A few days after I posted my Google TV blog; I received an email from the sales manager at TiVo asking me to call him.  It turned out he wanted to know if I would test their new TiVo Premiere XL device.  As a very happy owner of four of the first HD TiVos, I jumped at the chance to try out their new box. When the XL arrived I discovered my existing cable cards were not compatible with the new unit. My buddy at Time Warner helped me out with one of the new multistream cards and I was ready to go.

The Premiere XL is THX certified, like my TiVo Series 3 boxes. However, it offers more than triple the hard drive space with room on board for up to 150 hours of HD content storage.  If that’s not enough, it has the ability to add an external hard drive for even more.

The new TiVo Premiere XL

The new TiVo Premiere XL

When I first displayed the main menu, I was overwhelmed with the new layout. The new menu puts a small image (with audio) of the current channel in the upper right hand corner and gives you a plethora of choices. My first thought was: “Okay, here we go again. An Internet appliance trying to offer every single choice under the sun because they think they need it to compete.”  In addition to TV channels your cable provider gives you, the TiVo can also provide movies from Amazon, Blockbuster and Netflix.  If that’s not enough, you also get Rhapsody, Pandora, Live 365, Podcaster, One True Media, a cool photo section, You Tube, weather, traffic, sports, stocks and a host of other TiVo apps you can install. The famous TiVo interface makes navigation a bit easier, but there is still a whole bunch of stuff here and all I usually want to do is find my recording of CSI!

The new TiVo home page

The new TiVo home page

The good news is: TiVo has not really changed the interface for setting up shows to record. I admit, my use of the old interface for the past 4 years has probably skewed me, but after I got used to the new screen, I was able to set things up pretty quickly On all the other stuff, I felt the huge amount of choices, combined with having to click around so much, made this new box another hard to navigate system trying to be “jack of all trades and master of none.” I was about to send it back, but TiVo asked me to wait a few weeks to see their upcoming iPad app.

I thought about the TiVo customer compared to a cable or satellite customer. TiVo is a premium service, adding an additional charge on top of the bill you pay your cable provider. The reason you pay this additional charge is to make TV viewing simple and finding recorded content a snap. Of all the interfaces out there, TiVo still wins hands down.  So, why, I thought, did they put all this other stuff on there not related to TV?  Movies, I could see, but anyone who pays a premium for TiVo should already have a network capable Blu-ray player with all the Internet bells and whistles. I thought TiVo had taken a good thing and loaded it up with too much junk that is not relevant to their core customer. And then the iPad app arrived!

The TiVo iPad app completely changed my mind. It seems the team at TiVo went through the same thought process I did. The iPad app helps you manage TV content and movies. That’s it, and that’s all you want! They took their core strengths and leveraged them with an app that completely changes the way you interface with your TV.  Imagine a program guide where scrolling through hundreds of channels means you just swipe the iPad!  Imagine wanting to see what is coming on in five days, and touching a button to bring up the familiar iPad wheel where you choose the date!  The really great part about using the iPad app, is NO MORE click, click, click, click, click on the remote to get anywhere. You just see it and touch it!  The guide takes up the bottom two thirds of the screen. Information about the show is at the top, with quick access to record, get more info, see upcoming episodes, and other functions. Finding recorded content works the same way.

The browse section of the app is also very cool (although it’s aimed at getting you to buy streaming movies from Blockbuster or Amazon). Then again, you can search movies or categories of content which blend movies and TV together. Anything you choose pops up at the top with the method of delivery: TV, Amazon, Blockbuster, Netflix. One more click and you are watching the content.

One other neat aspect of the iPad interface is this fact: you do not have to look at your TV screen while you are searching. As a matter of fact, nothing changes on your TV until you select watch now! There is a small remote control icon at the top. When you click on it, the screen changes to a touch screen remote or a “gesture” screen where you control the TiVo with swipes and finger presses. This is pretty cool, although I still prefer a normal remote with hard buttons.

I think TiVo still has some work to do on the Netflix app. While the browse feature is pretty cool, you are forced to wade through a whole bunch of pay per view content that you can’t tell is pay per view until you click on it. When you return to the TV interface, they still show the original Netflix interface which is light-years behind what is currently offered on the PlayStation 3.  TiVo claims they will soon have an update to the Netflix app and add Dolby 5.1 Netflix playback in the near future. When I am out of new movies to watch, I prefer going to Netflix and not choosing pay per view, so a new interface would be great. Once implemented, I’m sure the TiVo navigation will be superior to that of the PS3.

I think for the TV junkie, the new TiVo coupled with the iPad app will seem like a dream come true.  The sports fan will appreciate how easy it is with this app to find current and upcoming games. If you do like paying extra for pay per view, you will find a wealth of content at your fingertips with a great graphical interface.

So how will this new TiVo be used in the Shaw home?  We enjoy Blu-ray movies and there is usually a Netflix Blu-ray rental at my system. On a good theater, there is still no comparison to how much better Blu-ray looks and sounds than anything else!  We also enjoy several TV series. However, we just set these up once for a season pass with TiVo and retrieve them when we don’t have time for a full-length movie.  On the rare occasion when we are out of Netflix rentals and want to watch a movie, we go to the PS3 with its killer interface and find something to enjoy.  For us, while the iPad app makes the TiVo even better, we will not use it that much.  Frankly, there is just not that much free time in the day!  But hats off to TiVo for using the power of the iPad to make what has to be the coolest content finding interface I have ever seen.  If you are one of the people who is constantly searching for something to watch on TV, you’ll absolutely love the new TiVo XL coupled with an iPad!