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Over the years, I’ve had more than one love affair with a TV show. But no matter how much I’ve enjoyed epic hits like 24, Alias or Joey Grecco’s Cheaters, none of them have been able to generate the level of excitement that I feel when I watch Survivor. I’m not sure if it’s the Machiavellian nature of the show or simply being able to watch an assortment of characters who are so wacky that they end up making Gilligan’s Island look like the Love Boat. I love the show so much, that I even organized a home version of the game with my family over the holidays… and I ended up getting voted out 2nd for trying to emulate Russell Hantz’s bulldog strategy.

Because Survivor is the number #1 show on my Season Pass priority list, you would think that I’d never miss an episode. But every year Survivor changes the name of their show just a little bit, so that DVR subscribers have to resubscribe to each new season.

While this may or may not be hurting Survivor’s DVR consumption, the fact that the producers of the show haven’t noticed has always baffled me. It’d be like me changing my RSS feed every six months, so that only my superfans could easily follow my blog. Unless you like languishing in obscurity, this isn’t a very good strategy for retaining an audience or capturing people’s attention.

Recently, Jeff Probst, the host of Survivor, launched a blog to promote the show and other charitable causes that he cares about. On his site, he solicits questions from fans and answers the more common ones. While all tidbits about the show caught my attention, one particular answer jumped out at me. In answering the question of how long will Survivor continue to run, Probst says that the survival of Survivor is dependent upon live viewers because “TiVo doesn’t help us in the ratings.” Continue Reading…


In 2006, Netflix scored a grand slam when they announced a $1 million prize for anyone who could improve their recommendation engine by at least 10%. It took 3 years for a team of scientists to actually accomplish this feat, but the prize was ultimately worth far more than a million dollars in publicity and to Netflix’s bottom line. Better recommendations not only led to happier subscribers (less churn), but they also made it easier for Netflix to sell the niche content that they spend less money on. Recognizing the benefit that they received from the contest, Netflix was quick to announce a sequel, but ultimately had to suspend their plans over privacy concerns.

While a contest to replace Silverlight likely wouldn’t garner as much attention, I believe that the financial benefit to replacing this video platform could be just as significant.

Some will argue that I’m being tough on poor old Softie and that Silverlight represents some of the best video compression out there, but consider my logic for a moment. From where I’m sitting, Silverlight has two basic flaws: It’s buggy as all get out and it’s a bandwidth thief.

The screenshot posted above is a real life example of Silverlight in action. All video frameworks are prone to errors of course, but look at all the hoops Netflix makes their customers jump through just to support this buggy piece of software. Continue Reading…

The US patent office must have unpaused their hard drives because, hot on the heels of winning a patent related to closed captions on a DVR, TiVo has been awarded another patent at the heart of the DVR experience. With the application having been originally filed in October of 1999, it took the USPTO over ten years to review and finally approve their ultimate request… And on February 16th, TiVo was given the legal exclusive on what looks like “season pass” prioritization, conflict resolution, and recording.

For those unfamiliar with how a DVR works, part of their magic is the ability to you record shows in the future without having to worry about when they’er on. Back in the ole VCR days, we’d manually instruct our gadget the time and channel we wanted to record. But TiVo and other DVRs automagically keep track of this information and records our programs whenever they’re scheduled to run. Because the TV studios tend to schedule all of their good programming at the same time (I’m looking at you Thursday night), there are often conflicts between what you’d like to record and the number of TV tuners available to do it.

To resolve, or at least reduce, these issues, TiVo created their Season Pass manager to prioritize which shows get recorded and which ones don’t. This helps to make sure that I always get to watch Survivor and CSI, even if it means that I sometimes have to skip Community.

From patent 7,665,111,

The invention correlates an input schedule that tracks the free and occupied time slots for each input source with a space schedule that tracks all currently recorded programs and the programs that have been scheduled to be recorded in the future, to schedule new programs to record and resolve recording conflicts. A program is recorded if at all times between when the recording would be initiated and when it expires, sufficient space is available to hold it. Programs scheduled for recording based on inferred preferences automatically lose all conflict decisions. All scheduling conflicts are resolved as early as possible. Schedule conflicts resulting from the recording of aggregate objects are resolved using the preference weighting of the programs involved. A background scheduler attempts to schedule each preferred program in turn until the list of preferred programs is exhausted or no further opportunity to record is available. A preferred program is scheduled if and only if there are no conflicts with other scheduled programs.

