Downloads With Tivo

The great thing about Tivo is that you can automatically record television shows and watch them when you want to watch them. Maybe I'm stubborn, but I also want to be able to watch my shows where I want to, and that doesn't necessarily mean in the same room as the Tivo box that recorded my show.

Fortunately, Tivo boxes now offer features that allow me some very nice options with regard to interacting with the device.

  • Multi-Room Viewing: The ability to transfer shows between Tivo boxes if you have multiple boxes.
  • TivoToGo: The ability to transfer shows to your computer or portable device.
  • Local Tivo Web Site: The ability to download shows from a web site hosted locally on your Tivo box.

TivoToGo Prerequisites

Before you can use TivoToGo transfers, you need to take care of a few prerequisites:

  1. Make sure your Tivo box is accessible on your home network.

    It can be connected either directly or by a wireless connection, but the Tivo box has to be on the network; the phone line won't suffice. Go here for tips on connecting your Tivo box to your home network.

  2. Your home network needs to have a connection to the Internet.

    OK, I probably didn't need to add this as a prerequisite but I didn't want to make any assumptions.

  3. Tivo downloads must be enabled for your Tivo box in order for TivoToGo to work.

    To verify that downloads are enabled, go to the Tivo web site. Click on the "My Tivo" menu entry, which will cause some sub-menu entries to be displayed. Click on the "Manage My Account" menu entry. From there, you will be taken to a page that shows the current status of your Tivo accounts, as shown below:

    In the column labeled "Settings," you want to see the text "Transfers ALLOWED." This setting allows you to transfer shows between Tivo boxes on your network (this is what Tivo Marketing calls "Multi-Room Viewing"). In the column labeled "Enable Video Downloads," you want to see "Enabled/On". If your settings aren't correct, you can easily edit them on the Tivo web site.

Multi-Room Viewing

There's not much to say about Multi-Room Viewing. If you've accomplished the prerequisites I went over previously, then your Tivo boxes are already nicely networked. Tivo makes it simple to transfer shows between your boxes, although you will have to manage your storage effectively.


Tivo Inc. now offers a service called TivoToGo, which is basically an umbrella name for a suite of tools that allow users to interact with the Tivo box. The primary tool is something called Tivo Desktop, and there are versions for Windows and Mac, although Windows Vista is not yet supported.

Tivo Desktop comes in two versions, a free one and a commercial version that costs money. The free one is Tivo Desktop 2.3, which is what I have installed on various computers in my household (more on that a little later). The commercial version is called the Tivo Desktop 2.3 Plus Upgrade, and adds the capability to automatically convert Tivo downloads to the formats required by various portable devices.

With Tivo Desktop, you can view a list of the shows available on any of the Tivo boxes on your network. The application then makes it easy for you to download shows to your laptop.

Downloading is very cool, of course, but not completely convenient. First, there's roughly a one-to-one relationship between download duration and the length of the show, so your downloads are going to take a while. I typically initiate a download when I'm expecting to leave the room for some time.

Second, you'll need some serious space to store the shows. This is dependent on the resolution that you've recorded at, but assuming you've recorded in the higest definition (as if anybody doesn't), a one-hour show will occupy about 1.6 GB.

Still, despite any quibbles, the ability to download shows to your laptop is a huge win for users. If you travel, this gives you the flexibility to take shows on the road with you.

Note: For techies, the Tivo Desktop service uses key ports in the 8000 range. This won't affect most people, but it may affect technical developers since these are the same ports that are used by Tomcat (a Java/JSP web server) and other tools.

You may also run into security or firewall issues that prevent these ports from being used, particularly if you're using a work laptop. Never fear, the Tivo Local Web Site can still be used even if Tivo Desktop cannot be used.

Tivo's Local Web Site

You may not know this, so here's some background for the unitiated. Your Tivo box is actually a Linux box under the covers. It just happens to come with Tivo software and some special hardware to support the media-related tasks that the device has to handle.

It also comes with a completely functional web site that you can access on your home network.

To access the web site, determine the IP address of the Tivo box on your network. Assuming that your Tivo's IP address is something like, the URL of the Tivo's web site will be:

Using a URL like the one above, you should see a web page that will be unmistakably from your Tivo box, i.e. - it will include Tivo-related text, the Tivo logo, etc.

This page identifies your Tivo box, but doesn't allow you to do anything. To view information about what's actually on your Tivo, you'll have to login using a slightly different URL:

Note that this URL uses "https" instead of "http". This is so that you can securely login to the Tivo box. Using the above URL, you should see a login screen. Your user name will be "tivo" and your password will be your Media Access Key.

The "Manage My Account" page of the official Tivo site provides a link so you can view your Media Access Key. You will need to have this value in order to login to your local Tivo box's web site.

Once you've logged on, you'll see a web page that lists the shows currently stored on your Tivo. To the right of each entry will be a "Download" link so that you can download the show. The only actions you can accomplish from the web site are to view the available shows and to download them. You cannot perform any other actions from the local web site.

Note: With recent Tivo updates, it looks like you now have to enter your user name and Media Access Key each time you download a show.

In order to view shows downloaded from the local Tivo web site, you must have previously installed the Tivo Desktop. The reason for this is that Tivo Desktop includes a library, a DLL, that can properly decode downloaded Tivo files. You need to have that DLL or you can't view downloaded Tivo shows.

The local Tivo web site allows you to bypass some of the complexities of the Tivo Desktop, which I've found out the hard way may not work on all systems.


I'm extremely pleased that Tivo has provided a number of different ways for me to access and enjoy the content that I've recorded on my Tivo boxes. In the future, I hope that they will expand the options available to me both from the Tivo Desktop application and the local Tivo web site. In the meantime, I've got some shows I recorded from the SCI FI channel that I need to catch up on.


David Keener By dkeener on Monday, June 20, 2011 at 02:17 AM EST

This still works very nicely. I just downloaded an episode of "The Glades" (a crime drama) from my Tivo, and watched it on a Dell laptop. Installing Tivo Desktop gave me the prerequisites so that I could watch the show.

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