The Significance of Verizon’s “New” DVR

Dave Zatz —  August 15, 2006 — 20 Comments
fios-dvr.jpg

Like a variety of publications and blogs, I came across Verizon’s DVR press release yesterday. However, instead of speculating how the telcos will battle the cablecos with new features or getting hung up on the underlying technology I’ll give you two different reasons why this a significant announcement.

I assume many of my readers are TiVo owners. As such, you realize these “new” media features (multi-room viewing, music & photos from PC) have been available for years to those of us in the club. Which brings me to point 1: A mainstream company (Motorola, by way of Verizon) other than TiVo is providing set-top box to set-top box multi-room viewing functionality. In addition to TiVo’s intuitive and powerful interface, much of their competitive advantage has been offering home media features… which are now being commoditized by competitors (Moxi and SciAtl are others).

Point 2 has to do with pricing. While we’ve seen two tiers in some cable markets for a HD DVR versus a SD DVR, charging for specific DVR features has never been as clear cut as it is now with Verizon’s new model (unless we count TiVo’s abandoned HMO fee). Pay $12.95/mo for X & Y, or pay $19.95/mo for X, Y, & download Z. This is just the beginning of a cell-phone á la carte pricing model era for DVR service (those wireless carriers plan to get in on the action as well: Verizon, Sprint, etc).

Not that I want to spend my day debating or correcting other blogs (and I know I make my fair share of mistakes), but I feel compelled to report the 6416 is not Verizon’s first DVR and in fact this model is currently deployed in many locations. Additionally, I wouldn’t characterize moving shows in-home from one room to another or onto PC TiVoToGo-style as “place shifting” though that is arguable. Maybe.

20 responses to The Significance of Verizon’s “New” DVR

  1. TiVo needs to continue working on partnerships and licensing their software. Deals like the ones with Comcast and DirectTV are key to TiVo’s continued success.

  2. Yeah, but does it stream HD around your house?

  3. MoCA is networking, so why isn’t it place shifting?

    Also, I think you are off on Point 1. The Verizon plan streams from a DVR to another STB. TiVo doesn’t do that, does it? I thought the series2 was limited to pictures and stuff, with TTG being for portable devices.

  4. Andy: S2 TiVo units offer multi-room viewing allowing you to move most content between units in your house at will. To me, “place-shifting” is broadcasting beyond the home — as I just used my home Slingbox to check the ESPN ticker at a work meeting.

    Ben: Good question on the HD angle. Verizon’s 6416 will not send HD to the 2500. Check out their FAQ for details. My assumption (and hope) is TiVo’s S3 will have the same features as the S2 — meaning TiVo should be should move HD content around the house. Though we won’t know and it doesn’t count until it shows up.

  5. Dave:

    You are right to write about this as a significant challenge to TiVo’s premium value which is an important part of TiVo’s future.

    The home networking product is an optional software download to installed HD DVR STBs. The receivers are probably also existing installed STBs with a software download, but I am not sure about what types qualify. The DVR is limited to SD and 2 streams, but I doubt the SD limit will last; maybe a newer DVR will be needed to achieve HD. The product also plays music and pictures from a PC.

    The optional software download raises the price from $12.95(?) to $19.95/mo. The receivers are $3.95/mo each, but is that an add on fee to existing boxes or the entire monthly fee, and is the $3.95 on the first box? I wonder if the monthly cost will really be less than TiVoes with CableCards.

    It sounded like the product worked with the WinTel Media Center concept, which if the case, would put TiVo at a significant disadvantage in that department since it looks like TiVo is going all proprietary.

  6. While it may be true that this is not a ‘new’ DVR and that Tivo has many of the same features, it is still significant news. Firstly because Verizon are shipping this to Fios customers – where is the HD Tivo S3? Secondly, now that Tivo has moved to a monthly sub business model, those of us looking to get into HD DVR (some, many years after having HDTV) will be comparing similar pricing plans and feature sets. I’m working on the assumption that I won’t be able to roll my lifetime S2 over to a S3 but I’m waiting to see what Tivo does with the S3 launch. In my area, Fios TV will arrive at about the same time as the S3, and I’m not sure I’ll stay with Tivo…

  7. Yep, the 6416 will not allow HD to be transmitted to another STB for viewing or atleast for the moment. Right now the 6416 acts as a media hub in the network and allows the 2500 series boxes in your home to access the 6416′s hard drive and play the SD content that is stored there, unless of course parental control forbid it.

    I am a little curious though, Verizon uses a Motorola 6200 for it’s HD non-dvr box and I’m wondering why they don’t allow you to access the multi-room DVR content from that box. From the looks of it, the 6200 box is the same as a 6416 box, just no Hard Drive is installed. Before you hacking people get too excited, even if you popped the top on the 6200 and plugged a hard drive in, the DVR portion still won’t work on the 6200 because it has to be authorized in Verizon’s backend systems. Back to the original thought, why no stream the HD content off the 6416′s hard drive to a 6200? Anyone?

  8. The main unit is HD capable. The client units are not.

    So that creates a big gotcha. Once people upgrade to HDTV displays, HD is what they want to watch and record. But nothing that’s recorded in HD can get to the other rooms. Hmmm. So, what do you do? Record less HD? (that kind of wastes your investment in an HD display.) Record duplicate content in HD and SD? (that kind of wastes the value of a two-tuner DVR). (BTW… this limitation is probably a matter of the bandwidth of the inhome network. Streaming high definiton TV without dropouts and glitches is not for the faint-hearted. What would it take to provide acceptible quality of service for streaming high definition video. Out of my depth, I’m a marketing guy.)

    Here’s another gotcha. You don’t get trick play for live TV at the clients. They’re basically standard SD set tops. The only time you have trick play is if you’re watching

  9. … recorded content.

  10. You also get Trick Play when watching VOD and PPV services. As for not being able to stream HD in the home from the 6416 to say a 6200, I don’t think it’s a bandwidth issue. I know Verizon supports over 4 HD Boxes in the house so I don’t think bandwidth is the issue. Maybe it’s got something to do with the processor and memory in the STB. A STB is meant to receive Video signal, not really push it out so maybe a 19MEG HD stream is to much for the 6416 to handle along with keeping up with it’s duties as the DVR and a regular HD box.

  11. Doesn’t the 6416 downconvert the HD recordings to SD and stream to the clients?

    For now, not having HD in second rooms will only hurt a very few who have HDTVs in more than one room. Soon enough there will be a HD client, I am sure.

    This seems to be true streaming whereas TiVo does what I call streamloading – it downloads to the receiving box, but you can play and trick-play the portion already downloaded. There are advantages to true streaming related to jumping forward. TiVo has never offered the ability to jump ahead and later piece together automatically the downloaded segments.

    The thin client concept is another big advantage TiVo has not moved to, regardless of whether thin means no hard drive streaming or limited capability receiver w/HD.

  12. Nope, 6416 doesn’t do downconverting to an SD stream for Multi-room clients.

    As for having an HD client coming soon, I hope so and will be anxious to see it. I think they skipped a nitch by not having one.

  13. I found some more info on the Verizon web site:

    The STB fee is indeed a $3.95 add on to each 2500 STB monthly fee (what is that amt?). With the $7 add on for the DVR (to $19.95) it does sounds likely that the monthly cost is going to actually be more than TiVo.

    You can have up to 6 2500′s enabled, but only use 2 at a time.

    Media Manager is apparently Beta, and there is caution about playing music and doing too much MRV at the same time. No MAC support; Win200 and beyond only.

    No DRM music playback; 256kb limit; No VBR; Media Manager apparently defaults to RIP CD w/DRM – you have to change that.

    Sounds like music/photos is limited to the 6416(?)

    There is language about non-Verizon Broadband services and third party hub/routers not being supported, yet there is the statement that if you have a 6416 and one or more 2500′s you just call for the download(s). They say you have to have Verizon supplied router to work with Media Manager, so it sounds like the hub/router issue is with Media Manager (ie. music/photo playback) and maybe the 6416/2500s talk to each other OK through the wires Verizon installed for them.

  14. Yeah, for now it appears there media manager app will be limited to use on the 6416. I am willing to bet it has to do once again with limitations on the physical hardware, but who knows for sure. I guess we need to keep in mind that it is the first version of the software so maybe those function will appear in later versions.

  15. I just ordered FiOS with the Home Media DVR and a HD STB ($20/mo + $10/mo). I’m EXTREMELY disappointed that HD streaming is not possible (I have HDTV in 2 rooms), as I was REALLY looking forward to the flexibility of watching recorded programs in 2 rooms.

    I may just have to get 2 HD STB’s (if that’s possible), but at $480/yr for the equipment lease alone, I may just stay with DirecTV and add a 2nd HR10-250 ($350). Though programming is less expensive for now, which may balance out some of the equipment costs.

    I hear FiOS TV has excellent PQ, but on my 720p displays, I don’t know if the difference is that noticeable, anyway.

    David

  16. Since I’m still sitting on the sidelines waiting for multi-room support on the Tivo Series 3 (and won’t buy it until it is available), I’m interested in how it is that MOT can get Cable Labs certification on their STBs with multi-room yet Tivo cannot.

    Personally I could live with not being able to do multi-room with HD at first. I suspect that doing HD to SD downconvert would require additional hardware, which might or might not be in the Series 3. If I have to record two copies of the show, so be it. Better than what we’ve got now, and at least it would make the Series 3 a superset of the Series 2 Tivo, something it isn’t right now.

  17. Oh, on the network bandwidth issue, you’ll note that MOT uses MoCA to transmit the video from the 6412 to the 2500′s. Meaning, they’re using the CABLE to send the data from one box to another, not your home Ethernet or wireless network. They should have all the bandwidth they need there to send HD signals, since obviously they do it all the time. Your lower 99 channels are all sent SIMULTANEOUSLY over that cable interface. And each 6MHz channel of analog tv can accomodate up to 10 channels of digital SD or 3 or so channels of HD at typical cable encode rates for MPEG-2.

  18. “I?m interested in how it is that MOT can get Cable Labs certification on their STBs with multi-room yet Tivo cannot.”

    The Motorola box does not use CableCARDs and is not subject to the same certification process.

  19. I have Verizon FiOS & TV with the Motorola 6416 & 2500 STBs. They replaced my DLink router with one from ActionTec (MI424WR). The coax & cat-5 connections go into there. This allows my PC using the Media Manager software to communicate to the STBs to display pictures or to play music. There are people who have downloaded contents off their 6400 series DVR via IEEE1394 but I would like to know if anyone has done it over the network.

  20. Shame on Verizon. If you go to http://promo.verizon.com/tvdemo/ and watch the demo on Home Media DVR it is very misleading. Listen to the part when the man records the soccer game in “glorious High Definition”. The next part says “In the kitchen you pick up the game where you left off.” If you can’t stream the HD content to another room, why is Verizon advertising this? Verizon, very clever how you marketed this, but “SHAME ON YOU”. I am a DirectTV customer for the past 8 years and was ready to make the switch, but will not because of the HD issue.

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