September 30, 2004
Tivo Interactive Advertising
The Motley Fool has an interesting article on Tivo's technology trial with Royal Carribean cruiseline on a show airing on the Travel channel. Tivo users will be able to click through to watch 2 minute spots of travel destinations that may be of interest.
While not the prototypical consumer, I can see where I might be interested in clicking a "more info" button on television ads. As an example, an ad for an upcoming movie might get me to click a "more info" button to see the whole trailer, potentially showing me the local movie times at the end by correlating my zip code to movie theatre listings.
VOD- When DVD Quality Isn't Enough
Via TVPredictions.com, Comcast has announced a new HDTV Video on Demand service for it's subscribers. They will charge $6.99 ($2 more than standard VOD) to be able to watch certain titles at HDTV quality.
Until next generation DVDs come out, this may expand the growth for video on demand since there are no real alternatives out there.
Toshiba 600Gig DVD Recorder
Toshiba announced the RD-X5 DVD Recorder supporting a 600Gig of recording space. It can store 1,071 hours of quality television.
It make me feel a little inadequate in the size dept.
(Hat Tip: Engadget)
DirecTV Still Our Buddy Says Tivo
TivoBlog.com has the scoop on what David Courtney, CFO of Tivo told investors at a recent Morgan Stanley Conference. He was quoted as saying:
"[Execs at DirecTV] have not given any indication that they expect to change course"
Here's the original news article.
Best Guide to Hacking a Series 2 Tivo
Following up on an earlier post about the benefits and perils of hacking a Tivo, PVRBlog points out a new website guide to walk you through the process. This is the easiest, most descriptive guide I've seen. While it states that it is for DirecTivo's, in principle, I believe it should work for all Series 2 Tivos (Your mileage may vary).
Reading through the forums, there may be a "new and improved" way of modifying your Tivo (or HDTivo). It doesn't mean this guide won't work, but it may mean that the guide will become out of date over time as Tivo releases new upgrades to the OS.
September 29, 2004
Review of GB-PVR
This weekend, I had a little time to try GB-PVR out for the first time and it is definitely a contender for people willing to build their own PVR using a computer. You can't beat the price of free (although I recommend giving a donation to the author if you use it) and combined with the ability to support multiple capture cards and distribute throughout a house using Hauppauge MediaMVP, it’s a good low cost solution.
The two aspects I really like about the product is its support for the inexpensive MediaMVP, as well as the developer plug-ins that are currently available. The user interface is very mature for this type of product, and although I ran into some minor problems, it looks to be fairly stable from all that I've encountered and read in their active discussion forum. The downside for me was the video format support, as I'll mention later in the article.
I used a vanilla P4 system with 512 RAM with a Hauppauge 250 capture card installed. This is my benchmark system used for testing and reviewing new products. I started with a clean Windows 2000 OS with the latest updates and drivers.
I followed the very helpful GB-PVR QuickStart Guide that made setup a snap. I ran into two minor issues during installation, but nothing that was unrecoverable. First, I installed the pre-requisite technologies such as Microsoft’s .Net Runtime and DirectX 9, but GB-PVR also needs the latest Microsoft MDAC technology that isn't installed automatically with Windows 2000. It required another download and install, but nothing to really knock a person off track.
The other issue that had me scratching my head was the support for the MediaMVP. The GB-PVR MediaMVP server gets installed automatically and will run as a separate application. It took me a few tries to have the GB-PVR user interface come up on the MediaMVP until I realized that I needed to stop the original MediaMVP server.
The integration with the MediaMVP was flawless and provided the same functionality as the software on the PC. Given the low cost of the MediaMVP and its silent operation (e.g. no whirling fans), GB-PVR definitely has its advantages. While I didn’t try this, the GB-PVR website suggests that you can hook up multiple MediaMVPs throughout your house.
GB-PVR has all the PVR functionality that you would suspect. Among the highlights is support for multiple capture cards, allowing you to record multiple programs at once. The electronic program guide is attractive and easy to use. Recordings can be set to different quality levels and playback, depending on the level, looked great.
Its ability to search out new content was simple, but lackluster compared to Tivo. Tivo allows users to search by an attribute such as a particular actor or director, along with keywords, so in that sense, GB-PVR can't really compete. That is one of Tivo's strong points, and with the monthly service charge, you pay for it.
GB-PVR also has an active set of developers writing plug-ins and that adds some interesting features. Some were more reliable and easier to install than others, but I really liked some of the unique things you can do like browse Movie Listings, read about a movie title from IMDB, and get your daily Dilbert cartoon fix.
While GB-PVR is a good solution for many, there was one issue with my setup that makes it unusable at the moment. I have a lot of video content stored in XVID/MPEG4 format to save on space, and while the Hauppauge MediaMVP software supports streaming of this video format, the GB-PVR MediaMVP software does not. The MediaMVP hardware can only stream MPEG2 video internally but Hauppauge gets around this by transcoding an MPEG4 stream into MPEG2 before sending to the unit. At the moment, GB-PVR doesn't have a comparable feature.
GB-PVR beat my expectations on quality and number of features. For finding content to record, Tivo is somewhat better, but GB-PVR has good basic functionality and some unique features. As a low cost solution, it's really hard to find anything cheaper and combined with the MediaMVP integration, it is a distributed PVR that is hard to beat.
Microsoft's Three Degrees
Tom Keating has an interesting entry on Microsoft's foray into P2P technology. It was only a matter of time before BitTorrent got Microsoft's attention, and what I found most interesting how Microsoft is harnessing that technology with a service they run called threedegrees.com.
The first inkling I got that ThreeDegrees wasn't designed for me was that the link for Info was called "411". I may not be the hippest guy in our neighborhood, but they are definitely not targeting my demographic. It's obviously for teen IM users, but I can't tell if the website is cool to teens, or lame because it is trying to pretend to be cool.
The service is what looks like instant messaging on steroids. You sign up a few friends to create a group, and then when you are online, you can play MP3 music which is group controlled and streamed to each member. You can also send photos and "winks" (little animations) to each other.
I find it interesting enough to mention it because the same premise could be used to share video as a way to watch shows together "virtually". I don't believe that's available with the Microsoft service, but it's only a step further down the road.
In the vernacular of threedegrees.com, "click here for the lowdown."
Quoting from the Kenwood press release:
Cutting-edge features that set the VRS-N8100 apart from similar products include:
The ability to directly accept streaming digital music, movies and photos from any networked PC to a stereo or television via the remote and TV user interface.
Kenwood's new "Supreme" audio playback system that restores high pitched audio tones (treble) that may have been eliminated due to MP3 and WMA compression, thus giving digital music its full range of sound back.
Media management is enabled through the use of an on-screen GUI interface along with a remote control to select sound, images and animation files on a PC.
Digital memory support based on an optional PC card adapter for compact flash, memory stick, smart media, and SD/MMC card support.
Popular digital media format support includes MPEG-1, MPEG-2, XviD, MP3, WMA, OGG, WAV, JPEG, BMP, GIF and PNG.
I should also add that it has a HDTV compatible component out video connection.
September 28, 2004
Tivo's Devoted Followers
DigitalMerging.la has some interesting thoughts on the Tivo 2 Million Subscriber Milestone, along with some dire predictions. He is not alone, and Phillip Swann's article, "Tivo: Sell or Die" adds a second voice echoing his predictions. While I share many of their concerns, Tivo has been doing a good job of growing revenues without alienating its loyal subscriber base.
The theory is that cheap competition, primarily from cable and satellite providers, will impact Tivo's ability to grow into profitability. Tivo has been unable to form partnerships with the big players with the exception of DirecTV, which looks like it is unraveling. For a startup like Tivo, big companies make better partners than competitors.
The usefulness of integration shouldn't be underestimated. In the world of satellite and digital cable, there is a set-top box sitting in between the signal and the television, and Tivo must interact with the set-top box to change the channels and receive the video stream. The communication between Tivo and a set-top box is not ideal, but what makes the integration so nice is the ability to watch live television while also recording another program.
Investors would like to see more subscribers and Tivo CEO, Mike Ramsay has promised to have 3 million subscribers by the end of January. Not only do subscribers generate more monthly fees and offset Tivo expenses, but they also provide a powerful incentive to potential advertisers and marketers who are more likely to buy Tivo advertising.
It's a tough road ahead for Tivo, as it is for any small company trying to build a business in an emerging market, and satellite and cable operators can see the value of retaining that customer experience, so they won't make it easy for Tivo. However, I believe even if they can't become profitable, the likely outcome will be being acquired by a larger company.
Tivo the company has little debt and quite a few assets that make it attractive. The Tivo brand has a lot of equity and is often synonymous with DVR for many people. Its technology is arguably better than any of the competitors and could provide a boost for some willing provider. The biggest asset, trumping all others, is its devoted subscriber base.
I see a lot of similiarty between Tivo users and the original Macintosh users. Old Macintosh users not only shared a passion for their products, but they went to great lengths to evangelize for the Mac. Competitive products like Windows were utter heresy, and Mac users actively tried to dissuade others from going to the dark side. There was excitement when new versions of the OS were released, and Mac users loved to share newly discovered tips and tricks. If you talk to Tivo users or follow them on discussion groups or blogs, you see the same passion for the product.
This type of devotion helped Apple recover its footing when it made the giant technology switch to OSX. OSX required a lot of switchover costs for the average Mac user. Unlike older Macintosh upgrades, older computers and many peripherals no longer worked. For third party companies, it took quite a bit of effort to change their product lines to support OSX and many made the choice to abandon the platform. The Mac users did not however, and at the end of the day, Apple and the companies that supported the platform saw people purchase new equipment and saw their revenues grow.
Unfortunately, I also see a lot of similiarty between Tivo users and the original Netscape users during the web browser wars. This saga didn't have quite as rosy an outcome as Apple after Netscape languished inside of AOL. At some point, Microsoft's Internet Explorer became the obvious choice as it continued to improve in quality, came bundled with one's computer, and just plain worked better on many websites.
I'll admit I'm oversimplifying a great deal. The Apple model and the Netscape model don't really fit all that well for Tivo. The point I'm trying to make is that the Tivo has a special relationship with it's user, and how that is managed, both by Tivo and any potential suitor, will greatly affect the value of Tivo's business. Mis-managed, Tivo lovers will become embittered and move on to other products.
For now, the Tivo fans remain happy evangelicals.
Epson P2000 Photo Fine Player
Gizmodo points out yet another personal video player (PVP) that is available in Japan.
- 40G Hard Drive
- USB, Compact Flash, and Secure Digital Connections
- Plays MPEG4, MP3, and AAC
- 640 x 480 pixel screen
With all these products coming out, I think the prices on these devices are going to get incredibly cheap because I don't think the market is quite there yet.
HomeChoice: TV over IP for Brits
Engadget has an interesting article discussing two new services for downloading television shows over Internet. The first is TVTonic.com which is a free service for downloading various television broadcasts including movietrailers and news clips.
Homechoice, available in Great Britain, sounds like an interesting service. When you sign up for their service, they'll pipe 80 television channels over your phone line, a high speed internet service, and access to some television content like music videos. The trick for getting all this data downloaded over copper is that they only send down the television channel that you are currently viewing (as opposed to sending all the channels down the pipe like cable). Still, subscribers need a 2Mbit connection to make it all work.
September 27, 2004
Conexant Announce new HDTV Decoder
Conexant announced a new HDTV decoder developed for set-top boxes. It also includes PVR features including this blurb:
PVR functionality is fully supported enabling end-users to simultaneously watch and record up to four separate programs, or record a program while watching up to two live or previously recorded programs.
Sounds pretty cool.
The TVHarmony Tivo Rewards Prize Pool
I've been reading through the Tivo RewardsTM Terms and Conditions, and while you can't share referral points, I don't see anything against the program that prevents us from pooling referrals and giving away the prizes through some form of random drawing. Unless I hear from Tivo, here is the TVHarmony Tivo Rewards Prize Pool:
- If you sign up with Tivo and give tvharmony @ gmail.com as the referrer, send me an email at the same time. In the email, specify whether you want your referral to go towards one of three options:
- TVHarmony Tip Jar (aka Help TVHarmony earn a Tivo Ipod)
- Prize Pool for Referrers Only
- Prize Pool for All Readers
- According to Tivo, it takes over 30 days for points to register since they want to make sure you actually use the service, so as soon as the points become available, we'll do a random drawing to determine winners.
- Depending on the level of points that we receive for each pool, I'll notify the winner of the prize level and allow them to select from available prizes. Prize levels will be determined by the amount available in each pool.
- You can only win one prize in the Referrer Only Pool per referral
- Tivo states that it can take 4-6 weeks to receive a prize bonus. If there is a way to ship it directly, I will set it up that way. If not, I'll ship it to the winner at TVHarmony's expense.
- Since this is based on an honor system, the Referrer Only Pool may be eliminated if abused. I'll try to come up with a fair, anonymous way for readers to enter the All Reader Pool.
- All prize drawings will be conducted by Lucy, the TVHarmony wonder dog.
Legal Disclaimers: TVHarmony can cancel this contest at any time, with or without selecting winners, and without any reason or cause. By referring us, you release all ownership and legal claims to the points that TVHarmony receives. All rules are subject to change at any time.
Playstation 2 in your car
CarAudioMag.com shows you how to put a Playstation 2 in your car.
(Hat Tip: Engadget)
Review of MS Portable Media Center (Anandtech.com)
Anandtech.com has a great review of Microsoft's Portable Media Center technology and it's first licensed product, Creative's Zen Player. It goes into quite a bit of detail and adds some caveats for people who are interested in getting one.
The main issue mentioned is that you are required to use Windows Media Player 10 to manage and synchronize your content. That's good since it means that it will transcode any video (as long as you download the codec) from their original format to something that can be read by the player so that eliminates the worries of incompatible video formats. That's bad if you don't like WMP 10 and prefer an alternative multimedia manager.
I'm going to wait to see what the open source community does with this device. If they find a way to hack it to use with other software products, I'll be more interested. It would also be nice to hack it and install a much larger hard drive, considering how cheap they are these days.
Movielink #1 in VOD
NPD, a leading market research firm, released a press release reporting market numbers for Video On Demand services. Picking through the public data:
- 0.3% of videos purchased or rented came from VOD sites.
