Friday, February 15, 2008

TiVoToGo, Part 1

A TiVo is a digital video recorder. What's a DVR? It's a box connected to your TV which allows you to record TV programs to an internal hard drive, where they are saved as digital data. You can then watch the programs whenever. Digital video recorders are also called personal video recorders (PVRs).

TiVo, Inc., makes the TiVo Premiere and TiVo Premiere XL DVRs. It used to make three earlier DVRs: the TiVo Series2, the TiVo Series3, and the TiVo HD. I have a Series3 hooked to my bedroom HDTV and a TiVo HD for each of the TVs in my living room and basement.

I've long been using one of the coolest features of the TiVo. It used to be called TiVoToGo, but that name seems to have been retired; I'll still use it.

TiVoToGo lets you transfer recorded TV shows from your TiVo to a computer, where you can view them right on your computer or move them to a mobile device like an iPod or iPhone for viewing there.

TiVoToGo is one of TiVo's "Home Media Features" — another name that has seemingly been dropped — along with:

  • viewing photos and slideshows you have stored on your computer
  • using your TV/home entertainment center as a digital music player for songs you (again) have stored on your computer
  • TiVo Multi-Room Viewing, which allows you to use any TiVo to watch most, but not all, TV programs recorded on any other TiVo in your house
  • copying TiVo recordings you previously downloaded to your computer back to a TiVo, where they can be viewed on a TV just as if they were the original recordings

You can transfer TiVo recordings from a TiVo to a Windows platform, but I use a Mac. For purposes of what follows, I'll assume you use a Mac too.

Networking Your TiVo for TiVoToGo

If you want to use TiVoToGo, no matter what kind of computer you have, you need to network your TiVo to your computer. The usual way is with a TiVo Wireless G USB Network Adapter (pictured at left). Small enough to sit on the palm of your hand, it plugs (via a USB cable) into the back of a TiVo and links it to your Mac via your home wireless 802.11b or 802.11g network. You can alternatively connect your TiVo via a wired Ethernet network to your Mac.

I use a TiVo network adapter to connect each of my TiVos into my home wireless network. The network is based on an Apple AirPort Extreme base station. "Base station" is Apple's term for what other people call a WiFi router. My base station and network use 802.11g, a member of the WiFi protocol set. Other WiFi protocols include 802.11b and 802.11n.

My two Macs are on my WiFi 802.11g network. So are my Apple TV and three AirPort Express base stations I use for streaming music ("AirTunes") from iTunes on my Macs to sound systems in various rooms of my house. My AirPort Extreme base station is actually capable of faster (802.11n) operation. However, none of my other devices are 802.11n-ready. That means I am using an 802.11n router at 802.11g speeds.

You don't need a network as elaborate as mine to use TiVoToGo. At a minimum, you just need a WiFi-capable computer and a TiVo that has a TiVo Wireless G USB Network Adapter on it.

You don't absolutely have to have a base station or wireless router, either. It is possible to turn your computer into a "software base station" or "software access point" and avoid using a standalone hardware router. That said, most people will want to invest in a hardware router or Apple base station so that their home network will be available even if their computer is off.

Enabling TiVo-to-Computer Video Downloads

If you have not done so already, you need to log in to Manage My Account at and check the box next to "Enable Video Downloads" on your TiVo DVR(s). Once you do that, you need to wait a few hours to make sure the new setting is in force at TiVo Central, and then you'll tell your TiVo to connect to the TiVo service by using Settings > Phone & Network > Connect to TiVo service now. That will authorize your TiVo for TiVoToGo and also for MRV. Your TiVo will now display "a,a,a" (whatever that means) next to TiVoToGo on its System Information screen.

Getting TiVo Desktop Software

To use TiVoToGo, if you are a Mac person, check out this page at the website to get the TiVo Desktop software. As you can see, you need to be running Mac OS X version 10.5.8 or later, and you need to download and install the free software, the current version of which is 1.95a. The installer puts a TiVo Desktop "startup item" in the StartupItems folder in your main Library folder.

The TiVo Desktop startup item is invoked via the System Preferences panel, not as freestanding software. Clicking on the TiVo Desktop icon in System Preferences brings up a subsidiary panel in which you can turn TiVo desktop on and off. The panel also controls what, if any, iTunes music and iPhoto photos you wish to publish to your TiVo. TiVo Desktop must be turned on for TiVoToGo to work.

Getting Toast Titanium

TiVo Desktop does not itself include the actual TiVoToGo functionality for transferring TV programs from your TiVo to your Mac, or for exporting programs, once transferred, from the Mac to an iPod or other portable device. For those crucial functions you'll need additional software. Most likely you'll use Roxio Toast Titanium ("TT").

TT is software whose main purpose is to burn Mac files to optical media such as CDs and DVDs. It also burns Blu-Ray discs. If you buy TT from Roxio in downloadable form, you simply download and install it in the customary way for Mac software. When you first use TT, you'll enter a serial number which you will receive in a separate e-mail, and at that point you'll be encouraged to register the product online as well.

Using TiVo Transfer and Toast Video Player in TT

Click here to see how to set up TT so that TiVoToGo transfers are enabled in it. This involves making sure "Enable TiVo Transfers" is checked (by default it's unchecked) in the Setup Assistant which runs the first time you open TT. That same web page also shows you how to open the TiVo Transfer application from the Extras menu of TT. It is this separate TiVo Transfer application which allows you to select TV programs previously recorded on your TiVo — the ones listed in its Now Playing list — and copy them to your Mac.

Yet another separate application that comes with TT, Toast Video Player, can be invoked from the TT Extras menu to actually play, on your Mac, the TV programs you have copied to the Mac using TiVo Transfer. (Notice that there is no way to play TV programs directly from the TiVo to the Mac. First you have to make a copy of the program on the Mac, using TiVo Transfer, and then you can watch the program using Toast Video Player.)

Exporting TV Programs in TT

Next, you need to click here to see how to use TT to export — in file formats used by an iPod, an iPhone, or another portable media player — TV programs you have copied to your Mac using TiVo Transfer. Each program that you have transferred from your TiVo to your Mac is saved on the Mac as a file in a special format that will only play in Toast Video Player. It has to be converted for use with a portable media player or for playback in iTunes.

Files in this special format have names with a .TiVo extension. Deep down, they are standard, digitally compressed MPEG-2 video files.

A .TiVo file on the Mac is in the actual format used to store a TV program on the TiVo itself. That format is, I repeat, not one that is usable on an iPod or in QuickTime, in iTunes, or in most other Mac video software. When TiVoToGo copies of TV programs are exported for use with an iPod or with iTunes, the wrapper is removed and any necessary format conversion (say, to MPEG-4 for an iPod) is done. TT contains added functionality which accomplishes the export/conversion.

More Information

This FAQ from the TiVo Community Forum gives background information on downloading TiVo video recordings to a computer.

This TiVo Community Forum FAQ deals with TiVo multi-room viewing.

A support article about TiVo multi-room viewing can be read here.

To learn more about networking a TiVo, click here.

To learn more about the TiVo-brand wireless adapter and other wireless adapters that may work with a TiVo, click here.

In the next post in this series I'll discuss my actual experiences in using all this stuff. Stay tuned.

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