TiVo Desktop version 2.6.1 (download here) was launched on April 9, 2008 (See TiVoPony’s announcement and Megazone’s post including TiVo’s press release). For TiVo Desktop users that have upgraded to TiVo Plus (U.S. $24.99), the most important new feature of version 2.6.1 is its integrated support for video podcasts.
[November 8, 2008 Update: I have stopped using TiVo Desktop approach for video podcast access, viewing and maintenance ever since I purchased AppleTV in August 2008. The entire video podcast experience on AppleTV is far superior to, and much less kludgy than, the TiVo solution.]
Video podcasts of your choosing can now be served up from your PC to your TiVo Series 2, 3 or TiVoHD. Once setup (see below) the TiVo Desktop software monitors your video podcast directories and automatically copies newly arrived video podcasts to your TiVo (sorted in podcast-specific folders).
This is a marked improvement over the prior ‘walled garden’-only offering – TiVoCast. With TiVoCast, (which still exists), TiVo chooses which video podcasts you can subscribe too (see my prior critique here). With the new 2.6.1 functionality, you decide which video podcasts you want on your TiVo.
Also, for the first time, version 2.6.1 provides TiVo Series 3 and TiVoHD users with higher quality PC to TiVo transfers. HD video content residing on your PC (video podcasts, TV shows, movies etc.) transfer to high definition TiVo units at 720p compared to 480p previously (480p is still used for HD transfers to Series 2 units).
While not being promoted by TiVo, the TiVo Desktop software can monitor any folder on your computer – not just podcast folders. So, when new content appears in that folder, say, for example, a BitTorrent folder, the software will automatically copy that content to your TiVo as well.
I installed and tested version 2.6.1 on my Vista 64 PC, and I’m delighted to report that it just plain works! A bit of a happy surprise given the hair pulling I’ve gone through with prior TiVo Desktop installs.
Below I describe the installation process, demonstrate how to use TiVo Desktop to serve video podcasts to your TiVo and discuss areas where improvements are still needed.
Unlike prior versions of the TiVo Desktop software, installation of version 2.6.1 was a breeze. I don’t know if its my Vista 64 platform or just bad luck, but in the past, I had to jump through hoops to get TiVo Desktop and the TiVo Server up and running properly. Not this time. The TiVo development team got this one right.
After uninstalling TiVo Desktop 2.5.1, installing 2.6.1 required no effort beyond clicking on the setup wizard executable, agreeing to the license terms and accepting the installation path prompt. That’s it. Everything else just worked.
If you have a prior version installed, you will need to uninstall it before installing version 2.6.1. I routinely update dozens of applications on my computers. TiVo Desktop is the only one that, to date, consistently requires me to uninstall a prior version in order to do an update. TiVoJerry seems to imply, in this TiVoCommunity post, that going forward future versions of the software will automatically uninstall the prior version. So this should be a relic of the past.
Note: If this is your first TiVo Desktop installation you’ll also need to: (i) properly connect your PC and TiVo(s) to the same home network (here’s how); (ii) input your media access key for each of your TiVos (Messages & Settings/Account & System Information/Media Access Key); and (iii) input the TiVo Plus License Key provided by TiVo. The TiVo Plus Upgrade (U.S. $24.95) to the otherwise free TiVo Desktop software is required to unlock the video podcast functionality described in this post.
Setting Up Video Podcast Sharing
Setting up TiVo Desktop to automatically send your selected video podcasts to your TiVo(s), is straightforward.
For the purpose of this guide, I assume you know: (i) how to subscribe to video podcasts through your podcast software of choice (I use iTunes); and (ii) where those video podcasts are stored on your hard drive (see below for iTunes file locations).
From TiVo Desktop Plus, click on the "Share Music, Photos, & Videos" button.
From the Music, Photos & Videos screen click on the "Add Videos" button under the "Video" tab.
In the "Add Videos" window, navigate to the directory where your podcast is stored, select that directory, and click ‘Add’.
Tip: To locate the directory where iTunes stores a particular video podcast in Windows, right click on the video podcast within iTunes (see picture above) and choose the "Get Info" option. The video podcast’s properties box will open (see below). The file location is shown at the bottom of the ‘Summary" tab (circled in red below).
On TiVo Desktop’s Video Folder Properties screen, select "Yes, auto-transfer to my DVR", choose how many you wish it to ‘Keep at Most’ (10 is the highest – there is no ‘keep all’ option) and if you have more than one TiVo, choose which TiVo you want the video podcast to be sent to.
After clicking "OK" TiVo will start sending all current and future episodes of that podcast to your TiVo(s). Of course you need to run your podcast software regularly for new video podcast content to arrive.
The video podcasts are grouped by podcast on your TiVo’s "Now Playing" screen".
As with any TV series, each of the episodes are available within the group for playback complete with episode information displayed on the program information screen.
The full TiVo playback functionality is available when playing video podcasts – just like watching TV shows.
Room For Improvement
TiVo Desktop 2.6.1 has gone a significant way to satisfying the problems I critiqued back in December 2006 with their prior walled-garden approach. But there is still room for improvement.
No Open, Native Video Podcast Support: Most, if not all, video podcasts on the net are provided in the standard Mpeg4-H.264 format. The TiVo Series 3 and TiVoHD units can natively connect to the Internet and both contain the Broadcom chipset that natively plays back Mpeg4-H.264 content. Which begs the question, why don’t the Series 3 and TiVoHD units natively support direct video podcast downloads and playback without the need to access video podcasts acquired by, and stored on, my PC? I understand that this multi-step solution is required for the TiVo Series 2 platform, but the S3 and TiVoHD are TiVos future. I suspect TiVo will get their one day. In the mean time you’ll need to keep running iTunes (or your podcast software of choice) each day in order to keep feeding your TiVo.
Conversion to Mpeg 2: Given how long it takes to send a video podcast from my PC to my TiVo, and how much my 4 processor cores are churning when video podcasts are sent to my S3, it appears TiVo is converting the Mpeg4-H.264 video podcasts into TiVo’s native Mpeg 2 format? Why? My TiVos S3 should be able to play Mpeg-4H.264 content natively? Someone please correct me if I am wrong on this point.
No Deletion Support: When I delete the video podcast from my TiVo, the video podcast is not deleted on my PC. As a result I must delete video podcasts in both places. It would have been nice, for example, if there was an option to delete the source video podcast file from the PC as soon as it is copied over to the TiVo.
To be fair, this is a long-standing pet peeve I’ve had when playing podcasts on my iPod.
There is no way to delete a podcast from an iPod either once you have finished with it. [Update: I have since found a way to do this on the iPod/AppleTV and added a post about it here.]
No Playback While Transferring: Curiously, unlike when you use TiVo Desktop to transfer other video content from your PC to your TiVo, you cannot watch video podcasts as they are being transferred.
Video Podcast Date Problem: As you can see from the iTunes picture above, the date for episode 124 of commandN is March 3, 2008. But, as you can also see above, the date on the TiVo program information screen for that episode is May 18, 2008 – the day I transferred it to my TiVo. So, TiVo does not use the podcast’s meta data to feed the date. This is particularly odd since TiVo is otherwise accessing meta data to populate the program information screen.
This should not be a problem if you leave your PC and iTunes running 24/7 (as I often do) because, if all goes as planned, future video podcasts should transfer to your TiVo on the date they arrive. But, if you only run iTunes, say, once a week, the dates will be off.
Limit of 10: As you can see from the Video Folder Properties screenshot (above), you are limited to a maximum of 10 episode transfers of any given podcast at any given time. This may not be an issue for most. But I often let the small 3 or 4 minute podcasts pile up for a couple weeks then blow through them in one sitting. Thus the limit of 10 could be limiting for some purposes.
Still No PC Folder Support: While not an issue for video podcasts, I note that TiVo software version 9.3 combined with TiVo Desktop version 2.6.1 still do not support folder navigation when accessing your PC’s video content from your TiVo. Many TiVo users sort their video content into folders. While TiVo Desktop can index content from PC folders, it is still tossed into one very, very long screen when viewing it from your TiVo. I do note, however, that with the recent TiVo 9.3 software update, paging through that long, long screen of content is much faster than it used to be.
Despite my criticisms, this is a terrific step forward for TiVo. The screen on my my 5th generation iPod was adequate for watching video podcasts but viewing them on my TV is a much better experience.
For anyone that enjoys video podcasts, I highly recommend TiVo Desktop Plus version 2.6.1.