Time to webify old and tired DVRs

By Cory Bergman 

On Saturday night, I searched for the words “British Open” on my DVR, tapping out each letter using up and down buttons on my remote. I didn’t know (or care) what time it was on, which network was covering it or whether it would be tape-delayed. I just wanted to watch it Sunday afternoon. The only search result was TNT’s coverage, which I set to record. On Sunday, I discovered TNT was just the warm-up act. The main coverage had played out on ABC.

This illustrates the stupidity of DVRs and why the web has a shot to replace them. First off, the home screen of my (non-TiVo) DVR shouldn’t look like some Commodore 64-inspired menu that I could’ve designed in BASIC when I was in sixth grade. It should look more like the cover of Hulu with a creative layout highlighting the most popular shows and movies of the moment. Just click to watch or record. It should allow me to use my remote like a Wii — pointing and clicking on the screen itself. It should recognize that I’ve recorded most of the major golf events this summer and automatically record the British Open. And if I forget to record something — and the DVR can’t anticipate it — then it should allow me to watch it anyway.

Imagine, for a moment, that you ported DVR software to Hulu. You couldn’t watch anything unless you logged in ahead of time and set it to record. Miss it? Tough luck. And you had to wade through those crappy menus, tap out letters on your remote and pray that Hulu was smart enough to keep recording if the golf game stretched into a playoff.

Now imagine if you could port Hulu to your DVR. Now we’re talking. Sure, there are lots of reasons why DVRs have not evolved with the times, not the least of which are DRM, limited bandwidth (where IPTV is stepping up) and the contentious relationship between the cable companies and content providers. But you have to wonder what will happen if/when you can play online video clips on your TV in adequate quality. Suddenly, I don’t feel a need for a DVR. Or my cable service. But if my DVR looked more like Hulu, I think I’d keep it around.