What is TiVo and How Does it Work?

By Robert Vaux

TiVo

TiVo is a type of digital video recorder (DVR), using computer technology to save and record shows like a VCR. It has a number of other features that render it superior to a standard VCR, however, which is part of what makes it so revolutionary. TiVos are produced by TiVo, Inc. and designed to work in conjunction with your satellite or cable TV service.

How It Works

TiVo works by storing shows as digital information: a series of 1s and 0s retained the same way a computer stores its information. The show is saved on a hard drive until it is ready to be viewed, and can be played back anytime the user likes. Because the hard drive is much more efficient than an older cassette tape, the TiVo can store many more shows--hundreds of hours in most cases. It can also save shows in high definition (provided your cable or satellite service provides it), which VCRs cannot do.

Connection

TiVo is set up to connect to the TV and cable box just like a VCR. A coaxial cable connects to the cable or satellite feed, then another one connects to the TV. Many TiVos can also be connected using RCA A/V cables and HDMI cables for HD broadcasts. In addition, a TiVo needs access to your phone line to receive instructions and upgrades, though it doesn't interfere with the normal function of your phone.

Playback

Playback on a TiVo works similar to the way a VCR works. When you access the show, it starts playing from the beginning, and you can rewind, fast forward or pause it as you wish. You can also exit the show to look at something else, then return to the same spot at a later time. One of the added benefits of TiVo is that you can perform this function with live TV too: pausing to take a break, rewinding to check an earlier spot and fast forwarding to get back to the live feed. Most TiVos will store at least an hour or so of live broadcasts without saving them, giving you an ample cushion to pause and rewind as you wish.

Additional Features

Another benefit of TiVo over regular VCRs is the ability to watch one recorded show while taping another, or record two shows at once if you wish. It also has a "favorites" feature, which analyzes the shows you watch and selects other shows you might enjoy. Its pay-per-view services include contracts with Netflix, Amazon and YouTube, allowing you to access content from those services through your TiVo, and it contains USB ports and Internet connection capacity that let you transfer shows to your computer, iPod or similar device. You can also schedule shows through your phone or online, making sure the TiVo gets what you need if you aren't there.