- MovieLink is the leader in this emerging market with 33% of sales, followed by MovieFlix
- 80% of consumers are male
- Half the consumers were under 35
- Leading title downloaded this quarter: Independence Day
I think there are a couple of issues hampering growth for VOD. One is obviously the lack of titles given that Independence Day, released in 1996, is the leading title downloaded. To be fair, there are some 2004 titles at MovieLink, but they are all $4.99, which is a bit pricey.
Second, there are a limited number of conduits to the television and PC viewing of movies doesn't thrill the majority of home users. There's the output side of things where users can route video from PC to television. That seems to becoming less of a problem. There is also the input side as well and I think many people also want to be able to select the video for download from the comfort of their television as well. Microsoft Media Center Edition has this feature already and Tivo/Neflix will do so in the future.
If I were in the business, I'd really look into adopting a different strategy for distribution. I'd partner with Hauppauge or a far east manufacturer and come up with a cheap hardware solution like MediaMVP that would work seamlessly with their service. I'd then offer it to users at a low cost, or create a value by bundling it with a number of pre-paid downloads (e.g. pre-pay 20 rentals for $79 and get the Movielink connector kit free). Not only would that help remove the conduit problem but also create a barrier against rivals stealing my customers.
(Hat Tip: SlashDot)
September 24, 2004
I'm not much of gamer these days, but Engadget has me revved up about the upcoming Playstation Portable. According to Sony's press release, the new Playstation Portable could be an interesting product for people on the go.
What caught my attention is that it not only plays Playstation 2 games, but it also has some impressive technology for viewing video:
- a 16:9 aspect 4.3" screen
- MPEG4 decoding built-in
- 1.8G Optical storage disks (capable of holding a full movie in MPEG4 format)
- Wifi and USB2.0 connectivity
- a lithium-ion battery for a fairly long battery life (10 hours audio, 2.5hours of video)
At the presumed street price of $125 - $200, it may be a inexpensive alternative to a personal media player, particularly for the family with a teenage gamer. For those older adults without a teenager, you can always relive your youth and try to beat your old high-score on Defender.
September 23, 2004
Tivo reaches 2 Million Subcribers
Last quarter, Tivo set their goal to have 3 million subscribers by January. It looks like they are making good progress with this announcement that they now have 2 million Tivo users.
On a related note, they also issued this press release. It states that Tivo just hired a new guy to head their Marketing Dept, Matt Wisk. He came from nutritional supplement mega-company HerbaLife.
I hope he's able to help turn the boat around for Tivo. It's clear they need to grow their marketshare to stay solvent, so hopefully this will help. I'm surprised they started a new marketing campaign before they hired someone to run it (as opposed to hire a new marketing guy and have him create the new campaign), but perhaps the timing of things dictated which came first.
Good news for Tivo, that's for sure.
Tivangelicals Can Earn an IPod
That would make quite a fashion statement for the uber-geek like myself.
Tivo Feature Wishlist: Personalization
Having been a Tivo user for over a year now, I've got a lot of pent up ideas for ways Tivo (and likely other PVRs) could improve their service. As an ongoing column, I'll occasionally add my own ideas to the mix.
As a starting point, I'll point you to Kottke.org's excellent article, "Suggestions for Tivo" which also offers some reasonable features to add.
One of the things lacking with the current Tivo service is that it doesn't assume this basic premise: multiple people typically watch a particular television throughout the day.
Here's how our living room telivision gets used on a typical weekday:
- My wife watches the morning news before the kids wake up
- The kids watch television before the leave to go to pre-school
- Once in a while, the whole family watches a show in the evening
- After the kids go to bed, my wife and I catch up on our news shows
While every household is different, the living/family room television usually has different users watching it at different times throughout the day.
Tivo could benefit by recognizing this fact and having user-based preferences and features. For instance, I watch different television channels than my wife does, so having different channel lineups per user would allow me to quickly click to ESPN, while my wife can bypass it without having to mutter her mandatory derisive comment regarding men and sports. The same utility is there for the Now Showing list, and if there were a per-user password, my wife could prevent me from "accidently" deleting the latest Lifetime drama to make room for an action movie.
Tivo Suggestions would likely get a lot smarter, allowing it to determine what gets watched on an individual user level. I don't particularly enjoy Barney, but since my daughters watch Sesame Street, it thinks we'd all like to record that damned purple dinosaur.
In the realm of fantasy thinking, each familymember would have a bluetooth unique ID remote that would determine who is watching automatically, and with networked Tivos, I could pause my SF Giants game, walk to the television in the den with remote in hand, and un-pause it on another television.
Self identifying remotes are likely cost prohibitive, but a software only solution on the Tivo would be fairly straightforward to implement, would add only a little extra complexity to the service, and I think would improve the service for the people who use it. It would also give advertisers better demographics, which ain't a bad thing for Tivo either.
Scythe NCU-2000 Fanless CPU Cooler Review (SilentPCReview)
On Tuesday, we pointed out a review for a fanless power supply from ePower Technologies for those build-your-own PVR users that want a silent monster PC in their living room. Here's another product review that puts you one step closer, a fanless CPU Heatsink that will support both AMD and P4 CPUs.
It's no doubt that if you bought one, you'd have the biggest heatsink in the neighborhood, barring a car radiator.
MLB Video on Demand
I'm way behind the curve here, but Major League Baseball sells video of each of their games which you can download for $3.95 a pop. You can also download the radio broadcast for $.99. And if that isn't enough, you can also create your own human highlight reel, downloading "minivision clips" of video for $.99 each. I'm sure there are a few Boston fans who want to re-live the Bill Buckner incident over and over again.
It's a nice forward-thinking service for baseball fanatics. I hope HBO takes a clue and does the same thing for all the Soprano fanatics, like myself, out there.
It's only a matter of time before someone comes up with MythBaseball as a plugin.
September 22, 2004
Netflix and Tivo One Step Closer
To make the Tivo/Netflix service profitable, the service needs to offer enough movie titles to make it worth it for subscribers. Having Warner Bros. on board, even if it's not finalized, adds credibility that they can get the licenses they need to make it a success.
(Hat Tip: Engadget)
Review: Wireless Music Adaptors (TomsHardware)
Tom's hardware has a head to head review of two products that will allow you to stream music directly from your PC to your stereo. If you don't want to turn your television on and live without video streaming, these two options look pretty compelling.
Like all TomsHardware reviews, it goes into a lot of detail on each product and based on your willingness to part with cash vs. features, you can draw your own conclusion on which one is a better fit.
HDTV Recorder Comparison (Washington Post)
Although lacking in details, this Washington Post article compares several HDTV Recording devices on the market. Some highlights:
- Comcast's DVR has a clumsy interface, ads in their programming grid, and some quality issues.
- DirecTV's HR10-250 built with Tivo has a better interface but cost more. They also complained that it was a little sluggish with noticeable pauses.
- Dish Player-DVR 921 doesn't have the features of Tivo but has picture in picture while in the programming grid and a superior advertising fast forward.
The articly also mentioned the JVC HM-DH5U Digital VHS recorder which will record normal television or HDTV. This suffers the same VHS vs Tivo disadvantages, the tapes sound price ($15 - $25), and it doesn't work with most set top boxes.
September 21, 2004
Network Based PVR
Via TVTechnology.com, I found this press release on a new technology being offered by startup Kasenna of Mountain View, CA. Instead of putting a PVR in your living room, these guys have a technology that would reside at a broadband service provider or hopsitality chain.
