The Comcast-Motorola-TiVo @ CES

Dave Zatz —  January 13, 2007
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In a relationship announced nearly two years ago, the Comcast TiVo is just about here and on public display at CES. (Rumor has it, they showed back-room demos for VIPs at the 2006 CES.) There were at least three Motorola 6412 units running TiVo software in the booth. Not only did I poke around on them, I had the chance to sit down privately with David Sanford, VP of Product Management in the Service Provider group — one of the guys behind this custom build. In addition to the obvious functionality questions, I was particularly interested in learning of the deployment mechanics and the technologies in play.

Deployment

The Comcast-Moto-TiVo is already in trials, and deployment is slated to begin this Spring. The roll-out will be managed by Comcast — they set the schedule within their various markets. (As in: not all regions are likely to get the TiVo option simultaneously.) While there are no details on monthly pricing yet (which I assume could vary by market), David tells me Comcast really wants to get this product out there and is planning to charge only a “modest fee.” (I’ll take a stab and guess a $5 – $10 increase over current DVR rental fees would cover licensing and allow Comcast to make a few bucks without sticker shocking customers.)

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So here’s how it works… You let Comcast know you want to upgrade your DVR to TiVo, they flip a switch, and your current Motorola box (6412 or 3412) downloads the software. Reboot, and voilĂ  you have TiVo — with prior settings and recordings preserved and no truck roll required. Your current crappy Comcast remote will control the TiVo software, but as part of the upgrade Comcast will mail you a custom Comcast TiVo remote (with new OnDemand, A, B, C, and D buttons).

Technology

The new TiVo software is written entirely in Java and runs on TV Navigator middleware, a precursor/subset of OCAP. With the FCC requiring new Comcast cable box deployments to include separable security (i.e. CableCARD) as of 7/07, I wondered if TiVo has gotten their hands on the new Motorola hardware (also on display at CES, in the Moto booth). It doesn’t sound like they have, but David feels confident their software will easily port to a variety of platforms. Good thing, since they also want to support Scientific Atlanta hardware down the road. TiVo will have DOCSIS/DSG servers running on the head-end.

I’m waiting to hear back on the status of the Firewire port… The FCC mandates all HD boxes deployed after 7/1/05 have active, functional Firewire. What does that get us on this new software?

Functionality

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For the most part the new software acts like a TiVo, sounds like a TiVo, and looks a lot like a TiVo… But there are some differences which could be somewhat disorienting/disconcerting for existing TiVo aficionados. For example there are no TiVo animations on the new backgrounds, the channel banner is quite different (I don’t care for it), and the Live Guide is not available (yet). On the other hand the new color-coded grid guide looks great and includes picture-in-picture (PIP can be paused!), plus the software includes advanced search functionality not yet available on the stand alone TiVo models. Further, both search and Wishlist scan OnDemand programming which will be quite useful.

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I don’t think it will come as any surprise to those of who think about such things that networking is not active in the initial release: No Home Media Options (as in no sharing photos & music from computer, no multi-room viewing) and no Internet-based services such as TiVoCast or Yahoo Weather. Whether or not these features are ultimately developed and deployed is up to Comcast. And speaking of Comcast, I get the sense that the GUI modifications (channel banner for example) were made at their request.

Thoughts

First, as with the Series3: Better late, than never! The interface and functionality are somewhat different (having both pros and cons) than the current stand alone TiVo software and this will be the cheapest possible way to get a HD TiVo experience. The S3 has better hardware, larger storage (which can be expanded), and can be networked… BUT the Comcast TiVo will make sense for most folks (who are price sensitive and live in Comcast areas that provide Moto hardware).

So what will I do? I haven’t bought a second Series3… While I do like the one in the den, I can’t justify purchasing a second one at the current price ($650ish, plus monthly service fees) — especially without multi-room viewing, TiVoToGo, and eSATA storage functionality. So a Comcast-Motorola-TiVo will be a nice solution for our bedroom TV.

There’s probably also a story here about TiVo partnering with the likes of Comcast (and Cox) and developing Java software being necessary for their long-term financial well-being, even if stand-alone sales/service are partially cannibalized. But I’m tired, so maybe we’ll save this for my financial guru.

48 responses to The Comcast-Motorola-TiVo @ CES

  1. Did you try to enable TiVo’s 30 second skip?

  2. Didn’t think to try it or even ask about – sorry!

  3. How was the speed compared to S2 and S3? And did the forward and rewind functions work smoothly?

  4. It’s hard to say. I didn’t use it in a normal, home setting so I can’t be positive on speeds. But response certainly seemed acceptable. However, these boxes weren’t connected to the head-end and the content was pre-populated, so I wouldn’t call this an authentic experience. We’ll probably have to wait a few months to pass final judgment on performance.

  5. Java hunh? What is the original TiVo software written in? C or C++?

  6. What about us Adelphia people who are using Scientific Atlanta box who have been moved to Comcast? Will we be able to use the TIVO software as well?

  7. I’m waiting patiently here in Indianapolis and have sent an e-mail to customer service letting them know I’m interested in getting it as soon as it’s available.

  8. What can you tell us about the Guide? Is there an option to use the Tivo-style guide or are you stuck with the Comcast-style grid with the video in the upper right corner?

  9. I am troubled. Don’t know any other way to say it…

    Why should I get this? I want it but why…I know it sounds crazy I just don’t know what to say.

    Neither Series 3 or this Comcast TiVo has TiVoToGo or any of the those functionalities. I guess that’s why I am torn…I want TivoToGo and there is no way of getting that and staying HD.

  10. @Alex:
    The Tivo UI is on Series1/2 (I haven’t looked at the internals of Series3) is all done in interpreted Tcl. However, the UI is not the interesting part of the Tivo, from a technology perspective: the MFS database they created for organizing media is, and that’s written in C.

    Thanks,
    –kirby

  11. I’m looking forward to getting a Comcast TiVo box. It may even prevent me from switching over to Verizon FIOS TV.

  12. Does the Comcast Tivo support dual tuner buffering?

  13. Curtis Cooley March 6, 2007 at 4:28 pm

    So I call Comcast and they are still saying that it’s still on the drawing board and they can’t give out any information. Who was this Dave guy you talked to because he seems to be the only person from Comcast who actually wants to get this thing on the market.

  14. Fernando Duprat March 20, 2007 at 4:40 pm

    I do have a Serie2 Tivo with Comcast in Miami. Just wanted to upgrade to the TIVO S3 with HD.

    Comcast said that it not support the TIVO, neither the CableCard for it.

    Any option? or simply switching to the COMCAST Box-DDR is the only option?

  15. Fernando, you were given incorrect information. I have a TiVo Series3 which is being used with Comcast service (in Maryland) and their CableCARDs.

    If you can wait, this particular Comcast Motorola TiVo unit I wrote about should be available… at some point.

  16. dave: do you have an update as far as release for this product? all i hear is “spring” but baseball season has started and no one at comcast customer service will even admit to being aware of a tivo enabled comcast hd dvr. thx.

    darin

  17. I don’t have any updates. Last I heard (same as CES) Comcast employees were testing it in the field and Spring was the target. I assume it’s a huge undertaking, not just the software/box but all the head-end infrastructure they need to get in place… which is something new for TiVo.

  18. We are now nearly a month into Spring and still no TIVO software from COMCAST. What are they waiting for?

  19. OHDOHBOB WILL GLADLY PAY YOU TUESDAY FOR A MOTOTIVO IN MAY

  20. I’m in Denver and just spoke to Comcast this morning but no news of DVR upgrades to Tivo software in our market yet.

    My call center agent said they don’t even have a date of when this might happen.

    Grr… I’m getting impatient! This was announced two years ago.

  21. Just called Comcast Sales here in CA and not only did the agent told me that there was no such thing, she told me that it would be impossible to upload a new software onto the DVR…

  22. Reinforcing that phone agents are the last people to hit up for reliable info… ;)

  23. Called back and talked to a dude this time, he confirmed that this product should be released soon but no date as of when…

    There is hope!!! :)

    Thanks for all the good info Dave!

  24. Called Comcast in Mpls this week. They said they had no idea when it was going to be released still.

    John

  25. Called Comcast last evening about this. The first guy I talked to had no idea of what I was referring to. But he transfered me to someone who at least took time to find out from other folks what it was all about. He confirmed with other’s help once again that this is certainly being tested currently but no test results have come back yet. He was indicating strongly to check back around Holiday Season and that its going to be heavily advertised, so we would definitely hear about it.

  26. I got tired of waiting and bought me a TiVo HD unit. Comcast came and installed the CableCards and I’m up and going with HD and TiVo.

    The TiVo HD unit is $299 if anyone else is tired of the Comcast foot dragging. Me experience so far has been fantastic. I’ll never go back to Motorola hardware.

  27. Curtis; does you Tivo HD work with Comcast’s On Demand?

  28. I have not tried On Demand yet because of Amazon Unboxed. I can rent or buy movies and TV shows from Amazon and have them downloaded to my TiVo. Got the premiere of Bionic Woman 3 weeks early that way ;)

    It’s my understanding, though, that I can get On Demand but the Cable Cards only function in the down direction, so I would have to call to order the show. I know that was the case with the Series 3 TiVo’s that came out last year, but I am not certain about the TiVo HD units.

    Trading On Demand for the TiVo experience is well worth it for me.

  29. Curtis, How much did Comcast charge you for the cablecards? They give me different answers each time I call.

  30. i too got tired of putting up with the motorola comcast dvr and waiting for a tivo version. i bought the new HD Tivo and got a factory refurbished Series 3 (with free wireless adapter) from the tivo website. my gosh, i forgot how much superior tivo is. i don’t regret the $ it cost. more than worth it.

  31. I think the cable card rate depends on the area. I’ve seen different rates posted on the tivo community forum. I can’t remember if I get the first one free or not, so it’s either $1.99 or $3.98 per month.

  32. CableCARD rates definitely vary by region. In fact, they often vary within a region! My two Comcast CableCARDs in Montgomery County, MD are free. However in other areas they sometimes charge for the cards or “additional outlets.”

  33. we are working on addressable cable cards for the sole pourpose of having the guide and on demand, and for now they r testing them in the brand new series box.
    as for the tivo, it is 3 dollars a month extra and it is well worth it, dosent have the lag of the normal comcast gui (if u use the tivo remote)
    it is scheduled to hit customers by mid nov, or mid dec. they r still unsure, i have been beta testing it for a few months now

  34. Does anybody know if the comcast/tivo will have dual live buffers?

  35. Dave – I also live in Montgomery County Maryland (Gaithersburg). Have you possibly heard anything about a date for this market? I spoke with customer service but didn’t get very far.

    Thanks,
    Bill

  36. I tried to get it last night. They told me that since my box is a 6400 series I can NOT get TiVo and need to have a tech come to the house and install a 3200 box and then the tech downloads the TiVo software for $17.95

    No Thanks

  37. $17.95 and you said no? I paid $270 for my TiVo plus a monthly service charge for the service, and it’s well worth it.

  38. I’ve had the new setup for about 4 weeks now. Two days ago the box wouldn’t let me delete any shows, so I told it to reboot… it went into an endless boot/reboot cycle. They came out and replaced it last night (lost all my shows.) I noticed a line on the config screen that said something about “jars” and thought to myself, “Oh crap, it’s written in Java… game over.”

    In response to other questions: it’s slow to change channels, and slow to respond to FF/RW commands. Not intolerable — I understand we’re dealing with HD data here — but still annoying. If I have one more problem, I’m going to go for a Series 3 with cable cards.

    P.S. The one really nice feature is that you get a PIP screen of what you were watching while you nav the Tivo menus. Great idea.

  39. I’m in Calvert County, MD and just got a new Comcast hookup with the Moto 3216 DVR service. I’ve never seen TiVo otherwise, so I think the Comcast GUI is pretty good. Can someone tell me what ADDITIONAL or DIFFERENT functions and capabilities I will get when Comcast gets around to offering me the additional TiVo option? Is there a FAQ or detailed list somewhere that you could point me to? Comcast’s website is severely lacking on providing easily summarized details, if at all. What is the value-added of getting the TiVo upgrade over the current Comcast software?

    Thanks!

  40. Comcast is reluctant to provide details on TiVo because then nobody would want their crap. I suggest poking around tivo.com to see what Tivo can offer.

    I gave up on Comcast and bought an HD TiVo and am very very happy with that decision. I’ve not used the Comcast TiVo software, but I fear it may be crippled when compared to a ‘real’ TiVo.

    That said, a feature by feature comparison doesn’t do TiVo justice. The whole TiVo user experience is just more polished and pleasant when compared to Comcast’s UI. The type of experience one should expect from a product with a four or five year head start.

  41. This is the sort of passionate response I was hoping I wouldn’t get. (Just “TiVo’s great, everything else isn’t” but no specific details.) I asked my questions because I was hoping that someone who HAS USED the COMCAST TiVo SOFTWARE would be able to describe the tangible differences to someone who has never seen or used TiVo but is not dissatisfied with the Comcast Software so far. Other than the polished UI, what does Comcast DVR-with-TiVo provide that Comcast DVR-withOUT-TiVo does not? What is more “pleasant” about the TiVo software? (I’m sure Comcast TiVo has differences from “Real” TiVo, and would like to know those differences also)

    Thank you, at least, for replying and showing that this forum is alive.

  42. Jerry, most people, including me, don’t have an hour to write about the many ways Tivo is superior to the comcast DVR. seriously, it would take at least that long to write a detailed explanation.

    i had tivo, switched to the comcast HD dvr for about a year, and then got a pair of HD tivos. i could not be happier. to me, it’s well worth the expense.

    for anyone curious about the difference, i suggest you use the comcast dvr for about 6 month then get Tivo. it will take you about 3 days to understand. the difference in the UI’s are subtle but vast.

    but, i will give you a few details.

    first, Tivo is very, very reliable. i had to contact comcast countless times for them to reset my dvr when it would freeze or malfunction. In the past year, my Tivos have acted up twice. to fix, you simply hit “restart” in the tivo menu and you’re up and running again in about 4 minutes.

    what i absolutely hated most about the comcast DVR was the lag between when you push a button on the remote and the time the DVR would respond i wanted to throw it through the wall everytime i would push a button…nothing happens…pushi it again…still nothing…push different buttons about a dozen times trying to get a response…still nothing…and then…about 30 seconds later…the comcast dvr responds to all 32 buttons i pushed in succession. arrrghh.

    Tivo season pass is far, far superior to the comcast offering. same with the search and keywords.

    kids zone is cool if you have little ones and don’t want them stumbling upon sopranos or sex and the city that you downloaded.

    Tivo also lets you transfer programs on one Tivo, say in the living room, to another in say, the bedroom.

    on the series 3 Tivo, the show or shows being recorded are displayed on the LED readout. i like that little feature.

    i do kind of miss On Demand but Amazon Unbox is a suitable substitue…just wish it had HD programming.

    OMG, i can’t believe i forgot to mention the 30 second skip feature on Tivo. it’s one of it’s best features. i also like the 6 second rewind button.

    maybe if you do a search you’ll find a detailed review of the differences between the two UI’s. until then, take my word for it…Tivo is far superior.

  43. OK. Now, I have the newest Moto DVR, the 3216, which from what I gather in other forums has corrected some of the technical maladies (especially the freezing) you describe about the Comcast DVR. Which unit did you have?

    Based on what you’re saying about the UI, you have experienced Comcast-DVR and TiVo-TiVo, but not Comcast-TiVo, which is currently only available in New England. Based on the description in the blog above, adding TiVo to the Moto-3216 should get things close to your user-experience.

    Are you able to remotely program your TiVo via the internet? Does anyone know if this is a feature available on Comcast-TiVo?

  44. that’s right. i did not have the comcast tivo, just the comcast dvr.

    yes, online scheduling with tivo is yet another great feature. i don’t know if comcast added that feature or not.

  45. I live in the Redmond, WA area. I have a Motorola 6412. I sent an e-mail to someone at Comcast to complain about the disabled eSATA and USB ports for hooking up additional storage. Not to mention the bugs with the software (1FF is useless on analog channels, for example).

    Got a response and from Comcast. They said that new software is coming in October. Don’t know if it is TIVO based (mine currently isn’t TIVO based). Hope so though.

    The guy commented that he was unaware of the ports I mentioned and that they could (should) be used for expanding the HD. He said that he would look into it.

    I told them they are about to lose me to FIOS. Not that it would necessarily be better, but that I’m just tired of Comcast’s disinterest in servicing people who want more storage.

    Maybe in October, things will get better. If not, I may take my money elsewhere.

  46. So I was looking at the Comcast TiVo site and one thing that they have changed really makes me mad. The functionality of the LiveTV/Swap button. It says pressing the LiveTV/Swap button in menus will return you to livetv( what if i am 5 min before live tv) and swaps tuners if you are watching tv( again what if I am 5min before live tv, I dont want to swap tuners I want to catch up to live tv) The way the current comcast system deals with these features is way better.

  47. TODAY GOT MY TWO DVRS I WAS NOT IMPRESSED WITH IT.. IT TOOK ME 2 HOURS TO SET THIS UP CALL THING THEM AND TRYING TO FIX LITTLE BUGS THIS DVR DOESNT HAVE HDMI IMAGE THAT !!!! ON TOP OF THAT TRYING TO GET THE DVR TO LET THE CLOSED CAPTIONS COME THRU WHICH WAS BLOCKED ON MY TV .. DIDNT KOW WHAT TO MAKE OF THAT.. I JUST DONT KNOW WHAT TO DO ..

  48. HAVE A SERIES 2 TIVO WORKED GREAT COULD TRANFER ALL I WANTED.
    GOT A SERIES 3 HD UNIT. TOOK ALMOST 5 WEEKS TO GET TWO WORKING CABLE CARDS FROM COMCAST IN MIAMI.
    WHEN I FINALLY GOT WORKING CABLE CARDS FROM COMCAST I FOUND OUT THAT COMCAST DOES NOT ALLOW YOUR TIVO UNIT TO TRANSFER YOUR RECORDINGS TO OTHER TIVO UNITS OR PC. WENT ROUND AND ROUND WITH THEM THEY WON’T ALLOW TRANSFERS EVEN THOUGH THEY ARE CAPABLE OF DOING SO. (A COMCAST TECH THAT WON’T BE NAMED INFORMED ME THAT THEY CAN SEND A SIGNAL TO THE CABLECARDS THAT WOULD ALLOW TRANFERS BUT WON’T).
    DON’T BUY SERIES 3 HD UNITS IN MIAMI AREA IF YOU HAVE COMCAST AND WANT TO TRANSFER CONTENT.