On Bringing TiVo to Needy iPod and iPhone Users (Including Us) | iLounge Backstage

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On Bringing TiVo to Needy iPod and iPhone Users (Including Us)

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By Jeremy Horwitz

Editor-in-Chief, iLounge
Published: Wednesday, April 29, 2009
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As mentioned on Backstage yesterday, we’re perturbed by buggy computer-dependent TV show recording solutions, and having used TiVo devices for years now—with reservations—we’ve been unwilling to buy into competing and inferior cable provider-rented DVRs. So we were interested in this smart, five-point post from Engadget’s Nilay Patel yesterday on fixing some long-standing problems with TiVo, particularly one section of the first point:

“The same goes for getting video out and onto portable devices—you’re being totally shown up by open-source projects like iTiVo and pyTiVo. TiVo Desktop Plus shouldn’t be an afterthought your customers have to pay extra for—it should be the defining feature of your product. Record a show, have it on your phone the next morning to watch on the train—no cable company can compete with that.”

Since TiVo is listening, we’d like to say a few words to the company as well—actually, we’d like to truly underscore that particular paragraph, because Nilay’s really correct, and the importance of that message might have been missed given all of the other suggestions. As is the case at Engadget, iLounge’s editors are TiVo fans. We have looked at the other options out there and determined that there is nothing else that we’d rather be using for recording TV programs. The TiVo interface, apart from needed resolution and input device upgrades, is the best around for DVR functionality. It says something that Apple TV has been out and attempting to compete somewhat in the same space for more than two years, but we still prefer using TiVo to the Apple TV; in fact, we’d give up the Apple TV well before the TiVo. By a wide margin. So TiVo, congratulations on doing a lot right.

But you’ve really, truly missed the boat when it comes to attracting new customers and giving your current customers what they really want: media portability. There are now tens of millions of video-hungry iPod and iPhone owners desperate for a way to watch last night’s episode of Lost on their morning train ride to the office, without paying $2 for the episode or waiting until it shows up on iTunes. If they already own TiVo hardware, they have libraries of dozens of shows that are all but useless unless they’re willing to plop down in front of one specific TV to watch them. And that’s not the way people want to consume media these days. Instead of following this obvious, growing trend, your business strategy for the past couple of years has been to try to shoehorn as much Apple TV-like stuff into TiVo boxes as possible. Note: Apple TV isn’t very popular. And it doesn’t do the one thing you guys have and Apple fans really want, namely record videos that could be watched anywhere. At least, in the right format.

The solution is simple for all of your current Series 2 and Series 3 customers: we need better, faster tools for converting on-TiVo content into iPod and iPhone formats. While we’d prefer an iPod or iPhone dock with an integrated H.264 encoder, you’re likely to run into pricing and other problems there, so for the time being, we’d live with a better, cross-platform tool for computers to handle this conversion. While Engadget’s right to suggest that “you’re being totally shown up by open-source projects like iTiVo and pyTiVo,” that’s mostly a statement of just how awkward Desktop Plus and Toast are by comparison with the simple “just export my TiVo stuff now, and fast” interface people have been waiting for. A simple, free, official TiVo tool for PC and Mac users—with support for H.264 hardware accelerators (this)—is way overdue. Trying to monetize the tool rather than marketing it as a reason to buy TiVo rather than a cable company’s competing DVR has been a colossal mistake.

What about the next generation of TiVo devices? Series 4 TiVo needs to encode all of its videos in MPEG-4 format, preferably H.264, for direct export to the iPod and iPhone without the need for transcoding. Do this, and we’ll not only upgrade—we’ll go back to recommending that other people buy TiVos, too. A recording settings menu needs to provide an easy “iPod maximum” output option, and your hardware and firmware need to be ready to boost encoding to meet whatever Apple’s new maximum bitrate will be in mid- to late-2009. Best guess target specs would be 720p, a la iTunes HD video content. Yes, a resolution bump will require you to deal with the studios, and yes, those studios are getting paid around $2.10 per iTunes HD download for their shows. Regardless, your pitch is simple: official TiVo-encoded HD videos will still contain all those commercials that people are paying Apple not to deal with. They can be Media Access Key locked. And neither the iPod nor the iPhone have a 30-second auto-skip button. Users have a better chance of watching commercials on Apple’s devices, at least briefly, than they do on a TV-tethered TiVo unit.

Engadget’s other points are important, too, but true iPod and iPhone support should have been a gimme for your company years ago, and it’s even more important today than it was when the first video iPod launched. Kids with $149 iPod nanos want ways to carry around their favorite TV shows now—and so do adults with $299 iPhone 3Gs and $399 iPod touches. It’s time to decide: are you going to be the company that makes this possible, or are you going to let someone else own a market that could easily be yours?

« Geeking Out Right Now, or, the iPod/iPhone Mini Home Theater

On EyeTV, or, How Buggy Software Is Ruining Good Apple Hardware »

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Comments

1

And further, what happened to the plans for a HD DirecTV/TiVo unit?  I had to break down and buy DirecTV’s HD DVR unit when I made the jump to HD, and while it does the job, it’s certainly not as easy to use as the HDVR2 that it replaced.

Posted by Andy S. on April 29, 2009 at 2:11 PM (PDT)

2

I owned a DirecTV Tivo box many years ago and LOVED it, but have been dealing with Time Warner’s DVR since then because although I loved the TIVO interface, I saw no reason to pay an extra fee just for the TIVO interface.  Now if they had the ability to output recorded content to my iPhone easily and seemlessly, then I’m all in again.

Posted by TosaDeac on April 29, 2009 at 8:27 PM (PDT)

3

While they’re at it, why not bring back the humax box with the dvd burner? Also, by requiring the cable card for the series 3 boxes, I can’t get On-Demand from my cable company. This is silly…

Posted by Fred on April 30, 2009 at 5:29 AM (PDT)

4

Unfortunately, this is just another rant from the “I want something for nothing” crowd. You DO realize that TiVo is a time-shifting device, which is why it is limited to the one TV that it is attached to? If you want to download and view TV shows on other platforms (iPhone, etc.) then the business model for that is iTunes Store, Hulu, etc. Just because someone has figured out a way to circumvent the TiVo EULA doesn’t make it right. Disclaimer: I don’t own a TiVo, and I don’t misuse content supplied by DirecTV to my DVR, no matter how much I disagree with the business model of the content producers.

Posted by John S on April 30, 2009 at 8:27 AM (PDT)

5

#4: If you actually owned a TiVo or bothered to read the article above, you’d have at least a clue that there are TiVo-sanctioned software export options in the form of TiVo Desktop and Roxio Toast that both create iPod/iPhone-ready files from the TiVo, but very slowly and with other sorts of issues. (The reference to TiVo Desktop Plus in paragraph two would have been the first hint.) So no one has to “circumvent the TiVo EULA” or “misuse content” to do what’s being discussed here.

As noted in comment 3, TiVo partnered with Humax to offer a box that actually burned recordings directly onto DVD for watching whenever, wherever a person wanted. The iTunes Store and Hulu are separate businesses with their own separate models, and frankly not replacements for what TiVo and other DVRs offer.

Posted by Jeremy Horwitz in East Amherst, NY, USA on April 30, 2009 at 10:32 AM (PDT)

6

@Andy S.: word from DTV/TiVo is that they will have an MPEG-4 compatible HD DirecTiVo in the second half of 2009.  (The original HR10 HD DirecTiVo only did MPEG-2, so it couldn’t get all the new HD channels that the NDS-based HR20 and HR21 do.)

I’m looking forward to switching back to the superior TiVo interface and software…I’ve been living with the HR21, and it works, but it’s just clunky.

Posted by ckd on April 30, 2009 at 11:15 AM (PDT)

7

Or you could get a tuner for your computer and record shows in your preferred format.  Then all you need is basic cable. 

There is absolutely no point or reason to record HD shows to watch on your iPhone or iPod.  You lose all the benefits of HD on such a small screen, even if the next iPhone’s resolution is 800x480 or something that is NOT HD.

Posted by sting7k on May 1, 2009 at 4:59 AM (PDT)

8

I have a Tivo series 3 and an ipod touch. I don’t ride the train or subway to work and if I did I would probably prefer to read the newspaper (electronic edition of course) on my commute. I do however workout t a health club and this is where I want SOME of the TV shows I recorded on my Tivo so I can watch them on my ipod. Currently I send the shows to my MAC mini and then convert them for the ipod then load them into the ipod (2-long steps and 1- short step), a lot of work for each show. I pay for cable, I pay for Tivo service and I paid for the Tivo and ipod. There should be some easier way for me to get the shows onto the ipod for viewing.

Posted by gear on May 1, 2009 at 6:21 AM (PDT)

9

Tivo Series 4 at a minimum should have:

10/100/1000 Ethernet card Gigabit Ethernet. All computers have it, makes transferring files between Tivos and between PCs and Tivos faster

SDV- Switched Digital video hardware built in

Tru2Way support built in

1TB minimum HD space- With all channels going HD 1TB will be small.

