Davenetics points at a new study that supports something I've been thinking about for a while now. This report is showing results that while PVR owners are fast-forwarding through many commercials, they're at least watching them, instead of changing channels and avoiding them altogether, as non-PVR owners often do.
Personally, I find myself watching at least one commercial per half hour of recorded content simply because it looked interesting during fast-forward. The popular industry folklore is that TiVo is killing the 30-second advertisement market, when my personal habits and this study contradict that. [thanks Dave]
Great news from the LA Times regarding sweeping changes in the way networks are phasing out reruns. TV execs have often claimed that TiVo had the potential to drastically alter their universe (which is automatically seen as a bad thing) and this looks like the first real change, aside from increased product placements to combat fast-fowarding through ads. Apparently, a sizable number of PVR owners are impacting their bottom line as their recorders automatically pass over old episodes. Aside from TiVos, they're also finding big drops in audience numbers during the summer rerun season, as viewers either flock to cable shows or the internet or just turn it off.
Without reruns, networks are trying out new shows in the same slot, or repeating the previous week's episode in a new slot in case you missed it (long a staple of cable TV). Smaller networks like the WB and Fox are promising to change the schedules to new shows this Summer instead of waiting until the Fall season. There's also the lucrative DVD market that is saturated with pretty much every show ever made, and reruns would cut into that business.
It's not all TiVo's fault by any stretch, but things are definitely changing in TV land.
Toshiba announced new products today, including two TiVo based DVD recorders, in 120Gb ($599) and 160Gb ($699) sizes. They're set for an August release and will be the only competitor to Pioneer's line of DVD recording TiVo boxes, which have gotten rave reviews. The Toshiba units also include a DV plug on the front, to make it easy to convert digital camcorder video directly to DVD.
Michael over at Cruftbox wondered why some season passes weren't being taped and eventually figured out it was due to his kids. Passkilling is the term he's come up with for people cancelling a "TiVo would like the change the channel you are currently watching to tape this..." message. I found myself doing it accidentally the other day, but it's been rare ever since I got a two tuner DirecTiVo setup.
When I started this site last summer, I was toying with the idea of producing a terrabyte tivo as a hacking project. It's not that I'd ever actually want that much space, I just wanted to see if it was possible. I explored it for a few days and there was an outside chance I could hack LBA48 support for larger hard drives into my old standalone TiVo, but I'd still have to mount two of the drives externally and figure out a way to split the IDE cables and still have enough juice in the power supply to keep it running. I scraped it because it wasn't really worth it.
But Sony's working on it, and the seven tuners part seems more outrageous than the amount of storage. If it will be recording HDTV content, a terabyte of storage will allow for a decent amount of content (50+ hours?) and is actually useful. Personally two tuners is great, and there's only been one or two instances where I wished I had one more tuner, but seven is ridiculous. I can't imagine what use case they designed a 7 tuner recorder for. I don't think there has ever been seven things on TV worth watching at once.
The folks over at Snapstream are currently running a giveaway of their new USB remote product, Firefly. They're giving away five a day for the next ten days. It includes their new home theater PC front-end software, so if you ever wanted to turn your PC into a TiVo, this would be a great way to start.
BoingBoing pointed out that NBC is tweaking start times of their shows to outsmart TiVo again (last fall's mention here).
If you were hoping to TiVo both Survivor and Friends tonight, you'd probably want to check your TiVo asap.
There has been a lot of speculation in the last year about when a personal video player would go mainstream in the US (they're pretty popular in Japan already), and many are waiting for Apple to take the lead and expand the iPod to serve video. Well, as I found out on a recent cross-country flight on Alaska Airlines, the technology is already here and it's pretty useful.
I'll admit that it's not the most cutting-edge development, as personal video players have been seen in first class cabins for a few years now, and personal DVD players can be rented for one-way use at many airports. When I heard them mentioned at the start of my flight, I figured I'd pay the ten dollar charge (they're free in first class) and see if watching a movie on a small screen was comfortable and what types of music was offered. What eventually piqued my interest about the device was the technology being used.
After we got up to a safe altitude the attendents passed them out and as I was looking over the device I noticed something curious on the back. See for yourself:
I was surprised but impressed that a company called e.Digital had adopted an emerging internet video standard for consumer applications, figured out the studio licensing maze, and sold their services to a major airline. Compression formats like MP3 and DivX were popularized by underground internet trading networks but they've historically been difficult to use and the domain of expert users. In the past couple years however, consumer devices have fought Hollywood industry lawsuits in order to make those formats easy to use. In effect, e.Digital has created the first DivX player my grandmother can use. Kudos to the design team.
The device was called a "digEplayer 5500" and was easy to use with a directional wheel, play/pause/seek video controls, brightness and volume controls, and a couple navigation buttons. The display was a widescreen LCD around 7" in size. The main menu offered movies, sitcoms, and music, in addition to some airline info. The player was about the size of three iPods side by side, but still smaller than a laptop. It was about an inch thick and only weighed a pound or so.
The amount of content on the device was more that I would have guessed could fit. There were nine full length movies (three recently in theaters, the other six were common video rentals from the past 2-3 years), three TV shows (including the Simpsons!), and a selection of 10-15 songs in ten different genres. That's roughly 15 hours of video and about 6 hours of music. I would assume the player was hard drive based, to hold that amount of data (a 20Gb laptop drive would be my guess).
Movie and TV show playback was smooth, though the content was formated for a standard 4:3 tv set, and widened to fit the 16:9 screen on the handheld (which seems dumb, but I recognized the same "this movie has been formated to fit this screen" message at the start of films I've rented in fullscreen format, so they probably just ripped DivX versions of rental market films. I watched the Simpsons episode ("Lisa Gets an A") and Master and Commander in full. The screen was bright and crisp, and looked great in daytime light and during action sequences.
After I was done with the movie and show, I turned the device off to poke around a bit. The back pointed out it cleared FCC regs for home and office use, but other labels said it was limited to only commerical use on Alaska. Aside from the headphone jack on the side and a taped over DC power jack, the only other opening was a side door. I cracked it open and found what appeared to be a black cartridge-type pack. I believe it was the battery pack, though I couldn't get it to budge no matter how much I wiggled on the small strap sticking out of it. There's got to be a way to easily exchange content on the device for new films and music, but I could find no evidence of docking mechanisms. Perhaps the black brick was a removable hard drive. On bootup, the screen revealed it was running the "MicroOS 3.1".
Overall, I had a great time using the device and it helped my five hour flight feel a lot shorter. Steve Jobs has said in the past that watching video on tiny screens was a bad movie experience, but I have to say it wasn't that bad for me. I had never seen Master and Commander before and I'm sure I would have enjoyed the epic's cannon blasts if they were on a 80 foot screen, but I still felt the suspense and action on the small monitor. By exposing airline passengers to this device, you get to see regular folks enjoy small, portable types of entertainment. And it makes sense to use a portable instead of installing screens in every seat (same could be said about in-car DVD systems, why not make them portable instead and entertain people in any car?).
What impresses me most from this device is that it appears to be a low cost box built with commoditiy parts, and it takes advantage of content encoding that was developed in the illicit world of online media trading. Small LCD screens are cheap (you can find a 5" LCD for around $50 on ebay), mp3 and divx decoders are just a few bucks for the chips, and laptop hard drives are readily available (they can be pricey though). Combined with a simple user interface, this device takes all the complexity of movie codecs, P2P networks, and file metadata, and turns it into a system that non-technical adults can enjoy.
After playing with the digEplayer for a few hours, I'm wondering why these units aren't widely available for movie and television show fans. The most obvious reason would be that Hollywood doesn't want you to make a copy of your purchased DVD for your handheld, nor do they want you to download a TV show you taped for playback on another device. I've long held that instead of calling Kazaa users criminals for going to such great lengths to find shows, songs, and movies they enjoy, content industries could instead be calling them customers (highly motivated customers, at that). Apple proved that if you gave people a reliable, speedy, easy-to-use source of music at a reasonable price, people would rather pay the small fee than go through the effort of obtaining free songs. There is MovieLink for films, but every review I've seen of the service talks about the hard to use software that only runs on certain configurations. Currently there's no easy way to get digitized TV shows other than searching underground networks for it.
It's clear why this device is only available for rental in a commercial setting -- Hollywood hasn't yet figured out a model they're comfortable with for distributing content to customers. The only barriers are social and legal, as the technology is already here.
There are several companies working on the technology to enable folks to watch TV on their cellphone, but the Pyramid recorder looks like a simple, new approach. You hook the device to your TV, record up to two hours of video onto a 128Mb SD card, then pop the card out and plug it into your high tech phone.
If this device is easy to use, I could see it being the perfect thing for a subway commute. I'd grab my favorite news or comedy show from the night before, have it automatically dumped to this card each morning, then watch that on the way into work.
There's no mention of security or DRM, but it would seem that shows on cards could possibly be stored on PCs and likely traded. I wonder if a device like this could create a massive community of folks sharing tiny stamp-sized videos of shows.