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9/26/2005
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Review: TiVo In Your Pocket

TiVoToGo lets you move your recorded TV programs to your Windows mobile device. It's slow, but it does the job.

Earlier this year, TiVo released its TiVoToGo option as part of the TiVo Desktop 2.0 software. TiVoToGo brought your recorded programs down to your PC and, ultimately, to your laptop for portable playback. The recently released 2.1 update extends this capability down to your Pocket PC or personal media center devices.

It's not exactly a click-and-go sort of thing, but neither is it very difficult to send your favorite programs to your Windows-powered mobile device. There are, however, both the host PC and the Windows Mobile device have to be running Media Player 10. For testing, I used a Dell Axim X50v with the latest updates.

There is a two step transfer process. First, the videos have to be transferred from the TiVo Series 2 box, then transferred to the handheld. The first step is relatively painless and works almost exactly as it did under 2.0. Gone, however, is the password required in 2.0 to view TiVo content. With the switch to Microsoft’s digital rights management (DRM), the password became unnecessary. The size of the video varies on the quality the show was recorded and the length of the program. It’s not uncommon to have a 3 gigabyte file for a two hour program

Now that the shows are on your PC, Windows Media Player takes over. The selection of videos consists of dragging and dropping the desired programs in the Sync List within Media Player. When the list is completed, there is a single Sync button to begin a batch transfer. Using this Sync function, videos and music are converted and copied to the device into the best format for that device. As Pocket PC’s only have a fraction of the screen real estate, the videos are converted into a 320X480 WMV file.

The conversion works pretty well, although it was quite time consuming. A 1.5 gigabyte file on the PC converted down into a 256 megabyte video on the Pocket PC. Fortunately, with the cost of memory cards coming down every day, it’s reasonable to have four or five of your favorite programs to carry around with you. Playback on the handheld was very good, particularly in the full screen, landscape mode that’s available.

Unfortunately, there are a couple of hitches that can get in the way of success with TiVoToGo. First and foremost, if you don’t have the right codec installed, none of this works correctly. I had started testing on a relatively new install of Windows XP on my laptop and proceeded to spend several hours playing with several different MPEG-2 codecs that are supposed to work with Media Player 10 until I was successful. Although TiVo’s website does try to lead you down the right path, this functionality does not appear to be documented.

Also, one feature that I would like to see is some way to automate the process from start to finish. In sort of a video podcasting format, I would like to tell the software which scheduled shows I would like sent to my PDA, and let the conversion and transfer happen overnight, for example.

Depsite a few wrinkles and quite a bit of time waiting, transferring your favorite TiVo recordings to your handheld device is a surprisingly simple process. And although it is a pretty manual process to get there, TiVo has made good on its promise to take your favorite shows with you and has delivered it as part of the basic costs of the TiVo service.

TiVo, devices start at $99 after rebate, $12.95/month service plan; http://www.tivo.com

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