Archives For DVR

What Color Is TiVo's Hat?

Dave Zatz —  May 16, 2012

As fallout over DISH Network’s new Auto Hop commercial skip feature expands, TiVo has injected themselves into the conversation. From the New York Times:

TiVo has taken the same approach, promoting ways to serve ads to viewers even as they’re fast-forwarding through them. “We’ve gone from being a black hat to being more of a white hat,” said Tom Rogers […] TiVo owners can find ways to hack the hardware and create an auto-skip feature, but the company has never promoted it, preferring instead to be in business with the broadcasters.

Never mind the gross mischaracterization of TiVo’s quite manual 30 second skip, which is more easter egg than “hardware” hack, and let’s focus instead on TiVo’s increased chumminess with the broadcasters, advertisers, and cable industry… who are often one and the same. While they may find TiVo more “white hat” these days, us subscribers might actually see it in reverse. Something I discussed with The Associated Press back 2009:

He said he’s been wondering, “Who are TiVo’s customers?” People like him, or advertisers? “They’re getting paid on both ends.”

All things considered, I’d say TiVo has been relatively successful walking that fine line as they’ve the brokered deals (and defended patents) needed to survive without overly polluting our end-user experience. But I hope they continue to remember us little people. As the best way to skip commercials doesn’t involve cable television or DVRs. Rather, it remains renting DVDs and Blu-ray discs from Netflix.

TiVo-Parental-Controls

As promised, TiVo’s Spring Update has arrived — and, with it, are refreshed Netflix and YouTube apps in addition to the ability to access parental controls from the HD UI.

Having had the Premiere-only software about a week, thus far, I’d say it’s a mixed bag. The HD UI remain incomplete and while the new app UIs are certainly richer, similar to those on the Best Buy TiVo TV (RIP?), but we pay a penalty in terms of speed. In fact, I can actually switch television inputs and launch Netflix on Roku in about 1/3rd the time it takes to come up on TiVo. But, of course, the point is maybe you wouldn’t need a second box and once you’re streaming (Netflix), audio and video quality are quite high. Beyond these apps, developed by Netflix and Google respectively, new Parental Controls (that mark the end of KidZone) are accessible from the HD UI… yet they themselves aren’t actually rendered within the high def interface (and feature a sad padlock icon that looks like it was grabbed from an old CD of clipart).

Netflix_Search

As with all TiVo updates, no official change log is provided. However, TiVo’s User Experience Veep Margaret Schmidt has unofficially itemized notable additions and fixes on the TiVo Community forum. Amongst the interesting discoveries:

  • Cox customers that had difficulty receiving “Plus Pak” channels should find that issue resolved.
  • Customers experiencing pixelation in Amazon Video downloads should find that issue resolved.
  • If you bring up the Guide over a recording, it now highlights the channel on the foreground tuner, rather than the lowest channel in the Guide.
  • SELECT-PLAY-SELECT-9-SELECT now displays a clock (without seconds) in the upper right corner when using HD Menus.

As to what comes next, TiVo suggests they may actually finish the HDUI this year. Or, at least, move it forward.

  • HD version of the Season Pass Manager
  • HD version of the To Do List
  • HD version of My Shows for Multi-Room Streaming
Beyond that, we know both TiVoToGo 2.0 and Preview-esque Extender hardware are slated for release later this year (and I’ll be buying). Although, I also pine for an updated Amazon Instant app and perhaps a Blu-ray accessory.

dish-auto-hop

DISH Network continues to tempt fate (and the studio empire) given the introduction of automatic commercial skipping via their Hopper DVR and Joey extenders. If you recall, this new and highly regarded whole home solution features “Primetime Anytime” which records local prime time television programming (ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC) and retains this content 8 days. Those very same recordings, or perhaps a subset given the fine print, will now display the Hopper pink kangaroo icon a few hours after broadcast, indicating “Auto Hop” commercial skip is available.

DISH says Auto Hop is something we “consumers have been waiting for since the dawn of television.” Which isn’t entirely accurate… As we’ve only been waiting since Replay TV excised similar functionality (available on any channel/recording) under legal studio pressure. Will history repeat itself? Or, perhaps, DISH’s technical implementation and limited scope insulates them in some way. Regardless, it’s interesting to compare and contrast their customer-centric approach to the conflicted Comcast that just filed a patent application to inject onscreen advertising overlays when customers fast forward by commercials.

Skitter and Aereo

They sound like bad comic book character names, but Skitter and Aereo are two of the latest companies to jump into the video service game. Instead of trying to offer premium content, however, the two start-ups are going old school. They’re both selling traditional broadcast content over the Internet and optionally combining it with a DVR. (Skitter’s DVR service hasn’t launched yet, but is in the works.) On the plus side, you get decent-quality transmission of the prime-time networks, access to TV across a bunch of connected devices, and all the benefits of being able to pause live television, fast forward through commercials, etc. On the minus side, you have to pay a chunk of change every month (around $12) for content that’s supposed to be free.

Whether you like the idea behind Skitter and Aereo or not, the fact that they exist (for now) is an interesting commentary on the state of television. Both companies are offering a very basic content package with a few extra goodies. It reminds of my household circa 2008 when we steadfastly held on to analog cable and combined it with a subscription-free ReplayTV DVR. Most of our TV watching was still focused on the major networks, but the ability to get ESPN and decent reception had us paying a monthly fee to Comcast. Fast forward to today and we pay a much larger monthly bill to Verizon for TV. Granted that bill includes HD channels, a FiOS DVR, VoD, and a much wider selection of linear content, but it’s still tough to stomach when the invoice clears are mailbox every four weeks.

And so Skitter and Aereo enter the scene. Continue Reading…

How much energy would it cost to move all of our digital video recording into the cloud? If the cable companies all followed Cablevision’s path, it would require an estimated 300 megawatts of power, or about one third the output of a nuclear power plant.

At an industry event presented by the Society for Cable and Technology Engineers (SCTE), Comcast’s Mark Coblitz today highlighted one unintended consequence of the Remote Storage DVR (RS-DVR) system Cablevision uses for its cloud-based video recording service. Because of legal rights issues, the MSO has to create and store a unique copy of every program recorded in the cloud by its subscribers. According to Coblitz, if the industry did the same thing as a substitute for roughly 30 million home-based DVRs, energy waste would go through the roof. In contrast to the 300 megawatt number Coblitz cited, a network DVR system keeping just one copy of up to two million different programs would require only about five megawatts of power in total.

The cable industry is examining power consumption issues a lot more closely these days. It’s not so much a matter of environmental responsibility, as it is the financial bottom line. If more operators start to migrate toward network-based recording, you can bet they’ll also begin to exert serious pressure in court rooms and board rooms to move away from the RS-DVR model. True nDVR would be a lot more efficient and environmentally sustainable. More importantly for MSOs, it would be a lot less expensive.

If you were mesmerized by Apple news this week, you might have missed the scoop from The New York Post suggesting that Google is putting the Motorola set-top business on the chopping block. So far it doesn’t appear that anyone else has confirmed the report, but no one’s terribly surprised by it either. Google has enough of an integration mess on its hands without adding set-tops to the list. And while I speculated on some of the potential advantages for Google last year, I would have been more surprised than not to see the company try to make a go of it in cable.

So with that out of the way, who could potentially be interested in the Motorola cable portfolio? It’s important to note that the products include a lot more than just set-tops. There’s also encoding, content management, security, and access network technology. (Full Disclosure: I still do some contract work for the network infrastructure portion of the business.) Jeff Baumgartner has speculated here and here about who might be interested. The potential suitors mostly differ depending on which set of Motorola assets we’re talking about, but there are couple that might be willing to take a flyer on the whole bag of tricks, namely Arris and Ericsson.

Meanwhile, Jeff mentioned one company that had me spitting coffee across the table. He wasn’t talking about an acquisition, but he did suggest TiVo might be in a position to help fill in the gap left if Motorola exited the set-top biz. Yes, TiVo. After all the years of fighting for toehold in the cable industry (and even times when Motorola at least unofficially considered acquiring the company), the idea that TiVo might come out on top here is irony at its finest. There’s nothing to say that will actually happen, but even that there’s editorial consideration of the idea has me chuckling and shaking my head. Here’s what Jeff had to say about TiVo:

It’s been a painful and sometimes downright ugly process, but TiVo’s cable strategy is paying dividends as it sees subscribers rise to new levels thanks to MSO partnerships. Cable’s starting to take a real shine to TiVo’s UI and over-the-top video capabilities. Also, TiVo gives cable a line into the retail market.

For a look at the other side of the coin, check out what Motorola has to say on its blog about its business and the future of the set-top.

Wide Open West Ultra TV service with Arris gateway

Cable provider Wide Open West (WOW) is beating Comcast to the IPTV punch with a new service called Ultra TV. Not that WOW is delivering TV over IP exactly, but it is deploying the Arris six-tuner IP gateway to combine standard TV delivery with lots of IP entertainment goodness.

WOW joins BendBroadband and Canada’s Shaw Cable in picking up the Arris Moxi gateway. Leasing the gateway will cost you $25 a month, but it comes with two media players for two TVs, and it takes the place of your cable modem and router. You get whole-home DVR service, and the ability to shift content from your PCs and mobile devices to your living-room flat screen. (Hello HBO Go) WOW also includes a Flickr app, news ticker and some basic games.

Thanks to an Arris SDK, WOW could add more custom apps to the Ultra TV service at a later date. Essentially, subscribers are getting a combined cable set-top and Roku box (or any other media extender you could name). If WOW wants to, it could even add Netflix, though there’s little incentive given the MSO’s competing VOD library.

Rounding out the tech specs, the Arris gateway for Ultra TV offers 500GB of storage space, a DOCSIS 3.0 modem and DLNA support, in addition to its six TV tuners. The Ultra TV service includes remote DVR scheduling, and VP Steve Stanfill notes on the company blog that, while self-service install isn’t available today, it may be offered in the future.