TiVo Desktop Has Serious Bugs

I’m really getting tired of this. I’ve mentioned this before, but I just have to mention it again since I was just burned, again – TiVo Desktop is terribly buggy. Some of the bugs are annoying, but some of the bugs are serious – for example, up and losing all of the TiVo Web Video subscriptions. This has happened to me several times now, on two different computers. I won’t touch TiVo Desktop for weeks, just letting it do its thing, but then I’ll realize I haven’t seen anything from my TiVo Web Video subscriptions for a while – and when I check, the configuration file is wiped.

TiVo Desktop stores the TiVo Web Video subscriptions in files under C:\Documents and Settings\[account name]\Local Settings\Application Data\TiVo Desktop, at least on WinXP. The files concerned are RssFeeds.xml and wspc.xml – with DownloadQueue.xml of lesser concern. What seems to happen to me is every so often TiVo Desktop up and wipes out wspc.xml, which is the main file. I’ll find the file back to its default 1KB state without any subscriptions. Having done my share of development and support I suspect what happens is that when the server is updating the file something goes awry and instead of the updated copy being written it is wiped out. Then the default file is recreated when the server sees it is missing.

This is infuriating and frustrating. And it is a rookie bug. There are ways around this – a simple one is A/B files. Write a ‘B’ file then, only when you confirm the file is correct, remove the ‘A’ file. Then reverse that the next time. Or keep the file in memory until you do a checksum and confirm the file was written to disk successfully, and if not, try again until it is. And considering the subscriptions can only be managed from the cloud, and my TiVo still thinks I’m subscribed to these channels, in the worst case the subscriptions should be reloaded from TiVo’s servers.

I’m a geek, and when it stops working I know where to go looking for answers. But if this happens to an average user I’d expect them to be baffled – their TiVo would still show them subscribed but they wouldn’t be getting any new content. And the resolution isn’t clear – you basically have to delete and re-add the subscriptions so the server recreates them. Or, if you’re a geek and kept a backup copy, recreate the file manually. Of course this means it goes and re-downloads lots of old content.

And that’s not the only serious bug, it also fails to clean up after itself. After downloading content and transferring it to the TiVo, it is supposed to delete the downloaded file – and it does, most of the time. But it misses some and over time they build up. I’ve found multi-gigabytes of orphaned download files left using up space on my drive. If you subscribe to HD versions of content the ‘leaking’ burns space faster. Before Revision3 was added to TiVoCast I used to subscribe to many of their shows via TiVo Web Video, and they were HD versions. Just a few of those left behind can add up to a GB. You can check to see if TiVo Desktop is leaving files behind in C:\Documents and Settings\[account name]\Local Settings\Application Data\TiVo Desktop\Downloads I just removed 746MB of orphaned files from the past couple of months, and that’s after I’d dropped all the Rev3 HD shows.

Bugs happen, I know that, but these have gone unpatched for a while now.

These are hardly the only issues, just the two that really get under my skin. But there are other changes that really need to be made. And why is it that the TiVo Web Video interface on the TiVo itself seems to be stuck in the past, rarely reflecting the current episodes on the feeds? That makes the ‘Download Past Episodes’ feature useless. These are RSS feeds, would it really be so hard to make the server pull in the updated list automatically? And now that HD TiVo models can decode H.264 and VC-1 it would be nice if we could skip the transcoding entirely for compatible downloads.

I love the concept of TiVo Web Video, but it feels more and more like abandonware. All the attention goes to TiVoCast where TiVo can make business deals, and TiVo Web Video just rots on the vine. I know there are third party solutions to replace TiVo Desktop, but the point is this is what most TiVo owners will be aware of and use. TiVo needs to fix this issues if they’re serious about this as a product feature.

About MegaZone

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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  • Kyle Johnson

    Hey, at least you have the feature. If you really want to feel abandoned, try being a Mac user. TiVo Desktop is still at version 1.9.x and only does the most basic music and photo sharing (and sort of video if you hold your tongue just right). No TiVo Web Video, no download of content (unless you pay for third party software that just sort of works). If it wasn’t for opensource stuff like pyTiVo and iTiVo, I would still be stuck in the 1990′s.

  • Jason

    I’ve fully given up on TiVo Desktop for some of the same reasons. My web videos only transferred for a short while then stop working, and then add to that the obscene amount of time it takes to transfer a single show to my hard drive and encode it for a device (in my case an iPhone). It is literally faster to BT my TV and convert than it is to transfer down from my TiVo.

    That might be the fault of the TiVo itself and not Desktop, but it doesn’t really matter…Their whole TiVo -> Desktop -> TiVo experience is very sad indeed.

  • http://www.gizmolovers.com/ MegaZone

    Kyle – I agree, the support for Mac OS is certainly pitiful compared to Windows. And given the issues on Windows that’s not good at all.

  • http://blog.urbanbohemian.com brian

    I have to agree on the Windows issues, but like Kyle I’m also a Mac user and am still waiting for some of support similar to the free Windows version. I gave up on the slowness and bugs in converting/transferring and have just settled for a PC with an HDMI port out. Much easier to watch all of my videos in any format, and transfer the TiVo recordings and immediately transcode them to a much more efficient file format.

    Still, it would be nice if they wouldn’t leave their personal computer users in the dust with all of the advancements they’re making natively in the new units.

  • Paul

    What other options are there to share videos with the Tivo? I’m curious because I’ve been looking at options for streaming to my PS3.

    Is it possible to burn non-copy protected DVDs to your PC and get them to play on the TiVo?

  • Jason

    Paul – Most folks are using pyTivo and compared to Desktop, IMO it works 100x better.

    I don’t own a DVD player (that’s hooked up to my TV) anymore so I rip what Netflix selections I can’t stream to my home PC as an MPG then use pyTiVo to send it on up to the TiVo for viewing. After that I delete the MPG (seriously, why keep them around if you can just order them again if you like), rinse, repeat…

    TiVo should be paying the developers of pyTiVo. The amount of value they add to the TiVo experience is huge.

    Though I don’t know what that will buy you for a PS3.

  • Paul

    Cool. Thanks for the info.

    I’ll give pyTiVo a try. And compare that to the results I get on the PS3. Perhaps one will be better than the other….?

    I’m new to DVD ripping and encoding, so it’s all a little overwhelming at this point. But fun to learn about the new options out there.

    Thanks again for the response.

  • Jason

    A few things I forgot to add, as far as the actual DVD ripping itself which it sounds like you’re mainly interested in. I use DVDShrink (it’s free, Google it), modify the settings to not split into 1 GB sections.

    Also, AnyDVD (not free)is a great little piece of software for getting around encryption. I’m not advocating you use it to get stuff free (people need to get paid or they’ll stop making content), but that doesn’t mean we can’t have that content in the format that suits our purposes.

    Lastly, if you want to convert to a smaller MP4 format, Divx is a great little piece of software for those who are new to the video conversion game. It’ll cost you, but the time you spend trying to get the free options out there to work properly offsets the cost IMO.

    Best of luck….

  • Jason

    Bah! I forgot to add that DVDShrink will create a huge .vob file which is just an .mpg with another name. Rename it to whatever.mpg and you’ve got your mpg.

    From there you’ll have to hit up the PS3 forums for help on streaming to a PS3. I haven’t a clue.

  • Paul

    Thanks, Jason.

    I appreciate the tips.

  • Tim

    All I used TiVo Desktop for was looking at photos, I don’t use it at all and have un-installed it. I’ll try pyTivo. Well, as soon as I run a Cat5 cable to the TiVo. Looks like my wireless adapter is bad. I could of bought a new one for $35, but went with 75′ of cable for $12 (free S&H) I got off Ebay.

  • http://www.zatznotfunny.com Dave Zatz

    Yeah, TiVo Desktop is a bastard child. I paid my money but never use it. Maybe we’ll hear of some updates in Vegas this week, but who knows. Although I’d like to see ALL of the ‘web video’ stuff handled in ‘the cloud’, if not natively on the box. Regarding ‘business deals’, I don’t think there are any. I think it’s just cross promotional handshakes.

  • http://www.gizmolovers.com/ MegaZone


    I agree that it would be better in the cloud. I can understand TiVo’s reluctance to commit those kind of server and bandwidth resources to transcoding for a free service though. Still, there are so many things that could be improved. Put the RSS engine in the cloud. Use XMPP to manage the downloads. If the format is H.264 or WMV/VC-1 then HD TiVos can be told to pull it down directly, no PC required. For other formats, and for Series2 users, it would message TiVo Desktop to tell it what to do. This would remove all the RSS crap from TiVo Desktop and eliminate the utter stupidity of having to re-create all your subscriptions if you change PCs or even have to reinstall on the same PC. All registering a new install would do would be to change which client gets the message.

    As for the deals, that’s what I mean. I think TiVo likes to be in control of what content gets on the box and negotiating the deals gets them promotional consideration on the other websites and within the podcasts. They’re trying to get ‘TiVo’ in front of as many faces as possible to pump up the brand.

  • Glenn

    Well, I’m still relatively happy with Tivo Desktop, but have been patiently waiting for changes for some time now.

    I’ve taken to transcoding the Top Gear episodes to Tivo format myself, since the conversion for the Tivo HD doesn’t really produce a decent product. For some things maybe I don’t care, and the automatic transcodes Tivo does are easier. But for something I care about, being able to select the 16:9 high bit rate profile for the Tivo HD in Videora, just works so much better. It seems like about time for the auto-conversion to be a little more sensitive to the capabilities of the Tivo it targets.

    And folders? Anybody remember those?

    Personally, I don’t use the Tivo for music, photos or podcasts anymore. I have an Apple TV for that. The GUI on the Apple TV is just lightyears better than the Tivo for stuff like this. Sorry, but its true. Hopefully the new Search feature is a hint of future Tivo GUI changes to come.

    All in all I’m still a happy Tivo consumer. 2 x Tivo HD’s and one remaining Tivo DT all on the same network happily talking to each other and my TV. And Tivo Desktop happily churning away converting stuff for my iPod and letting me watch shows I download.

    My one real wish would be for a way to watch the WHOLE DVD on my Tivo, meaning not just the main title, but all the extras, captions, commentary, etc. Even DVD images. I wish somebody would support a RIPPED format for the complete DVD and there were some software out there that would create that format with little to no interaction on my part. I have AnyDVD, and while I can decrypt the VOB them merge the 1GB sections, then quick fix that, then convert the whole thing to a Tivo format, and REPEAT for each special feature, its a PAIN. And captions still don’t work. And …

  • Jason

    Glen – Use DVDShrink in conjunction w/ AnyDVD…You can set DVDShrink to make a single .vob file. Saves you the step of having to stitch the 1GB files together. Probably not a huge time saver, but every bit helps.

    Completely agree on the need to be able to rip an iso of the disc and play the whole thing on the TiVo.