Google Fiber, which is Google's insanely fast gigabit network recently announced they're potentially expanding to a few more markets. I have a friend in Kansas City that got connected to it last Summer and he says the speed is really incredible, with no delays on streaming HD video instantly from almost any site.
This being PVRblog, and me being near Portland, Oregon, I was happy to hear it might be expanding to my area soon. In addition to the blistering network speeds, I'm happy to see a cheap HD TV alternative to cable being offering for just $50 more. I pay more to Frontier for a slower fiber connection with fewer channels.
The Verge published a hands-on with the hardware early during the development of Google Fiber TV, but the system sounds pretty powerful. It's all network based, with storage for 500 hours of HD, 8 tuners that can record simultaneously, along with a free Nexus 7 tablet that can be used as a remote.
My first question was whether or not Google Fiber TV supports the CableCARD standard, so I can continue using my Roamio if I were to ever get this system at home, but unfortunately, due to the FCC rules around cable, it sounds like Google Fiber TV technically doesn't have to follow digital cable rules (being delivered over the network pipes instead), so that means no, you can't use a TiVo and you'll have to stick with Google's Fiber TV DVR hardware.
The above image is reportedly what the lower end models will look like, and the specs on new models have been bumped up impressively, with two different 4 tuner models and one 6 tuner top end recorder. The hard drive sizes look like they will go from 1Tb to 3Tb in size, both of which are ample recording capacity for HD. Rumored release looks to be in the Fall of this year.
It sounds like updated chipsets will offer a lot more processing power for better software functionality, streaming possibilities, and (finally) built-in WiFi. Personally, this might be the first TiVo box I don't pre-order on day one (as I have with previous versions going all the way back to the series 2 box) since my 4-tuner, 1Tb TiVo XL Premiere is pretty rock solid and working fine for my needs. But if the added computing power makes for more interesting applications and uses for the box, I could be convinced to try the upcoming iterations out.
Google released the Chromecast today for just $35, a small item that connects via HDMI and runs a virtual AirPlay-like service, allowing you to send video from apps and Chrome browsers to your TV. Getting video from the Internet to your TV isn't the easiest problem to solve (I can do it in one of three somewhat clunky ways), but a simple plug 'n play option for $35 seems like a great solution. The video above shows a few common uses.
I've ordered one myself and I'm curious how useful it will be, and I expect to post a review in a few weeks after I get it up and running. Last year's kickstarter PocketTV was also a HDMI smart tv adapter that I haven't heard much about ever since it got funded, so it might be an uphill battle for Google Chromecast.
Boxee is one of my favorite video apps in my home theater and I'm actually glad to hear they've been acquired by Samsung. The software Boxee created looks and works great, and is simple to use (here's my old review of the Boxee box). Samsung's own connected TV apps are another story entirely.
Samsung's software design is mostly poor, buggy, and hard to use, while Boxee's team comes from the world of nice looking easy-to-use websites and I have high hopes that they can make a bunch of user interface improvements on Samsung apps/devices as a result. In my perfect world, Samsung would scrap their SmartTV apps and instead let you run an instance of Boxee on every new Samsung TV. Boxee is really great for managing downloaded video, running various web video apps to watch stuff on your TV, and for browsing the web on your TV.
Boxee Software for the Mac
In early 2012, Boxee stopped developing their Mac/PC app when the Boxee box by D-Link took off. They also quietly removed it from their site, which annoyed me because I found the D-Link Boxee box eventually stopped working reliably for me and I replaced it with an old Mac mini. I tracked down the last release version of the Mac OS X software when I set up my Mac mini, and have been running it ever since. Now that Boxee has been acquired, I'm providing a link here in case anyone else needs a copy of this old software to run on home theater connected Macs:
Boxee 22.214.171.12496 (87 Mb .dmg)
(Google Code has this version and others for Linux and Windows here)
I've noticed that bloggers descending on CES this year is a bigger thing than ever, but most of them are going for quantity over quality. Right now I'm checking The Verge's CES coverage once a day for highlights (they are posting about 100 items a day during CES so it is best to scan), and I'm also enjoying the Wired Gadget Blog's take on CES since it's half joking, and I'm most enjoying Dave Zatz blogging just the few things that interest him each day instead of trying to go all Engadget and just blog every single thing there.
Overall, most of the home theater news seems to be 4K resolution TVs coming from every manufacturer (ignoring of course there is currently no real sources of 4K content to watch on them), every company releasing some sort of iPad app functionality for their existing product, and general home automation products coming out. At the end of this week, I'll make a post of my favorite things I've seen on these and other CES coverage blogs.
