When Microsoft announced plans to discontinue WMC, we invested in SiliconDust's DVR project and also began an evaluation of Comcast's new X1 DVR service. An evaluation spreadsheet was created to compare the alternative solutions from SD, Comcast and TiVo with WMC.
SD's DVR project has taken much, much longer to get to even a basic DVR with DRM support, and due to design decisions, it appears they will fall far short of a WMC replacement for us, at least with their first release (if they ever get it out).
The X1 DVR is a considerably improvement over Comcast's previous DVR, but it has restrictions plus the monthly box rental fees for the DVR and the satellite STBs.
With TiVo's release of the Bolt+, we can get a 6 tuner DVR, using a single cable card that can provide a whole home DVR environment, with functionality surpassing WMC, and support for mobile devices and viewing of live/recorded TV away from home.
Before leaving The Green Button, I had promised in earlier posts to provide a summary of our evaluation of TiVo vs. WMC:
- Hardware Cost: Bolt+=~$500; each Mini=~$150; replaces our WMC PC and network of Xbox 360 extenders
- Recurring Annual Costs: Comcast=$100 for 1 cable card; TiVo=$150 for subscription; replaces $200 annual cost for 2 WMC cablecards
- DRM Support: TiVo has access to all of our subscribed TV channels, plus Comcast's On Demand programs; WMC did not have access to On Demand
- Streaming Services: TiVo integrates the popular streaming services into the same user interface & search; WMC only had access to TV channels and we were using the Smart Apps on our TV to access the streaming services, each with their own UI. With TiVo, we can search for a movie or series, and it will let us select which service to use to watch the program.
- Personal videos/photos/music: TiVo includes Plex, which accesses all of our personal media; WMC provided this integrated into WMC
- Commercial Skipping: TiVo has semi-automatic commercial skipping with a single button press for popular prime time programs; with an add-in WMC had fully automatic commercial skipping
- 1.x Playback with Audio: TiVo has QuickMode which provides playback at 1.3x speed with adjusted audio; WMC had a similar function; with TiVo, this is set once while playing a program and the setting is retained after skipping over commercials; with WMC the 1.x speed had to re-enabled after each skip forward/backward command
- UHDTV Support: TiVo has 4K video support for streaming services; unclear about future support for 4K cable TV; WMC support for 4K is uncertain
- Whole home DVR: TiVo offers access to common tuners, recorded programs, and recording rules across all boxes (and mobile devices), similar to WMC
- Mobile device support: TiVo provides a mobile app and web interface similar to what we had with Remote Potato, except that TiVo's mobile app has better support for viewing liveTV (away from home!)
- Program guide: TiVo uses the same Rovi program guide as WMC and offers a program guide grid (which SD's DVR will not) and has an integrated search across the TV program guide, Comcast's On Demand and the streaming services
- Recording rules: TiVo provides comparable recording rules to WMC with single program and series recording. For single program recording, it remembers adding a longer buffer at the end of recordings for overtime games; with WMC that had to be set manually for each recording.
- Offline viewing: For travelling, using kmttg, we can transfer recorded programs from our TiVo to other devices (including Windows tablets/laptops) for offline viewing. The TiVo mobile app supports downloading of recorded programs to those devices. And with Plex, we can also support downloading to our Windows devices. With WMC, we were using a combination of .wtv file copies, Remote Potato and Plex.
- Hardware comparison: The Bolt+ is significantly smaller and simpler than the WMC PC it replaced; the TiVo Mini boxes are also much smaller and simpler than the Xbox 360s. And the Mini's also support networking using MOCA over a home's cable system.
- Universal IR remote support: The TiVo remotes support both RF (for non-line-of-sight) and IR (for line-of-sight); and we are able to use universal IR remotes to control our TiVo Bolt+ and Mini boxes. WMC supported only IR with universal IR remote support.
- Undelete support: The Bolt+ has a huge disk; when programs are deleted they are still on the disk and not overwritten immediately; TiVo provides a "recover" command to undelete deleted programs, and since we are only using 1-3% of the storage space most of the time, it's likely undelete could work for programs recorded over the past several months. With WMC, once deleted a program is gone.
- Reliability: The Bolt+ and Mini boxes have been stable and reliable since we installed them. With WMC, we'd periodically have issues with the WMC software or hardware, requiring some additional handholding. Family feedback has been extremely positive to have the TiVo and not the additional complexity of using a PC or Xbox 360s.
After spending several weeks getting our TiVo environment configured, the only major item we miss from WMC is the fully automatic commercial skipping. With our TiVo boxes, we must hit a button to initiate the program skip - and this is only supported for the prime time series on the most popular channels. However, we've found this isn't a showstopper.
Because of the high Comcast cablecard cost, the annual subscription costs will only go up $50 - which seems worthwhile to get a fully supported product that provides all of the additional functionality that wasn't available or integrated together.
We had to buy replacement hardware for our WMC PC and Xbox 360s. And we wish we could have reused our current WMC hardware, the PC is pretty old and the Xbox 360s have been discontinued by Microsoft - so we would eventually have to replace that hardware anyway, no matter what WMC replacement we picked. And because we plan to use this configuration for at least 3 years (and likely much longer, like we did with WMC), we were comfortable with the unavoidable upfront hardware costs - and at least we aren't paying monthly hardware fees for renting more Comcast boxes.
We've had a surprisingly long run with WMC - and the functionality in our WMC environment is still "best in class", compared to the alternatives. For us, it was time to make the switch - and our experience with TiVo (at least so far) has been very positive. And the switchover was also pretty quick.
I'll monitor TGB for a few more days before leaving the WMC community, in case anyone has any questions about the above review or making the move from WMC to TiVo.