Max Christoffersen: 'Invisibles' pull the plug in tale of electronic woe

October 31 marks the end of days for TiVo users in New Zealand.
REUTERS

October 31 marks the end of days for TiVo users in New Zealand.

OPINION: I'm caught in a trap.

And like any good trap, I didn't know I was in it, until it was sprung.

You're probably in the same trap, and don't know it yet, so I share this tale of electronic woe as a warning to others.

It all started around 2009 with the purchase of a TiVo. It became our main TV set-top box. Plug it in and it does everything for you.

Forget VHS and G-Codes, this thing will record everything you do want (and some stuff you don't) on TV without pausing for breath or even the push of a button.

In my world, TV has totally outstripped film for quality of storylines, direction and character development. So my TiVo became my main window on the world of moving pictures on Freeview.

My TiVo records everything. I can skip those loud Harvey Norman ads and pause live TV to take phone calls mid-programme. CASUAL WARNING: Do NOT phone me mid This Is Us or Humans or 800 Words, TiVo or no TiVo!

With the fancy Home Network Package (a nifty add-on feature), we can even shift recorded programmes from one TiVo to another at the push of a button.

This remarkable bit of TV-tech even allows me to stream music and pictures from my home office PC to the five TiVos around the house.

OK, so the picture here is TV BLISS in capital letters. I mean CAPITAL letters. If there is a God in heaven s/he watches TiVo just like the girls on Sex and the City did.

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Over time, TiVo became such a go-to-device it became a verb. So I am stone-cold in-love with my shiny silver and black box.

And then the email arrived. TiVo will end in October. Read it again – TiVo will end in October. And again … you get the picture.

My window on the world of moving pictures is closing for good October 31.

But whhhhyyyyyyyy? How could you DO this to me TiVo? I loved you. How could you leave?

One word. Well, two actually, planned obsolescence.

Only this PO isn't like the others, where parts became worn out or repair is more expensive than simply buying another. It's a modern twist on the old story of boxes that break down just outside the warranty.

All my TiVos work perfectly. But they have a technical Achilles heel.

On October 31 the TiVo plug will be pulled by Hybrid TV, an Australian company ("no surprises there") on the electronic programme guide (EPG).

The EPG is the programme listing information that tells the TiVo when 800 Words is going to play, so it can record it, even if I forget it's on.

So a third party has gone broke and now, despite all my TiVos working perfectly, all five boxes will be big, black doorstops on November 1, because TiVo won't be able to tell what programme is on, and when.

There is a modern moral to this sad story. All of us are now under the thumb of various invisible companies who control the information we get and how we get it.

I first stumbled onto the trick of the licence fine print with my Navman. The "lifetime free maps" marketing on the box, was not my lifetime, but the product lifetime.

Those small GPS boxes will work for years, but to upgrade the maps software, you have to upgrade the whole device – even if you're still enjoying your current lifetime.

Same with some of the software I use on my PC. I need the software, but to stay current, you have to buy version 1xx.9 to stay connected. Or be cut off.

So the invisible corner you are now painted into with your apps, your phone, the computer chip in your car and even the way you watch TV is determined by who owns the licence. And it's not you – the end user – or even the manufacturer.

There is no way out but to pay. The invisibles (as I now call them) have got us right where they want us: dependent and unable to work unless we pay more for the licence upgrade, because the old one (needlessly) just stopped working.

The problem with TiVo is there is nothing to upgrade to, at least in New Zealand.

In Australia, some entrepreneurial techo-types are seeking a way to get the EPG back onto TiVo before October. I hope they are successful. The TiVo close down will create needless landfill of working black boxes here and over there.

The advice from TiVo is after October 31 turn it off and recycle it at an electronic recycling centre. So where are these centres around the Waikato?

Sadly, unless TiVo agrees to keep their boxes working here and in Australia, Fridgey McFridge Face will have a companion to while away the hours in New Zealand dirt.

It is needless electronic waste.

And the TiVo catch was never detailed in the fine print of the hidden contract trap.

 - Stuff

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