Unfortunate news tonight that Micahel Cronan, a designer from the Bay Area has died at age 61. The New York Times has more about Michael, including a story of him coming up with the name "Kindle" for Amazon as well.
Thanks to a friend being at one of his parties, I was lucky enough to interview him a few years ago on this very blog, asking him what the early prototypes of TiVo were like and how he came up with the name and mascot. Michael definitely made an impact on the technology industry and will be missed.
Two great articles on TVs just showed up on Wired's site, both by my friend Mat Honan. In the first, Mat nails the problem with new TVs, and why you don't really need one since video technology is outpacing the user interfaces of finding anything worth watching. Sure 4K video sounds impressive but there's no content out there for it, and even more important, no good content. The kind of interface Mat envisions sounds like a nice evolution of a Harmony-style remote. Give me an app tied to my TV that lets me say "Play the last episode of Mad Men" and have the app not only figure out what components in my cabinet to power on, but also where to search/download/rent/buy the program.
I was thinking about interfaces the other day at a Christmas party when I spent a bit of time trying to get Spotify songs to play on my home theater system (which features GoogleTV, Boxee, a Mac mini, TiVo Premiere, and an AppleTV). It took some fussing and finagling to get it right and I wondered how on earth a normal non-geek could venture through these waters. I would guess half my friends (mostly technology geeks themselves) don't regularly send internet video to their TV screen due to the interface difficulties.
That brings us to the second article at Wired, concering Smart TVs. Their user interfaces are mostly terrible and are such a chore to use that most people don't use them. The article is based on this recent study of Smart TV owners, showing that very few of them regularly use any of the internet features.
Last Spring I bought the newest latest, greatest Samsung Plasma for my home theater and it featured tons of SmartTV features. What I quickly found was that setup was difficult (I had to change the plug the main HDMI cable when into, to return sound to my A/V unit) and the experience was much like buying a Windows PC in the late 90s. My "desktop" home screen on the samsung featured half a dozen apps I don't use or need and couldn't delete, presumably put there by advertising partner deals that ensured their visibility. The apps were also slow to load, buggy to use, and added several minutes to the time you put down a computer and say "boy, I want to watch this on the couch instead, let me just go bring it up there."
Marc Andreesen has famously said a TV from Apple is coming possibly next year or the year after that should re-invent interfaces and how we interact with shows, but given the complexities of movie studios and cable company deals, I'm not entirely optimistic that they can solve it.
The biggest problem with integrating today's newest TVs into your home is finding a competent home theater installer (or having enough DIY knowhow) to properly mount your TV, hide your components, and then hide the wires, which is no small task.
IKEA, probably tired of seeing their clean lined modern home theater units and stands covered in wires set out to solve the problem of mounting, hiding, and even getting things down to a single remote controller. They're calling this system UPPLEVA.
IKEA is going to start selling TVs with integrated home theater setups including a 1080p LED TV, DivX playback, Blu-ray/DVD/CD player, WiFi, as well as speakers including a wireless subwoofer. It looks pretty good and will solve a lot of problems for a large audience. I look forward to seeing what the pricing is like and what the capabilities are.
Promise.tv. It has the ability to record all Freeview (British TV) streams including TV and radio (about 60 channels total) in a one-week buffer, allowing you to watch anything broadcast in the past seven days. No more season passes, no more suggested recordings, instead you get the ability to see anything at all on any channel recorded.
It's pretty crazy that this kind of heavy multistream recording is possible now in a single small box.
Last month there was news that made some waves when Google CEO Eric Schmidt stated that in about six months, most TVs would include GoogleTV. Most tech pundits thought it was a bit silly and a bit too early to make such a claim but with the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) coming to Las Vegas next week, the GoogleTV blog has listed a bunch of announcements coming soon from Sony, Vizio, Samsung, LG, Marvell, and MediaTek.
I generally like my GoogleTV device, though I don't use it much beyond playing DVDs and occasionally watching some online video (it is the only device I've found that can reliably play flash video from any site on my TV), so I never really saw a standalone box becoming a big seller in the marketplace. If Google could get GoogleTV baked into TVs in lieu of each TV manufacturer having to custom program their own online UI (I have a Samsung TV with all the Samsung apps and they are harder to use than any of my set top box devices attached to it) I think this can be a big hit with customers buying new TVs and casually starting to use technology such as GoogleTV.