TiVo Adding H.264 Playback?

Dave Zatz —  March 12, 2008

tivo-series3-guts.jpg

So maybe the official headline is YouTube Coming To TiVo… But the interesting news here is TiVo Series3 and TiVo HD unit exclusivity – sorry, Seres2 owners. We already know these newer devices have chips capable of decoding more than just MPEG-2 video, and perhaps TiVo is getting ready to flip the switch “later this year.” If so, how else might they utilize this… An improved movie download service, more video podcast options, streaming my own computer-dwelling video?

Regarding YouTube – while they host a ton of content, the signal-to-noise ratio isn’t favorable and I’m not looking forward to browsing (low resolution) clips on my (high definition) TV. However, accessing my own account favorites and uploaded videos might occasionally come in handy. Though, I haven’t been taking advantage of that on my loaner Apple TV.

Other devices offering YouTube on the TV: Wii, SageTV HD Media Extender, Netgear EVA8000.

21 responses to TiVo Adding H.264 Playback?

  1. That sounds like a reasonable conclusion. Hulu would look better on an HDTV, though. That would make more sense to me.

  2. Dave,

    Off topic, but check out “Signal” at alloysoft.com while you still have the AppleTV loaner.

    It is super clean app that allows your iPhone to control your airtunes on any AppleTV or other speakers connected via AirExpress.

    While I was lusting over a Sonos system this app will allow me to get the same result by adding a few AirExpresses and speakers to my existing living room and bedroom systems.

    Marte

  3. H.264 was my first thought as well. Why else exclude the (much larger) Series2 crowd?

  4. Keep in mind that YouTube has been experimenting with higher-resolution clips (possibly hi-def) for a little while.

    I won’t disagree with you on the signal-to-noise problem, but at the very least we may be able to get better-quality clips for applications such as this.

    More at:
    http://googlesystem.blogspot.com/2008/03/youtube-tests-higher-resolution-videos.html

  5. As cable companies start to switch to MPEG4 to save bandwidth, this may also mean that we don’t have to switch up our TiVos to continue getting digital channels!

  6. Geoffrey Sperl March 12, 2008 at 1:58 pm

    Well, the H.264 could also play into increased abilities with the podcasting abilities TiVo Desktop is supposed to get this month. A lot of podcasts out there are recording in H.264 (DiggNation and the other Rev 3 titles are great examples), so it just makes sense that they add the ability if we are going to get a chance to (more easily) move video podcasts from our PCs to our TVs (where, frankly, video belongs IMHO).

  7. I know you need the information there to begin with, but is there no way to upconvert web video?

  8. It depends what they offer – you’ve got the pixel count and then the bitrate it’s encoded at. I’ve seen some very watchable non-Flash 640×480 video stretched to fill my 42″ plasma. Though I don’t generally care for Unbox on TiVo (higher than 640×480) on an HD set – maybe it’s because I paid for it and the content is longer?

  9. I bet that this is related to their upcoming RSS program. For some reason I thought it was coming out in March, but they may have said a few months, so in TiVo time that probably means November. In their original press release I remember them saying something about it supporting any internet video in its original high def native resolution or at least something to that effect. For some formats they’ll still need to transcode the files, but if they were talking about supporting high def natively, then it’d make sense that h.264 is part of that.

  10. Aren’t the video podcasts that you can download now in H.264? I downloaded things like Cranky Geeks and dl.tv and I thought that was the encoding. If not I wonder what encoding they are in?

  11. My understanding was that the TiVoCasts were being delivered in Mpeg2 because the S2 didn’t have the right chip to do Mpeg4. With most of the clips pretty short it’s probably not a big deal for the content owners, but Mpeg2 tends to be a little hefty in size. This might be part of the reasons Comcast was reluctant to include TiVoCast in their download. Eventually, I hope that we’ll see TiVo figure out a way to record in H.264 or with more efficient forms of compression. We might lose a tiny bit of picture quality and would require a more powerful chip, but it’d let you record more content and TiVo could still use smaller hard drives.

  12. Brian, right now only MPEG-2 is supported. Davis, What they demo-ed at CSS for a spring launch was PC-based transcoding (TiVo Desktop 2.6). Perhaps this would be part of a second phase. That recording in H.264 you suggest would also make TiVoToGo less cumbersome…

  13. All content on TiVo today is MPEG-2, even on the S3 and TiVo HD – the H.264/VC-1 decoder isn’t enabled in today’s software/

    This is not connected with TiVo Desktop 2.6. What is in 2.6 is basically an RSS engine and folder monitoring to automatically download vidcasts (or monitor folders from other download clients, like iTunes), then transcoding them to MPEG-2 and auto-transferring them to the TiVo. What this announcement implies is direct access to H.264 video *without* going through a PC and transcoding it. And hopefully that will extend beyond YouTube to other vidcasts. I’d love to see an RSS client in the TiVo itself that would allow it to pull down vidcasts directly, without even passing through the PC.

    Recording in H.264 might be possible in a future platform as the encoding chips continue to drop in price. (TiVo has stuck with MPEG-2 largely because the chips are mature and cheap.) But keep in mind that it is less and less important, since less content is being encoded in the TiVo. Any ATSC content is recorded as-is. Any digital cable content is recorded as-is. Only analog content is encoded locally. NTSC is going away in under a year, and analog cable continues to shrink.

    If they ever do another box that accepts external input, like HD component input, then that would probably encode in H.264. But as long as their focus is on integrated boxes the benefit is diminishing.

  14. Hopefully, this will eventually lead to better media extender functionality, i.e. playback of user video content (even if it has limited codec support like AppleTV). If they can get that going and Unbox gets HD content, then TiVo will be in good position as in all-in-one device.

  15. I’m just looking forward to being able to play YouTube videos!

    There are so many times I have people at my house and I remember some video I just want to show them real quickly. Either I can gather them around my laptop or download the flv, transcode it, and pull it onto my tivo. This will be SO MUCH better!

  16. i would love the h.264 support on tivo, it would make it really easy to watch high quality video off of pc without re-encoding it to mpeg2 using pytivo. I’m just excited of possibilities, making tivo a great media extender.

  17. YouTube added the h.264 encode for their videos when they did the deal with Apple for the Apple TV/iPhone/Touch. The quality of the h.264 videos is going to depend on the quality of the uploaded original, not the quality of the flash content you usually watch. Some of the clips I’ve watched on my Apple TV have been great, others very low-rez/soft/blocky.

    Like Megazone points out, the newer Tivos just copy the incoming transport stream to the hard drive without changing it (well maybe they remux it, but I don’t think they even do that). Which is why the fast-forward to play transitions are worse on the newer boxes. Until the cable companies start transmitting channels in h.264 video, which they won’t do in large numbers for a while because of the installed base of digital STBs that can’t handle anything but MPEG-2, this won’t much matter for recording cable.

    But it could still be a nice option for watching Youtube or video podcasts…

  18. Here’s my selfish question – if Tivo does “flip the switch,” would that mean I could upgrade my S2 Tivo to an HD Tivo so I can partake of the MPEG4 encoded HD channels currently provided by DirecTV?

    We were left with a tough decision when we recently upgraded to HD – stick with Tivo and dump DirecTv or vice versa. We stuck with Tivo (a Pioneer 810 DVD burning Tivo, to be precise, which, while it’s not recording HD, appears to be recording better than SD, possibly because it’s a progressive scan DVD player? Anyone else with this kind of setup?)

    Also, someone alert me when Tivo and DirecTv kiss and make up.

  19. Blake – Nope. The S3 & TiVo HD don’t have the hardware to tune the satellite signals. You’d need a new box, blessed by DirecTV, which incorporated satellite tuners and their security card to authorize reception.

    I do have a Pioneer DVR-810H, and they only record at SD – but it is 720×480 DVD resolution (at Best and High), and a higher bitrate than non-DVD standalones, which record at 480×480 for Best & High. ‘High’ on a DVD unit looks roughly similar to ‘Best’ on a non-DVD S2 to me, and ‘High’ looks better. But the S3 & TiVo HD look better still, even on non-HD content.

  20. MegaZone – thanks for the definitive answer. I had surmised as much in regards to DTV and Tivo, but just needed someone to tell me the blunt truth. Like I said, DTV and Tivo just need to get back together.

    I wasn’t allowed to upgrade our Tivo since I was able to upgrade our plasma size. Still, I’m pleased with my current setup, and will patiently await instantly watchable, HD, carte-blanche, downloadable programming to any device of my choosing from any provider in the world.

  21. Just in time for Comcast’s proposed cap on bandwidth!