What TiVo Could Teach My Verizon FiOS TV DVR

Written by Liane Cassavoy.

I recently swapped my old Series 2 TiVo for an HD-capable DVR from Verizon FiOS. While I love the fact that I can record high-def programming, I miss my trusty, user-friendly TiVo. Here are a few things that Verizon — and all of the cable companies that also rent DVRs to their customers — could learn from TiVo.

Use clear menu labels, and don’t be afraid to add a few more: TiVo’s menus are easy to understand. To search, for example, you select “Find Programs & Downloads” from the main menu, and then can opt to search for a particular show, actor, category or keyword. My Verizon FiOS DVR groups all of these search options into one, catch-all category entitled “Search for Show.” While this means fewer menu options — and potentially less scrolling — it’s actually more confusing, as it’s not clear that you can actually do anything other than search for a program by name.

Design a remote that’s easy to use: With its peanut shape and clutter-free layout, the TiVo remote is a cinch to use. It even passes my ultimate test: My mother can use it when she babysits my kids. The Verizon FiOS remote (which looks almost identical to my old Comcast remote) is as cluttered as can be. It’s overloaded with buttons that are nearly impossible to distinguish from one another.

Work as advertised: The Verizon FiOS DVR has a nice feature: It groups episodes of the same series into folders, which results in less scrolling when I’m searching for a show to watch. Unfortunately, this feature doesn’t always work.

Make friends: TiVo has deals with Entertainment Weekly, YouTube, Amazon.com and others to bring content and recommendations to your DVR. Verizon is testing web video on its set-top boxes, but currently my Verizon DVR can only access content from my TV. It can’t even connect to my home network like my TiVo can. It has a USB port on the front of it, but a quick web search reveals that the best use for this port is charging an iPod, as it provides power but does little else. (Verizon does, however, offer a Home Media DVR that lets you access photos and music from your PC, and view them on your TV.)

Add a reboot button: I recently went away for a week and came home to find that my DVR was frozen in time. It thought it was still Aug. 14, and all of the programs that should have been recorded since that date were still listed in the scheduled recordings section. All that was required to fix this problem was a simple reboot of the device. After digging through several menus — including the unhelpful help menu — I decided to unplug the DVR and then turn it back on. It worked, but it would have worked much more quickly if there was a reboot option somewhere in there, the ways TiVo does.

Of the 26 million DVRs in the U.S., only 1.7 million of them are from TiVo. I understand completely why so many people opt for a DVR from their cable company rather than purchasing one from TiVo. After all, it’s cheaper (about $15 per month, as opposed to spending $300 on an HD TiVo and $13 per month for the service) and it’s convenient. I just wish that all of those people didn’t have to settle for a DVR that can be too hard to use and simply not as good.

Liane Cassavoy has been writing about and reviewing technology for the past 10 years. She was a staff member of PC World magazine and has contributed to Entreprenuer, About.com, and other publications, and recently authored a book that will be published by Entrepreneur Press later this year.

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