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« For the Times They Are A-Changin' | Main | TV Alert »

October 17, 2005

On the DVR

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

I wonder if people who haven't yet sprung for a digital video recorder -- a Tivo, or maybe a box that your cable company will rent you -- understand how dramatically using one can change your experience of television. Being able to zap commercials is of course a wonderful thing. And watching sports via DVR is quite nice too. During the recent U.S. Open tennis championship, for example, I learned a lot by rewinding back through interesting points and studying them in slow motion.

But for me what's been most wonderful is the way the DVR -- essentially some software and a hard drive -- becomes the TV equivalent of your book or CD library. When The Wife and I settle in to do a little tube-watching, we don't see "what's on television." Instead, we check out what's waiting for us on the hard drive.

You can accumulate an amazing collection of shows with only a minimal amount of programming effort. It used to be common to say that TV was the enemy of true culture. These days ... Well, if you use your DVR wisely, watching TV can become a rewarding part of a classy cultural life.

For an example, here's what's waiting for The Wife and me on our DVR's hard drive right now:

  • A look at Hindu art and architecture
  • A documentary about Hitler's family
  • An episode of "What the Victorians Did for Us"
  • A documentary about the early women of rockabilly
  • A show about the engineering challenges involved in constructing a Frank Gehry building
  • A couple of Alton Brown's "Good Eats" programs from the Food Network
  • A number of "Modern Marvels" episodes from the History Channel: one about axes, swords, and knives; one about paint; and one about sewers. Laugh if you will about the apparent banality of these subjects -- but the "Modern Marvels" episodes that I've watched about plumbing, basements, and bathroom technology have all been really interesting.
  • An episode of Melvyn Bragg's history of the English language
  • A documentary about the French filmmaker Claude Chabrol
  • A tour of the South of France
  • A look at ancient Japan
  • A Mario Bava thriller
  • A documentary about three small, independent record companies
  • A show about airships. Sigh: blimps and dirigibles put such a smile on my face ...
  • A documentary about Art Deco buildings
  • A history of San Francisco
  • A biography of the genius choreographer George Balanchine
  • The award-winning French film "To Be and to Have"

And, at the moment, our hard drive is only 67% full.

Our DVR costs us a mere 10 bucks over and above what we normally spend on cable. The Wife and I have become so hooked on the DVR that -- who would think this would ever happen! -- our Netflix-watching has suffered.



posted by Michael at October 17, 2005


Documentary on Art Deco buildings? Where? Where?

(I had to cut my cable to "basic", due to budget constrains, and can only drool reading the list)

Anybody who laughs at history of plumbing and sewer on Modern Marvels should be sent to stand on downtown-bound R train platform on 34th street station, in the rush hour under dripping sewer "L" pipe, till repents.

Posted by: Tatyana on October 18, 2005 12:11 AM

You really ought to provide the channels of where you're finding these things. Some like the Modern Marvels are obvious, others aren't. A look at ancient Japan -- History International?

Balanchine? Art Deco? Melvyn Bragg?

Good stuff. Are you seeking out this programming youeself or is your TiVo trained well enough to get it for you?

Posted by: . on October 18, 2005 2:12 AM

Yep. This sounds very familiar. We ended up cancelling Netflix after we got TiVo. We started it up again a few months ago during the slow summer months, but now that the fall shows have started up, I think we'll cancel Netflix yet again.

Posted by: dave Munger on October 18, 2005 5:57 AM

Ha! I believe I told you a few years ago watching TV with a DVR is a radically different (and better) experience.

My family, however, is still a devoted customer of Netflix in addition to our multiple DVRs.

There is no end to the madness.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on October 18, 2005 6:07 AM

The guy who played Baldrick on Blackadder is doing a great documentary series for the History Channel about The Worst Jobs In History. Check it out.

Best (or worst) job so far: either the medieval fuller, who trampled on raw wool for eight hours in a vat full of stale urine, or the so-called Groom of the Stool, who attended to the, uh, Royal Backside, if you know what I mean.

Posted by: Brian on October 18, 2005 8:33 AM

I got my DVR (from Comcast) and joined Netflix simultaneously in January, and what seems to have suffered more than anything else is the amount of time I spend reading. But there's no denying that a DVR revolutionizes the way you watch tv as much as Netflix revolutionizes the way you watch movies.

Posted by: Michael Padgett on October 18, 2005 9:19 AM

Regarding the Groom of the Stool, something of the sort exists today among sumo wrestlers. Limited reach resulting from extreme bulk makes certain forms of personal hygiene impossible, and therefore one of the duties of the young apprentice serving the experienced master includes, oh you can figure it out.

Posted by: Peter on October 18, 2005 9:25 AM

"Classy" has got to be my all-time favourite word. I challenge you to include it in all of your posts. Your readership will skyrocket, I don't guarantee it.

Posted by: Peggy Nature on October 18, 2005 1:27 PM

Yeah, I'd get a DVR. Only then I'd have proof positive of my plebian tastes in media consumption (present outlet excepted) and have to kill myself in shame.

Posted by: Colleen on October 18, 2005 4:01 PM

You should be writing copy for Tivo. I'm emailing your post to my mother. She still thinks Tivo is basically a fancier VCR, but like you said -- it totally changes the concept of television. Although to be totally honest, I'm beginning to miss the old days (even before cable got big) when millions of people would watch an episode of MASH at the same time (or at least in the same time zone) and it felt like a unifying experience. When I watch a popular show on my Tivo, I don't feel as if I'm watching a television "live" broadcast and it takes away from what I found so compelling about TV. So, I still watch events like the Oscars "live" because who would actually spend the time Tivoing and watching the boredom without fast-forwarding through it all.

Posted by: Neil on October 19, 2005 11:28 AM

Neil, what an incurable collectivist spirit you are, sigh. All together, now!

Posted by: Tatyana on October 19, 2005 12:05 PM

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