Nice to have- Internet accessibility of all your Tivos via your phone. Fully control like you had a slingbox attached. Real time H.264 encoding and transfers of shows also.

Ability to program and delete programs from any Tivo box in the house (full menu and settings control from any Tivo in the ouse). Have programs stream instead of transferring but keep transferring as option to manage space. Basically all the things a Replay box can do but better.

Reegarding Interface:

Tivo by far does not have a superior interface. It is clumsy and idiotic and does not do very much. ReplayTV may have missed all the eye candy but it did everything else really well. In fact , its lack of eye candy even made it easier to use.

ReplayTV DVR has from day one had the ability to record any program on any other Replay in the house from any one DVR in the house. So if if my living room DVR can’t record it, it automatically lets me record it on another Replay box in my house. I can also program it to record a show in my living room from my Replay DVR in my Bedroom i.e i decide which Replay box i want to record the show on from any Replay box in the house.

Shows streamed form one Replay DVR to another without issues. So you can watch anything anywhere in your house without waiting for a file to transfer over and then you have to delete it from 2 boxes. Transfers have its benefit for space management but streaming needs to be the way to go. Trying stopping watching one show then start another you have to wait forever with Tivo but with replay you just stream the next show and the next and the next, no waiting. Just select the box, see the list of programming on that ox, select show and presto. With Replay you can control any other Replay in the house i.e program shows, see what’s on that replay box, delete shows, pretty much everything you can do on a local Tivo you can do on another replay in the house. So, with only one Replay DVR connected to a slingbox, you can control every other replay box in your house just like you where there.

Also their guide uses a simple grid that shows what shows are recording by using red dots like pretty much every DVR except Tivo. One dot for single recordings, 2 dots for season recordings. One gray and 2 gray dots for shows that don’t record. This way you can visually see what programs and time slots are being recorded. Most DVRs have conflict catcher notices that pop up so you know right away that you have issues and also a space measure so you know how much space you have left. This helps manage space on your box.

It even has this thing called zones like Season premiere, etc. This allows you to get a list of all new shows premiering, they have another zone for returning sows, shows ending. This feature really comes in useful when scheduling new tv season. You can also see from this list with a red dot what shows you have scheduled to record.

Please Tivo just got lucky and they decide to not to commercial skip, Replay had the notion of the DVR right, if it had not been sued into oblivion and had been later managed by people at D&M;with a vision it would have kicked Tivo’s ###. If Tivo could incorporate what a ReplayTV can do with the above must haves, add a web browser with flash (hulu) support, RSS feeds, yahoo widgets and they will have the recipe for the ultimate DVR. They will dominate the market.

You really have to experience Replay TV for yourself then tell me if you think Tivo is still superior. It actually feels retarded.  Yes, it does not do HD but with the right polish and additional features it could have been the King of all DVRs.

Posted by Rick on May 2, 2009 at 5:33 AM (PDT)

10

Good post.  Hope Tivo is listening.

I run Tivo Desktop, and while it is certainly the best available option for getting TV shows onto your iPod/iPhone, I agree that it is irritating.

It doesn’t launch with the computer, only launching after you logon.  Which means user intervention between two long delays on my system.

It thrashes the hard drive like c-r-a-z-y for a gods age for some reason.  Couldn’t there be a database maybe to remember this stuff?

It takes f-o-r-e-v-e-r to launch the application after you click on the tray icon.

It doesn’t support transfers/transcodes at scheduled times, like in the middle of the night, but instead launches them when you logon and are trying to do something.  Good thing I’ve got a quad core.

It doesn’t have any way to limit the amount of disk space it uses, or to limit the number of episodes of a series you keep on your iPod.

And then of course the part that may not be their fault—iTunes crashes a lot when being used with its scripting interface.

Then of course there’s the Wifi hit.  My desktop needs to transfer those HD shows at 15Mbps, completely trashing my Wifi network for quite some time, in order to produce those little <1Mbps iPod versions after transcoding.  Like you suggest, it might be nice if these were created ahead of time, on the Tivo.  Course that would require either dedicated video transcoding hardware, or just a recognition that my Tivo generally has a lot of free storage lying around, and is often left unused for long periods of time.  Why can’t the Tivo do the transcoding in its spare time?  It is a linux box after all…

Posted by Fanfoot on May 26, 2009 at 10:50 PM (PDT)

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