@Otis: Yes, you're paying for the right to use the device. Tivo refers to this as "DVR Service". Without DVR Service, you essentially have little more than just a tuner. It won't even function as a dumb VCR without the monthly fee. In part the monthly fee is used to subsidize the low up-front cost of the hardware, but if you own the Tivo for more than a couple years then you'll be paying far in excess of what was reasonably used to subsidize the hardware.
In a practical sense, you are paying for program guide data and software updates. Since the box is cryptographically locked down, you don't have any alternate choice for guide data nor can you install alternate software. So, you pay Tivo to use the device, take it or leave it, it is what it is.
TiVo is well worth it if you get lifetime service. But get monthly service and decide you just want to use the box, forget it. As soon as you stop paying, you don't get any program info. You can't set the clock. You can record manually, but eventually the clock won't match the actual time. And verytime you turn on your TV, you'll get messages about how you need to connect to update your info.
I have 2 TiVos with lifetime service, and after the initial expense, it's all free. Unless of course tour TiVo breaks, because they won't transfer your service to a new box. Lifetime service is only good for the box it was purchased with, so you go through life hoping tour TiVo doesn't crash.
They aslo sell extenders, which increase your recording capacity immensely. When they first came out, people realized you could use any eSATA drive, so instead of paying TiVo's inflated price, you could go to BestBuy and buy a box for less money and more capacity. Initially TiVo tried to prevent this by not updating your service software if a non-TiVo extender was connected. When that didn't work, they redesigned their boxes to only work with their extender. Any one with an older box was fine, but to try and use a newer box, you had to hack your TiVo, which instantly voided your warranty.
Go to Weaknees dot com and read up before you plunk down $50 on what you think is a deal.
One thing to consider about fees is your current cable company's HD DVR is likely NOT free. Most cable companies charge a fee to rent their crappy HD DVR...check your cable bill!! For me, the HD DVR fee is about $15 / month. Now, i returned their DVR to them, and now rent a CableCard instead for $2 / month. All said and done, my cable bill goes down $13 / month, and I have a Tivo bill for $20/month... so really for me the net increase to use the Tivo service is about $7 / month. Well worth it in my opinion.
@James Cooper who said "Go to Weaknees dot com and read up before you plunk down $50 on what you think is a deal."
A better place to read up is in TiVocommunity dot com. They are not affiliated with TiVo and the members there can clear up most anything, including questions like "My TiVo's hard drive failed. Can I replace it and salvage my lifetime subscription?"
time warner charged me $10 for box plus $15 for dvr service plus 25 cents for remote.Now I pay $2 for cable card, $20 per month for tivo if you sign up for 2 years nothing upfront.So if regular tivo subscription is $12.95, $7 x 24 months is $168. Tivo box will cost you $168 after 2 years. And if you pay $99 and sign up for 1 year tivo box will cost you $183. I think this is not a bad deal.