Michael Sippey points us to an interesting article which, while not directly related to PVRs, should be interesting for those of us who enjoy more control over our own media consumption.
Backchannelmedia, who is in the business of selling direct-response tv advertising (bias beware) has compiled a lot of data showing the fragmentation of attention due to new platforms and technologies, be it the Internet, game consoles, DVRs, etc. Media companies, according to the Financial Times, have responded with either, "horizontal integration, vertical integration," or, "the search for new sources of revenue." The article argues that the marketplace is moving towards a mass customization future, an argument that Sippey disagrees with due to the costs involved (and I would agree.)
The combination of atomized consumer markets and digitized media technologies are spreading and speeding this process. When tens of millions of consumers live individualized lifestyles, and utilize individualized media and technology (PCs, PDAs, DVRs, iPods, cell phones, etc.), we are well on the way from mass markets to mass customization - markets of one.DRTV Connected: 1 - the Mass Market is Dead
The technology and culture trends point towards more customer control, not more marketer control, so anyone who wants to play in this game is going to have to give up the ghost of one-to-one marketing and instead enable customers to do their own media mix creation. Smart brands will give customers information and services that are easily syndicated, time-shifted, remixed, reused and repurposed.
PlaNetwork Journal has a good overview article on the digital video + internet revolution, "Anybody Can Be TV: How P2P Home Video will Challenge The Network News."
It covers the abundance of cheap, high quality digital video cameras, in combination with wifi networking to transmit video from the field. Then along with Bittorrent and RSS (aka Broadcatching). This article doesn't contain a lot of new ideas, but collects tidbits on all the technologies that could one day be combined to produce something TV like by citizens.
It's definitely a new age, and I agree with the author the internet helped make it happen. Gone are the days where people just sit passively and take in news programming, now every network has sites with feedback areas, email boxes, and the world is covered with blogs letting anyone say anything they want about the programming. Combined with simple tech, folks may just start making their own media soon, and if we can get an easy to use broadcatching platform for the home (what the article calls the ultimate set top box), there just might be something to make the TV and cable networks worry.
A Slashdot post tonight points out that a recent update to the DirecTiVo operating system has induced recording errors on older Series 1 DirecTiVo units. Reports of the problems sound pretty serious, but the worst part is that the only solution appears to be upgrading to a Series 2 unit. It's currently only $79 to get a new unit, and if you push DirecTV they'll credit you the difference.
Considering how infinitely hackable Series 1 DirecTV units are compared to Series 2 units, I wonder if maybe this bug isn't being fixed to help move the subscriber base up to a more locked down unit. Seeing how the movie industry is so freaked out about video extraction, getting every series 1 TiVo user onto a series 2 box would certainly help put an end to the practice.
The AP does a story on how Tivo is being challenged by the NFL and Hollywood movie studios over a new feature "Tivo to Go" which allows Tivo users to move Tivo content to laptops and other non-Tivo machines.
TiVo has said it wants to give users more flexibility in how and where they view their recorded shows — on an airplane or a road trip, for example — and to let them share the content with a few friends. The company says it plans to incorporate copy-restriction technologies to limit the number of devices to which the shows can be transferred, preventing unfettered Internet distribution.While I certainly appreciate new features, I hope that Tivo's first and foremost concern is how to stay profitable and solvent. Who cares what features they have if the company isn't around in a few years to provide the basic service?
The content companies don't think TiVo's proposed safeguards are adequate enough to block users from sending their recorded shows to strangers' devices across the globe, said Fritz Attaway, executive vice president and legal counsel for the Motion Picture Association of America, the Hollywood lobbying arm that filed the opposition papers.
TiVo Battles Hollywood Over Copyrights [news.yahoo.com]
DesignTechnica has a review of the Hauppauge WinTV-PVR-250. It's designed for people who want to integrate a Windows-based PVR into their Media Center PCs. One key benefit is the onboard MPEG encoder, which takes that workload off your main CPU. You would still need Snapstream or another front-end to use with the Happauge card. They conclude that:
Hauppauge’s WinTV-PVR-250 TV tuner and capture card is the product of choice for HTPC enthusiasts and Windows Media Center system builders, and for good reason. There certainly are lower-priced solutions available, but the PVR-250 has quite an advantage over them with its hardware based MPEG encoder, saving valuable processor performance for other tasks.Hauppauge WinTV-PVR-250 Review - Designtechnica Reviews
Onboard analog connectors allow you to not only watch, record and pause TV, but they allow you to record from other sources such as VCRs and analog video cameras.
Today's Washington Post carries a jaw-dropping article about TiVo's latest fight [via waxy]. Tivo ToGo was announced at CES in January of this year, with a planned Fall release, but if the Movie Industry and the NFL get their way, it will never see the light of day.
What is most shocking about the objections is that TiVo ToGo is an already crippled version of something TiVo hackers and users of software PVRs like Windows Media Center and Snapstream have been doing for years now. See that huge ugly plastic dongle pictured in the upper right? That's your user "key" that makes sure only your TiVo programs can play on your PC or laptop. I haven't seen or tested this functionality out, but I'm sure those programs are encrypted to the point that they are unplayable on any device that doesn't also have the hardware key plugged in. I wouldn't be surprised if the video format is a proprietary one as well. TiVo is also talking about adding a show swapping feature, which is great news, but you will have a limit of ten other devices that you can share with (ReplayTV used to let you swap with an unlimited amount of other users, which got them sued until they went bankrupt and removed it).
Simply put, compared to how Microsoft's offerings work, and a slew of small software packages for the PC and Mac that record TV, the TiVo ToGo feature is a crippled lockbox. You won't be sharing shows on Kazaa anytime soon with TiVo ToGo features.
The NFL and MPAA are attacking both the show extraction feature, claiming it will allow programs to propigate online, and the show sharing features, claiming TiVo owners will share them with more than their friends. Their nightmare scenario is that maybe, possibly, someday someone you don't know might ask for a copy of an obscure program you happened to have recorded and saved. Oh, the horror of it all!
For no other reason than it points out how insane this is, here are some priceless quotes:
TiVo was one of 13 companies that asked the FCC for approval, arguing that its copy-protection system met the requirements. The Motion Picture Association of America, Hollywood's lobbying arm, and the NFL then filed objections to TiVo's plan.
First off, how much does is suck that TiVo can't just think of new features and build them, but they have to ask for permission from the FCC? Can't a company innovate without asking everyone if it is ok first? Also, why is the MPAA and NFL going after TiVo when Microsoft's Media Center Edition allows you to not only share your programs with other PCs and laptops, but it also spawned an entire market for portable TV devices like this one? Where were the movie industry goons when those products were announced and released?
This other quote puts a light on how screwed up the NFL is:
The NFL, meanwhile, is concerned that a user could send a copy of a game to someone in another time zone, where the game is blacked out.
Only the NFL would go so far out of their way to make sure their most ardent fans can't see the football games they want to see.
I sincerely hope TiVo weathers this legal storm, the products are already loaded with enough protection to keep the movie industry's worst fears from taking place, though I suspect if the show sharing features get into TiVo, the maximum number of shareable devices will most likely be something like 3 other boxes instead of 10.
Yesterday, Humax announced new 80Gb and 250Gb TiVo, the top one offering up to 300hrs of storage at the lowest quality. You can buy upgrade kits to do pretty much the same and I suspect the ~$600 unit will likely cut into sales by TiVo upgrade kit folks.
The good news from all this is that the Series 2 operating system in these Humax units is definitely supporting large disks. The linux kernel used by TiVo could only see a maximum of 137Gb in any single hard drive. If you stuffed a 160Gb, 250Gb, or larger drive into a TiVo, you'd only see 137Gb of it.
Until recently, the only way to get large drive support in a TiVo was to hack in a LBA48 sensing kernel, like this hack mentioned previously on PVRblog. When the HDTV TiVos were announced and released, they too came with 250Gb drives and the TiVo hacker community knew it was only a matter of time before new TiVo OS upgrades would allow for large disks.
Humax is planning to release their TiVos later this month that feature a single 250Gb, and word on the street is that both these new units and the Pioneer DVD burning TiVos (as well as all new TiVos, eventually) are running a new 5.x version of the TiVo operating system, complete with a linux kernel update and large disk support, which is good news for everyone. No longer will upgrades require more than one disk to get more than 160 hours of storage.
A Reuters article pointed me to Amazon taking $499 pre-orders for Creative's 20Gb portable media center device. The portable device will play Windows Media Video, Windows Media Audio, Windows Media Image, MP3, JPEG, and TIFF files. It'll sync with a computer running any version of XP, but if you've got Media Center Edition running, you'll be able to transfer shows directly over to the portable device.
This new Creative unit is the first product that MS hinted at early this year. It'll be interesting to see how well it does in the marketplace. The price is kind of high and since you're locked into using Windows Media Video instead of Microsoft's own AVI, DivX, and/or MPEG, I'm curious if there are enough legitimate users of wmv to create a market for this. I bet if the device played more video and audio formats (why not add ogg support?), they'd sell more.
Last month I had an idea to create a shop where you could buy Broadcast Flag-free PC products, which are set to be gone by July 1, 2005. I was even going to stockpile equipment so I could continue to sell it after the fact. I never got around to building the site before July 1st of this year (I wanted to start it exactly one year before the deadline), but the fine folks at the EFF kicked off their one year clock and site on the Broadcast Flag. I helped them craft the message for the page and they'll be bulking it up soon with links to products you can buy, info on why it's a big deal, and steps you can take to enjoy more PVR functionality before July 1, 2005. One of the features of my Broadcast Flagless site idea was to do a countdown clock, which the EFF has, and I'll be adding to this site as well soon.
This gist of it is this: After July 1, 2005, every PC HDTV card, computer PVR software, and home theater based HDTV recorder (like the HD DirecTiVo unit) will be aware of the Broadcast Flag and prevent you from moving recordings off your boxes. They'll be especially harsh on computer based stuff, since pretty much every computer is connected to the internet these days and the Flag is supposed to suppress the ability to trade shows online.
So what will the pirates do? They'll likely do what anyone would do if hit with prohibition at a certain date: they'll simply use equipment created before the date and do what they do, recording programs and releasing them online.
What will typical home users do? They'll likely buy products not knowing that the Broadcast Flag limits what they can do, record programs, then eventually find out they can't use video streaming or sharing features that products like SnapStream and Windows Media Center Edition will have for HDTV signals.
Will it stop the trading of TV shows online? Unlikely. Will it annoy honest folks that pay for top quality entertainment and products? Most likely.
The worst part of all this is that thanks to the DMCA, it'll be illegal to hack your own Broadcast Flag drivers into a system, meaning that Linux-based PVR software like MythTV may not be able to record protected HDTV content after next year. Any software that removes or disables Broadcast Flag limitations will definitely be illegal, but get this, any hardware built before July 1, 2005 that isn't Broadcast Flag aware can be legally sold after the date. So if you stock up on a case of new HDTV cards for your PC, you'll be able to legally enjoy your black market profits next year.
Personally, my biggest worry is that like every other protection the movie industry has created for themselves, the rules will be abused to eventually benefit companies while customers suffer. Look at region encoding thing that all DVDs have. DVDs are set to play only in certain parts of the world and most DVD players can only play discs from their own area. I remember when the idea was first proposed and the movie industry promised that it wasn't going to be used to price fix or prevent material from being available in certain regions, but today we find that most customers in regions with more expensive DVDs use region-free DVD players and just import the cheap DVDs. Also as any fan of British TV in America knows, you can buy a lot of DVDs at Amazon.co.uk you can't purchase at Amazon.com, sometimes including even an Amercian TV series (the Family Guy DVDs were availabe in the UK for almost a year before they were released here). The Digital Millenium Copyright Act was supposed to just prevent cracking of copyright code for software and hardware used by computers and entertainment devices, but today we have printer companies and cell phone companies suing small companies that produce cheaper ink cartridges and replacement batteries, and we have authors that can't write books on hacking movie players into video game systems and even PVRs (there's a reason why there are no books on hacking Series 2 TiVos).
Once the Broadcast Flag is out there in hardware and software, and all HDTV signals are coming down with it enabled, what's going to happen a couple years from now when Hollywood gets nervous about their bottom line? Will the Broadcast Flag only prevent moving a captured show file from one PC to another or will you suddenly be limited on how many times you can play something back or burn it to a DVD? And why are PBS signals being encrypted with the Broadcast Flag after July 1, 2005? Isn't it the public broadcasting system, i.e., the one we give tons of federal money to and is free to all markets? Will a teacher be able to record shows from HDTV PBS signal and bring those into a classrom? I certainly hope so.
As an act of protest, and a way to test the HDTV waters, I'm going to buy an HDTV card soon for my PC at home. I'll get to dip my toe into the complex world of HDTV content, and I'll have something that will likely be valuable after a year goes by.
A couple recent notable comparison tests between a Microsoft Media Center Edition PC and a standalone TiVo have been making the rounds: TiVo versus Media Center Edition PC's - finally! and Media Center Eye for the TiVo Guy.
In both sets of tests, the Media Center Edition PCs prove to be a bit buggy and crash-prone, and the reviewers eventually give the final nods to TiVo with its bulletproof simple design and reliability.
Michael Gartner, a media analyst and a big fan of MCE, counters with the mention of all the cool things you can do with a recorded show on a PC: archive it to DVD, stream it with other computers on your network, and copy it to a portable device.
What it all comes down to is how you want to view and consume media. For most folks, they just want a dependable box that will do what they say. In a way, it's a lot like a helpful robot. You say "tape all the Sopranos you find" and you expect it to do your bidding. If you want to do more, you'll have to hack around a bit or throw some parts and free software to build your own, but a minority of folks seem to go to such lengths. That's what came out of a recent discussion of building your own PVR on MetaFilter, where even hardcore geeks admitted that it was much cheaper to just buy a tivo, set it, and forget it, when compared to the parts list and nuturing that a linux-based PVR requires.
I think that's the bottom line to all of this talk. If owners want to burn stuff to DVD or watch shows on their laptop while traveling, it's probably worth using MCE or MythTV, even though it costs more and they might crash from time to time. But for the vast majority, an $80 TiVo box will serve their needs, can be trusted, and hopefully if TiVo can get their "TiVo ToGo" features released soon, you'll be able to do many of the things that MCE boasts as advantages.