After a few months of unintended leaks and 3 1/2 years since third generation hardware was introduced, the TiVo Series 4 Premiere has arrived. As with TiVo’s HD line, which is being cleared out, the Premiere will ship (next month) in two SKUs: A base model with 45 hours of HD storage (320GB) at $300. And a higher tier THX certified “XL” unit, containing a terabyte of storage (150 hrs of HD), for $500. Service fees are unchanged. As you’d expect, the Premiere sports significantly beefed up processing power and, also as expected, finally realizes TiVo’s new HD UI.
Additionally, the Premiere represents a savvy reboot of TiVo marketing. With, perhaps, a little help from their friends. Now that “DVR” functionality has essentially been commoditized, TiVo’s pitching the Premiere as a “cable box.” That also provides video, web, and music content. Basically, “One Box” to rule them all.
So that’s what the TiVo Premiere is.
However, given TiVo’s inaugural role and leadership in space, not to mention the tens of millions spent annually on R&D, I have to say I’m somewhat underwhelmed. I get why they didn’t go the tru2way route, given the cable industry’s inability to roll out as planned and requirement to implement an inferior, secondary interface. But where’s the improved whole-home DVR experience (like Moxi), additional tuners, Blu-ray player, social media apps (like FiOS), DLNA, user personalization (like Sezmi), etc?
But, before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s dive into the Premiere specifics…
The TiVo Premiere is slimmer and more aerodynamic in appearance than it’s TiVo Series 3 and HD predecessors. Yet it’s also somewhat bland, lacking in personality beyond the ‘fruit loop’ status indicators of questionable value. Which you may just end up turning off. (I will.) Its aesthetics are perfectly serviceable, but the S3 still sports the coolest looking TiVo front panel. Assuming you don’t hide all your gear in a cabinet.
Moving inwards, and as mentioned above, the hardware sees a significant performance upgrade. Which is powered by the Broadcom BCM7413 SoC along with 512MB of DDR flash memory. But, at the same time, the Premiere is much “greener” clocking fewer watts than the S3 or HD. (Low-to-mid 20s, if memory serves.) I assume some of this power savings comes via TiVo’s choice of hard drive(s), but I haven’t yet received a response to my brand/model query.
In what I believe is an attempt to reduce costs, the single CableCARD slot has returned to the back, the integrated telephone modem has been dropped (replaced by an optional USB accessory for those living in the dark ages), along with a discontinuation of S-Video output.
Additionally, it’s worth mentioning that there is no DOCSIS 3.0 modem hidden within the Premiere. Meaning we’ll never see native tru2way capabilities. Perhaps these functions could be added via a USB accessory or hardware refresh. But, it’s just as likely TiVo will continue to fight the good fight. And those of us struggling with SDV tuning adapters and/or missing out on our cable-co’s OnDemand offerings, will have to suck it up. Or move on.
Of course the most apparent change with the Premiere is TiVo’s new UI, which does a surprisingly good job of modernizing their classic interface. Anyone who follows TiVo probably first caught a glimpse of the UI direction back in September, 2008 and later saw it land on TiVo Series 3 hardware as the new search. High def, chock-full-of-info, and, sadly, way too slow to be usable. Fortunately, Premiere’s additional horsepower renders their new 16:9 HD Adobe Flash platform without the same sluggishness. While not perfect, the early software build I saw was still being optimized and fleshed out. I expect we’ll see it continue to improve prior to release and beyond.
Which is a good thing, because there’s still too many lists and textual inconsistencies. My Shows could be movies, video podcasts, or actually shows. Yet the line below, fleshes out Find TV, movies, and video or on demand. But aren’t movies or on demand, also video? And what’s the difference between Showcases and the new Collections, which may represent the evolution of Guru Guides.
Beyond those nits, there’s some really cool stuff going on. At the forefront is the new Discovery Bar up top. Which aggregates both broadcast and broadband content recommendations, along with tips and app shortcuts. In fact, power users can adjust the type and frequency of content – including pinning your favorite apps like Netflix. Yes, unfortunately, one of those Discovery Bar slots may be reserved for advertising. Also, the new UI embraces picture-in-guide (PiG). It’s beautiful eye candy, perhaps of limited value, but I appreciate it. Being TiVo, of course that windowed video is pausable (or can be disabled entirely). I’m also very happy to finally see a free space indicator (front and center, no less!) on the Now Playing My Shows screen. However, my absolute favorite new feature is the web-sourced episode guides. I can’t tell you how often we watch TV with a laptop on the couch and in bed to determine which episode comes next, who’s in an episode, etc. No more.
What TiVo’s not quite ready to talk about is where they’re going next. Unlike the original HME framework and apps which really never took off beyond internal and partner use, I get the sense the new Flash-based platform is designed to be extensible, technically and visually. The market is obviously ready for “apps” and this lines up well with their “One Box” marketing push. So I’d look for a variety of new content and service providers over the next 12 months. In fact, the first of these new apps will be Pandora.
TiVo Series 3 and HD owners will never see the new UI and are out of luck. I assume it’s mostly due to prior generation processing power and architecture. But it also makes reasonable business sense to draw the line in the sand somewhere. That’s not to say your (our) platform is dead. In fact, if I remember correctly, the skip-to-tick or advance function has been re-imagined for the Premiere and will also make its way down to the S3/HD platform. Additionally, TiVo’s got some nice upgrade offers for existing Lifetime subscribers. Which do not involve transferring service. Keep your existing unit subbed and get Lifetime on a new unit for 50% off ($200). Have a monthly plan, instead? Take 20% off the Premiere hardware.
But, back to the new HD UI… I wouldn’t say it’s revolutionary, and it still seems a little flat. Plus, killing “Now Playing” in favor of the generic “My Shows” makes me nostalgic. But it’s quite a significant upgrade, 2 years in the making, and I’m looking forward to spending some quality time delving deep into all of its nooks and crannies.
The TiVo Premiere line heralds the introduction of three new remotes. Two available at launch next month, bundled with their respective DVRs, and the totally new QWERTY remote control coming later this year as an optional accessory purchase.
The first two remotes are quite similar to their TiVo HD and TiVo HD XL counterparts — the traditional “peanut” is still in play (amen), but with the standard cable-co color coded buttons – not dissimilar from what we’ve seen on TiVo’s dedicated Comcast offerings. There’s the lower-end base model mated with the Premiere, and the superior backlit, programmable model (think Glo) to accompany the Premiere XL. On RCN, the “OCAP buttons” will probably be used as intended. However, on the Premiere retail line, they provide a variety of nice UI filters and shortcuts. But, if I remember correctly, these remotes are not backward compatible with prior TiVo models.
Then, of course, is the sliding/split QWERTY keyboard remote – first alluded to in November. Which communicates with the TiVo Premiere via Bluetooth! Having played with an early sample, I can say both the mechanism and keys feel solid. However, the remote looks a bit odd – squished down in length (a stubby peanut, if you will) with a toy-like look. But we’ll see what ultimately hits retail in a few months. Yet, as an early proponent of QWERY remotes, I’ve slightly changed my tune given the broad distribution of smartphones. Save the hardware (and engineering/marketing expenses), just give me an app for text entry.
My mesh network dreams for TiVo’s new 802.11n wireless access point were perhaps a bit too lofty. As their latest WiFi adapter, due later this year, is merely that. A WiFi adapter. Well, more precisely, it’s a wireless bridge. However, it’s a significant upgrade over the current model – obviously boasting speedier transmission and broader range. And, as far as I can tell, without artifically jacking prices. (Like Microsoft/Xbox.) Unfortunately, they’re not able to draw enough power over USB, unlike say Netgear’s latest wireless accessory, and it needs to be plugged in. Having said that, TiVo’s done their best to minimize the cable clutter. The pre-release hardware I fondled, which is a larger, squarer version of the current WiFi adapter, has one cable connection. And the one cable splits into an Ethernet cable and power cord. Bonus: If the price is right, I don’t see why you couldn’t also use this with any other AV or gaming gear.
I imagine many are seeking a bottom line: Should I buy? It’s a tough call. The TiVo Premiere isn’t the home run I was hoping for. In it’s current form, and for potential upgraders, the Premiere basically offers the same core features of a TiVo Series 3 or HD. Albeit, in a significantly faster package, with a modern UI. If the Premiere were $100 cheaper or without service fees, I’d probably be more effusive about what it is. Rather than focusing on what it lacks. However, this is just the first cut of an entirely new platform – software and hardware. We obviously won’t be adding tuners or Blu-ray drives to these particular units, but there are a number of potential software enhancements that the hardware is capable of handling. TiVo’s product people know my pain points. Which aren’t unique. And apps are an obvious extension. So I expect to see a variety of improvements and additions over the next 12 months. Also, as a brand new platform, early adopters may find themselves in for a slightly bumpy ride. But we’ll know more once the review units go out. Hopefully in the very near future. Having said all that, TiVo’s fundamental challenge remains the same. Educating folks that they have an alternative to the boxes provided directly by the cable industry. And convincing them that TiVo is worth the perceived premium.