Andrew Connell

Tivo vs. MediaCenter

I’ve owned a Tivo Series2 (80hr) since Christmas of 2002 (again, thanks mom & dad… you changed my life). I love so much about it… all the features everyone talks about. There are things that I don’t like about it (I’ll get to that in a moment). However, I think I’m in the midst of making a real change… my internal question… is MediaCenter better?

Dude, what don’t you like about Tivo ?

  • Tivo is pretty closed… There’s not a whole hell of a lot of customization you can do to it. Sure, I can get something like JavaHMO , but that’s just sending customized (what you choose) info to the Tivo via the Home Media Option interface. Why can’t I do more? Why can’t I write a little app that goes out, pulls in the weather or RSS feeds or movie times and add that to my main Tivo menu?
  • Linux. Even if I could develop, Tivo runs off a Linux kernel. I’m a .NET developer… I don’t want to learn Linux… That’s frustrating. Even if I could develop on it, could I install Mono to run .NET code on Linux?
  • Cost. Tivo is damn expensive. The base unit cost is still dropping (few hundred bucks) with all the DVR options out there, but the subscription is still pricey ($13/mo OR $300 lifetime), and if you want the Home Media Option , get ready to drop another $100. Oh, what if you want another Tivo in your house? Get ready to drop everything over again… No savings for 2nd and 3rd units.

So what do I like about MediaCenter XP? Everything above, except for the cost, is mitigated! Yes, it’s expensive. Closed? Nope, it’s Windows, you can write your own apps. Development platform? It’s Windows, if it doesn’t already have it, I can install the .NET Framework and build my own tools. Plus, it can display videos, music, and photos out of the box. You can actually surf from it as well. I have a few questions about it that I haven’t figured out yet… Like if it works well with DirecTV . I’m sure it does.

What would I like to do with it? Oh man…

  • Custom Notifications. Wouldn’t it be cool if while you were watching TV, you could flip an option where MediaCenter would check your email for you and display a cool little slide up message with the subject, who it’s from, the date/time, and optionally a little teaser? Something easy to turn on/off. What about adding filters to it too for only the important things to come in… like a white list. A white list, as opposed to a black list is a “allow only these through” whereas a black list is “block these.”
  • RSS Reader. My bad, they already did that for NewsGator (my favorite RSS reader).
  • Customized CallerID. There are ways you can stick a phone line into a PC and have a little utility grab the callerID info. Wouldn’t it be cool if MediaCenter could not only grab the number, but do a lookup against your addressbook and display the contact info… like “John Doe - cell (904-555-1212)”.
  • Voicemail Checker. What if you don’t have an answering machine, but have a voicemail service (like me). Well, with the same phone line connection, couldn’t you just write an app that utilized telephony to connect to the VM system and you could use your controller as the numerical input to listen, delete, RECORD -> MP3 messages? Dude, that would be so cool. Wouldn’t it be COOLER if, using the .NET Speech SDK to have MediaCenter connect to your VM system, listen to all your messages, record them as MP3’s, do some sort of speech recognition transcribing to text, and then SHOWING you little notifications on the screen like little slide ups at the bottom? How’s that for skipping calls during a movie or company? update 6/5/2004 7:25a what about if Media Center could know when you’re usually not home (connect to your security system and tell if it’s armed?) and send you an email/SMS message of your voicemail at home?
  • Remote Scheduling. I have a web-enabled phone… you know where I’m going with this :).

I have so many ideas for Media Center. I’ve thought more and more about taking one of my old PC’s lying around, adding some parts, and installing MediaCenter just to tinker with in my office. Oh… how the daily chores and job gets in the way. If I could only score those Florida Lotto numbers!

Andrew Connell
Developer & Chief Course Artisan, Voitanos LLC. | Microsoft MVP
Written by Andrew Connell

Andrew Connell is a web developer with a focus on Microsoft Azure & Microsoft 365. He’s received Microsoft’s MVP award every year since 2005 and has helped thousands of developers through the various courses he’s authored & taught. Andrew’s the founder of Voitanos and is dedicated to delivering industry-leading on-demand video training to professional developers. He lives with his wife & two kids in Florida.