What would you sacrifice to produce a lower-cost HD TiVo?

On TiVo’s last quarterly conference call, their CEO stated that TiVo would“be highly focused this year on launching a lower-priced, mass appeal High Definition product.” Now Gizmodo has reported on a rumor of a ‘sub-$300′ unit. Personally, I think that’s pretty low. The 180-hour S2DT is $200. *Maybe* they could get an HD box out at $300, but I think an MSRP of $400 is more likely – half the S3′s launch price. At the same time, I would expect the current S3′s MSRP to drop. Perhaps a $600/$400 High-Low split – but we can dream of $500/$300

But it got me thinking – to produce a lower MSRP, they need to lower manufacturing costs. When you buy a Honda Fit you don’t get all the bells and whistles found on a Mercedes S-Class, right? So, I’m curious – what would you trim off of the Series3 to drop its cost? What are you willing to sacrifice, if anything, for a more affordable product? I’ve listed the options I can think of based on my view of the market and the hardware.

The poll is posted here.

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MegaZone is the Editor of Gizmo Lovers and the chief contributor. He's been online since 1989 and active in several generations of 'social media' - mailing lists, USENet groups, web forums, and since 2003, blogging.    MegaZone has a presence on several social platforms: Google+ / Facebook / Twitter / LinkedIn / LiveJournal / Web.    You can also follow Gizmo Lovers on other sites: Blog / Google+ / Facebook / Twitter.
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  • avacon

    I think it’s critical to be no worse than the “free” HD DVR boxes
    that the cable companies ship. As such, dropping dual tuner would
    probably be a poor choice. Trimming back on the front panel
    and the remote and the THX certification (as who cares about the
    certification as long as the device is the same quality/specs)
    are obvious. They could probably cut back on disk space, but
    if so this makes the eSATA port even more important — people
    should be able to upgrade to a larger drive and being able
    to sell an expansion drive would seem to make up for the cost of this.

    One option that might also be on the table (but would probably
    be a bad idea) would be to cut down on the number of analog outputs.
    DACs are expensive so it might be cheaper if they could keep it
    down to just an HDMI connector and analog+digital audio out
    (skipping component/composite/svideo output).

  • mhaithaca

    Yup, the front-panel LED info display is neat, but utterly unnecessary. Likewise any glowy “nightlight” features. The box needs to look decent, but decent-looking plastic consumer electronics cases are pretty easy.

    Smaller hard drive? Nah. But sure, don’t put all the fancy cables in the box, since the average user will just use one, and the store can help them determine (and sell them) what they need. Heck, it’s an opportunity to sell affordable TiVo-branded HDMI and component cables on the next shelf over.

    I doubt the THX certification costs them enough to worry about, but I also don’t think it’s critical. Dual tuner? That’s critical.

    Would it be cheaper to build with a spare internal drive port instead of an eSATA port? Probably, but maybe not by much. That shouldn’t be that expensive a component.

  • gladstone

    I would sacrifice the HD because I don’t have one of them fancy television boxes.

  • slothman

    I’m quite happy with my Series 2 TiVo with DVD burner. If a Series 3 one were to come out with a DVD burner, I’d jump at the chance to get a couple of cable cards and not have to worry about the flaky IR control of the digital cable box, but losing the ability to transfer non-HDTV content from the TiVo to DVD would be annoying. (I’m still using an S-Video CRT set from 1994; I’ll probably upgrade to HDTV sometime, but I’m not in a hurry.)

  • davmoo

    I may be in the minority, but there is one last thing they will have to do to get me to buy a HD unit, besides lowering the price. And that is they are going to have to make it work as well with satellite as they do with cable. Using them as an example, the S2 dual tuner units are 50 percent useless to me. I can understand why they make a box that is designed to work best with cable…but they need to remember that cable users are not their only customers.

    I’m getting ready to buy one of the refurb single tuner boxes so I can have a second unit in another room. I didn’t realize they were going to discontinue the single tuner models until they were originally already gone.

    I would like to see a box that has a Dish Network satellite tuner built in…but I also realize that they will be serving ice water in Hell before that happens (and that is almost entirely the fault of Dish Network, I’m sure).

  • gasr_luis

    If its possible, i would only need to have the use of 1 cable card (but still dual tuner, the other signal would come directly from the cable line like it does now). Would probably drop the price, sure i wouldn’t be able to record 2 HD channels,but i’m not sure i can do that on the S3 anyhow.

  • nathanw

    Apparantly I’m in the minority, but I think dual-tuner could be the first thing to go. In five years of TiVo ownership I’ve never really found the single-tuner situation to be a problem.

    All of this said – we don’t know which of these components are the expensive ones. For example, HDMI cables are really pretty cheap, Monster and Best Buy notwithstanding. Companies like TiVo that buy them in bulk to ship with their product aren’t spending very much there.

  • thatdog

    I’d gladly sacrifice any feature that isn’t present in the Series 2 units. Personally I think the Series 2 is perfect except for its standard definition-ness.

  • ecurrin

    I own a Series 3 Tivo, so obviously I buy into the whole Tivo is awesome camp. That being said, I have heard more than one person say that in order to buy the Series 3, the price would have to be almost $0.

    You read it right: $0.

    The reason is the inflated (in their words) monthly subscription rate that comes with the box. Tivo is asking people to pony up $500 for the priviledge of charging them a monthly fee of $13. Now, I know the value of the service, but I can see their point. Especially since so many cable companies have OK boxes for $5 a month with no up-front box cost.

    Tivo is in trouble if it doesn’t get into bed with the cable providers fast. I think the hardware market is going to die an inglorious death, but the software is still excellent compared to the competition.

  • cassiusdrow

    Once Multistream CableCards are available, they can dump the second CableCard slot. Dropping a tuner would be silly since cable DVRs are almost all dual tuner. I suppose they could get away with a slightly smaller hard drive, say around 200gb, since most cable DVRs usually have 120-160gb. I’d just upgrade the harddrive if I bought one anyway.

  • stile99

    Ignoring wisearse comments like “I’d make an HD TiVo with no HD!”, there are some pretty clear winners here. I’ve been a bit depressed lately…TiVo really needs to address the cost issue. The muttering is no longer restricted to just muttering, recent issues of PC World/PC Magazine have addressed the insane cost for an S3, and then a subscription on top of that. When held up to a cable DVR, does the cable DVR suck? Well..yeah. But as the articles mention…not as much as they used to, and not to the extent where you want to toss a grand onto the table. This was echoed in an earlier comment.

    With that in mind, thank you for this survey, and hopefully TiVo will listen. Most popular seems to be no front panel controls, and disabling those is an oft-requested feature. That’s quickly followed with “get rid of the frou-frou”. The front display and nifty remote are fine for a device aimed at drooling early adopters, but clearly others don’t want them, or at least don’t want to pay for them. Honorable mention seems to go to basic cables only. Those who want the $55 cable can go buy one rather than pay a $100 markup to have it in the box. THX certification also seems to not be worth the cost, based on this study.

    These are some good ideas that will go a long way towards getting a cheaper box on the market. Those who want the cables and the frou-frou would be served with the ‘higher end’ model, those who want just two tuners with HD could go for the lower.

    TiVo. Listen. Please. No case studies, no cost benefit analysis, no looking to introduce in the third quarter of ’09. Just listen, do it, and do it now.

  • aizjanika

    And that is they are going to have to make it work as well with satellite as they do with cable.

    Same here. We have DirecTV and will not be changing back to cable as long as we live here and probably not ever. (I have three regular single-tuner Series 2 units, one with a DVD burner in it, that we use with the cheesy IFR controls, which actually work pretty well for us.)

    I’m actually delaying upgrading to an HD TV downstairs (we have one upstairs), because I think everything will look crappy on it if it’s all through the Tivo and that’s the only way I watch TV any more. I don’t want the HD DVR that DirecTV offers.

    I don’t care whose fault it is. :-(

  • megazone

    TiVo cannot make an HD DVR that works with satellite, unless the satellite vendor allows them to. So don’t wait for it. If Dish loses their appeal to TiVo, *maybe* they’d license TiVo’s software to settle the issue – but they could just license the patents and keep using their own software.

    DirecTV used TiVo and switched to NDS because Murdoch bought them, and he owns NDS. Now that he’s selling DirecTV to Liberty Media, a major TiVo investor, there is a chance they’ll switch back. But I wouldn’t count on it.

    Unless something big changes at one of the providers, TiVo is locked out of the satellite HD market.

  • aizjanika

    I know, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t suck. :-( I love my Tivo, but I want to get an HD TV, too. My husband and son don’t care that much about the Tivo thing with their TV upstairs, but I care a lot. *g*

  • anonymous

    Two sat receivers
    Two HDMI inputs
    Two IR blasters (maybe with IR shields too?)

    Is the HDCP the sticking point there?

    Then two component inputs?

  • megazone

    HDCP effectively prevents recording from HDMI, or DVI that uses it. Plus, while digital, it is basically uncompressed digital, so it is not really effective to capture from.

    And the hardware to encode analog HD from component is still pretty much out of reach for consumer gear. The Slingbox Pro accepts HD component input, but it scales it down to SD before encoding.

    Plus, any time you start controlling multiple devices with IR, you have more support issues. There have been a number of users confused by the Slingbox Pro, which can have up to four devices connected (component, S-Video, composite, and RF). People trying to connect two of the same device getting cross-talk on the IR. It really only works well if the devices can have their IR address changed – like TiVo can – to avoid conflict.

    And, after all that, TiVo has to look at justifying the development. How many people are going to buy a TiVo that requires you to buy/rent two external receivers, and deal with IR issues, instead of just getting the satellite vendors integrated DVR? Especially when the satellite DVR is very likely to have better picture quality (if you capture from component you’re going to have loss compared to the original digital signal) and/or record less per unit of storage (not being able to capture the original compressed data)? Probably not enough to justify the cost of developing the unit.