Archives For Remotes

Comcast Xfinity TV iPad app guide listingsComcast launched the Xfinity TV app to much fanfare today, and though we knew it was coming, we didn’t know all the nitty gritty details until we got our own hands on. After a test run on the iPad, here’s my take on the good, the bad, and the future of the Xfinity app.

The Good
Set-up is quick and painless, and the TV guide experience on the iPad is awesome. Remember how easy it used to be to read the print version of the TV guide out of the newspaper? It’s like that, but better. Scrolling on a large touch screen is fast and effortless, not only through all the different channels, but also across hours and days. You can also filter channels so you’re only looking at a certain category of content (like sports or movies), or so you only see HD shows available. The search function still separates linear programming from on-demand content, but results are in tabs right next to each other, making it easy to toggle between views. I had no trouble setting up a recording from the iPad app, and while there was a delay when switching channels from the touch screen, it was still cool to be able to browse and then change stations without picking up my regular remote.

The Bad
As Jeff Baumgartner points out, you can’t start an on-demand program using only the iPad app. The app will take you to the screen on your TV that shows the program listing, but you still have to hit select on your standard Comcast remote. I also found that you can’t tune to a channel if your TV is in On Demand mode or if you have a DVR menu up. Speaking of DVR, the remote DVR function that lets you manage recordings isn’t integrated in the new Xfinity app. On the iPad, the app exports you to the Safari browser to access the myDVR Manager. Finally, the application crashed on me a couple of times as I tried to dig deeper into program descriptions. Restarting required surfing through menu screens again to return to the right page.

The Future
Comcast has been very clear that not only is it bringing the Xfinity TV app to the Android and Blackberry platforms next, but it’s also adding on-demand TV viewing to the experience soon. This is what Verizon is doing now with the Flex View app, though we don’t know how Comcast’s on-demand library for mobile devices will compare to its telco rival’s. Ultimately I’m hoping we’ll also see linear broadcasting, which Verizon has promised for the future, and access to DVR programming through some kind of syncing mechanism.

Aside from video availability, there is a big future for the Xfinity app in how much metadata it provides for different programs, and how it uses the web to link information across multiple databases. For example, I found out from the app about Summer Glau’s guest appearance on Chuck this week. A natural extension to the application would be to see it link to more information on Summer, including other current projects and potentially where I can watch other programming she’s in in the Comcast line-up. The web is an infinite source of information, and suddenly it’s all available in the wonderful world of IP.

Note: The screenshot above is from iTunes. The rest of the photos here are my own.

We recognize that folks have widely divergent tastes, needs, and budgets. Which is why there are very few products we outright recommend. However, if you own a Roku and an iPhone or iPod Touch you should pick up the updated DVPRemote app. And, if I’m wrong, you’re only out 3 bucks.

While the original DVPRemote was quite useful as a secondary Roku remote, version 2 may very well become your dedicated Roku remote. Assuming, you’re OK with a touchscreen remote. The developer is doing things with the Roku SDK that I don’t even think Roku themselves are doing. For example, instead of scrolling left or right on the television one Channel at a time, with DVPRemote you can freely re-order your Channel lineup and directly select the one you’d like to view merely by tapping it on your iDevice (as shown below right). DVPRemote also does something similar with your Netflix queue, by optionally linking your Netflix account. Not to mention this DVPRemote update features an improved QWERTY keyboard entry (direct versus macro).

But the primary reason that owners of earlier Roku models will want to purchase DVPRemote is access to the new remote buttons and functions that our physical remotes lack – specifically: Instant Replay, Info, and Back. The power of Instant Replay is obvious but that Info key will be more important than you might realize… as once version the 2.8 Roku software update is released, you’ll need it to reorder your channel list.

Here’s the complete breakdown of new and updated DVPRemote features:

  • Support for new “Instant Replay”, “Info”, and “Back” buttons.
  • Integration with Netflix to support automated Instant Queue navigation. DVPRemote provides the list of movies in your instant queue which can be presented in queue order or alphabetical order.  It allows you to select a title from the list by tapping on it or entering a search term to find it and then automatically  navigates to it on your Roku (great for large instant queues).  No more left, left, left, …, or right, right, right, …, to find and select the movie that you want to see!!
  • Full keyboard support for any screen that requires text entry (including symbols and non-english characters). (Search automation from Version 1.5 is no longer needed since text can be directly entered)
  • Improved player discovery speed and accuracy.
  • Improved key repeat.
  • Direct Navigation to Channels through Channel List tab.
  • Toolbars for additional channel functionality where supported (currently only Netflix).
  • Support for iPhone 4 Retina Display.
  • New 12 button remote skin.
  • Tested with iOS 4 (including support for background operation).

Not only is Comcast planning to launch a TV remote app “very, very soon,” but CableLabs is making it possible for other cablecos with fewer resources to do the same. At the SCTE Cable-Tec Expo last week, CableLabs execs were talking up a proof of concept the organization has developed for smaller companies who want to get in on the iPad action. The technology uses an IP remote web server (SOAP in this case) to communicate to an EBIF application in a consumer set-top. It’s very similar to the Comcast implementation, but I was assured that the same functionality could be developed using any kind of web services protocol, and could even be accessed on the set-top through something other than EBIF. (OCAP/tru2way optimists live…) The remote application includes the ability to surf an integrated program guide on the iPad, search for program information, and change channels directly from the touch screen.