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TiVo doesn’t yet know if their injunction against DISH DVRs will hold in court, but that hasn’t stopped them from expanding their patent portfolio. In a remarkable filing with the USPTO, TiVo appears to have now won an important patent for analyzing and displaying closed caption and meta data to DVR customers. That appears to encompass enhanced TV services, including a “clip and sling” type technology and could eventually allow TiVo users to automatically remove commercials from time shifted programs.

According to patent 7,661,121, TiVo now owns the right to use existing closed caption and Enhanced Television (ETV) signaling data to create an interactive experience for their customers. ETV data is the metadata that content owners embed into their programming. It’s been used by CableLabs and is part of the fundamental architecture behind big cable’s sinking “Canoe” DVR advertising venture. While I would suspect that the cable companies also have patents related to how ETV data can be utilized, it will undoubtedly be another series of rapids that the long delayed project will have to maneuver through.

While the abstract for TiVo’s latest patent is a little vague, devling into the details you start to understand why they’d try to seize this particular piece of intellectual property. Essentially, the patent allows TiVo to sync closed captioning (and metadata) from broadcast programs recorded on a DVR and then display that data in an interactive format. This data can be as simple as a menu or closed captioned text or can be as advanced as digital video and sound effects.

Continue Reading…


I’m a huge fan of internet video, but nothing can replace the big screen high definition experience. And while I knew it would happen sooner or later, I still wasn’t fully prepared when my large screen rear projection Sony Wega HDTV gave a loud pop and ceased to display the magic flickering lights that I’ve fallen in love with.

My first response was one of panic. I knew that it was possible that I might have a burned out bulb but, given some of the issues that other Wega owners have experienced, I also knew that it might be more serious. After the panic subsided, I made a few calls to see what it would cost me to bring in a pro. After getting a few quotes, I was shocked at how expensive it can be just to have a repairman troubleshoot your big screen. While I’ll admit to being tempted to use this as an excuse to make the jump from a rear projector to a flat screen, I also wasn’t ready to give up on my TV just yet.

So with gritty determination, I waded through the murky waters of online forums in search of a potential diagnosis. The more research I did, the more apparent it became that I had in fact exhausted the lovelight inside my television. Luckily, it turns out that this sort of repair is pretty easy for the home gamer to fix. So after finding a generic replacement lamp online (~$100), I eagerly tried my hand at television repair.

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Click to zoom

While old school media types insist that content is king, when it comes to viewing said content, format and media player can make a big difference in the quality of the user experience. With new options seeming to crop up every day, let’s take a look at a few of the most popular software media players (and video destinations) to determine which one may be best for consumers. Individual results may vary, but here are the criteria I used to evaluate each:

Format Support
With so many different formats out there, it’s important that your top media player has robust support. Since consumers shouldn’t have to scour the web to add additional functionality, I didn’t include any plugins that consumers could use to expand support. Of all the players listed, the VLC clearly won this category. Whether you’re trying to watch Quicktime movies or play a VOB file, if VLC can’t handle the codec, you probably shouldn’t be trying to play it to begin with. The clear loser in this category was the Netflix Media player. While I have no complaints about the quality of their stream, the DRM restrictions and the requirement for downloading the Silverlight plugin, makes their web player pretty limited.

Ability to Stream Online
When digital movies first arrived, you’d have to wait a couple hours for the video  to download. With the introduction of streaming media, consumers rarely have to wait more than a few seconds in order to access to that content. While most video players are able to support this functionality, I feel that Netflix is the clear winner for this category. Not only do their video streams take into account your bandwidth to reduce buffering issues, but they also seem to have the highest video quality when streaming content. The clear loser in this category was the VLC player. While technically, there are ways to use it to stream torrent files while downloading, for the most part the VLC player is best suited for offline media. Continue Reading…

PSP  LollipopAs a casual video gamer, sports has always been one of my favorite genres. I like being able to play an entire game from start to finish, without devoting a month of my life to beat the title. My natural love for sports probably also contributes to this preference, but whatever the case, it’s safe to say that they’ve been a staple of my entertainment system for a very long time. Unfortunately, when it comes to innovation in gaming, the sports franchises seem to lag the rest of the field.

I’d argue that this is due to the monopolies surrounding most major professional sports, but it may also have something to do with the temptation to release a new game every single year. After being burned too many times, I did finally cut my upgrade cycle from every year to once every 2 or 3 years. However, even with less frequent purchases, I still notice that there are pieces of each game that seem to be endlessly recycled year after year after year.

Specifically, I’m talking about the commentary in EA Sports games. Whether you’re playing NBA Live or John Madden football, having live commentators lends a certain amount of realism to the experience. Sure, their puns are cheesy and sometimes there are glitches where they’ll tell you how bad you did on a great play, but overall I enjoy having someone critique my every press of a button.

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