After five years, I finally broke down and bought a new computer. I went through one of the deals on the Extreme Overclocking site, which link back to GotApex.com's deals. This is all meaningless background noise except for the fact that I now have a 20" widescreen flat panel and a new computer running XP Media Center edition.
I'm going to work with this system for a few days, but I wanted to share my first impressions of the time shifting / TV viewing on both systems.
First impression - the Media center machine is not as responsive as the TiVo. I think this is probably because it is a general purpose computer instead of a dedicated machine for TV viewing. When I hit the remote button to pull up the media center, it takes about 5-6 seconds for the application to start up. This compares to about the 2-3 second startup from Standby for the TiVo.
The guide appears to be snappier on the XP machine than on the TiVo. Changing between pages of the guide is crisp, whereas on my series 2 TiVO it can take a brief moment when switching between pages.
Changing channels seems to take longer on the XP machine than on the TiVo. There is a .2 to .5 second stutter/pause when I'm changing channels. This is fine in the computer room, but might not be OK as a primary TV in the living room.
The price is right for the guide features on the XP machine - free is good. However, the license that you accept clearly states that Microsoft may choose to start charging for the guide at any time with a 30 day notice.
The XP machine has a 30 second skip and 7 or 8 second rewind built in. You can enable this on a TiVo but it resets every time the machine is rebooted (which is about once every two months) due to software upgrades or power loss.
TiVo has an advantage with the recommended programs and constant recording. The XP machine is more of an on-demand TV viewing appliance where the TiVo is predictive and provides you with more options for programs due to the constant recording of recommendations.
On the system I purchased, the XP Media Center remote uses a USB remote sensor with a very long cord. This is a nice feature - you can hide the computer and have only the sensor visible near your monitor.
The TiVo remote has a better feel in my opinion. This is probably very subjective. The remote provided by Dell feels cheap in my hand - it is very light and doesn't balance well in my hand like the TiVo remote does. One other difference - the XP Media center remote features a stop button. This is something that always seemed missing on the TiVo, but I'm sure they did it for a reason. To me, hitting stop seems more intuitive than hitting left arrow to get to a menu from a playing program.
TiVo's HME applications compare favorably to the other options in the XP machine.
All in all I'm not convinced that I would move this into the living room to replace the TiVo. I do like that I can add a second tuner myself, and that I can upgrade this to HD when I'm ready.
I think I still have to give the thumbs up to TiVo for the recommendations and faster channel changing.
For reference, I'm running a Pentium D 2.8 dual core processor with 1 gig of RAM and a decent hard drive. You might have better experiences with a faster machine or 64 bit processor.