TiVo Releases Biggest Update in a Decade

In something of a surprise to me, Coleman-Dyer household favorite TiVo released a updates pretty much everything today. Primarily, they showed off their upcoming DVR hardware, called TiVo Premiere. I have to say, it looks very slick:
The new hardware is a smaller form factor and has a very streamlined look. What’s more, the new remote there may look just like the TiVo XL remote, but it has a slide-out keyboard (similar to many popular mobile phones). This allows you to enter text in search fields, but also can be used to quickly filter your "Now Playing" list. And speaking of the interface, it has been completely overhauled to match the look of the Flash-based TiVo Search beta that was included in the most recent service update. They also added the feature that I most wanted: playlist profiles.

I’m really excited to see that Tivo, despite years of questions regarding their future, is still working to remain fresh and keep their top spot in the field of DVRs. (Both images from GDGT)

Amazon UnBox On My TiVo

So, many of you may have heard the news that Amazon opened up their Unbox for TiVo service today. This was way ahead of anything I expected, as I just figured it would be sort of like the vapor-agreement TiVo had with Netflix. However, the service was up and running not very long at all after the initial announcement, just two months ago. Once again, TiVo somehow manages to not only survive, but surprise me and just about everyone else.

I signed up for the account earlier today, which took no more effort than going to a page on Amazon and entering your e-mail and password associated with my TiVo account1. For the next month or so, Amazon is even giving a $15 credit for TiVo users who sign up. That’s pretty enticing for something that is easier to sign up for than most web 2.0 services.

Unbox For TiVo

I was actually somewhat surprised to see just how nice the offerings were at Amazon. Not all of the Unbox store is able to be downloaded to a Tivo (yet), but I imagine that’s not going to take long. It doesn’t appear that any major networks or studios are really holding out just yet. There are movies, which may be purchased or rented, with prices between $8 and $16 to buy and around $4 to rent. I have no idea how long a “rental” lasts on the TiVo, but I’d guess three to four days from the time the download begins.

I saw quite a few shows that I enjoy (although I noted that it seems the iTunes store currently has more offerings, with some of the popular ABC shows being a big hole at Amazon right now). I ended up just downloading an episode of Arrested Development since I have the DVD’s and had even recorded some episodes on the TiVo a while ago (all of Seasons 1 and 2 are available, I chose Episode 4 "Good Grief" from Season 2). I figured this would allow me to be able to make a fair comparison for quality. Purchasing was painless with Amazon’s patented2 One-click purchase. All I had to do was select which TiVo box to send the download to from a pull down menu (it had found both of them by name from my account after I provided my information; yes, we have to Tivo boxes. Don’t judge us.). I selected our “Sunroom” unit so I could watch the show while on the treadmill (seriously, stop judging me. I mean it.). Amazon states that the download begin and appear in the “Now Playing” list on the TiVo unit selected within 15 minutes. Well, it was more like 30-40 minutes. Further, it took another hour or so for it to be available to watch3, and this was only a 22 minute program. I’m assuming that increases to a few hours for a feature film (rental or purchase).

screenshots of Amazon Unbox on my TiVo

Screenshots of the TiVo menus under the "Now Playing" section of the TiVo.

Quality in the Unbox

I didn’t have a lot of expectations for the quality of the video to be honest. However, I was glad to see I had underestimated the quality somewhat. It was at least as good as the “high” quality recording setting on the TiVo itself. Of course, we only have standard definition TiVos on our SD television sets. All the same, I don’t think it is going to disappoint the average Series 2 Tivo owner.

Now, you are not able to transfer the show to another TiVo or to a TiVo Desktop server on your network. I’m not going to say it’s impossible to get the video file off of there, but the effort such a thing would require wouldn’t be at all worth it. There doesn’t appear to be any time limit or expiration date on purchases programs or movies, though. Again, I’m not sure how the rental option works.

Screenshot of Unbox Video

G.O.B. performing magic is magic to me. While this screen photo is pretty bad, the actual quality of the picture is really good; standard definition with no noticeable artifacts or compression issues.

Some Potential in the Unbox

I’m going to say it: this is the first true implementation of consumer-friendly IPTV. It for sure isn’t the first or even the most ideal method of having content brought via the internet to your television. However, provided one has both a networked TiVo and an Amazon account, it is remarkably easy to use (in typical TiVo fashion). Short of setting up a secure home network, which isn’t always the easiest thing in the world, virtually anyone could be watching downloaded content from the comfort of their living room in no time. TiVo and Amazon beat Apple to the market on this one and only time will tell if they can gain and keep some of the market share as a result.

Is this the Netflix or the iTMS killer? Probably not. Amazon, while known for having possibly the largest media catalog on the planet, may not yet have access or agreements in place to provide all that media to the consumer int his fashion. As we have seen time and time again, that is proving to be the killer step in the race to provide content in this market. Certainly, TiVo and Amazon have put together an fairly impressive offering here, though. If they could have a set monthly fee for rentals and open up more of Amazon’s vast catalog, I imagine Angela and I would easily choose this over Netflix (sorry, as much as I love Netflix, their agreement with TiVo for this exact same service fizzled). I have no doubt that the Apple TV will easily rival TiVo in quality of interface and ease of use. The prices for the content to buy are the same between Amazon and iTMS right now, but Apple has yet to do any sort of rental services. Is IPTV rental, or what we once called pay-per-view and Comcast now calls On-Demand, something consumers really want? If it is seen as paying an monthly fee to have limitless access to a nearly bottomless library of video entertainment, the quite possibly it is.

I had essentially no expectations of the Amazon Unbox for TiVo service and so I was honestly pleased to see just how easy it is to use and the level of quality it has. There are no doubt DRM demons waiting to spoil my fun here. Further, in a market where content is everything, getting media owners to allow them to use this is going to be the real race. Whoever ends up on top, having both Amazon and Apple in our living rooms is going to help consumers in the end.

  1. Of course, I already have our TiVo’s connected to the home network which has a broadband connection. It would certainly take someone with a brand new TiVo more than the 30 seconds it took me. []
  2. World’s lamest patent? Probably. []
  3. Unlike transfers between TiVo units over a home network, you cannot begin watching a Unbox download until it is entirely finished. Frankly, I’d say this is a wise thing since internet download speeds can be wonky on a file this large and it is very frustrating to have a video pause for some network lag. []