TiVo Modem Overview
From the beginning of TiVo-time (circa 1999), TiVo DVRs have shipped with built-in, internal modems. DIRECTV TiVos (TiVo DVRs with a built-in DIRECTV receiver) actually have two modems.
What's the purpose?
Standalone TiVos (those without DIRECTV receivers built-in) have modems that are used to dial into the TiVo central servers to acquire program guide data for the next 14 days (or 3 days for the few units that have TiVo Basic). Dialing in also enables TiVo to send down some types of promotional videos and other data and confirms your subscription status (monthly, lifetime, etc.). Furthermore, the modem is the means by which a TiVo sends data to TiVo Inc. about viewing habits, program watched, and all sorts of other data.
DIRECTV TiVos get their guide data from the satellite, not from the modem, so the modem has a much more limited purpose. In fact, once a DIRECTV TiVo unit completes guided setup and makes two phone calls (one to get a list of numbers, the other to confirm the dialing setup), Series2 DTiVos will continue to function even if they never dial in again. (However, if these units fail to dial in for a 30-day period, a "nag screen" will appear daily reminding you to dial in. The nag screens do not affect basic functionality on Series2 DIRECTV TiVos.)
Phone line requirements/Voice Over IP (VoIP) and TiVo
TiVo DVRs do not need a dedicated phone line. The phone line that you use for your TiVo can also be used as a normal phone line. The TiVo has the ability to detect when someone is on the line, and will not make its dial-in call when someone is on the phone. ("Phone Available Detection" must be turned on to use this feature.)
The TiVo modem was designed to be used with a POTS ("plain old telephone service") line. A POTS line is a standard, traditional, analog phone line. Many TiVo owners have been stymied by the switch from standard phone service to voice over IP (VoIP) phone service, because TiVo modem performance is erratic at best over VoIP.
Some VoIP providers, such as Vonage, are better than others when it comes to compatibility with TiVo, but even many Vonage customers have found it utterly impossible to dial in their TiVos with their VoIP line. In addition, some VoIP providers do not even permit analog phones to be plugged into their devices, leaving a TiVo owner completely stuck.
Many TiVo customers have found that TiVo dialing problems can be solved with an external TiVo modem. The TiVo external modem connects to the TiVo with a stereo-to-serial TiVo cable and bypasses the TiVo internal modem altogether. The external modem must be specially programmed for use in a TiVo, and not all external modems work. Another option for VoIP users is to network their TiVo. This option is not availble for DirecTV/TiVo combo users or for Series1 users.
TiVo Modem/Dialing Problems
In addition to problems dialing in because of VoIP, some TiVo customers find that their modems break and simply stop dialing. In particular, the older TiVo units made by Philips (HDR112, HR212, HDR312, etc.) and the Sony SVR2000 are prone to modem problems. Some common modem symptoms can be found at this TiVo modem troubleshooting page. Some of the more common modem issues are listed below:
- TiVo has no guide data
- TiVo holds line open when phone line is connected
- TiVo causes phone line problems when plugged in
- Error: "Failed. No Dial Tone"
- Error: "Failed. Modem Not Responding"
- Error: "Failed. Could not Connect"
- Other dialing errors
There are several solutions for TiVos with modem problems:
- Network your TiVo and stop using the modem. This solution only works with standalone TiVo units (i.e., units without a DIRECTV receiver), and only works for Series2 and Series3 units (i.e., it doesn't work with the Series1 Philips HDR-series and SVR2000).
- Get a TiVo External Modem. The external modem will bypass your TiVo's internal modem. Works with every TiVo made (other than the UK and overseas TiVo models). As far as we know, this is the only commercially available TiVo external modem option.
- Do nothing. This is an option only for (a) Series2 DIRECTV TiVo users and (b) those with an HDR-series or SVR2000 without a TiVo subscription. These units can all continue to function without dialing in.
Finally, sometimes TiVo modem errors are really TiVo hard drive errors. The problem is that while the modem is able to receive the information from the phone call, the TiVo can't store the guide information or software update on the drive. In this situation, the TiVo needs a replacement, properly formattted hard drive.