The company would basically centralize the PVR technology at a operation center and allow end users the ability to download recorded shows on demand. I guess that means a business hotel could offer you a way of watching a recorded episode of Sopranos, as well as movies on demand.
Fanless Power Supply Review (HTPCNews)
For all you do-it-yourself PVR users, one of the holy grails is having a completely silent PC. One way to do it is using a low power motherboard and CPU like the VIA EPIA products. Using that approach requires you to sacrifice some CPU power for the sake of silence.
For those unwilling to sacrifice, HTPCNews has a review of a new "fanless" powersupply from ePower Technologies. The fanless is bit of a misnomer since there is a fan on the EPower Lion, but it won't kick in unless the power usage goes above 250W, which rarely happens for most users. For those that want a silent monster machine in their living room, you could be one step closer with one of these.
Wearable Entertainment Center
Engadget points out a new wearable entertainment center that simulates watching a 30" inch television. I can think of all kinds of uses for it including the perfect way to get through a very bad blind date.
Legal Disclaimer: TVHarmony does not recommend or encourage using this device while driving a vehicle, conducting business meetings, or while attending marriage counseling.
Tivo for $50
Slap on a lifetime subscription for $299 and the economics are hard to beat even compared to open source options like MythTV. For $349 it's hard to build a computer with a capture card to compete with Tivo.
September 20, 2004
PVR In Your Car
According to PCMagazine, General Motors will be putting a PVR in some models as an option. The system will include a mobile hard drive that you can shuttle between your home and car.
An interesting bit from the article said that satellite radio company Sirius (ed. note to readers, this website may be the most garish I've seen in some time)will broadcasting video to cars starting in 2006. Perhaps before then, they'll cut their seemingly enormous budget on flash animation.
Top Ten Mistakes
I'm a little late on taking this advice, but Connected Home Media has their Top Ten Mistakes in the Connected Home. I'm sure my wife would attest that I've probably made all of them at one time or another.
Review: AOpen's MVP Player
Tomshardware.com has a review of AOpen's MVP Player which has a very different take on serving media on a television.
Instead of connecting to an Ethernet network or wireless network, the unit uses sneaker net. The unit not only includes a slot to put a multimedia card from your digital camera or camcorder, but it also comes with a USB 2.0 hard disk enclosure (2.5" hard drive not included) and a special cradle on top to insert it. You can use the enclosure with your PC via USB and then slap it in the MVP Player to play the content on your television.
It's an interesting idea, but it probably would be more compelling if it included a portable MP3 player as part of the hard drive enclosure. That way it could be used as a dual purpose device: an ipod by day, media center at night.
September 17, 2004
Tivo Hacking Inferno: The Three Levels of Hell
Like Virgil in Dante's Inferno, let me give you a brief tour through the circles of hell for Tivo hacking, at least from my perception of what Tivo, Inc likely finds sinful. I've traveled through the first two levels and while a little crispy from the trip, there are some positive elements from taking the ride. The third inner core of hell I haven't seen firsthand, but I strongly believe that it should not be visited. There is no redemption for the sinner there.
Tivo Hacking Hell is definitely not a vacation destination for everyone, but for the techno-geek like myself, I consider it a high tech adventure trek. I should note that this post isn't meant to be a How To Guide. There is a lot of documentation out there for the fellow traveler that can do a better job than I can. I'll also note that my experience has all been on a Series 2 Standalone Tivo and your mileage will definitely vary depending on what model you own.
The first circle of hacking hell is defined by those who modify their Tivo hardware to add disk space. Tivo appears to turn a blind eye to this kind of modification, although you'd likely not find a sympathetic ear from Tivo Support should things go horribly wrong. The second circle is set aside for people who add additional software to their system including the ability to extract video, and in this area, Tivo definitely regards this as a sin, albeit they could make life much more difficult for hacking if they so wanted. The third and most evil level is a place devote for those who try to steal Tivo service fees, and I find this contemptible on many levels.
What to pack
To get to the first two levels, you'll need to have a couple of things handy. First, you'll need an old Intel computer with an IDE bus, at least a 5 - 10gig drive with free space (or more if you want to save your recordings), and a CD drive. The computer must be able to boot off of the CD drive and you'll need to either have a CD Writer or a friend who can burn a couple of CDs from an ISO. You'll also need a Torx wrench and a screwdriver, which can be found in practically any hardware store.
You'll also need to purchase some computer parts depending on your needs as I'll describe later in this document. If you are going to upgrade your disk space, you'll need to purchase 1 or 2 larger drives (unless things have changed Tivo Series 2 can only access the first 137Gigs of each drive), and if you go with two drives, you'll need to have a different IDE cable, a power Y splitter cable, and likely have to order a special mounting kit to fit it in the Tivo.
Circle 1 - Upgrading your disk space
The gold standard documentation to do a disk upgrade is the Hinsdale Guide, and I'd recommend you read it very carefully before you put torx wrench to Tivo.
If you've assembled or upgraded a PC before, the hardware portion is pretty straightforward. There are a couple ways to damage your Tivo (or you) like touching part of the unshielded power supply or accidentally disconnecting a very important wire, but for the most part, it was a low risk venture.
Like others, I recommend taking out the original hard disk and keeping it safely stored somewhere instead of simply adding a second drive to mix. If things go bad, you can likely just reconnect the original and everything will be back to where you began. More importantly, if you proceed on to the next circle of hell, you have something pristine that you can always fall back upon and get things back up running. This saved my butt, so I'm talking from experience.
The basic process is that you take out the original drive from the Tivo, install it in your old clunker computer and boot it off of a specialized boot CD. The software will help you back up the drive to the another disk. At this point, you power down, hook up your shiny new big hard drive to the clunker, boot the system up again, and copy the data on to the new drive. You will also need to "bless" the drive to tell it you have more disk space. Overall, it's pretty easy stuff as long as you make sure your drives are set in the right Master/Slave position and on the right IDE bus. It takes a while to do and it is much easier if you do not care about the shows already recorded on your original drive.
The upside of doing this is that you can get a nice big drive in your Tivo and be the envy of all your friends and neighbors. The downside is that you void your warranty, there is a small risk that you could fry yourself or your Tivo, and you could be out the cost of your Tivo and few burned eyebrow lashes. Don't say that I didn't warn you.
Circle 2 - Hacking the OS
For those adventurous souls, you could step right into Circle 2 without reconnecting the drive to your Tivo, but I wouldn't recommend it. There is too much that could go wrong and you could save yourself some frustration by verifying that your shiny new hard disk is working properly before trying to monkey with the OS and software.
Traveling in this area is much like visiting a third world country. You'll likely be frustrated by the limited communication skills you'll have with the locals, you'll spend a lot more time sitting around trying to find your way rather than making visible progress, and the support you'll find from local healthcare workers will make you wish that you bought that medivac travel insurance so you can be airlifted out if things go wrong.
It helps if you speak the language and in this locale it's Linux. You don't have to be a Linux guru, but it certainly would help at times. At a minimum, you'll need to know how to use the command line and how to move files around (cp, mv, ftp), set privileges (chmod), and have a little idea on how to navigate around the OS. It's gotten easier over time, but it's still very daunting without it.
