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. []