sound effects are the same. There are more menus and options to play with but at its heart this is a device for those who really liked their old TiVo and just wanted to have high-definition programming.

What does it do well?
The new THR22 has a great list of features that make it a really solid choice. Take a look at these things you’ll only find on the THR22:

  • Unlimited Season Passes
  • Always-on dual buffers
  • Swivel Search
  • Overlap protection
  • Wishlists
  • Suggestions
  • Deleted Items Folder
  • RF and IR simultaneously
  • SD and HD outputs
  • both show menus
  • Slow-motion button
  • TiVo Live Guide

The best part of that for many people will be unlimited season passes. DIRECTV DVRs are all limited to 50 series to record, or 100 with the new HR34. The overlap protection is also a great feature because it lets you decide to cut the end of a show by 1 minute instead of missing it entirely. Not only that, the new TiVo does better slow motion and better fast-forward than DIRECTV’s DVRs.

What doesn’t it do?
If you’ve been using DIRECTV’s DVRs for the last six years or so, you’ve gotten used to some powerful features. You’ll be giving up a few things with the THR22, like:

  • Whole-home DVR
  • Dual 90-minute Buffers
  • TVApps
  • Advanced Search Terms
  • Youtube Videos
  • Mini Guide
  • 3D Programming
  • GameSearch
  • Nomad
  • Picture-in-Graphics
  • DIRECTV App for iPad
  • HD User Interface
  • Front-panel dimming
  • Two favorites lists

That’s right, DIRECTV’s most popular feature, multi-room viewing, isn’t available for the TiVo. If you’ve got one TV, that’s no problem, but for many people it’s a dealbreaker right there. You also won’t get DIRECTV’s fancy new HD user interface, but who watches the menus, right?

Is it worth the money?

That really depends on how much you like the TiVo interface. As part of their agreement with TiVo Inc, DIRECTV charges an extra $5 per month over and above the $7 per month you’ll pay for any extra receiver. That money goes straight to TiVo Inc and it’s not likely to be waived for anyone. The THR22 will be $199 to lease, the same price as any other DIRECTV DVR. But, of course, there’s that $5/month to contend with. DIRECTV’s super DVR, the 5-tuner HR34 is $399, but over the course of three years you’ll spend $180 on the “TiVo tax,” making the total cost for both receivers almost the same. Right now the THR22 has a slight edge in reliability over the HR34, but that’s bound to change quickly.

The bottom line is of course personal preference. If you like the peanut remote, friendly menus, and the features of a TiVo, you finally have an option.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.