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November 29, 2004

HDTV Sales Booming

Is this holiday season going to the year of HDTV? The Washington Times has an article stating that it will be a big year for HDTV. The Consumer Electronics Association predicts 7M HDTV televisions will be sold this season.

That's still only a 25% of all televisions sales this season, but it's still a big number. Next holiday season will be the big Kahuna, at least if prices continue to drop.

(Hat Tip: TVPredictions.com)

Posted on November 29, 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Review: Plextor ConvertX PVR (GotApex.com)

GotApex.com has posted a review of the Plextor ConvertX PVR. They seemed happy with the product, only knocking it for its high price. Here's the money quote:

"Make it $129 bucks, or heck, 100 as long as I'm wishing, and you got a perfect score. As it is, 8.5 of 10."

Additional Info:

TVHarmony Product Tracker: Plextor PX-TV402U

(Hat tip: Design Technica)

Posted on November 29, 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 23, 2004

Happy Thanksgiving

Given my nasty head cold and the upcoming holidays (the two always seem to travel in tandem), posting will be light through the rest of the week. There are plenty of product reviews and analysis on tap after the Thanksgiving holiday, so enjoy your turkey and visit us next week. If you are a glutton for information, you might want to try out the TVHarmony News Tracker which is continually updated from Yahoo RSS feeds.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Posted on November 23, 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 20, 2004

Beyond Media Ready for Release

It looks like I'll have to change my review of BeyondTV to be a 3 part series since according to Build Your Own PVR, Beyond Media will be released any day now. The software is finalized and they are in production and should be available some time next week.

This is exciting news, indeed.

Posted on November 20, 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 19, 2004

Review: Plextor ConvertX for Mac (Wired)

Wired has a short review of the new Plextor ConvertX for the Mac. They tested the product on an older Mac below the minimum specifications but still thought it was a handy tool for Mac users.

Additional Info:

TVHarmony Product Tracker: Plextor PX-TV402U

Posted on November 19, 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Intellectual Property Protection Act

Ploosh! has an excellent round-up on the Intellectual Property Protection Act (IPPA) making its way through Congress. I need to read up on it more before I can comment on it, but from the things other people are writing, it sounds horrible.

Posted on November 19, 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Congratulations to BYOPVR

Build Your Own PVR just hit a major milestone, registering their 1,000th BYOPVR member. As I've mentioned in the past, BYOPVR is not only a great news and information site, but also a helpful resource for people trying to get their questions answered about DVR technology.

They've also been very kind in linking to TVHarmony.com and helping us build more regular readers here. Behind the scenes, they've given us a lot technical support and advice, and they definitely deserve all the success and recognition that they've received.


Posted on November 19, 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 18, 2004

Review: BeyondTV 3.5 Part 1

BeyondTV 3.5 offers a great combination of features and power, yet remains one of the easiest DVR products I've installed and used. As the first part of a two part series, I'll describe the BeyondTV 3.5 product, and in part two, I'll describe how other products like BeyondTV Link and MediaMVP can be used to distribute video throughout a household.

One of the things that drew me to Beyond TV 3.5 was an article Snapstream published on the Medusa, a 6 tuner-card monster computer Snapstream created as a technology demonstration. While the Medusa may be overkill even for an enthusiast like me, it got me thinking what the ideal DVR system would look like. With the soon to be released Beyond Media product on the horizon to support music and photos, the Snapstream product may very well fit the DVR nirvana many people like myself crave.

The Tivo system model works great for a single television, but expanding it to multiple rooms without hacking and finagling the Tivo is lackluster at best. Their design requires one to buy a Tivo for each room, suffer the additional monthly charges that imposes, and it decentralizes where things get recorded and stored. Not only is this a costly solution over the long term, but it is a painful exercise to get all the Tivos to work together to record the right things at the right time.

A better model which has been implemented on several products including BeyondTV 3.5, includes servers and clients. The idea is to separate out the back-end server from the front-end clients. You build one big server (or more depending on the DVR product) which can record and save your content, and then you use simple and quiet front-end clients to actually control the interface and render it on to the screen. Suddenly for a four person family, a 6 tuner computer doesn't seem all that far fetched. It is still probably a bit overkill, but you can devote 2-3 tuners to recording content and allow 3-4 tuners for watching television in every room simultaneously.

I was struck how easy it was to setup a system like this using BeyondTV 3.5. I setup my test server (2.0Gz P4 system) with Windows XP and installed 3 Hauppauge tuner cards (a couple of 150MCEs and a 250). With the low sub-$70 MPEG encoder cards coming out like the Hauppauge 150MCE and the AverMedia 1500MCE, multiple tuners don't break the bank like they used to. Based on the Medusa article, I also included a four way cable splitter with amplifier so that the television signal would not get to degraded from splitting it so many ways.

The BeyondTV 3.5 Setup Wizard is actually a joy to run compared to some products. It walks you through a set of simple questions and installs the system with a minimum of fuss. The wizard will configure the system to use a remote if you have one (I tested with the Firefly remote but there are many others including the Hauppauge 250 bundled remote that can be configured) and will walk you throught creating an account on SnapStream.Net, a service that lets you schedule a recording anywhere on the Internet. It also has a nice interface to configure all your tuner cards based on the source (e.g. cable, antenna, or sat.) to which they are attached. It's particularly useful to have the test screen available to make sure the tuner is working properly before you actually dive right into the product.

I did stumble a bit trying to tweak my settings. From within the BTV program, there is a Settings tab that gives you the basics but to do the heavy lifting, you need to find the web server interface that comes with the product. It's from within the web interface where you can specify which folders and hard drives to record shows, among many other customized options. I was too ansy to get goting that I bypassed the manual which, in retrospect, would have saved me some confusion. Still a link directly from the Wizard, the BeyondTV Setting Window, or the system tray icon would have come in very handy.

The web server that is included is very cool. If you have an always-on Internet connection and a DSL router, it's not too complicated to set it up so you can access the web pages outside your firewall, although if you do, make sure you password protect the web server from within the security options dialog. Not only can you change various settings from within the web interface, but if you are on the road traveling, you can transfer or stream shows via the Internet and watch them on your laptop, something that Tivo has been trying to do for months with its Tivo To Go feature.

I have a lot of content stored in XVID (MPEG4) format up on a file server. BeyondTV made it easy to add those video folders on the server just as easily if they were on drives on your computer. Now that I set it up, I have access to all those videos from within BeyondTV, and with it configured to work outside my firewall, I also have access to them from just about any place that has an Internet connection. While BeyondTV does not support MPEG4 format at the moment for recording, with the proper codecs installed, MPEG4 files play just fine from within it's interface.

Another great feature is ShowSqueeze, which will further compress shows that have been recorded. I use it to store shows that I want to keep permanently. ShowSqueeze will transcode the file in the smaller WMA format, automatically mark commercials with chapter headers, and move the resulting slimmed down file on to my file server. I'd love to see more work done on this feature because it is a bit limited; it only allows one to compress a show in WMA format and I have note yet found an easy way to specify which sub-folder to store a squeezed file. I'm very interested in this modification one developer has put together to compress things in XVID format, but I still hope SnapStream works on MPEG4 support as a future standard for the product.

It's hard to beat the interface in Microsoft MCE 2005 which is the gold standard in my mind, but BTV is functional, fast, and no slouch in its own right. The program guide is functional and easy to navigate. If your computer has enough juice, I recommend the 3D accelerated setting, which adds some panache by rendering the on screen display semi-tranparently over the video feed.

Finding content is pretty straightforward. You can use the program guide, search by title, or search by keyword. It would be handy to have a similar feature to Tivo's WishList which a nice way to save up repeated search requests and the ability to optionally record content automatically. It does an ok job of managing conflicts, and given the system I was testing, it did a good job balancing out what need to be recorded with the availability of each tuner. I mentioned briefly the SnapStream.net account that comes with the package, but it allows a user to schedule a recording from the Internet as if you were doing it from the comfort of your own home.

While this is a BeyondTV review, I should mention that I found Snapstream's Firefly remote to be outstanding and I would definitely consider it if you plan on building a BeyondTV system. It's a solid, ergonomic remote similar to the Tivo model and can be used with a variety of applications including BeyondTV. The big Firefly button is a little disconcerting for an old Tivo user like me since instead of going to the front page of the BeyondTV interface, it goes directly to the Firefly jump page. I can understand the logic of it, but the Tivo button is an old habit hard to break.

Snapstream has done a good job developing a product that is easy to install and use, but it still has a lot of advanced features for the geek in all of us. It's well designed and sensible, but if you have a few extra bucks to build the Medusa, it has the side benefit of filling your friends with tuner envy.

In the next few days, I will post Part 2 will include more on this product with a focus on how one can distribute the content from room to room.

Additional Info:

TVHarmony Product Tracker: BeyondTV

Posted on November 18, 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The Tivo Cult and the Tivangelical

I recently viewed a broadcast on PBS from Frontline called The Persuaders which focused on consumer marketing and branding. The whole show is worth watching if you are into that kind of thing and it is available online here. As a side note, I learned that I never want to participate in one of Clotaire Rapaille's zany regression focus groups to figure out the root cause of why I use Crest toothpaste.

One particular segment got me thinking, though. Here's the transcript:

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: If Atkin could find what pushed a person from mere fan to devoted disciple, perhaps he could market that knowledge.

WRESTLING FAN: Most of the people I discuss the WWF with know that it's not a sport, you know, it's a masculine ballet.

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: So he compared dozens of groups he considered cults with so called "cult brands," from Hare Krishna to Harley Davidson–

VW BEETLE OWNER: If you're smart and kind of individual, that's what you drive.

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: –from Falun Gong to Mac.

MACINTOSH USER: I think there's something about Mac users. Like, they get it.

DEADHEAD: We just had discovered something.

LINUX USER: They realized there are other people like them, and they cooperate on certain projects, and it's part of belonging to the tribe.

