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Engadget plays with TiVo Desktop 2.1 Beta

tivodesktop21.JPG

Engadget has found their way to a beta version of TiVo Desktop 2.1 and they give it a once over.

The good stuff they find includes better support for TiVoToGo on portable devices and a TiVo-branded video player complete with the green playback bar and sounds we're all used to. They also are getting rid of the playback password, which sounds like good news, but...

They're also doing what they can to keep the TiVo files from being seen by unclean eyes software. They block certain programs from playing .tivo files, to keep programs from transcoding the files into a format without DRM.

So this "upgrade" removes my ability to strip the DRM on .tivo files so that I can watch my .tivo files on my mac laptop? Awesome, since I woke up this morning hoping that my stuff would be less useful!

Also, what's up with the UI? The TiVo remote works because my fingers can feel around the rewind/pause/fast-forward buttons. Great physical UIs don't make for great software UIs. Or maybe I'm just bitter over the whole DRM thing and taking it out on a poor, defenseless UI.

Update: Dave Zatz, who reviewed the software for Engadget, has instructions on how to downgrade from TiVo Desktop 2.1 to 2.0 if you installed 2.1 and want to restore your ability to put your media on a device of your choice.

March 31, 2005 in News, TiVo | Permalink | Comments (22) | TrackBack

"Icon" ads over commercials at TiVo

TiVo's support section has a new entry about the ads. The takeaway tip is that you can hit CLEAR to remove them from your screen.

I don't want to keep harping on this new feature, but I do want to return some nuance to this discussion by restating that I believe in all the screenshots I've seen, the ad is rough looking and obscuring too much of the screen. For the life of me, I can't figure out why TiVo would not put the ad down in a corner, perhaps taking up to 25% of the screen, wrapped around some TiVo OS chrome, so at least it looks like it should be there. The way the ads appear now, it almost looks like your TiVo has been hacked by an outsider. TiVo's UI and software engineers do some beautiful work, agonizing and testing each and every option, and customers are used to the friendly, eye-catching software, but this looks like something they were forbidden from working on.

Of all the screenshots I've seen, this one is my personal favorite for the worst possible interaction:

Tivo_ads_2

Nope, that doesn't obscure the show or degrade your ability to see what is going on at all. :)

Update: to give you an idea of what I'm talking about, I just took a photo of my TiVo during a blockbuster commercial, then mocked up a quick ad format from a screenshot of the blockbuster homepage. Compare this with the photo above and I hope you'll see what I'm trying to say about how these need to be integrated with TiVo's look and feel for customers not to feel they're being taken.

Tivoads4

At least it looks like it was supposed to be there. Why won't TiVo at least make them look more like this?

March 29, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (80) | TrackBack

Tivo ads in the wild?

Last fall TiVo users (myself included) raised a bit of a ruckus over the reported beta test feature of ads superimposed and added by TiVo when you hit fast forward. I'm still not sure what became of that planned feature, but Jeff Sprankle wrote in with a report of something similar happening on his TiVo:

This morning, I started watching Ghostbusters 2 on Comedy Central and, as I always do, paused it for a while so I could FF through commercials.  At the first commercial, I used my trusty FF button only to see an ad for The Interpreter smack dab in the middle of the screen.  Seems Tivo has started placing ads on your TV when you FF or RW live TV.  To me, this is quite obnoxious because it takes up most of the TV screen!

There was no new message about a code update so this seems like a sneaky little add-on.  Looks like I'm going to have to send that letter to Mike Ramsey that I wrote when I first heard rumors about this!

Without some photos and screenshots, it's tough to tell if this is an isolated incident or the start of the feature getting out to users. Some folks on the TiVo Community boards are reporting the same thing, so I'll keep an eye out for any screenshots of this feature in action. Until then, consider it unverified, but I await anyone experiencing it to post a photo of it as proof.

March 26, 2005 in TiVo | Permalink | Comments (38)

PSP PVR Plz

Sony's first handheld console, the PSP, is finally out in the US and people are doing whatever they can to cram whatever media they have on it. First up, Zatz Not Funny has updated their TiVo To Go guide with a guide to put .tivo files on a PSP. Short version: strip the DRM, convert it to MPEG4 and stuff it on a memory stick.

Then we have the case of PSP Video 9, which bills itself as "a free PSP video conversion and management application." Sort of like iTunes for PSP media. The cool thing is that when you combine it with Videora (previously mentioned on PVRblog) you can subscribe to BitTorrent feeds and automatically download videos to your PSP. Obviously the first priority for this amazing amalgam of technology is PSPr0n.

I don't have a Windows system or a PSP to test PSP Video 9 with (for some reason Sony forgot to send PVRblog a pre-release PSP to review) but since it handles all the transcoding for you, I wouldn't be surprised if it could also handle TiVoToGo files. Has anyone tried this out?

March 25, 2005 in Hacks, TiVo | Permalink | Comments (16) | TrackBack

American Idol sends TiVos into a tailspin, etc

I woke up today to find big schedule bending messages about American Idol, caused by a screwup in the live show on Tuesday that caused them to scrap the Wednesday night show. If you follow the show, be sure to double check your TiVo or just use this link to record tonight's special episode.

In other news, I've tweaked the layout to accomodate some advertisers that wanted to jump on board. Be sure to force a refresh to get the new stylesheet if the site's layout looks weird.

March 24, 2005 in News | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Interview with the Olivelink folks

Olivelink_1A couple weeks ago, I stumbled upon the ingenious new service Olivelink. It's a person-to-person video broadcast service that allows you to either privately send video to one person, or publicly to anyone. The folks at Olivelink contacted me soon after to answer a few questions I raised in my original post, and I asked them to elaborate on a few more questions about how the service was developed and where they see it going. What follows is a short interview we did over email:

The service looks promising, was it developed from the start to be a 1-to-1 service or did you always plan on letting folks broadcast content to the public?

Originally we developed Olivelink as a 1-to-1 tool so we could share family stuff (like birthday party videos, etc). without the hassle of uploading to a web server or buring a DVD. However, it didn't take long to realize that it had great potential as a personal broadcasting medium.

What kinds of uses do you see typically? Is it all home video for grandma or are there other significant uses?

Initially it was a lot of home video stuff, but as we've gone along we're seeing a lot of different uses. While the video for grandma is still a big part, we're now seeing people doing "Wayne's World" type shows, funny little movies, and a lot of video blogging. Going forward we can see a lot of uses. Not just video hobbiests but independent film makers who want to distribute their work, schools that want to share lectures, people or companies who want to do "how-to" videos or public demonstrations, folks that want to setup their own mini-network, and so on. One of the more significant uses we can see is personal broadcast of breaking news like we saw with the Torrent feeds of the Tsunami a couple of months back. I'm sure we haven't scratched the surface as to all the things people will do with Olivelink. Our focus is to provide the freedom to distribute content, what people do with that will be limited only by their imaginations.

Is there any framework for listing public video, like a gallery or something at olivelink? Or is it up to people creating their video content to publicize it on their own sites?

A possibility for a public listing framework does exist, but we prefer that the community create that gallery/directory system. The idea is that if you want to share your video only with a few people, then your broadcast stays private. But if you want to create content and allow it to reach a far wider audience, you're free to promote your broadcast in any manner you see fit. Toward that end we have some upcoming features that will allow you to link your broadcasts directly to your website or blog, as well as video-on-demand option that will allow viewers to select one or more videos to watch from your library. We also have some additional privacy and "invitation only" features in the works.

Do you have any plans for passworded or paid streaming? I suspect someone could make their own show or video from an event, and then charge viewers a buck or two to watch it or get a password for it.

No doubt a lot of people will want to be able to charge for their content (e.g, for how-to video, remote learning, special content, etc.) As I mentioned we are working on an "invitation only" feature that will allow a broadcaster to limit his or her stream to specific viewers, so if an Olivelink broadcaster wanted to charge a fee to view content, they could do that. We give people the ability to distribute their content any way they want. If they want to quit their day job and make a living broadcasting from their basement, more power to them.

Do you see Olivelink becoming a "broadcaster of the people" someday? Imagine if many folks want to share their video you could have the internet equivalent of the largest public access cable network, all online for anyone to see.

Absolutely. I think if you look around you'll find that the most interesting and compelling content isn't coming from big movie studios or TV networks, it's coming from regular people. Whether it's Jib Jab's presidential spoofs, Rooster Teeth's Red Vs. Blue, home video of the Southeast Asian tsunami and other world events -- even audio-only podcasts, people are producing amazingly creative content and getting millions of viewers. I think in the near future you're going to see a revolution where viewers will no longer be limited to the content a few big businesses with a movie studio or a broadcast license want to produce. Forget 500 cable channels; get ready for 5 million. Now anybody with a camera, PC, broadband access and a little creativity will be able to get into broadcasting. The possibilities are very exciting and it's going to be very interesting to see what happens.

Thanks to the good folks at Olivelink for the interview!

March 23, 2005 in Interviews | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Social PVRs

Those wacky scientists are at it again. First they invented Pocky, then Men's Pocky (the Japanese snack that says "I'm a man and my Japanese snack knows it.") and now this: social TV software (via unmediated). Researchers at PARC are working on software that lets people watch television with each other when they aren't even in the same room.

Indeed, in many ways, Social TV will be similar to the Instant Messenger you already use on your computer. Only it will be more dynamic: Social TV software, located on a device like TiVo or even your TV set, might notice that your and your buddy’s yacking has gone well past the commercial break. The software would conclude that you are no longer watching the show and, perhaps, pause the program until you are ready to resume, says Nic Ducheneaut, member of PARC research staff.

The project is still in research stages, and lots of glitches are yet to be worked out. Last summer, PARC’s scientists placed two groups of people into separate living rooms and observed them as the subjects watched a TV program together. The rooms were equipped with microphones, so the group members could hear each other. The communication didn’t go too smoothly because the users missed out on each other’s body language. Here’s an example: When a commercial is over and you want your friend to stop talking, you’d normally turn your face toward the TV screen to indicate that you want to resume watching the show. The researchers are still looking for ways to enable the same with Social TV.

Wow, IM on a PVR, who'd have thought? Also, I'm going to have bad dreams about watching TV with the same kids playing online games: "lol n00b watches simpsons!! WTF HAX!!!!!"

Snark aside, the shared experience of live TV is one of the first casualties of PVRs. When a coworker asks if I saw last night's Daily Show I have to say that I'm not sure. I saw an episode of the Daily Show last night, but I've lost track of whether that was from last night, the night before or whenever (and them announcing the date at the start doesn't help either, I've lost track of that too).

PVR owners aren't the only ones to experience this disruption in the time/space continuum. Michael Sippey writes about his experience watching seasons 1-3 of Alias on DVD:

Watching the shows on DVD like this kills the water cooler effect. There's no one to talk to about what you're watching. My friends who are long-time Alias fans are most likely tiring of my emails to them asking about particular plot twists or characters -- depending on what episode I'm watching, we're two or three years out of sync. They're having trouble just remembering the episode, much less the scene that spurs the question.

I wonder if there's an opportunity here for subscription services like NetFlix or TiVo or for retail outlets like Amazon or Blockbuster to create micro-communities of episodic entertainment viewers. Folks who aren't watching the shows "as they happen," but who are catching up. Netflix knows who else is watching Alias Season Three; could those users be connected for some watercooler conversation? Because I'm dying to talk with someone -- anyone -- about Sydney's missing two years, while season four piles up on the TiVo...

Unfortunately the Social TV research at PARC isn't going to help Michael, they want to bring people together across three dimensions and he wants to bring people together across the fourth. There's also the positive social aspects of PVRs to consider, like being able to put The Big Game™ on hold until everyone gets to the TV or pausing a movie to fight with your spouse over the remote.

I do think that the social aspects of TV and PVRs have been overlooked though. I'd like a way to suggest recordings for TiVo owners I know, sort of like Netflix's friends feature. What other ways do social software and PVRs overlap?

Update: Tom Coats has some great thoughts on social television along with UI mockups like this:

March 23, 2005 in News | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Comcast Contrarians

debbie_downer.jpgNot everyone is singing the praises of the TiVo/Comcast deal announced last week.  Ed Bott is concerned that Tom Rogers championed the deal, and shows a host of bad deals Rogers has been involved in previously.

On the other hand, Alex Rowland sees a TiVo divided.  With Comcast throwing it's weight around TiVo will need to focus on carriers and advertisers ahead of consumers.  I'm not sure I buy his argument that consumers will come last; TiVo didn't stop innovating just because DirecTV didn't want the Home Media Option.  Also, letting the innovation slide will hurt TiVo's status as a premium brand.

Problems with business priorities have been a problem in the past.  Ex-president Marty Yudkovitz was seen as a supporter of media ties, while ex-CEO and current-Chairman Michael Ramsay is a champion of the technology.  The conflict between those goals has produced quite a bit of outcry from the community (and this site).  So is the Comcast deal good news for TiVo?  I'm still in the supporter camp, but there's certainly room for skepticism.

[Update: PVRblog pal Thomas Hawk sends along an interview with Comcast CEO Brian Roberts on the TiVo deal.  Obviously Mr Roberts is in the supporters camp, but questions starting with "this is a juggernaut that will change the fabric of television" leave me expecting Jeff Gannon to tell Lost Remote's Richard Warner to calm down a little.]

March 21, 2005 in Op-Ed, TiVo | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

TiVo's going to Japan

All we have now is a headline that reads "TiVo to launch in Japan by 2006 - report" and this short blurb:

TiVo Inc. is expected to launch its digital recording service in Japan as early as next year, according to a published report Sunday. The Alviso, Calif.-based company will form a Japanese unit and is looking to partner with local cable television networks and Internet providers as part of the deal, reported the Nihon Keizai Shimbun.

We believe the headline to be an imperative statement, telling reporters to do their job and publish some details on this story; there's not a lot more in the new about this story yet. We'll update this post when new details (by which we mean any details) emerge. One question remains: do the Japanese even like gadgets?

March 20, 2005 in News, TiVo | Permalink | Comments (20) | TrackBack

Sony launches new PSX (PVR)

Switch's blog point's to Sony's new PSX (DESR-5700 and DESR-7700), a PVR which incorporates PS2 game functionality alongside the PVR functions. The new PSX really only has one new feature.  TV content that has been saved to the PSX can be moved over to your PSP (via your Memory Stick Duo) for viewing on-the-go. 

I'm disappointed though that Sony didn't add larger HDDs or other obvious upgrades.  This feels much more like a .1 update than a 2.0 release if you want my honest opinion.

If Sony had launched the PSX outside of Japan, what features would you want to see in a PVR that also had PlayStation2 built in?

PSX with PSP Support [a bloglines blog]

March 15, 2005 in Products | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack