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NDS is coming to town

USA Today ran a story yesterday about DirecTV's new combo DVR/VOD unit that will eventually replace TiVo.

"DirecTV is preparing to offer a digital video recorder (DVR) service in mid-2005 that could duplicate virtually every feature now available from current partner TiVo, plus provide video on demand similar to what's offered on cable, say executives of the company preparing the software."

This is bad news for TiVo, since they usually count the million or so DirecTiVo customers as their own, and share subscription and ad profits. This news came to light this past summer and I speculated on it last year, but I think it'll still be bad news for people like me that are quite happy with their dual tuner, native quality recording TiVo boxes. I'm not much of a fan of Video On Demand, so I don't think I'm losing much by not having it. The other big difference between an NDS box and a DirecTiVo will be the interface and basic functionality. Competitors haven't really come close to the wishlist, season pass, or basic reliability a TiVo box provides. My guess is that now DirecTV has announced they're working on this, don't expect to see any major updates to the DirecTiVo OS. I doubt we'll see the Home Media Option. I doubt we'll see Multi Room Viewing, and I seriously doubt we'd ever see TiVo To Go on the DirecTV units.

No word on what will become of the HD-DirecTiVo, but I assume unless the NDS boxes support HDTV, they'll likely keep supporting that box over the normal DirecTiVo boxes. At least that's my hope, since I'd like to finally get a HDTV monitor and HD-TiVo this coming year. [thanks, Brian]

November 30, 2004 in News | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

PVRblog quite possibly on CNN tonight

MathowieWord on the street is that I might get a soundbite or two on tonight's NewsNight with Aaron Brown, on CNN (here's the TiVo Central link to record it). The shot at right is a screengrab from before my interview, when I was taking photos like this one in the studio (by the way, I love that since I was sitting in Portland they put a photograph of Portland behind me).

I talked about the TiVo advertising story and how it's kind of unfair to people that bought TiVos thinking they could avoid advertising. I did couch it by saying they gotta get profitable somehow and it's not entirely unexpected, but still a bummer for consumers and fans of TiVo's disruptive nature.

I often forget how nuts TV can be and I'm sure I was a nervous, stammering, sweating freak, so I'm looking foward to seeing how CNN gets anything useful out of me.

November 30, 2004 in News | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Is 'Transitional Fair Use' The Wave Of The Future?

All Your TV has a great piece running now called Is 'Transitional Fair Use' The Wave Of The Future?. In it, they touch on HBO's recent moves to curtail the consumer rights on recordings, where recorded episodes can't be saved forever, and will have a mandated delete date. I'm guessing HBO thinks a large drive TiVo with a whole season of Six Feet Under would cut into DVD sales of that season, but I tend to view shows on DVD for the extras so I think they're overdoing it if that's the case.

The phrase "transitional fair use" is one to watch because it sounds like an acceptable compromise between viewers and networks when in reality networks would like to roll back the basic freedoms you legally enjoy today. What if you go on vacation for a couple weeks in the summer? What if you're busy at work for a few weeks before you can tend to the backlog of HBO shows saved?  It'll be interesting to watch HBO try and balance the needs of their business while at the same time keeping viewers happy. It's a disturbing trend for those of us that just want to enjoy TV on our own time and it's a shame to see HBO leading the way down this dark path [thanks, Steve]

November 29, 2004 in News | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

My Movies - A FreeWare MCE Add-On

My Movies is a pretty useful looking plugin to Microsoft's Media Center Edition, enabling you to browse your movie collection, search through actor bios, and even keep track of which films have been seen, all within the MCE interface.

It's freeware/donationware, and just one of many MCE add-ons programmed by  lone developers. MCE has a whole plugin API, including a software development kit, which is probably why a lot of folks say MCE2005 offers the most capabilites to consumers while still being developer-friendly.

November 29, 2004 in Windows Media Center XP | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

RSS + BitTorrent: a BroadCatching How-To

Engadget ran a great how-to on how exactly you can download tv shows automatically. It's a bit tricky, since the software uses regular expressions, but they provide a bunch of examples to make that easier.

I've often heard this can replace a PVR completely, but if anyone's ever looked around for missed shows online, you can probably agree the quality usually isn't too high and you'll likely have trouble finding what you need unless it's somewhat popular. Still, it's an interesting direction and a few years from now the home recording fans of TV may just fill out the remainder of the TV lineup (and in HDTV no less). I know the networks and movie studios are freaking out over this, so it'll be interesting to see what they do in response to kill this technology.

November 24, 2004 in How-To | Permalink | Comments (13) | TrackBack

Details from TiVo's Quarterly Conference Call

If you missed TiVo's quarterly con all today, you can get the reply via phone or web:

TiVo Third Quarter Fiscal Year 2005 Results
Host: Mike Ramsay, Chairman and CEO of TiVo
When: Monday, November 22, 2004; 2:00 PM PST
Replay dial-in: 888-203-1112; Password: 976927
Webcast link

Helpful commenter MegaZone posted his notes here and Thomas Hawk posted a review of the call on his site.

TiVo reported sales and membership numbers, but the real meat of the call were the details on new features and directions the company is heading. Here are the main points:

  • TiVo To Go is coming by the end of the year. That's great to hear and backs up beta tester info I've gotten recently. It's almost ready for prime time and will definitely come out in the next four weeks. My secret hope is TiVo drops the news tomorrow, to help spur on more holiday sales of the units, especially this big shopping Friday following Thanksgiving.
  • They're hot on the DVD burning TiVo. TiVo sold a bunch and feel it's different than anything else in the marketplace. While that sounds great for them, I'm not sure if it's a good long term solution for increased sales. I've always imagined my TiVo like a computer, which gets upgraded every two years, but I think of my DVD player as an object that only gets replaced when it breaks. When we're up to series 4 tivos that can levitate, the humax might not be looking so hot. Still, not many people have DVD burners, so maybe that's a great point at which to combine with TiVo and let them kill two birds with one stone.
  • They talked about a standalone HD Tivo. They liked that DirecTV couldn't keep the HD DirecTiVos on the shelves this year, despite the high price, and are thinking of releasing a standalone unit. Of course, not many people will be hip to it if it only records OTA signals, so they'll have to get the cablecard stuff working for Comcast customers.
  • Other stuff. They talked about delivering content via broadband, like the Netflix deal, since 80% of their userbase has broadband. I see mentions of the move towards advertising revenue, but not nearly as much as in the CEO's talk a couple weeks ago.

Overall, sounds like TiVo's working on a lot of cool stuff coming soon, with more on the horizon for them. [thanks Thomas and MegaZone]

November 22, 2004 in News, SuperTiVo Project | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

PTVUpgrade releases network hacks for Series 2 DirecTiVo

PTVupgrade, a site that has been around for years selling pre-upgraded TiVo hard drive kits and upgrade services, has recently started work on a package for hacking DirecTV Series 2 TiVos, called PTVnet. The current Series 2 DirecTiVo hardware can run all the applications the standalone hardware can, but DirecTV never released the 4.0 OS to their customers. To let those users make the most of their crippled hardware, PTVnet will make upgrades and hacking easy by selling a pre-built hard drive ready to drop into a DirecTiVo box.

It sounds a lot like the Sleeper ISO method in this guide to hacking a Series 2 DirecTiVo I pointed to last month. My guess is that they have taken all the best and most useful tools out there in the hacking community, and baked them into these drives, ready to drop in with no muss and no fuss.

What's funny is that I just got back from a trip to Fry's to buy a new upgrade drive for my own Series 2 DirecTiVo, which I intend to upgrade tonight, but now I'm not so sure. The DirecTiVo hacking world doesn't have too many tools beyond the Sleeper ISO and it's not that easy to tweak out a drive for all the capabilities. I'm shooting for adding the TiVo 4.0 OS and TiVoWeb to my own drive, and will document it for later republishing on this site. Maybe the PTVUpgrade guys can get me a kit to test out here as well, which I can compare with the "doing it by hand" method. [thanks MegaZone]

November 20, 2004 in Hacks, News, TiVo | Permalink | Comments (11) | TrackBack

Interesting study on fast-forwarding

CBS is about to release a study showing that DVR users have better retention of commercial messages than people viewing ads at regular speed. They claim a recall rate of 23% for DVR fast forwarders, but don't mention what lower rate regular TV folks recall ads at.

It's kind of weird on the surface, but makes sense for a few reasons. One is that people using FF are concentrating at 100%, waiting to see the show come back so they can stop, while most folks stuck in 30-second ad jail can let their mind wander or take off to the kitchen for other things. Ads also have a tendency to repeat often (repeat often...often...), and I know when I'm watching shows I can spot that same damn weight loss pill ad for serious dieters and that same ad for Chili's that comes on at each break. I also suspect we're used to decades of ads displaying images at a certain rate and a certain pace, and I wouldn't be surprised if a psychologist would say the super quick cuts seen during FF would be more jarring and memorable in the end. [via MarketingVox and Mike] 

November 19, 2004 in News | Permalink | Comments (13) | TrackBack

PVR Comparisons

Replay45addrbookPVR Comparisons is a great site for information and (best of all) screenshots of many popular PVR models available today. I'm often asked by people if they should go with their cable company's free or cheap recorder or pony up the dough for a TiVo, and I usually list the pros and cons of the decision, but this site serves as a great information resource for the plethora of choices. They cover all aspects of each unit including capabilities, cost, and features as part of every review. This master feature chart is a good overview of everything out there.

I had no idea what the comcast DVR looked like until I saw this (ack, the colors! the fonts! man, that's an ugly UI). It's an exhaustive resource without equal, and I certainly hope they keep updating it.

November 19, 2004 in Product Reviews | Permalink | Comments (12) | TrackBack

Behind the website: when you're at the helm of a shitstorm

The media blog has a good post looking at how the TiVo ad meme grew from this site and kind of got out of hand. I feel bad about it -- on the one hand TiVo is a company and technology that changed my life and that I love, but I thought the original point of bigger ads while you avoid ads is a bad feature for customers. When I meant this was big news, I mean in terms of the TiVo UI, not in terms of how evil TiVo was being. Now that things kind of got nuts, I wanted to explain how it happened.

The backstory
I was really surprised that my little teaser post started such a controversy. On Monday, a LA Times reporter called me, told me basically that TiVo was going to have huge banner ads whenever you hit fast forward, and asked what I thought of it. I was taken aback, since it didn't sound at all like the TiVo I loved, but that was all the info I had to go on.

I knew it would be big news and I still couldn't believe it, but I didn't want to scoop the reporter. I hadn't posted anything substantial at PVRblog in a while, so I thought I'd put a small teaser meant to be like "hey, big news coming tomorrow that will be kind of bad and people might flip out." It's tough to think about this stuff in hindsight, knowing what we now know, but I didn't think it'd be such a self-fulfilling prophecy. But on the other hand, I could tell it would be a big thing, much bigger than the gold star showcase ads that everyone freaked out about a couple years ago (which I thought people totally went overboard on -- I actually watch about 75% of them).

The "goldstar" ads on TiVo Central -- once thought to be the death of TiVo

A few hours later, the article came out and had a few more details, but still was short on particulars. What I didn't know was that the TiVo Community boards were all abuzz and well on the road to freakout before the rest of the web.

The Backlash
So when the article came out, I made the post. I didn't want to totally flip out about it, but I did want to make a point out of the fact it is pushing ads at the exact point where you're trying to skip them, and how that doesn't quite jibe with how TiVo has operated in the past (it never gets in the way of letting you get around ads). The image I made in five minutes probably didn't help matters, and my "no longer tivo your way, it's tivo their way" was me trying to write a bit too much drama. From there, it got taken up by a zillion other blogs including slashdot. I've been blogging on other sites for over five years now, and know how reactionary we bloggers can be. I should have considered that before I got the ball rolling.

Days later, we know quite a bit more than the original reporter's rumors. tivopony has cleared up a few misconceptions, and it'll likely be built upon a feature already present in TiVo, what they call IPreview, a way they let you know you can record a program while watching a commercial, like this:

Hit thumbs up to get more info about a commercial, as seen today in TiVo

The Conclusion
Basically, it's going to be like the current feature, but instead of that thumbs up, you'll see something maybe 1/8th to 1/4 of the screen. Still kinda sucky, but I'm coming around to it being a necessary evil. I still wish TiVo wouldn't do this, but I know they have to make a buck to survive, so in the biggest picture sense, in a way this for users, so that TiVo will stick around. I'm not sure how many advertisers will adopt this, or how helpful it will be, but I'm curious what the final version looks like.

As much as I had a part in this whole mess, when I started noticing all the people saying they weren't going to buy a tivo, would think about selling their TiVos, and even trying to start a class action lawsuit against TiVo (for what exactly, I don't know), I knew things steamrolled out of control, and I'm kind of sad to know I was part of getting this backlash started. If I could do it all over again with a more level head to calm the troops, I certainly would, but I had so little info to go on and now that more has come to light it's not as bad as I once thought.

I'd hate to see blogs get known for reactionary authors (if it's not too late already), and I wish I had more interactions with TiVo HQ. I should have immediately contacted their PR folks after talking with the Times to get more backstory, because it was just too awful to believe. I hope TiVo and other companies embrace bloggers like me in the future, and don't keep us at arms length, or feel compelled to apease us to prevent future flameouts. We love the company and could have guessed the backlash was going to be big days ahead of its release. If you read this far, hopefully you understand why things got to where they are and it's my hope this whole thing blows over.

The bright side
TiVo ToGo is rumored to be coming out in December (I'd say it's almost for sure), and everything I'm hearing from testers is that it's fantastic and quite easy to use. I can't wait for it and hope it comes to my DirecTiVo, though I'm not holding my breath.

(Screenshots courtesy of the excellent PVR Comparisons site.)

November 18, 2004 in Op-Ed | Permalink | Comments (22) | TrackBack