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DirecTV vs. Digital Cable

Wednesday, February 25th, 2004 · 3 Comments

I’ve long been a fan of DirecTV and have clocked about two-plus years with the service when i’ve been able to get it (Treasure Island and Inner Sunset). The picture quality is consistently better than digital cable, it’s cheaper (no taxes), and there’s no onscreen menu advertising as there often is with digital cable providers like Comcast and Time Warner.

Living in an historical building as I do now, I’ve no choice but to go with Time Warner Digital Cable. It’s been fine so far, aside from annoying horizontal scrolling lines in the background of non-digital channels. The plan has always been to switch back to DirecTV with Tivo once Jen and I buy a house of our own.

But now I’m not totally convinced that’s the way to go.

I just discovered two reasons why keeping Time Warner Digital Cable is appealing: iControl Music and DVR, TW’s answer to Tivo.

The former allows free on-demand viewing of a pretty decent-sized library of audio — live concerts, music videos, and the like. Imagine pay-per-view, but with audio, and free. There’s also a selection of iControl Movies to watch ala pay-per-view ($3.99 per viewing). With either the audio or video, I can pause, stop, rewind, fast-forward.

The more appealing reason not to discount digital cable just yet is this: $4.95 per month for Digital Video Recording. There’s no equipment cost, no lifetime membership fee, and no contract to sign.

Jen and I have long wanted a Tivo but haven’t yet been able to justify the minimum $400 “startup cost” — a few hundred for the lifetime membership plus at least hundred for a box or combined DirecTV/Tivo offering.

But now there’s no reason not to have all the functionality of Tivo without the initial investment. All it will take is a quick phone call to Time Warner, and an appointment to have someone come and replace the existing box for the DVR box.

The regular price for the DVR service is $9.95 per month, but with the HBO package we have, the DVR price is only $4.95 per month. I see no reason not to do this. And in the future, Tivo will always be an option if there are compelling reasons to go that route.

Over the long-term (years and years), I can see a price advantage with Tivo: Once you’ve invested in the box and the lifetime membership, there’s no monthly fee. That, combined with the roughly $15 monthly difference of DirecTV (~$55 per month with two boxes and HBO) vs. that of Time Warner Digital Cable (~$70 per month with two boxes and HBO), could make Tivo the better choice.

In other words, over a five-year period, Tivo is a far better deal:

  • DirecTV with two boxes, HBO, and Tivo: $400 one-time investment plus $55 per month = $3,700 after 5 years
  • Time Warner with two boxes, HBO, and DVR: $74.95 per month = $4,497 after 5 years

At approximately $239.40 more annually for the aforementioned Time Warner setup ($899.40 annually) than DirecTV with same setup ($660 annually), it’s clear that Time Warner is better for the short-term, but that the investment in Tivo will pay for itself in just two years.

This is a purely financial comparison, of course, and I’m sure there are a number of differences between the two offerings that are worth exploring.

For now, I’m just happy to get Tivo-like functionality for only five bucks more per month than I’m currently paying.

I’m also not the first to consider this comparison or write about DVR.

Tags: television

3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Jen // Feb 25, 2004 at 5:34 pm

    TiVo is awesome. We’ve had it for about 6 months now, and can’t imagine watching TV without it. We have the Series 2 80hr DVR that we bought from Dell for $250 (discounted at the time). However, we don’t really get the full 80hrs because the video quality at that setting is pretty bad. We set it to be at the highest quality, which is then about 30 hrs or so of recording. (Which is still a LOT)

    But a few things we would have changed. If we had looked more into “hacking the TiVo” before we bought ours, we would have bought the 40hr one for $100 less and swapped the hard drive for a much larger one. It seems pretty easy – there are lots of sites on the Internet that show you how to do this, along with a *lot* of other things you can do to your TiVo. I don’t think you’d be able to do any of this to a rented DVR. =)

    TiVo is also conducting a survey on an upcoming new feature for the Series 2 DVR, TiVoToGo. It’s probably features that people who have hacked their TiVo already have, but it’s nice to see TiVo offer something like this “officially”.

    Welcome to the DVR world. Say good-bye to watching commercials and wasted time watching shows you’re not really interested in. But be careful you don’t become a slave to your DVR by having 30+ hours of programming still needing to be watched. (There was a story on Reuters about this awhile back but I can’t find it anymore.) Anyway… enjoy. =)

  • 2 Damien // Mar 13, 2004 at 3:38 am

    So you install cable? There would be no other reason to even consider accepting cable as a replacement fo DirecTV ………..

    Howard Stern RULES

  • 3 Gabe A_nderson // Sep 9, 2004 at 1:30 pm

    even more reason to consider switching from time warner digital cable w/DVR to tivo (and netflix):

    NEWSWEEK: Netflix, TiVo to Unveil Partnership
    Sunday September 5, 10:57 am ET
    Subscribers Can Download Netflix DVDs Over the Internet Onto TiVo Boxes

    # NEW YORK, Sept. 5 /PRNewswire/ — Later this month, Newsweek has learned, Netflix and TiVo plan to unveil a simple but significant partnership that could shake up the media world. Subscribers who belong to both services will be able to download their Netflix DVDs over the Internet directly onto the TiVo boxes in their homes, instead of receiving them in the mail.(Photo:

    San Francisco Correspondent Brad Stone reports in the September 13 issue of Newsweek (on newsstands Monday, September 6) that even though spokespeople at the companies refused to comment on what one called rumor, one insider, who was close to the negotiations, says the straightforward partnership is all but a done deal, pending only the approval of the TiVo board this week: “You don’t need a lot of creativity to figure out the details,” the insider said.

    Netflix lets customers rent DVDs through the U.S. Mail, but is fighting cheaper copycat services from Blockbuster and Wal-Mart. TiVo lets people digitally record their favorite TV programs and zoom through the ads. A TiVo-Netflix partnership would create headaches for media giants, reports Stone. Cable customers could prefer the larger Netflix selection and download movies to their TiVo boxes using cable’s own pipes. Unlike the phone companies, which are regulated as “common carriers” and forbidden from discriminating against customers or content, cable firms don’t have to accommodate their rival’s traffic on their networks. But if cable closes the door to the Netflix downloads, customers could migrate to the phone industry’s broadband offering, DSL.

    Read article at: