Quadruple Play, Cell-based PVR

Dave Zatz —  November 2, 2005

ConvergenceMarketing fluff, profit sharing, or really the ultimate in convergence? Sprint, Comcast, Time Warner Cable, and Cox Communications have just signed a 20 year agreement to integrate all your media and data in a “quadruple play” of services. Sprint, the linchpin of the arrangement, is dropping a cool $100 million to provide a variety of functionality through your “third screen” using their new high-speed EV-DO network.

The companies say: The next generation wireless phone will be designed to connect customers of Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Cox and Advance/Newhouse Communications to Sprint through Sprint’s nationwide high-speed Power Vision(TM) EV-DO (Evolution Data Optimized) network and integrate products from each cable company. Customers using the converged services will be able to seamlessly interface between email, home and mobile voicemail, Digital Video Recorders (DVRs) and photo programs. The parties plan to implement and sell Power Vision(TM) EV-DO-enabled handsets and service packages that will enable customers to:

  • Use interactive features like remotely programming their home DVRs
  • Have a single voice mailbox that serves both the home and the wireless phone
  • Access innovative new calling plans which allow for unlimited calls between the home and the wireless device
  • Surf the Internet using their cable Internet portal
  • Send and receive e-mail from their cable high-speed Internet account
  • Access unique content like streaming television programming, music, video clips, games and pre-recorded DVR programs

Video iPodWe’re all familiar with the iPod – sleek design and a well-executed user interface, combined with simple sync and purchase options via iTunes. In those respects, the new video iPod performs as expected. If you have a large audio collection, the slimmer form and black option of the 5th generation iPod could be appealing. Some might even consider it a bargain – the 30BG model is only $50 more than the 4GB Nano.

Apple made a point of specifying this iPod just so happens to have video capabilities. After playing with it awhile I can tell you they’re not being modest, it’s not much of a video device… yet. While the screen is sufficiently bright and detailed, 2.5″ is on the small side for extended viewing. I also find support for only MPEG-4 and QuickTime limiting. Initially I figured I’d be able to overcome both those deficiencies, after all Steve Jobs touted all the movie trailers I’d have at my disposal. Well it turns out that the dozens of previews viewable through iTunes are not available for download to my video iPod. Why should they give me free content when they’re pimping TV shows at $1.99 a pop?
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TiVo 7.2.1 Dissected, With Pics

Dave Zatz —  October 29, 2005

TiVo 7-2-1Here’s a little more info and picture pr0n covering TiVo’s last Series 2 software release of 2005.

New Feature
The year concludes with a long overdue capability…

  • Overlap Protection

Notable Bug Fix
This doesn’t impact a whole lot of TiVo owners, though it’s a welcome correction.

  • Restored serial control of DirecTV HD receivers

Minor Enhancements
These are subtle changes which may or may not be apparent… they keyword is minor.

  • Wireless Stability & Performance
  • User Interface Performance

I assume there are the typical bug fixes and tweaks under the hood, and perhaps some unrevealed enhancements preparing for future TiVo services and HME-style applications as well. One can also hope that, despite the death of the Netflix deal, the technology has been put in place to provide VOD services via new partners.

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TiVo Overlap Clip

It looks like TiVo system software 7.2.1 has begun rolling out for Series 2 models. As I previously reported, the highlight of this release is Overlap Protection – a method to deal with the networks staggering the traditional beginning and ending times of shows without missing a recording. Everything else appears to be under the hood tweaks. TiVo hasn’t established an upgrade priority list at this time – and they may not, as I’ve been told this is a “minor” release.

It turns out TiVo-hosted HME applications are not tied to 7.2.1 and can be enabled with 7.2 once TiVo flips the switch on their end (see Fandango). Based on conversations with Tivo representatives at DigitalLife, I expect we’ll start seeing these widgets as early as next month.

Tivo says: Overlap Protection gives you additional options for dealing with recording conflicts. Normally, when two programs overlap by a few minutes, the lower priority recording is cancelled. (For example, one program ends at 8:33, while the next program begins at 8:30) When you turn Overlap Protection on, the DVR automatically clips the lover priority recording by just enough minutes to allow both programs to record. When scheduling new recordings, the DVR notifies you of any recording conflict and gives you options for resolving it. If the Overlap Protection feature is on, your options include clipping the lower priority program.

WSJThe Wall Street Journal is running an interesting article covering advertising in a digital video world… go check it out and get back to me. Oh, and do you think the author is aware you can turn off TiVo sound effects?

WSJ says: There is no denying that a major transformation in television-viewing habits is under way. But rather than diminish the role of advertising in the industry, the shift is likely to push both television executives and advertisers to find new ways of marketing to consumers. Currently, there are about 3.6 million TiVos in the marketplace. While sales growth of the brand-name devices is starting to slow, other DVRs (which unlike TiVo make no noise when they skip over ads) are taking off. According to consulting firm Kagan Research, the number of U.S. consumers with a DVR will go from 1.8 million in 2004 to 4.5 million in at the end of this year, a 150% jump.

Start OverTime Warner has been talking up their pseudo-DVR service “Start Over” since first mentioned in the WSJ last year, with more details revealed this spring. Now that they’ve gotten NBC’s blessing (money talks), South Carolina digital cable subscribers will be getting first dibs next month.

Start Over falls somewhere between VOD and a DVR in functionality – you can restart a show already in progress, but you can’t skip ahead or schedule recordings. It may be a simpler concept to grasp for folks who haven’t jumped on the DVR bandwagon, but Start Over isn’t very compelling for those of us who have. Good thing Time Warner is bundling it with digital cable at no additional charge.

USA Today says: With Start Over, digital cable customers who miss the beginning of certain shows, but who tune in before the end, can push a button and go back to the start. They also can pause and rewind the show — but can’t fast-forward through commercials. The service lets viewers act on impulse or because of unexpected delays. They don’t have to plan ahead to record a show, as they do with digital video recorders (DVRs).

World Series PITCHf/x Debut

Dave Zatz —  October 22, 2005

SportvisionMLB and Sportvision, the folks who brought us the the yellow first down line and glowing hockey puck, will introduce PITCHf/x today during Game 1 of the World Series.

BusinessWeek says: Sportvision has been rolling out gadgets for all the major sports, including the PGA Tour, NASCAR, and Major League Baseball, for which it whipped up “K-Zone,” a virtual box that frames a batter’s strike zone and pinpoints the location of each pitch. The latest gee-whiz creation from Honey’s lab will debut during Fox broadcasts of the World Series, which begins on Oct. 22. “PITCHf/x” will track the arc of pitches, giving fans a better look at how a curveball curves and a fastball darts.

Update: Having seen PITCHf/x in action, I can tell you it won’t revolutionize the way we watch baseball. It’s not much more than the glowing hockey puck effect that was dropped from broadcasts.