The Critical 'I'

Read. React. Repeat.

Tuesday, April 15, 2003

Yes they are, thanks to the interactive program guide, or IPG.

The IPG is that graphical grid of channel information that you get through your cable set-top box. Since you can bring up this info without significantly affecting your ability to watch whatever channel you currently tuned into, there's little reason to flip through the range of channels on your system to see what else is on. (In fact, with digital cable packages numbering into the hundreds of channels, it's really not practical to do the traditional channel-surf; so if the IPG hadn't been introduced already, it would need to be devised by now.) So in effect, the wide availability of this feature has changed the way most people watch and interact with their televisions.

There are different ways to achieve this, though. I've long been in this mode of watching television; I never, ever channel-surf now unless I'm flat-out dead-bored (and in that case, 9 times out of 10 I'll just turn the television off). But I don't use my cable company's IPG, because I don't use a set-top box (no need for it with the package I've got, and it would just be another group of wires). What I do use is the TV programming grid that's built into my Excite homepage. Very customizable, and just as easy to use as any IPG. My computer is on most of the time I'm home anyway, and since it's a notebook I can plant it in front or near the TV, so it's a natural fit. Saves a lot of time and guesswork too, obviously.

The other way to achieve this is through a digital video recorder like TiVo or ReplayTV. Here's a good up-to-date primer on DVRs.

I'm tempted to join the TiVo Nation, but have yet to be convinced. The point about the 500-channel universe making the DVR a necessity for getting full value out of your cable bill is a good one. However, I can think of an alternative other than investing on another piece of equipment and another service: Just don't buy the deluxe package. What's the purpose of having 500 channels if you only watch 5 or 6 with any regularity anyway? I don't watch much TV anyway, and I don't think it's due to a lack of awareness of programs that I'd like; it's because there simply isn't that much on that's worth my while to watch. I'm never going to get to the point where I want to come home every night and have a hard disk full of crap that I feel I need to watch, and that's what this invites.