I Stink, Therefore I Am: The Art and Science of the TiVoroma

Over the past 5 years, a lot of TiVos have passed through the weaKnees warehouse for upgrades, repairs and the like. The vast majority are all the same—boxes with a bunch of circuits, wires and a hard drive or two.

Some, however, are very special: They take on the characteristics of their owners. And we’re not talking about the owners’ viewing habits.

weaKnees’ very own Max Power is our resident scientist. Do you smoke in the house? Max can tell you what type of cigarettes. Do you like cigars? Max can tell. Max knows what perfume you wear, whether you burn incense, whether you have a dog or cat…all from your TiVo.


Here are some of the latest examples: Yesterday, Max walked around the office with a FedEx pak, insisting that we all smell it. “It’s Indian spices,” he said. “They’re good cooks.” I declined his invitation for a whiff, but had no doubt that it was all true. A few days ago, we got a TiVo that smelled “like Lord & Taylor.” And a week or so ago, referring to a TiVo in for an upgrade, Max asked whether he “could scrape the fan and smoke it.” (Fortunately, we have strict policies against breaking Federal laws while on the job.)

So stay tuned…we’ll update the blog from time to time with the latest TiVo scents. And if you want to send us your TiVo, have no fear: Your secret is safe with us! We do not sell our customers’ habits to any third parties…although we reserve the right to aggregate the statistics and do who-knows-what with them.


Choosing and Installing and Over-the-Air (OTA) Antenna

As the buzz over digital (high definition) television spreads, we receive more and more inquiries about the best way to get HD, how to choose a TiVo if you want HD, DIRECTV and HD and on and on.

In an effort to help our phone guys (who are on the front lines when customers call), I thought I’d write a bit about one question that seems to crop up frequently—how to get “free” HD stations via an over-the-air antenna, the type of antenna to buy, how to get it installed, etc.

I’m not going to bore you with the law, but there have been all sorts of mandates on local TV broadcasters to start transmitting in high definition. If you are in an area in which stations are broadcasting in HD, then with the right TV, the right tuner and the right antenna on your roof, you can get these high-quality digital broadcasts for free.

If you want to integrate these free HD stations with TiVo, currently the only game in town is the HD TiVo for DIRECTV, which we’ve written about (in conjunction with MPEG4) here and here.

The HD TiVo is a wonderful box that integrates the free over-the-air (OTA) stations with satellite stations. If you have an OTA antenna installed, and the antenna is strong enough to get the local stations, then you will get some or all of your local stations in HD. Because HD stations are broadcast over VHF and UHF bands, the same ol’ antennas that you see on rooftops will receive HD…except in many cases signals far away can be pulled in using far smaller antennas.

A Winegard OTA Antenna

The wonderful thing about HD locals via an OTA antenna is that the quality is the best you’ll find. While DIRECTV sends HD signals via the satellite in highly compressed formats, the local broadcasters tend to compress the signal far less, leading to a superior picture quality. Admittedly, most people, most of the time, can’t tell the difference between local HD and DIRECTV HD stations, but in some cases, the differences are pretty stark. For a lot of information about OTA broadcasts, see our new OTA and TiVo page.

Assuming you have an HD TV (or EDTV—enhanced definition TV, which is basically a TV that doesn’t have the capability to view the highest-definition TV broadcasts), and assuming you have some way of tuning OTA broadcasts (the HD TiVo and H20 non-DVR DIRECTV receiver each can do it), then you might want to investigate whether to purchase an OTA antenna to get local broadcasts.

The first and best place to start is At this website, sponsored by the Consumer Electronics Association, you will input your exact address and will be told exactly how far you are from the various broadcast towers. You will also be told what antenna you need to purchase to get various stations.

The CEA categorizes antenna types using a color scheme, which relates to the type of antenna that is recommended, and the distance your home is from the broadcast. See:

Based on discussions with a number of installers, various manufacturers and distributors, weaKnees has chosen a couple of antennas that we believe will suit the purposes of the vast majority of our customers. We now carry two medium directional antennas, one non-amplified (for ‘red’ signals and closer) and an amplified antenna (for ‘blue’ signals and closer). Red antennas are designed to pull in signals that are at the ‘red’ distance or closer (eg. yellow, green, light green and red). Blue antennas are designed to get these plus the further blue signals.

Keep in mind that just because you live within the range of a certain signal, using a specified antenna is certainly no guarantee that you will actually get a signal. If your line of sight is blocked by mountains or buildings, for example, the strongest antenna on the planet may not help.

Once you have purchased an antenna, a DIRECTV installer can install the antenna at the same time he/she installs your dish, you can install the antenna yourself, or you can hire a local installer to put it up for you. All DIRECTV installers are trained to install OTA antennas, and the installation cost is generally negotiated between the customer and the installer. You should talk to the installer in advance about these costs so that you are not caught off guard at the time of the install.

Product Information

Buy a Battery Backup…and please don’t void the $50,000 insurance policy!

A month ago, we pleaded with all DVR owners to purchase an uninterruptible power supply. We consider this so important, that we’re reminding you again—please, if you have a TiVo DVR, purchase a UPS! A UPS, unlike a standard surge protector or line conditioner, will protect your TiVo from power fluctuations, surges and power drops. Because it has a battery to provide power, a UPS is able to increase power when it drops, and can step down power when there is a surge.


UPSs nearly always come with some amount of ‘insurance’ from the manufacturer, which promises that if any unit connected to the UPS is damaged from a power event (surge, brownout, etc.), the company will reimburse you for your losses. After talking with several manufacturers, we have learned a bit about how these insurance policies work.

Obviously, the purpose of a UPS is to avoid trouble down the road. However, if you do have problems, you’ll want to be sure that the UPS manufacturer’s insurance policy will cover your losses. To do so, you must install the UPS properly, and comply with the manufacturer’s requirements.

The insurance policy on UPS devices is likely to require you to jump through various hoops. For example, APC has a number of conditions that must be met if you expect to make a claim, including.

1. REGISTER YOUR PRODUCT ON TIME! You must register the product by returning to APC the warranty card provided with the product within 10 days of purchase. All information must be filled in, and you should retain a copy for your records. The warranty card must clearly identify the types of electronic equipment that will be plugged into the APC product for which protection under this policy is claimed. All connected equipment must be UL or CSA approved.

2. DO NOT USE A UPS WITH AN EXTENSION CORD, SURGE PROTECTOR OR OTHER DEVICE! The APC product must be plugged into properly wired and grounded outlets; no extension cords, adapters, other ground wires, or electrical connections may be used, with the sole exception of other standard APC 120 volt products. The installation must not include power protection products made by any manufacturer other than APC. The installation must comply with all applicable electrical and safety codes set forth pursuant to the National Electrical Code (NEC).

3. SUBMIT YOUR CLAIM QUICKLY! Any claim under the Equipment Protection Policy must be made within 10 days of the date of alleged damage to the connected equipment.

I suspect that the number of failures attributable to a faulty UPS is fairly small. However small, though, it seems pretty clear that the number of valid claims has got to be miniscule. How many UPS purchasers read the fine print sufficiently enough to register the product? And of those who have actually registered, how many fail to submit the claim on time? It’s gotta be a small number.

I don’t mean to suggest that UPSs fail frequently; to the contrary, we have many customers whose problems (TiVo-related problems, that is) disappeared the day they purchased a UPS. Inexpensive investment…well worth it.