Setting aside whether one wants to use an iPad as a remote control, the new technology does provide an easy way for operators to push out a better electronic program guide to their subscribers. An iPad EPG not only looks better, it adds features that are sorely missing from most existing guides: the ability to merge linear and on-demand listings, more intelligent search, and greater programming detail. Operators want you to think of the iPad as a TV companion device – one that you won’t only use to watch subscription Netflix streams.

As nice as the TiVo Slide Bluetooth QWERTY remote is, the list price of $90 seems to be off-putting for many. Fortunately, various retailers are periodically offering it at more reasonable rates. Thanks to the TiVo Community, I learned that the Slide is currently available via Tiger’s ebay presence today – along with free shipping. So I placed an order. And, through some sort of psychological blinders, paying with PayPal funds doesn’t really feel like using real money. If you’re not into the ebay/PayPal thing, Amazon has a variety of listings that start at just a bit more.

Early this summer, Sonos announced they’d expand upon their success with the iOS Sonos Controller by bring the experience to the Apple iPad.  Now, the free Sonos iPad Controller app is ready and I was lucky enough to give the new app a quick try this morning with my Sonos System.

The updated Sonos Controller UI was built specifically for the iPad to sensibly utilize the extra screen real estate. Using the controller you can view your zones, your music and what songs are playing – all at once.  All screens work in landscape or portrait mode. Searching for an artist and music with the virtual keyboard works well and browsing through your music collection and the online music choices is simple much like the iPhone and iPod Touch app before it.  You can also browse, search and drag and drop to create your playlist on the fly. Get a complete view of what’s playing in every zone, complete with full-color album art, elapsed time of a song, and more. Group your zones together or play different songs in different rooms – without interrupting music playback.

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Digital Media Bytes

Dave Zatz —  September 29, 2010

A periodic roundup of relevant news… from our other blogs:

Spotify Shows Up on IPTV Set-Tops
Motorola has been showing off its latest IPTV hardware and software out at IBC, and it looks like Spotify made its first on-screen appearance.

New Remote Controls at IBC
The big focus at IBC for Motorola was the introduction of multi-screen TV management solutions, but that doesn’t mean hardware completely took a back seat. In fact, Motorola introduced several new IPTV remote controls including a full-keyboard QWERTY remote!

Comcast’s TV Everywhere Service, 9 Months In

Comcast launched its TV Everywhere service last December amid heated debates over how cable providers could compete with existing over-the-top TV applications. Now called Xfinity Online TV, the service is set to emerge from beta next month.

How to Solve the TV Guide Problem
There is general industry-wide consensus that something must be done about the TV electronic program guide (EPG). Just like the printed TV Guide booklet that used to arrive at my house every week as a kid, the standard EPG format is now outdated thanks to huge linear content additions, new VOD libraries, and masses of interactive Internet applications that have set consumer expectations for video viewing.

TV Bookmarks, QWERTY Keyboards, and More
The concept of how Motorola’s Medios software can be implemented continues to evolve. In this video from IBC, watch exec Malcolm Latham demo different features of Motorola’s TV guide platform.

TiVo has produced arguably the best dual purpose QWERTY-capable remote in the Slide. Granted, there’s not much competition (yet) in this burgeoning space. But TiVo has introduced something special — I expect its utility will only grow as they modernize and expand their online apps. Not only does the shrunken “peanut” allow you to type via Bluetooth (and bundled USB dongle), the Slide offers traditional IR support for basic universal and learning functions to control your television or accessories.

To expand upon my original coverage a bit, I’ve confirmed the TiVo Slide remote can be paired with hardware beyond the included Bluetooth accessory. By simultaneously holding down the TiVo and B buttons, the remote enters pairing mode. And I had no problem linking it to my Mac laptop. In theory, this process should also allow you to use the Slide with a PS3. However, to get a Slide going again with a Series3, TiVoHD, or Premiere, you’d have to re-pair it with the USB dongle by holding down it’s lone button and once again using the Slide process above.

I’ve seen quite a few comments concerning the Slide’s $90 price tag (along with disappointment in not being able to easily control multiple TiVo units). And, indeed, it doesn’t come cheap. So, fortunately for you, we’re giving away our review sample. But wait, there’s more. TiVo is also gifting a TiVo Slide… each and every day, for 30 days. Check out their details here.

Entering our TiVo Slide giveaway is as easy as it gets, simply leave a comment. (US residents in the lower 48 only, please.) We’ll choose the winner at random in a few days.

Unveiled along with the Premiere, the TiVo Slide Bluetooth QWERTY remote ($90) is finally ready for its close up and now shipping. Of course, the primary selling point and key differentiator is the well concealed QWERTY keyboard to facilitate text entry as Search and other broadband apps become regular elements of our daily television viewing experiences. It’s a whole lot more elegant and effective than my keyboard hack.

I found the slide mechanism smooth and snappy, with the individual keys having good tactile feel and clickability. My only real complaint with the form is related to TiVo’s shortening of the traditional peanut — resulting in some button size and spacing compromises. Probably not a deal breaker for most, but it could take some getting used to.

Another potential issue for a subset of owners is the limited USB port count (2) found on Series3, TiVoHD, and Premiere hardware. Because Bluetooth isn’t directly integrated into these TiVo models, a small USB BT dongle comes bundled with the TiVo Slide. So if you connect both a SDV Tuning Adapter and wireless adapter via USB, as we do with our bedroom TiVo, you’ll need to pick up a powered USB hub for Slide usage.

Click to enlarge: