Katherine Boehret

Using Your DVR From Afar

The whole point of using a digital video recorder is convenience. Rather than arranging your schedule around television shows, you watch what you want when it’s best for you. But you may be running out the door for a weeklong trip, forgetting to plot out which shows will air while you’re gone. Or you might learn of a new series or show while at work, unable to get home in time to record it.

This week, I was reminded of how setting my TiVo digital video recorder to record programs can be done more conveniently: through remote online access. I did so using two methods: TiVo Inc.’s own Web service, TiVo Central Online at www.Tivo.com, and Sling Media Inc.’s downloadable SlingPlayer software program, which works when Slingbox hardware is attached to your television. Other remote recording solutions also are available using computer-based programs.

TiVo Inc.'s TiVo Central Online, www.tivo.com, and Sling Media Inc.'s SlingPlayer, www.slingmedia.com, both aid in remotely recording programs on your TiVo.

TiVo Inc.’s TiVo Central Online, www.tivo.com, and Sling Media Inc.’s SlingPlayer, www.slingmedia.com, both aid in remotely recording programs on your TiVo.

These two programming aids came in handy, allaying my fears of ever missing a show like the “Oprah” episode on which the entire “Grey’s Anatomy” cast appeared (I forgot to set my TiVo). TiVo Central Online’s remote programming scheduling grid was helpful, and Sling Media’s SlingPlayer brought the TiVo’s features onto my computer screen, as well as a live feed from the remote television.

Remote access from TiVo.com is included with the monthly or annual service fee TiVo owners already pay, but many of them don’t know about it or use it.

TiVo Central Online works best with a broadband-connected TiVo, such as the Series2 used with the $53 Wireless G USB Network Adapter, which I have, or the new TiVo Series3. The earlier version of TiVo, called the Series1 box, uses a phone line to periodically dial in and receive TiVo data; the Series2 can also use a phone line.

TiVos using a broadband connection only need about a half hour of notice from TiVo Central Online to record a coming show; phone-connected TiVos need at least 24 hours notice.

I created a TiVo.com account which automatically knew of my home TiVo’s channels and broadband connection. Searches on the TiVo Central Online site can be narrowed using genres.

TiVo Central Online’s grid guide is useful for remotely programming your TiVo — displaying titles, times, durations and channels for each show. From my office, I recorded a coming episode of “Oprah” by following steps similar to those on my actual TiVo. The episode title appeared in my home TiVo’s To Do list with a computer icon beside it, indicating that it had been scheduled via TiVo’s Web site.

This worked well. But TiVo doesn’t allow you to actually watch the program while away from the TiVo recorder, unless you use a more laborious and complicated process called TiVo ToGo, which requires that you transfer content from the TiVo to a laptop or portable player.

The Slingbox is a separate device that attaches to your television and lets you remotely watch the TV’s content from anywhere using a computer or mobile device. If your TV has a TiVo connected to it, the Slingbox lets you remotely control your TiVo’s scheduled recordings and settings, or watch its content as if you were sitting in your living room. An on-screen image of the TiVo remote control adds familiarity to SlingPlayer.

The Slingbox costs between $180 and $250 depending on which product you get, and the SlingPlayer software program is a free download from www.slingmedia.com. The company charges a one-time $30 fee, though, for the mobile software programs that work on Windows Mobile devices.

The experience of using the SlingPlayer is rich, and becomes even more enjoyable when TiVo is added to the equation. I downloaded the SlingPlayer on my Apple iMac; it also runs on Windows XP and Vista, as well as mobile platforms.

I logged in to view content from a Slingbox-enhanced TV and TiVo. A vivid image of a TiVo remote control worked just as it should: its buttons are all usable, and you even hear the TiVo sound effects.

As I watched shows remotely, the picture was choppy at times, slowing down to “optimize” the video every so often. But the longer I watched, the better it got.

Any changes that you make on the TiVo using your SlingPlayer are reflected back on the actual TiVo. So if you’ve watched half of a show on your computer before stopping, you can resume the rest of the show by watching on your TV — starting where you left off.

Next time you’re away from your TiVo but want it to record something, think about setting up a free TiVo Central Online account, allowing you the flexibility of remote recording — should you want to use it. The Slingbox and SlingPlayer work well for users who miss their TV programs enough to want to see them right away.

–Edited by Walter S. Mossberg

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