I’ve had a TiVo for a little over two years after being pushed into it by a few friends and it really is a great little thing. It’s not majorly life-changing (unless you spend a large percentage of your time watching tv) but it is a big improvement over standard television watching.
About a year ago, the Home Media Option for the TiVo came out that added nifty features like the ability to listen to your digital music and view your digital photos. It also added the ability to move recordings between multiple TiVos in a house, but that isn’t very interesting to me since I only have one TiVo. I was most interested in the digital music player part of it as it finally allowed me to easily play the mp3 encoded music stored on my computer through my stereo connected to my TV.
The only real major downside of the digital music player part of the TiVo as provided is its lack of support for any file types other than mp3. I’ve pretty much completely switched to using AAC as my primary music encoding format. AAC features better compression (smaller files at the same audio quality) than mp3 and I think it represents higher frequency sounds better which results in a ‘brighter’ sound. I’ve also succumbed to the super convenience of the occasional iTunes Music Store purchase and all of those files are in AAC format as well, with an extra bit of DRM goop to make the major labels happy. So, the end result is more and more of my digital music is unplayable on the TiVo and I’ve been looking into other ways to shuttle my music around my house from where the files are stored to wherever I want to listen to them. So considering all of this, imagine my joy when I discovered that I now can play my AAC audio files on my TiVo, including those purchased from the iTunes Music Store.
While fiddling around with the new and very promising TiVo programming interface I ran across a message board post describing how to set up the latest Mac version of the TiVo desktop software (1.9) so it would transcode AAC files on your computer and send them to the TiVo as mp3. A self-described geek poked around in the TiVo install directory and found a utility program called SoundConvert that had references to the LAME mp3 encoder libraries within the binary. With some testing he discovered the TiVo Desktop software would automatically work with AAC files if it noticed the LAME libraries installed on your computer. I followed the link to the OS X LAME installer package, installed it and enabled music sharing in my TiVo Desktop preferences (after upgrading it to 1.9), and my AAC files were suddenly playable on my TiVo! They show up like all the other files (they didn’t show up at all before) and they play like any other file. A quick check on the computer acting as the server verified that the files were being transcoded before being sent out. Awesome!
Once I had AAC files playing, getting iTunes purchased music to play as well required one more step of questionable legality. I personally think it’s idiotic that I can’t legally play a song I purchased legally on my own device in my own house, but such is the idiocy of DRM. There are ways around the DRM iTunes uses such as JHymn, but you’re not currently allowed to use them in the US due to the DMCA. Anyway, I did try it on iTunes purchased music and it did work and I was able to listen to it on the TiVo. Unfortunately, since I first used JHymn successfully, Apple has made a back-end change that has rendered it unusable. I’m sure the JHymn people will get it working again before too long, but don’t head over there excited to claim DRM-free iTunes bliss just yet. I’ll update this when I hear of JHymn (or something similar) working again.
UPDATE (April 11, 2005): As reported by the main JHymn developer himself in my comments, JHymn is now working correctly again. TiVo and iTunes can play nice together once again. It is a forbidden love, but just as sweet.