After years of uncertainty Australian TiVos will lose access to the TV guide after October, leaving thousands of lounge rooms in the lurch.
The Australian TiVo service has been plagued by Electronic Program Guide outages in recent months, leaving owners unable to schedule recordings or automatically record their favourite shows. Now TiVo's Australian backer Hybrid TV (initially bankrolled by the Seven Network) intends to pull the plug on the EPG on October 31, permanently crippling the set-top boxes in Australia and New Zealand.
These TiVo recorders download their TV guide directly from Hybrid TV, rather than extracting the guide from the free-to-air broadcast signal. Access to this custom guide makes TiVos more reliable but in return leaves the set-top boxes completely reliant on the download service.
Without the downloaded guide, TiVo owners will still be able to watch free-to-air digital TV channels and manually press record, but the box won't know which program it's recording or when the program starts and finishes – basically leaving you with the functionality of an old VCR. TiVo owners will also be able to watch old recordings still stored on the TiVo's hard drive.
The old TiVo models sold in Australia from 2008 to 2013, which were never updated with newer streaming-enabled models from the US. The Australian TiVo service was launched with great fanfare in 2008, in time for the Beijing Olympics, but was hampered by a high $699 price tag. TiVo boxes are cheaper in the US but users are required to pay a monthly subscription fee. In an age when Foxtel and Optus' pay TV networks were the country's only subscription content services, local retailers felt that Australians were not prepared to pay ongoing montly fees to watch free-to-air television.
TiVo's famed ad-skipping features were also disabled in Australia at the insistence of free-to-air lobby group Freeview, which has had several failed attempts at launching its own personal video recorders.
The Australian TiVo service has been in limbo since the video recorders disappeared from the retail shelves in 2013. Hybrid TV stopped answering the phone but Seven initially refused to concede that the Australian TiVo operations had gone into hibernation.
The experience of other countries made it clear that the Electronic Program Guide would eventually be discontinued, although UK TiVo owners were granted a 10-year stay of execution on the EPG after the boxes were withdrawn from sale in 2002.
The Fetch TV Mighty can record free-to-air and streaming pay TV as well is tap into services like Netflix.
The TiVo's reliable program guide and easy to use menus has gained it a loyal following in Australia – with faithful users hoping in vain that the US parent company would revive the local service and release the new generation of US TiVos which support Netflix and other streaming services. There were rumours for a while that the US giant would intervene but they dried up after Australia's analogue switch off and streaming video explosion.
Hybrid TV "discourages" the use of Australian TiVos after October and is offering a $100 trade-in deal on a Fetch TV Mighty recorder, currently Australia's closest equivalent to a TiVo which supports modern streaming services. To take advantage of the deal, available via Harvey Norman, the trade-in TiVo must have connected to the EPG download service in the last six months as of yesterday – meaning old TiVos which have been sitting idle for several years won't be eligible.
To be honest, it's a $100 discount on the Fetch TV Mighty's $399 RRP and Harvey Norman has had the box on special at around $300 a few times in the last year, I bought one for my mother-in-law just after Christmas for $299 after she grew tired of the TiVo EPG outages.
Australian TiVo owners have known for years that their set-top box was living on borrowed time, but many homes will still struggle with the change. With the death of TiVo, which device will take pride of place in your lounge room?
This article originally appeared on SMH.