DOUGLAS ATKIN: And the conclusion was this, is that people, whether they're joining a cult or joining a brand, do so for exactly the same reasons. They need to belong, and they want to make meaning. We need to figure out what the world is all about, and we need the company of others. It's simply that.

At various times in my life I've been a Mac advocate, a Deadhead, and a Linux user, so from my perspective, I think there is an element of truth to the description. I think the word "cult" is a bit much, but there are some products that transcend the value they bring and become a sort of hobby to people and in the processs fosters a community. I think the same can be said of many things including activities and sports like golf and sailing, where over time one can turn from simply "playing golf" to being a "golfer". Being a fan of a particular sports team is also a classic example (unless of course you're a Dodger fan; that's just plain a sickness).

Many companies try to foster that kind of devotion to their brands and products, and while most fail miserably, a few succeed to make it worth the effort to try. Whether Tivo became a "cult" product through dumb luck or perseverance, Tivo is one those products that has a devoted following. I call them "Tivangelicals", spreading the good word of Tivo throughout the land, and quite frankly, I'm among their ranks.

My own pet theory is that there is also a "negative tipping point" to that kind of devotion. With enough negative stimuli, the cuts and bruises start to accumulate. As the negative reservoir grows, it just takes a small incident to turn a strong emotional devotion into bitter disgust. From an objective observer's viewpoint, a negative tipping point looks like an over reaction and the person or company that caused the response often is left wondering why there was such a visceral reaction. A fan becomes an anti-fan.

Yesterday, I posted my own comments on Tivo's decision to put banner ads during fast forwarding, and it was mostly fell in the "it's an over-reaction" category. However, it seems clear in the light of a new day, that for some users yesterday was a negative tipping point moment. I think today's PVRBlog post is going to provide more stimuli to push some others over the line.

Today, PVRBlog had a chance to look at some of the screenshots of the ads, and despite the fact that it appears that Tivo was doing some damage control by letting him view them, it looks like another bad day for the Tivo PR department. Here is Matt Haughey's quote:

"Suffice to say that I was expecting something really subtle in the tivo UI but they looked very beta and looked like someone slapped a giant jpg of an ad poster over a quarter of the screen. They're also showing up in different spots, so you won't be able to tune them out by ignoring one section. But again, that's just in the early beta."

The Frontline documentary illustrates the number of companies trying to achieve a "cult" following for their products and the value it can have to making a business successful. Tivo has the luxury of having that kind of devotion, but it's unclear whether it will be enough to sustain them. One thing is clear; without that kind of devotion Tivo has no chance of success.

Posted on November 18, 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Who uses MSN TV?

Ever wonder who uses Microsoft's MSN TV product, a device that connects your television to Internet content? Well, just ask the guys down at your local senior center.

I always thought it would be a useful device for older people, but I was shocked by this quote from Andy Sheldon, senior director of product marketing for MSN TV:

"Our average user is 57 years old. These people are getting to the age where they don't want to deal with complicated ways of connecting to the Web."

Given how quickly time is flying these days, it won't be all that long before I'll find myself donning a wide brim hat, hopping in my Buick, and slowly driving home in the fast lane so I can email the grandkids on my television.

(Hat Tip: TVPredictions.com)

Posted on November 18, 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Digeo wins Technology Emmy

Startup Digeo won a Advanced Media Technology Emmy from the National Television Academy yesterday. It was awarded for Digeo's Moxi Menu user interface for finding current and upcoming content in an innovative manner.

According to their press release:

Digeo's Moxi Media Center is currently being deployed in more than 25
markets through industry leading cable providers including Adelphia and
Charter Communications, Inc. The company also has deployment commitments from
Comcast Corporation and Sunflower Broadband.

(Hat Tip: TVPredictions.com)

Posted on November 18, 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 17, 2004

Fast Forwarding Ads in Tivo

I feel obligated to add my two cents on the now famous decision to put banner ads in Tivo when a user fast forwards past commercials. There are some pithy comments here at Build Your Own PVR, TivoBlog.com,
Thomas Hawk, Ploosh!, SlashDot, and PVRBlog (some excellent comments there too). Basically, there are two camps; one believes that Tivo is selling out and the other thinks this is no big deal. I happen to straddle between them.

First, it's unclear how the advertising will work, and like many things, the devil is in the details. There's a big difference in the way it's been described as either a pop-up ad (giving one visions of having to click a close box to continue)versus a small banner ad that doesn't interfere with your ability to fast forward past the commercial break. If it makes fast forwarding slower or harder, I'm mad as hell. If it's just a corporate logo, I couldn't really care less.

Part of Tivo's problem is the timing and the perception that they are shafting their users by cutting features. Let's look at what has happened recently. First, there's the perception that Tivo will cut any deal with copyright holders to prevent litigation at the expense of users. Next thing you know, Tivo announces that they will be putting restrictions on pay-for-view and other high value recordings so that they won't linger on your hard drive for too long. Finally, they appear to be screwing with our beloved fast forward button. A small banner ad isn't the end of Tivo as we know it, but many users have a good reason to believe this is only the beginning.

I think if they played a smarter PR strategy, this would have been fairly insignificant. For instance, why not introduce this "feature" when they launch TivoToGo? Why not wrap it up with a few new features and call it the new Tivo OS? Instead, it feels to Tivo users that they are becoming a cash cow getting milked daily.

I find a banner ad minor in comparison to the privacy issues that are raised by Tivo gathering statistics. The Janet Jackson SuperBowl malfunction was a revelation for many people when Tivo made the point that it was the most replayed moment in Tivo history. I'm much more concerned by a revenue-hungry company that has so much personal information at its fingertips. With DVD players a new feature embedded in some of Tivo's products, I can't believe it would be difficult for a DVR to record all the DVD titles one views, and I have a feeling many people wouldn't want their steamier movie choices revealed to advertisers.

It's not exactly big news that Tivo needs to generate more revenues to stay in business. Part of that includes finding new customers and part of that is finding new revenue generation ideas. I'd prefer a small banner ad on fast forward over a hike in monthly fees. The big problem is that of perception and the more Tivo users feel like they are getting constantly short-changed, the more they'll likely look elsewhere for their DVR solution.

Posted on November 17, 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 16, 2004

Foresaking Tivo

This guy has, in favor of the very new Microsoft/Comcast product. The two features that drew him away from Tivo: dual tuner and HDTV support.

Thomas Hawk over at eHomeUpgrade has more salient points on why both Tivo and Microsoft MCE both need to get their products straightened out.

Posted on November 16, 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Replay Video Suite

Applian Technologies, the guys who created Replay Radio, announced a new product today called Replay Video Suite. Similiar to Replay Radio, which records Internet Radio Streams with Tivo-like functionality, the announcement suggests that Replay Video Suite will include similiar features for streaming video.

Additional Info:

TVHarmony Product Tracker: Replay Radio

Posted on November 16, 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

SageTV Officially Announce SageTV Version 2.1

SageTV officially announced their release of SageTV Version 2.1. According to the press release, it has:

The software has also been enhanced to allow users greater flexibility
when searching and recording television programs. Users can browse upcoming
programs by category and record shows based on keywords (i.e. ice skating,
French cooking, etc.) in addition to specifying a specific title, actor or
program category. In addition, the software has been enhanced with improved
file management; plug-in support for on-screen display, inputs and
MediaPlayer; and revamped capture and playback systems.

I find the most compelling unique feature of Tivo is the program guide searching capability, and it will be interesting to see how it compares.

Additional Info
SageTV Website
TVHarmony Product Tracker: SageTV

Posted on November 16, 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Review: Humax DRT800 (CNet)

CNet gave high marks to the Humax DRT800 Tivo with built in DVD-R. The downside for them was the monthly fees; the Pioneer unit with it's higher price tag comes with Tivo Basic service for free.

Additional Info
TVHarmony Product Tracker: Humax DRT800 DVD-R

Posted on November 16, 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 15, 2004

XBox 2 with DVR features?

The rumors are starting to swirl around the next generation XBox, which may come in three flavors, according to this article. The plain vanilla will have no hard disk and be a game-only machine. The chocolate flavor, mid-priced XBox, will have a hard drive and some media center like functions. The Ben and Jerry's, Chunky-Monkey flavor, high-end unit will be a full MCE machine capable of playing XBox and PC Games.

Posted on November 15, 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Plextor ConvertX Goes Mac

Plextor, maker of the PX-TV402U USB2.0 Video Capture Device with encoded MPEG4 support, in partnership with ElGato Systems, released ConvertX PVR for the Mac. EyeTV comes bundled with ConvertX PVR for the Mac.

It's always nice to see hardware vendors adding support for the Macintosh platform.

Additional Info:

TVHarmony Product Tracker: Plextor PX-TV402U

(HatTip: Engadget)

Posted on November 15, 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Build Your Own Movie Theater

Build Your Own PVR / Movie Theater points us a Tom's Hardware article on how to build a cheap projection system using an old LCD Monitor, an old-style overhead projector, and the cunning skills of MacGyver.

Sounds like a fun project.

Posted on November 15, 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 14, 2004

TVHarmony News Tracker

We've added another resource to the website which aggregates the latest unfiltered news headlines on a variety of topics. There's a link on the left but you can also click here to try it out.

Posted on November 14, 2004 | Comments (1) | TrackBack

November 12, 2004

Voom may go Boom

Philip Swann doesn't think it looks good for HDTV satellite operator, Voom.

Posted on November 12, 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Wired Interviews Tivo General Counsel

Wired has a short interview with Tivo Attorney, Mathew Zinn in regards to the new protection scheme which will put restrictions on keeping recorded shows.

The best bit:

You're not legally required to have copy protection. Why not tell Macrovision to stuff it?

That was an option. But if there was no Macrovision license, we would run into a lot of copyright problems with things like remote access and "TiVo to Go" functionality. To innovate and give people more flexibility with broadcast content, we decided it was acceptable to allow content owners to apply protections to higher-value content.

DVR vendors are in between a rock and a hard place. Given the choice, I'd likely do the same thing Tivo has done. Getting Tivo-To-Go and continued innovation is more important than the "what might happen"'s that may come along down the road.

Posted on November 12, 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Tivo Hacker Innovation

CNet has an article on Tivo hacking with an underlying theme that it gives Tivo some good ideas on features for the future. I have a lot of respect for the people who write hacks for Tivo, but I disagree with the article's contention.

Tivo hackers have done some brilliant work, but they've had to overcome many obstacles to get things to work properly. MFS_FTP is a great piece of software, but what makes it so great is that the author overcame so many roadblocks to make it functional. Transferring files has been around for many decades, so it's not exactly a revolutionary new idea.

Things that would be trivial to do on other platforms become insurmountable mountains in Tivo hacking. Things like converting a file from Tivo's proprietary format to regular old MPEG2 for instance, getting the software to react to the remote control, or even just drawing text on the screen can all take many hours of reverse engineering.

I don't blame Tivo either. Their business relies on the fact that they need to play nice with MSOs, and one way to really piss them off is to make it easy for users to break their business model. Tivo's investors want their money spent wisely, and costly litigation doesn't exactly bring investors knocking at your door.

I have a lot of respect for the Tivo hacking community, and I apreciate the work that they do. They are definitely innovative and industrious. It's also true that they have come up with some new features worthy of emulation. I'm impressed by anyone who climbs Mt. Everest, but these guys do it barefooted. It's an accomplishment to get to the top with snow between your toes, but it's not exactly the fastest way.

Posted on November 12, 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 11, 2004

Linux PVR Resource: PVR Hardware Database

One site that is particularly helpful for Linux PVR users is the PVR Hardware Database, which is a community-driven WIKI that includes a comprehensive hardware/software configuration database. It's very useful for people trying to decide which hardware to buy to build a MythTV or Freevo box. Much of the success to building a functional Linux DVR is finding someone else who has done it before and has posted it up on a web page, and PVR Hardware Database is a good place to start.

Since the last time I looked at the site, it has grown a lot as a resource, including some great links to install guides for both MythTV and Freevo. It's a great resource and we'll be adding it to my links section under MythTV.

Posted on November 11, 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Time-shifted Radio Comparison Chart

As a follow-up to our review of ReplayRadio, here's an excellent chart on all the products that are available for time-shifted radio. The I Love Radio site also seems like a good resource for tracking these kinds of products.

Posted on November 11, 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Upcoming Beyond Media Feature List

I found this post on Snapstream's forum, listing the features that will be included in Beyond Media, a new product to directly compete with other media center products.

Here's what will be included:

  • Photos

    • Browse your photo files

    • Play a slideshow

    • Rotate or zoom during a slideshow

    • Pan zoomed photos during a slideshow

    • Supported formats: JPG, JPEG, GIF, BMP, PNG, TIF, TIFF

  • Music

    • Browse your music files

    • Sort your music by album, artist, or genre

    • Playlist creation and playback

    • Current Playlist screen with visualizations

    • Supported formats: AIFF, AU, MID, MIDI, MP3, WAV, WMA, WPL

    • Play an audio CD

  • Video

    • Browse your video files

    • Fast forward, rewind, 30s skip, 7s back

    • Playback support for Beyond TV SmartChapters

    • Supported formats: WMV, AVI, MPG, MPEG, ASF, M2P, M2V

  • DVD playback

    • DVD codec included (with Dolby 5.1 surround sound)

    • Fast forward, rewind, 30s skip, 7s back

    • Previous and next chapter support

    • Title and root menu support

    • Audio track selection support

    • Subtitle selection support

  • Weather

    • The weather plugin allows you to check out the latest weather conditions in your area

  • SnapStream Spotlight

    • Buy and listen to music from online music download sites like Napster

    • Rent the latest Hollywood movies from Movielink or Cinemanow without leaving the comfort of your living room.

    • Listen to Internet Radio through internet radio sites like Live365

  • Plays well with Beyond TV, Firefly

    • Integrates seamlessly with SnapStream's Beyond TV

    • Works out of the box with SnapStream's Firefly

  • Miscellaneous

    • File browser

    • Start Menu browser

    • "Running applications" browser

    • Full-screen setup wizard

    • Automatic notification when new updates are available

  • Customizability

    • Rich skinning architecture

    • Powerful plug-in architecture (based around .Net)

    • Configurable menus

Sounds pretty cool. I can't wait to try it out.

Posted on November 11, 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 10, 2004

Review: Replay-Radio

Like Tivo, ReplayRadio is one of those products that will immediately make you wonder how you ever survived without it. I'm one of many people out there who has a long commute and my radio is my sole companion. What DVR has done for my television viewing, ReplayRadio now has done for my radio listening.

Unlike RadioShark from Griffin Technologies, ReplayRadio does not include a radio receiver. Instead, it is a software-only product that acts like a DVR for the thousands of Internet radio programs out there. Replay-Radio lets you schedule recording times for your favorite radio shows, the result of which gets directly converted into MP3 format. At that point, you are just a single click away from syncing it with an MP3 player or burning it on to a CD.

I found the product amazingly simple to use while still providing a wealth of power options to fine tune your recordings. To add a show, you simply click on the "Add Show" button and you are left with three options. The first is to pick from an ever-growing list of shows that the folks at ReplayRadio have found on the Internet (the list gets updated regularly with additions and modifications) and ReplayRadio will adjust the time properly based on your time zoe. The second option lets you pick from a similar list of over a 1,000 Internet radio channels. The final option lets you specify any valid URL (it even comes with an advanced feature called "URL Finder" which will help you find those hard to get URLs buried in a popup window).

From there, you can fine tune the show's recording options. You can adjust the time and days that the show is on, you can tweak the quality settings to reduce disk space, and there are several options to split a show recording into several different tracks. You can also tell it to delete a show after a predetermined number of days. It can record both Windows Media streams and Real Audio streams, assuming that you've downloaded Microsoft's and Real's free software clients. The product also comes with built-in support for burning music and MP3 CDs directly, assuming you have CD-R drive, as well as direct support for iPod and iTunes.

I continue to find handy uses of the software. For instance, there are many audio streams of archived shows that I like that have been put up on a website. I find that instead of listening to them on my computer in real-time, it would be handy to download them to my MP3 player for future listening. Now with a few clicks of my mouse, I set up ReplayRadio to record them during the middle of the night while I'm sleeping, and badda-bing, badda-boom, they are sitting on my hard drive the next morning ready to be synced up to my MP3 player.

The product also has some interesting hooks for third party developers. A developer can create a batch file to post-process a recording for instance, or add a new scheduled program programmatically from another program. It even allows web developers to create a special encoded URL so that other ReplayRadio users can just click on the link to add a particular show. Finally, they've implemented the whole product to be UPnP server so it can communicate with other consumer electronic devices.

There are some minor drawbacks, but nothing that greatly impacts how one would use the product. For instance, you can only record one show at a time so you are out of luck if there are two shows on at the same time. The quality, greatly improved if you download the free Enhanced Sound Driver, is dictated by the quality of the stream, and for some talk shows that use a highly compressed, low quality stream, they can still sound a bit tinny and hollow. The user interface for viewing recorded shows are a little light on features; adequate for many people, but not as nice as some MP3 managers like Windows Media Player.

ReplayRadio also has some interesting add-ons for purchase that I haven't yet tested. For instance, they have a product called Replay Player that does the equivalent of Tivo's "Pause LiveTV". There is also an add-on that has a more comprehensive guide to upcoming programs called vTuner, which may be good for searching for new content. They also have some additional software for connecting to Palm and PocketPC devices.

ReplayRadio is supported on Windows 98 or higher, and your computer must have a sound card. They offer a free limited demo and if you decide to purchase it for $29.95, they offer a 30 day guarantee.

If you're a fan of radio, this is definitely the product for you. At this point, I can't imagine getting through my commute any other way.

Additional Info:
TVHarmony Product Tracker: Time-shifted Radio

Posted on November 10, 2004 | Comments (1) | TrackBack

New Hauppauge DVB Patches for WinXP SP2

According to Digital Spy, Hauppauge just released patches for their line of DVB tuners which overcomes some bugs introduced by Windows XP, Service Pack 2.

Posted on November 10, 2004 | Comments (1) | TrackBack

DISH HD-DVR 921 Price Drops to $549

DishNetworks slashed their price for their DVR-921 HDTV DVR from $999 to $549 according to Home Theater Blog. Personally, I think all the HD DVRs out there are over-priced at $1000, squeezing early adopters until all the change falls out of their pants pockets.

Hopefully, this is the start of a trend.

Posted on November 10, 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Accessing Netflix from a Television

UnmitigatedRisk.com just released a useful new MCE plug-in to access Netflix from the comfort of your living room. While it has nothing to do with the Video on Demand or the Netflix/Tivo partnership, the living room is a common place where my wife and I have deep discussions on where an upcoming DVD should be placed in our rental queue (although late-night surreptitious adjustments have been known to happen).

In my mind, this might be a good first step for Tivo to do to set the hook in users' minds for the upcoming Netflix/Tivo service. It sure would come in handy.

(Hat tip: Dancing About Architecture, eHomeUpgrade)

Posted on November 10, 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Tivo wins Billboard D.E. Award

Tivo took home the Television Technology of the Year Award, during the recent Billboard Digital Entertainment Awards held on November 5th, 2004. Among other award winners were Steve Jobs who was named Visionary of the Year, and a host of other top companies including Apple, RealNetworks, XM Satellite Radio, and NCSoft.

Posted on November 10, 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 09, 2004

Actiontec Wireless Digital Media Player

Actiontec has introduced what could be called the next generation Digital Media Player, a wireless unit that supports HDTV output.

It has great support for the latest A/V standards including:

  • Supports MP3, AC3, AAC, WAV, WMA and Ogg Vorbis audio formats
  • Supports JPEG, GIF, animated GIF, TIF, BMP, and PNG image formats
  • Digital audio: 18-bit stereo and S/PDIF
  • Supports the following video formats: MPEG1/2/4, Xivd, RMP4
  • RCA connectors for 2 left and 2 right stereo audio output and composite video output for Dolby 5.1, DTS, MTS, Surround Sound
  • Digital Optical Output available for true sound fidelity without the need for RCA Cabling
  • Support for HDTV

(Hat tip: Engadget)

Posted on November 09, 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Microsoft and Comcast

Microsoft announced a deal with Comcast yesterday, bundling Microsoft software with Comcast set-top boxes and DVRs. The software will include support for recording HDTV.

Thomas Hawk has the most interesting take on it:

"So let me see if I get this one straight. If I'm a Comcast subscriber I can get a box from Comcast for a nominal monthly fee that runs Microsoft software that can record HDTV or I can go out and spend $1,500 on a Microsoft Media Center PC that cannot record HDTV content from my very same provider Comcast."

Why would Microsoft do this when it looks like it cannabilizes its sales for MCE? Like the PC wars of the 80's and 90's, I don't think Microsoft cares who wins the war, as long as their software is bundled on both sides. In this DVR war, I think Microsoft again wants to be the arms dealer for both sides, focusing on providing the best technology so that they can become the standard for these kind of devices.

The public perception is that Tivo is the standard-bearer, a technology built upon Linux. That can't sit too well in the board room up in Redmond, WA.

Posted on November 09, 2004 | Comments (2) | TrackBack

WFAA-TV Builds their own SageTV DVR

WFAA television in the Dallas / Fort Worth area has an article on turning an old computer into a functional SageTV DVR, including a companion video feed of the show.

It's either another sign of the apocalypse or that building DVRs has gone mainstream, depending on one's perspective.

Posted on November 09, 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

SA Adds DVD-R Technology

Scientific Atlanta announced an agreement with Sonic to bundle their DVD authoring software with future Scientific Atlanta DVRs. In my mind, this is quickly becoming a "must have" feature in future DVRs as the cost of the DVD-R drives are driven lower. Who needs the hassle of having a DVD player for viewing movies and a VHS recorder for backing up content, when it can all be put in one unit at a small incremental price. With internal DVD-R drives now at retail for $60, it's a small additional price for DVR companies to add this functionality.

It's a "no brainer" except for the MPAA, of course.

Posted on November 09, 2004 | Comments (1) | TrackBack


File this in the category of "who gives a rat's a**" but I've been struggling with the terms Personal Video Recorder (PVR) and Digital Video Recorder (DVR). I think for some people, the terms can be confusing and it's time to pick one and stick with it. While I think PVR is a more accurate description, it seems like the industry is moving to "DVR" as the preferred acronym, and from this point forward, I'll relent to peer pressure and use the term "DVR".

The "I love PVRs" tattoo will be undoubtedly painful to remove, but it's worth it if helps our readers.

Posted on November 09, 2004 | Comments (2) | TrackBack

November 08, 2004

Zap2it is getting scammed?

Zap2it.com, which is one of the backbone technologies that makes open source PVR software possible, is apparently upset that some retail products are using the XMLTV service without paying for it. This technology provides the North American programming guide data that is used by practically all open source PVR projects that are around.

Here's the letter that was posted on the SageTV bulletin board:

An Open Letter to the Zap2it Labs Community:

We at Tribune Media Services and Zap2it.com have been privileged to offer a TV listings service to the open source and freeware communities so that the many innovations in electronic program guides, digital video recorders, and recommendation engines could continue to flourish. This free-of-charge service is at risk, however, due to the actions of several businesses seeking to exploit our generosity so that they can make greater profits.

When you signed up for Zap2it Labs, you agreed to a contract that states the service is available for non-commercial, personal use only. A few commercial entities have chosen to ignore these contractual terms in order to receive television listings without paying. We know who these entities are; you know who they are.

These violations must end.

If you purchased a hardware or software product that receives its television listings from Zap2it Labs' DataDirect or, indirectly, through XMLTV, you may be violating our contract. It is critical that you and your vendor abide by our contractual terms, lest everyone suffer the consequences.

If you have any questions about this issue, or suggestions for how to ameliorate the situation, please feel free to contact us at mailto:labs@zap2it.com


Jay R. Brodsky
Tribune Media Services

If this service went away, it would make it much more difficult for projects like MythTV to operate. That's hope they get this resolved without deciding to pull the plug.

(Hat Tip: Reader EP)

Posted on November 08, 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack


Via DigitalMerging, Google has some ideas percolating on how the google search engine could be used in the television environment. With the click of your television remote, one could search for related sites on a PC powered television and display the results, with a pretty good results.

Personally, I'd be happy to have the opposite feature. Like Google's other topic-specific search engines (e.g. Mac, Linux), it would be nice to search for a television show, and via the new Tivo permalink (or better yet, a stadardized one that all PVRs can use), just click on a Record Now link.

One of the things that make Tivo good is it's searching capability. The ability to search for shows by keyword, actor, director, is pretty cool. Having a Google search that could do that and more, would be great. Adding searches for television bittorrents as well, things start getting really interesting.

Posted on November 08, 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Tivo Permalinks

90% Crud had an interesting idea to make web scheduling a Tivo just a bit easier: Permalinks to television shows. The idea is that with a single click on someone's website, you could program your tivo to record that show.

I guess good minds think alike. Tivo released the feature on the very next day. Here's an example for all those Tivo users that have toddlers: Click here to record an episode of Little Bear

Personally, I'd like to have the PermaLinks expanded to include creating WishLists. I use wishlists all the time to generate a personalized tv guide, and I'd find the ability to add a wishlist based on some recommendation very handy.

Additional Info:
TVHarmony Product Tracker: Tivo Series 2

(Hat Tip: Atmaspheric Endeavors)

Posted on November 08, 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 06, 2004

MPAA Lawsuit Roundup

I haven't had much chance to read up on the MPAA lawsuits, but Ploosh.com has an excellent roundup of them here and here.

Posted on November 06, 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

SageTV 2.1 Released

Build Your Own PVR is reporting SageTV 2.1 has been released.

According to BYOPVR, the new features include:

  • Support for recording multiple formats across multiple tuners (can mix MPEG-2 and MPEG-4/DivX hardware encoders)

  • MPEG-4 & DivX hardware encoding support including timeshifting functionality through the Plextor ConvertX TV-402U/M402U and Provideo 358T

  • New Hardware support for Plextor ConvertX TV-402U/M402U, Provideo 358T USB, AverMedia UltraTV PCI 500/550 and Hauppauge WinTV PVR 150/500 cards

  • Enhanced Video Library - Folder based with support for thumbnail images

  • Browse by Category - View upcoming airings by Category

  • Keyword Favorites - Record shows based on Keywords in addition to Title, Actor and Category

  • Enhancements to Intelligent Recording - Improved file management

  • Plugin support for On-Screen Display, Inputs and MediaPlayer (Developer information available)

  • SageTV now runs as a Windows Service

  • Rearchitected capture & playback systems

  • Support for multiple IR transmitters

  • Power Management support - Standby/hibernate modes supported with automatic wakeup for recordings

  • Expanded Remote Control Support - AverMedia 500/550 Remote and MCE Remotes

  • Import feature for STV Modules

  • Numerous Bug Fixes and Performance Enhancements

Posted on November 06, 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Yankee Group Forecasts DVR Future

Via LostRemote, the Yankee Group forecasts swift sales for DVRs estimating a 7 million unit installed base by years end. Tim Hanlon, senior vice president, director of emerging contacts for Publicis Groupe's Starcom, says:

"We've moved past the early-adopter stage by the middle of this year, and we're clearly now in the early majority stage and the numbers are going to continue to grow."

There were some other interesting tidbits in their other findings:

  • Aggressive pricing resulting from News Corp.'s acquisition of DirecTV and DVR services such as Highlights-on-Demand for NFL Sunday Ticket subscribers will drive DVR penetration on the DBS platform.

  • Cable operators will continue to extend their DVR deployments to new markets and initial take-rates will hold true for newer markets.

  • Consumer electronics manufacturers will continue to integrate DVR functions into DVD players, TVs, gaming consoles, and other devices.

  • Consumer electronics manufacturers will deploy TiVo's basic service on low-cost devices that require no monthly service fee. This will lower trial barriers for consumers.

Posted on November 06, 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 01, 2004

MediaMVP support of SageTV

Streams.ch has created a free plugin for SageTV that allows one to use a Hauppauge MediaMVP to control their SageTV. The MediaMVP connects to your television via a "wired" network (e.g. no wireless support yet) and lets you stream video, audio, and pictures.

As I've mentioned before, this sub-$100 product is quickly becoming the open-source developers first choice for creating a silent thin-client that sits next to your television, driving your noisier PVR machine up in the attic. Streams.ch is the latest example, but their is also a lot of work on other PVR software products including BeyondTV, GB-PVR, and MythTV.

Additional Info:
TVHarmony Product Tracker: MediaMVP

(Hat Tip: Build Your Own PVR)

Posted on November 01, 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The JavaHMO 2.0 Countdown Continues

Tivoblog notes that the JavaHMO 2.0 Beta 4 is up on their server with several new bug fixes.

Additional Info:

TVHarmony: JavaHMO 2.0 Beta Is Out

TVHarmony: JavaHMO Interview

Posted on November 01, 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Review: Logitech Harmony Remote 688 (RemoteShoppe)

RemoteShoppe.com has a good review of the Logitech Harmony Remote 688. I don't know much about universal remotes, but I found these two features very desirable for our household:

  • A set of special macro keys that do common functions like: "Watch TV", "Watch DVD", and "Play Music" with a single labeled button. That's great when the in-laws are in town.
  • A USB connector and computer setup program. Remotes are so complex these days that having the ability to walk through a setup program seems to make sense. If also allows the vendor to update the software with new product codes to keep the product shelf life longer.

(Hat Tip: Thomas Hawk, Engadget)

Posted on November 01, 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack