TiVo & Cable's Inevitable MPEG4 Transition

Dave Zatz —  August 28, 2014 — 31 Comments

By way of a new TiVo support note, we learn that TiVo has indeed been preparing for the inevitable MPEG4 transition as cable operators look to reclaim bandwidth (beyond dastardly SDV).

In October 2014, Comcast will transition its system in Augusta, Georgia, from MPEG2 format to MPEG4. This transition means that cable channels in this region will not be viewable on older equipment that is incompatible with the new format.

Roamio and Premiere units are ready to tune – having already cut their teeth on smaller scale channel conversions on Cox and FiOS. Unfortunately, TiVo Stream and Roamio Pro/Plus transcoding won’t be ready until 2015.

Streaming functionality will return in early 2015, when a software update that provides compatibility with MPEG4 will be released.

Sadly, due to innate hardware limitations, TiVo Series 1, 2, and 3/HD owners are mostly out of luck. And those in markets with MPEG4 cable programming are advised to upgrade to a newer TiVo or cable company-provided set-top.

31 responses to TiVo & Cable's Inevitable MPEG4 Transition

  1. Finally MPEG4 support for streaming! Yes. :)

  2. Michael Burstin August 28, 2014 at 8:27 am

    I wonder what their “special upgrade offers” will be. Will they make any concessions to Series 3/HD owners with lifetime subscriptions? The box is still alive but will not be useful.

  3. I don’t remember any concessions during the digital OTA transition. Some of those models will still tune ATSC.

  4. Hopefully the switch to MPEG-4 will mean the end of SDV, at least until cable systems convert to all IP-based “channels.”

  5. At this point, I’d probably just cut the cord if I started losing channels I cared about on my TiVoHD. I love my TV, but I have a hard time justifying the TiVo upgrade costs.

  6. That’s disappointing. I just had a coworker buy a TiVo Roamio and a TiVo Stream a little over a month ago from Best Buy. She is NOT going to be a happy camper when her brand new Stream doesn’t work at all until “Early 2015″.

    Best Buy’s 14 day return policy won’t let her bring it back either…

  7. I wonder if Best Buy is going to keep selling TiVo Stream units in markets that it doesn’t work with…

  8. To be clear, a national transition like this would take many years should a cable provider decide to full scale move forward. Is she in Augusta, GA?

  9. Yes, Dave many, many more years for cable….. But I find it amazing that cable hasn’t transitioned to MPEG4 a long, long time ago. DirecTV went to MPEG4 nation wide in 2007. But hey cable obviously can’t offer new set top boxes to customers every two years. This is much like cable being late to the party with multi-tuner whole home DVR systems. I have had a 9 tuner DirecTV Genie whole home system for over 2 1/2 years. There is a total disconnect between what cable can offer and what satellite can offer. My 9 tuner HTGuy’s Feb 24, 2012 DirecTV Genie review: http://www.htguys.com/news/2012/2/24/directvs-hr34-hd-dvr-with-rvu.html

  10. Maybe its just my consumer point of view (I have no idea how complex the MPEG2 to H.264 switch is for a cable co), but why not just wait another two years and go from MPEG2 to H.265? Why have this huge capital expense of deploying H.264 and then replace it again in 2020?

    The bandwidth improvement is huge (70-80%), and are there really that many more channels needing to be added in the next two years that require the bandwidth? An H.265 deployment would be able to cram 10-12 1080P channels where you can only get 3 now with MPEG-2 as the same PSNR. H.264 is “only” a little more than half that, 6-8 channels.

  11. Who knows, maybe this process started 4 years ago and/or maybe they’re simultaneously preparing for H.265.

  12. “Early 2015″.

    I would bet good money TiVo doesn’t have mpeg4 streaming working on Christmas Day 2015. I’d even give odds!

    Also @Zatz, no posts about the $50 OTA-only Roamio announced this week?

    http://www.tivo.com/discover/antenna

  13. Still percolating on it, not sure how I feel. Also, there are some behind the scenes developments which may impact the tenor of my coverage. Another thought was wait until it’s available in-store and open one up – is no-Mini support a technical limitation or a sales & marketing approach?

  14. Michael Burstin August 28, 2014 at 1:21 pm

    @Anthony – I think this has been a long running process. Just because they are finally switching on H.264/MPEG4 doesn’t mean that they haven’t been deploying hardware to support it for a long time. I imagine even their pathetic silver DVR boxes have support for it – and those have been out for years.

  15. Support for streaming to Android devices is supposedly finally coming… but then (in some regions, anyway), people won’t have devices to stream from until 2015. Oh, the irony.

  16. and really the OTA Roamio is 450$ becasue what OTA person wants a monthly fee? the very diea of OTA is no more monthly fees…………

    that said, loving my new roamio and finally digital cable (just bumped up from analog last week :D ) – bring on mpeg-4 so I can save my ripped movies in a smaller format and compatible with my phone from the get go

  17. Zeo, Lifetime service is not an option for the Roamio OTA. So it’s $15/mo indefinitely – that rate could go up or down, who knows.

  18. TiVo probably doesn’t even know.

  19. I’ve been asking for h.264 support on the Stream since the beginning. The current limitation makes streaming of cnet videos stored on my Roamio impossible.

  20. $15 a month fee 100% geared towards cord cutters who want nothing to do with monthly fees. Brilliant!

  21. If a cord cutter wants no monthly/ yearly fees, then say goodbye to Amazon,Netflix and the high speed internet that makes it all work.
    Maybe it’s time to call cord cutting what it really is not using cable or satellite for reception.

  22. It’s about time Comcast did MPEG4. Regarding the lack of Stream support, who knows what TiVo means by “early 2015″. Let’s not forget Android streaming was supposed to come “early 2014″. Bah Humbug! :( I just hope that the picture quality of MPEG4 channels are better then their MPEG2 counterparts, but if Comcast has any say it’ll be just as bad. Well at least they aren’t going to Switched Digital route.

  23. Sam, will be interesting to see if TiVo units further relay downloaded podcasts and the like. Is there enough demand to warrant integration? Or would it be a simple matter once H.264 is enabled for linear content? Would they worry about licensing or rights in doing so? Hm.

  24. I wonder if the Silicondust Prime can adjust in a firmware update.

  25. HDHomeRun Prime and Ceton tuners already work with MPEG-4 and Media center also works as well, so no real firmware updates, but some people with Intel graphics might have some trouble, but I believe a driver update has solved that.

  26. Don’t hold your breath for a nation wide deployment. Take a look at this page for example:

    http://customer.comcast.com/help-and-support/cable-tv/cable-box-user-manuals/

    I’m pretty sure only the ones labelled RNG support MPEG-4 (i.e. h.264) decoding. None of the others (which are all the ones you might actually recognize) do–they only support MPEG-2. In a typical region Comcast would have TONS of these older boxes deployed and would have to do a forklift upgrade before doing the switch.

    I got that Pace box at one point just to checkout the 3D signal on one channel and grab a sample of the encoding. Its the only one of the RNG boxes I had seen until that point. The 3D channels were deployed by Comcast using h.264. Certainly similar approaches might be used at first–certain special channels that most people wouldn’t get might be deployed in h.264 before going maintstream.

  27. @Glenn, you are mostly correct according to http://hdtvsales.ca/Comparison.html (it is not easy to find a chart like this — wikipedia doesn’t seem to have the info any more and motorola’s site search takes you to a dead-end). The DCX3400 also appears to support MPEG-4 but in any case, it is still difficult to obtain either the DCX3400 or RNG200N boxes from Comcast – I had to drive to 2 different offices in the past to find one and most of their trucks don’t have them either. They are mostly shelling out the silver ones with a 320GB hard drive at best which don’t support MPEG-4.

    I would almost imagine that you’ll see Comcast transition everyone to X1 before all of the silver boxes are replaced with the newer black ones… and X1 has its own share of issues

  28. I live near Augusta, GA and got the email from Tivo, and the letter from Comcast. This is their “special” offer. https://www.tivo.com/shop/promo/roamioaugust

  29. Knowing TiVo, they either won’t deliver MPEG-4 until 2018 or it will require new hardware. You know TiVo: Over promise, under deliver.

  30. Cas in point… they said at one time that they’d upgrade the original Series 3 so that it would support multi-stream CableCard (M-Card). They never did, so you were stuck paying for a second cable card.

  31. Oh and don’t get me started on TiVo utter incompetence when it comes to their UI. How they could release the Premiere, Roamio and Mini, all with stretched out 4:3 UI in their settings and other screens is beyond me. I don’t understand how it’s such a heavy lift to assign an engineer or two the task of converting those menus to the new UI.

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