The little secret of digital video recorders is that while they allow you to amass a large collection of movies and TV shows quickly, you still have to find time to watch the material you recorded so effortlessly. For all their merits, these things can't add an extra two hours to each day to help you catch up on this backlog of video.
Meanwhile, millions of Americans spend hours a day bored out of their skulls in commercial airplanes, watching recycled TV content and stale movies and thumbing through in-flight magazines between naps.
TiVo's new TiVoToGo feature attempts to solve both problems at once. This free software upgrade for TiVo users allows them to transfer recordings to Windows computers over a home network, stuffing hard drives with all those shows they might never find time to watch otherwise.
That's a laudable goal. But TiVoToGo quickly runs aground because its developers made one small and one huge mistake. First, their failure to build in a fast, convenient way for TiVo boxes to connect directly to PCs forces a slow, sometimes glitchy transfer of movies over a home network. Second, their attempts to placate movie studios by imposing strict copy controls make this system complicated to set up and irritating to use.
TiVo introduced this upgrade Jan. 3. If you own a TiVo Series 2 box without a built-in DVD recorder, it will be downloaded automatically, ready for you to begin the setup process.
The first hiccups may come when you connect your TiVo to your home network if you haven't already done so. TiVo boxes include only Ethernet ports, a connection of no use if your home, like most, doesn't have networking cable running from room to room. Rather, you'll need to buy a WiFi wireless adapter and plug it into a USB port on the back of the TiVo, then configure TiVo to get on your home network.
A second round of configuration comes when you pair your computers with your TiVo box. To do this, you need to look up a 10-digit "media access key" in your TiVo's "messages and setup" screen or obtain it on TiVo's Web site, then enter this number on each PC when you install the TiVo Desktop software.
During that installation, you'll also be asked to designate a playback password to enter each time you open a recording on the computer.
All those steps completed, you can run the TiVo Desktop program (Win 2000 or newer) to see what recordings are available for transfer from TiVo to PC. (Like earlier releases of this program, it can also share your computer's MP3 and photo collections with a TiVo box for listening and viewing through your TV.)
At this point, my testing slowed down immensely. On my first try, a two-hour movie took roughly eight hours to copy to my laptop over a somewhat weak WiFi signal. After I redid my network to provide a much stronger signal in the living room, I still saw transfer times of about 2 1/2 hours for movies lasting two hours or less.