Part of the problem is that the main source of this development is the message boards at DealDatabase. The people there really create a lot cool stuff and some are very helpful, but they definitely have a low tolerance for simple, oft-repeated questions. You'll likely feel like an idiot and while it might sound easier to ask for help on a simple Linux command like chmod than look it up yourself, you'll definitely regret posting it there.
The other major frustration is that much of the software and instructions are a "work in flux" and you'll have to wade through tons of posts and replies, many of which contradictory, to actually find the right way to do something. It's fairly common to read what looks to be a straightforward post that takes you through a process step by step, only to read 70 replies later that one of the steps was wrong and will cause you and your Tivo irrevocable harm. The lesson in this is to read through an entire thread one or more times before proceeding. Also, learn the search function there well because you'll be using it alot to bone up on the vocabulary.
When I hacked my Tivo, I used what is commonly called Sleeper's ISO, which according to the forum, is now out of date and really out of fashion. Looking around for this might help you get started, but there is no real substitute for just digging in, reading as much as you can, and then trying it out. Once you get it working you can then talk to your Tivo via telnet and ftp. It doesn't end there though because you'll want to add software to extend the Tivo's functionality. For instance to extract video, you will need to install software like TyTool. By the way, Tytool is nice because it gives you a step-by-step way of extracting video and putting it on a DVD.
The upside of doing these hacks is that you can add functionality to your Tivo that you ordinarily don't have available to you. Extracting video is the most common, but there are tools for un-deleting a deleted show, having Caller ID flash on your screen when the phone rings, and a better web browser that you access from any computer connected to the web.
The downside is that it takes an eternity to learn the bare essentials and get it working, and when you've finally got it all working, Tivo will likely send down a software update and screw everything up. Odds are good that you'll at some time lose all your recorded show and almost a certainty your wife will be annoyed that the Tivo is up in your office being fixed when her favorite show is on. It's also pretty clear that if Tivo gets annoyed enough by hacking, they could fundamentally make things more difficult for hackers to update their software and Tivo could potentially see that you have a hacked the OS and ban you from their service.
Circle 3 - Stealing
I just want to re-iterate that I find this sort of hacking bad for Tivo and for its users. Tivo cannot survive without service fees so if they annoy you, there are plenty of other PVR options that don't require monthly fees. Many people including myself love their Tivo and hope they can make their business successful in the long run, and this type of hacking reduces their chances. Most developers that hack the Tivo realize this, and as devotees themselves, avoid helping other people try to do this.
Like I said from the beginning, Tivo hacking is not for everyone. As Tivo continues to evolve and offer new features, the reasons to modify a Tivo become less compelling. I can understand the business reasons for avoiding litigation by limiting video extraction, but grabbing video from a Tivo is one of the few good reasons many people continue to do it. Perhaps Tivo-To-Go will be enough for most people, so I look forward to that being rolled out.
I also am hopeful that the HMO feature and an evolving SDK will attract more open source projects like JavaHMO. Working with third party and open source developers help Tivo innovate at a low cost, so I hope they open more of their system for modification and enhancement.
Another Review of ATI's HDTV Wonder
TomsHardware just released a review of ATI's HDTV Wonder. Like the previous review we noted from ExtremeTech, there are some compatibility and installation issues. The review gave ATI some credit for some aspects of the product including the image quality of the HDTV video feed.
It sounds like a few more weeks of testing this product would have done ATI some good.
September 16, 2004
Study Finds 15% of Internet Housholds Have PC/CE Connection
eHomeUpgrade links to an interesting study on users connecting the computers to a consumer electronic device. It found that 15% of "internet households" have connected their PC to their stereo or television.
This chart on usage is what I found most interesting:
It's no surprise to me that most people use this technology to listen to music. It's a lot easier, at least once you've ripped all your CDs, to click through a couple lists to find the music you want to hear as opposed to digging through your CD rack trying to find the album. Now that many people have MP3 Players or have used P2P software, the odds are good they have created a good collection on their hard disk.
I find it much more surprising that 41% of people have "watched video downloaded from the Internet". If that number is accurately reflected in the title, that is a bigger number of people using p2p or a Video On Demand service like MovieLink than I expected. If I were the MPAA, I'd start getting a little nervous.
The full press release can be found here.
While certainly not the easiest product to install, XBMC, an open source project developed for the Xbox, is an impressive product with a loyal following of developers and users.
With my expectations set that XBMC would be feature rich but somewhat unstable, I was really surprised by the maturity and quality of the software. Unlike other products both retail and open source, I have yet to crash the thing and regardless of the video I throw at it, it plays flawlessly. I keep asking myself why this isn't a retail product so that more people could use it.
Like other products that serve multimedia to your entertainment center, XBMC software will let you play music, video, pictures, and the weather report on your television. You can change the look by installing different skins, but I liked the default skin well enough to leave it alone. You can do all sorts of tweaks to calibrate the screen so it looks and fits right, and the configuration file lets you specify data from a variety of sources and locations. There is even a way to watch video from your Tivo, which I have used with success, but it takes a lot of finagling on both ends to get it working properly.
The enormous downside to XBMC is the amount of work it takes to set it up. It literally took me an entire weekend to get it up and running, even after some leg work to get the right parts ordered, and I felt a little shakey handing over my credit card info to parts vendors that may be on dubious legal ground.
First, you need to "mod" your Xbox. This generally means purchasing an Xbox Mod Chip from a third party and installing it yourself, or sending in your Xbox and letting them do it for you for an additional service fee. Installing a mod chip isn't all that difficult if you have soldering skills and really good vision and hand-eye coordination, but it means cracking open the case, adding a small daughter board, likely removing some soldering points and soldering some wires on to the board, and hoping that everything went smoothly because your warranty is now void. Depending on the mod chip, you'll also have to install some software on to the Xbox, which may mean using a DVD burner, finding compatible DVD-R disks that can be read by the Xbox, and burning the software on to your new hacked Xbox.
At this point, I thought I was home free until I went to the XBMC download page and realized there was no binary download for XBMC. You can download the source, but you'd need to have the Microsoft Xbox SDK and Visual Studio to get it to compile. This is just not an option unless you or a friend is a game developer.
After googling around, there are ways to find the binaries, but that requires some legwork and some additional software, and for legal reasons, I'll avoid suggesting how it is done. Needless to say, you have to REALLY want it to get the thing installed and it leaves you feeling like you may have violated some laws in the process.
From what I've read, modding your Xbox isn't illegal as long as you don't use it to subvert copyright protection. I have less understanding of the legal issues when it comes to downloading the XBMC binaries. Almost certainly the person building and distributing the binaries is breaking their license agreement, but I don't know what crime you've committed by downloading and using the XBMC binaries. Feel free to correct me if I'm wrong about this.
The legal issue explains my desire to see a retail version of XBMC so more people would use it. For the price of an Xbox, plus the ability to play games and DVDs, it wouldn't be a bad value to pay another $59 - $79 for the software title. I'm not sure the XBMC guys could get a license from Microsoft, but I'd certainly pay for it if it were available.
By the way, Microsoft is going to offer something similar this fall that will work with MCE. It's called the Microsoft Media Center Extender for Xbox. It sounds like it only works with MCE, which is understandable from Microsoft's point of view, but it's a shame you can't use your Xbox more generally to access all your multimedia content.
For more information on Xbox and "modding", I'd suggest XBox-Scene.com.
MythTV vs. Microsoft MCE (Part 2)
Anandtech.com has the second part of their comparison between MythTV and MCE. For someone considering those two options, it's a must read.
- MythTV does a better job compressing video recordings (in XVID format) and using disk space.
- MCE has tighter integration with the OS such as recording things in the background while you use another app in the foreground
- MythTV has more support for different hardware like capture cards, etc. and was impressive in utilizing the CPU to record on cheaper capture cards, transcode and compress files in the background, etc
- MCE is easier to install considering it comes bundled with hardware right out of the box
- MCE has integration with services like Video on Demand from Movielink
- MythTV is not shackled to DRM and copyright protections so things can be duplicated, burned, transfered, or used in any way the user sees fit
- MCE does a better job playing DVDs
The final chart does a good job summarizing their results, but I encourage you to read the whole thing.
September 15, 2004
Plextor MPEG4 Capture Card
This is something I'm pretty excited about. The PX-TV402U ConvertX PVR is a USB 2.0 hardware device will capture video directly in Divx/MPEG4 format, bundled with WinDVR software. The MPEG4 encoding means you can fit 2-3 times more video content on your hard drive with only a minimal sacrafice in quality. That means your 250Gig hard disk just turned into a 750 gig hard disk for PVR purposes.
For me, this could be a big deal. I have my server computer number crunching all night converting MPEG2 video into MPEG4 format to save on disk space and it takes some effort to set the whole thing up.
BYOPVR is reporting that the product will be supported in GBPVR, Sage TV, and of course, WinDVR which is bundled with the hardware.
I'll keep my eye on this one.
(Hat tip: BYOPVR)
Apologies for recent website outages over the last few days. Hopefully we've resolved the problem and will be trouble-free (ed note: yeah, right) in the future.
The interview definitely got me excited to try out JavaHMO 2.0, which should be available in the next few weeks.
MediaMVP First Impressions
I finally had a chance to look at my new Hauppage MediaMVP last night and I found it had a lot of potential. Hauppauge has been a favorite for the build-your-own PVR crowd with their PVR250 and PVR350 capture cards, and if those cards are the solution to getting video into your PC, the MediaMVP can best be described as the solution to output your multimedia to your entertainment center.
I have a comparable device from Gateway called the Gateway Connected DVD Player which is a DVD player that also allows you to stream video, pictures, and audio from a PC to your television. I have a lot of content that I’ve encoded with XVID (MPEG4) to save on space, and I’ve had mixed results with MPEG4 on the Gateway Connected product.
One great thing about the MediaMVP is the price; I paid $89 at Amazon.com. Unlike the Gateway Connected, it doesn’t have a DVD player, but I found that streaming video, even in MPEG4 format, worked almost flawlessly. At times it got a little jerky, likely from the transcoding on my PC server that is fairly underpowered, but it was definitely viewable and the audio always kept up with the video.
This product has the easiest installation I’ve ever seen for technology of this genre. It literally took me 5 minutes to install the server software on my PC and select the content I wanted to serve up to my entertainment center. Then I plugged it in turned it on and it worked flawlessly right out of the box. As a side note, I used the latest beta release up on Hauppauge's support site. One drawback is the lack of wireless support, but if you have a cat5 connection to your living room, you won’t have any trouble getting the MediaMVP working.
The user interface on the MediaMVP is simple, but quite frankly, mediocre. It does what it needs to do, but there are no bells and whistles thrown in to make the interface elegant. One small feature that I like in Tivo that often is neglected in other products is the audio beep you get when you press a button on the remote. It sounds like a nit, but it really helps give users feedback that the unit received a button press. The MediaMVP doesn’t do this, and there are times that it takes a few seconds for the product to react and I caught myself clicking away madly trying to get the MediaMVP to understand my command.
The biggest reason I'm thrilled about this product is that it looks like the product can be extended by third party developers. This is something that I think Hauppage strategically understands given their success in the video capture card market and they will hopefully do the same with the MediaMVP. The rumor is that they are working on an SDK for the product, and already, developers are tinkering with it working with software products such as MythTV and GBPVR.
My hope is that the SDK will be freely available from their website. This would be a good catalyst for innovation and allow third parties to update a mediocre user interface into the best that the Internet can provide. It's remarkable how many open source developers there are constantly innovating and it would be a big win for user and company alike to have a simple standard interface to the television like the MediaMVP.
Out of the box, the MediaMVP does a good job for what it does. The user interface could be better and provide more functionality, but for the basics it gets the job done. What makes this product exciting is the potential that it will grow in new directions. From what I've seen so far, I think Hauppauge understands this and will make this a favorite for the open source crowd.
September 14, 2004
VOOM's HDTV PVR
HD Satellite provider, Voom, announced it will ship a HDTV PVR for use with it's service, in conjunction with OpenTV and UCentric.
It sounds like it will distribute its video to multiple televisions via a network which sounds very useful.
(Hat Tip: Engadget)
MCE and HDTV
Engadget is reporting that the next version of Windows Media Center, due out by the end of next month, will support recording and playback of HDTV content.
It will support ATI's new HDTV Wonder capture card.
Copyright laws and Betamax
Today is SaveBetaMax day which urges people to call into their congressmen to prevent the INDUCE Act from becoming law. According to opponents of the legislation, it could set back copyright law for devices such as VCRs and Tivos in favor of copyright holders like television and movie studios.
It's worth forming an opinion on matters such as this legislation because copyright laws can have a direct impact on convergence technologies. I'm not an attorney and I don't pretend to understand the INDUCE Act, but there are several issues of copyright that could hinder innovation.
Sony v Universal (the BetaMax decision) was a court decision that ruled that it is legal for individuals to record copyrighted material off their television for personal use and set the stage for VCRs to be able to have record button, and it applies directly to PVR technology.
Typically, copyright holders have the ability to restrict duplication and distribution of their works, so one could argue Sony v Universal eroded some of the protection that copyright holders had. VCRs make it incredibly easy for people to duplicate copyrighted material and sell it to their friends, a clear violation of copyright law.
On the other hand, there is a legal concept called First Sale Doctrine that protects the rights of people who purchase copyrighted material. Early on, copyright holders were arguing that they should be able to set the price of their works even after it had been purchased by a consumer. They also argued that if the consumer sold a used book, they would be committing a violation of copyright law.
First Sale Doctrine, developed by case law in the courts, said that when a consumer purchases a copyrighted work like a book, they have some legal rights of ownership of their own. Book owners can lend a book to a friend for instance, sell it at a price they determine, and even destroy it without getting permission by the copyright holder. This doctrine makes the movie rental business legal, for instance.
So what does it all mean in the digital age? It's still all being worked out. For instance, is it legal to create a DVD of PVR'd show? Can you duplicate a DVD that you rightfully own for your own personal backup? If you play a DVD on your computer, is it breaking copyright law because the bits are being duplicated in memory before they are played on screen? These things are all being debated in congress and in the courts but depending on where the line is drawn, it could impact future innovation.
Clearly, p2p users basically don't want any copyright laws at all and music producers and movie studios want stronger protection against duplication of copyrighted material. Without copyright laws, there would be little money to create new works. With laws that are too strict, copyright holders will stifle the market for consumer products like Tivo and drive the prices up and limit access.
Tivo, and other PVR providers that are cash starved, walk a tightrope every day to avoid litigation as you can see by their recent decision to limit the storage time for Pay for View movies. I don't know if the INDUCE Act is good or bad legislation, but it's important to make up your own mind because laws like this can have an impact on you and your wallet.
(Hat Tip: BYOPVR)
September 13, 2004
Extending PVRs into non-PVR areas
PVRBlog has a post regarding a new company in Idaho called Dedicated Devices that will create a hardware/software server that will distribute television shows, photos, music, and "oversee a home alarm system". PVRBlog responded with what was also my first reaction:
"Also, would you want to control your home alarm system via your PVR? Not me, thanks."
After thinking about, I can see the merits of a device like that.
If you consider the PVR as not just a consumer electronics product but as your centralized home server, it starts making a bit more sense. At our home, I have a couple of machines running all the time, but for the average home, this is overkill. Having a single home server always on to provide a variety of services has a lot of value as long as it is networked and can be accessed from many places. A Tivo (or other PVR) seems as good a place as any since it's always on and most likely connected to a network.
First, let's talk about PVR features like video, music, and photos. The Tivo way of distributing it is to buy more Tivos, link them all up in a home network, and add a PC to the mix to store your music and photos. From a historical and economic view, this evolution of distribution makes sense, but it's not a great design for the average user.
First, you need to pay monthly fees (or lifetime subscriptions) for each of your Tivos, regardless of whether you want all the additional features like a program guide and the ability to record. Next, you also have a lot of computer power sitting around idle, along with an increasingly expensive electricity bill. Finally, unlike the typical workplace computer that you have customized for your individual needs and that you use for all your computing tasks, your home television experience is different in that you may watch multiple televisions, and conversely, other household members might watch the same television at different times.
A powerful server and a very thin client would be a much better solution. For one thing, you can have just one computer sitting in your attic always on and then have quick booting thin clients (or eventually a chip built directly into a standard consumer electronic) that would be connected to each television. This would undoubtedly reduce your energy costs while still giving you ready access. Since everything is centralized, you'd have all your content in a single repository to make things easier to find. Your system would be cheaper to extend (assuming the thin client was inexpensive) and could grow to meet any expanded needs. In the ideal world, you could carry your identity and customization with you so that no matter which tv you are next to, you have your favorite music, your customized channel lineup, and your own recorded television.
That makes sense for PVR features, but it starts getting murky with features that aren't typically seen on your television. For instance, Myth and other PVR's will show the local weather report. This is only the beginning of other content I would like at my ready. Our household usually leaves (guess what?) another computer that is always on in our family room to serve in this capacity. There is plenty of online content that would be useful. Weather is nice, but how about phone listings, directions, movie times, and other online content to help plan your time at a moment's notice. If your household is like ours, having a ready, no boot time, access to that kind of content would be most helpful.
Murkier still is the security system and controlling appliances via X10, but there again, the ubiquitous nature of televisions spread around the house would make it somewhat valuable. A webcam located in the driveway that you could see from your television would be nice. Additionally, turning off the porch light from your bedroom is cool, but better yet as an Internet connected device, making sure you turned off the coffee maker from the airport on the way to your vacation would be reassuring as well.
Perhaps the ideal system wouldn't be a huge do-it-all system as the Dedicated Devices product may be, but having a versatile thin client that uses a standard protocol that lets other vendors develop the backend services. That would be better because you could piece together your favorite PVR, security system, music server, etc. Unfortunately, the technology isn't really there yet and there are corporate considerations like copyright issues that make it likely that some big name devices like Tivo won't play nice.
While some protocols are getting created to support this kind of inter-operability, it's still going to be a long time before there are a plethora of products to support it. In the meantime, a do-it-all approach may be the second best thing. The problem Dedicated Devices might have is that it must have "good enough" features and quality to make it competitive with each individual service, and not have a big sticker shock to prevent people from discarding their old devices.
Just as a disclaimer, I should note that I don't work for Dedicated Devices, and quite frankly, I couldn't google up their website so I have no idea what their actual product will look like.
Yahoo Consumer Electronics (UPDATE)
According to theunofficialyahooweblog, it's just a brand licensing deal by another manufacturer.
Believe it or not, this is fairly common these days. It provides additional revenue to the licensor and increases it's brand awareness. For the licensee, you can add credibility to your product line by selling it under an established brand. The downside for the licensor is if the product turns out to be junk then it could do more harm than good for the brand.
It makes a lot more sense to me now.
September 11, 2004
Catching the Season's New TV Shows
PVRBlog has a great tip for Tivo users to make it easy to find all the new television series that are premiering this fall.
I use the wishlist feature all the time to track down what I might want to record. My favorite menu item is "View all upcoming Wishlist programs" which looks at all our wishlists and shows all the matches for the next two weeks.
September 10, 2004
Yahoo Getting Into Consumer Electronics?
So says Engadget, one of my favorite technology websites. I personally don't get it.
I'm having trouble believing it because consumer electronics is a difficult market and I'm not sure what Yahoo brings to the table. Buying Tivo might make some sense but a standard LCD television?
I'll wait to see if this pans out but it doesn't make me want to run out and call my broker and pick up some Yahoo stock on the rumor.
In a previous post, we mentioned a couple of products that will allow you to take movies on the road. Here's Vivitar's version:
"6-in-1, which is apparently an MPEG4 camcorder, digital still camera, PVR, MP3 player, voice recorder, and - in a real stretch - a digital photo frame."
More info can be found here.
I received my MediaMVP yesterday from Amazon.com. I've been anxious to get one for some time now since I've heard a lot of people have been using them as a frontend to a PVR. GBPVR, which I've not tried yet, supports the MediaMVP so I'm hopeful that I'll install and try it over the weekend.
The advantage to it is that I can use an clunky, loud, server stored up in my office as the PVR server and only have the quiet MediaMVP in the living room.
MediaMVP is a favorite for hackers (here and here) because it simply loads a linux OS from a server as it boots up. This allows a developer to modify the software that resident in the MVP without having to alter the hardware.
I can see already that it will be a huge time-waster for me, but part of the fun is learning new things. As long as I leave the Tivo alone, my wife doesn't mind too much.
September 09, 2004
Meedio Essentials Review at Anandtech
Anandtech.com has a two part review of Meedio Essentials, which was created by the authors of the MyHTPC freeware software. Meedio Essentials allows you to play videos, view images, and listen to music that is stored on your PC. It sounds like it also has a good plug-in architecture and is skin-able so that it can be customized and extended.
Unfortunately, it currently doesn't have the ability to watch or record television so for my personal use, it is rather limited. If I'm going to hook up a computer in my living room, I'd want it to support all my needs and the biggest use for me is the Tivo-like recording functions.
They are currently working on PVR support so I'll keep an eye on them and check it out when it has been added.
September 08, 2004
MythTV vs. Microsoft MCE
Part one describes setting up a MythTV box, and from personal experience, it can take a lot of time depending on how you want to configure it. There are shortcuts out there like KnoppMyth that will try do an automated install, but part of the value of MythTV is understanding the individual parts so you can customize it to fit your needs so it may be worth the steep learning curve.
I find the architecture which allows you to split the backend and frontend features on to one or more different computers one of it's biggest strengths. For instance, you can have a couple of monster PCs in your basement running the backend, recording multiple simultaneous shows. You can also have quiet diskless frontend computers like those at LinPVR.org attached to each of your televisions.
It will be very interesting to see how they compare. Microsoft MCE is only bundled with hardware so I haven't had a chance to play with it and I'm eager to see the article's results.
Tivo and Advertising
Alex at Tivoblog.com, one of our favorite websites, dug up some research from Forrester Research that suggests that Tivo users skip past 92% of the commercials while they are watching recorded programming. While some advertisers might see Tivo as a threat, here is why I think they are wrong.
First, my own experience with Tivo is that we actually watch more broadcast television since we hooked up our Tivo. With small children, I wouldn't say that the number of total television viewing hours has changed, but rather the number of video rentals has gone down and the amount of broadcast programming has gone up. That's a bad thing for Blockbuster, but a good thing for Budweiser.
Second, channel surfing has basically been eliminated in our household. I would argue that much of our viewing time was basically sifting through the channel line-up to find something that we both found interesting. When we settled on one show, we'd still likely channel surf between commercials. This not only reduces the number of commercials we viewed, but also the likelihood that the bits of commercials we did see did not fit in the demographic that the commercial had originally been targeted. For example, we may have been watching 60 Minutes but as soon as there was a commercial break, we'd flip through other channels and possibly see bits of ads from Cartoon Network or MTV, targeted commercials that don't appeal to the 60 Minutes viewer.
With Tivo or another PVR, you have to watch the ads to fast-forward past them. That obviously is not ideal for advertisers, but in the game of brand recognition, flashes of brands over time make a difference. Furthermore, I've at times stopped or hit the rewind button on a commercial that might have caught my eye, particularly if the image had been intriguing.
DigitalMerging.LA weighs in that advertisers need to form relationships with companies like Tivo because in the world of the future, they will be the gatekeepers of advertising. I agree with that sentiment, but in the short term, this is more of a threat than an opportunity to Tivo since it adds another hurdle to getting bundled with other service providers. Companies like Comcast realize the threat and think of themselves as the future gatekeepers so it is easier to create and bundle a knock-off instead of bundling Tivo. That puts Tivo in a bit of a tough spot trying to grow the business.
I’d also not be the first company to try this strategy out. Spyware provider, Gator.com tried something similar on the Internet. They tried, in effect, to replace a website's banner ad with their own, opening up the door to slap a Ford banner on a Volvo website, and all legal hell fell upon them. Given the comparative money involved in television advertising versus banner ads, the first company to insert a different television ad as a replacement for a broadcast is going to have a few legal battles to fight.
I'd suggest that in the short run, advertisers play the game to see if they can work with the current system. What does that mean? First, I'd keep brand images on the screen longer which is counter to the MTV quick-cut style we're all now familiar, but in fast-forward, these images will appear longer and have more of an impact. I'd also tailor ads to be more visual, and try to have the biggest impact at the end of spot. Much as I'd personally hate it, I'd also try to trick viewers into thinking the break had ended by making my commercial look visually similar to the show I'm watching. The news channels always “trick” me into stopping the fast forward when actually they are advertising a news show by showing a video clip of it.
In the short term, I think the television remote and movie rentals have had a bigger influence on ad viewing than Tivo, and I hope advertisers see the silver lining in the storm clouds.
September 07, 2004
Downloading Movies with a Tivo
The Netflix monthly service allows users to "checkout" 3 movie DVDs (or different set amounts depending on the service plan you choose) at a time and they are mailed to you, complete with a return-mailing envelope. Once you're done with a DVD, you mail it back and it sends you another DVD based on a list that you derive on their website. We've used it for over a year now and it is handy. Since the creation of a the movie rental business, this is the first year I haven't payed any late fees.
The article suggests that the joint venture would do a similar service all electronically for Tivo users. One of the drawbacks of Netflix is that depending on where you live, it can take 5-6 days to send in an old movie and receive a new one. By sending it electronically, it should only take a few hours on a high-speed connection.
This service sounds great and it will be interesting to see how the relationship will work and whether they will digitize all their titles. The Video On Demand (VOD) services out there right now depend on agreements with copyright holders to protect them legally. If Netflix/Tivo decide to do something similar, the number of titles available for download may be limited.
If they press ahead without getting an agreement with copyright holders, they are bound to spend a lot of time in court arguing whether electronic transfer of DVD content is a violation of copyright law.
No one should be too surprised that the two companies would want to work together. Mike Ramsey, CEO of Tivo is on the Board of Directors of Netflix.
I'm really looking forward to see how this new service would work. This is just the type of added services Tivo needs to have to survive.
(Hat Tip: TivoBlog)
September 02, 2004
New Product Catetory: PVPs
As more video is accessible digitally, products are now being created to try and become the IPod of video called Personal Video Players, or in the world of acronyms, PVPs. Two products that have just been released are Creative Lab's Zen Portable Media Center and the Archos AV400. Similar to MP3 players, both these products can allow users to download multimedia files from a PC and let you play them on the road.
Both suffer from the same problem of how a user grabs copyrighted content like a movie or a television show. Without it, it's not a very useful device. The AV400 includes a full PVR built-in to a PC cradle including an IR blaster (to communicate with your set-top satellite or cable box) and the software to find and record your television shows. The Zen, on the other hand, is meant to work with Microsoft's Home Media Center (Microsoft's PVR in a PC).
We have two small children so keeping them distracted on car rides and airplanes is a full time job, and we currently have a personal DVD player we take with us during those times. I can see the appeal of the PVP as an alternative to the DVD player (or a laptop) for a few reasons:
- The battery life on these devices are longer (at least 4-5 hours supposedly).
- You can carry a lot of content without the hassle of fumbling around with DVDs.
- Potentially, transferring content could be easier.
The third reason is significant. Anyone who has a standard Tivo is faced with a lot of hassle to transfer shows to DVD. If you are smart unlike me, you could buy a Tivo with a DVD recorder built-in like the Pioneer Tivo unit. Otherwise, you'll need to either hack the Tivo, a daunting task that can literally take days, void your warranty, and annoy your wife. Otherwise, you need to somehow record analog from the Tivo to a capture card in your computer, again taking time to setup and then taking your Tivo out of commission every time you want to transfer a show. You are also not done yet because once you've got a digital copy of your television show on your hard disk, you've then have to finagle it into DVD format and finally burn it onto DVD, assuming you can find blank DVDs that can read by all your DVD players. All in all, it's a painful experience.
The third reason is also questionably true however with these products. For the Archos, it sounds pretty straightforward to do if you want something in the future, but you are back to square one for both products if the program has already been saved to your Tivo. On top of that, to move a DVD on to one of those units require you to convert the DVD to a video file that takes time, requires you to use potentially illegal shareware, and according to the MPAA, break copyright laws in the process.
Unlike IPod, it will be a while before this becomes a big market. Not everyone has a high demand to have portable video, and there is little interconnectivity for these kinds of devices. If you have the need and a MS Home Media Center as your PVR solution, the Zen might be for you. The AV400 may be a good option for someone who doesn't have a PVR and doesn't need the features of a mature PVR like Tivo. Otherwise, I'd wait and see how the technology evolves.