Three TiVo Premiere Mysteries

Dave Zatz —  March 3, 2010 — 45 Comments

TiVo-Premiere1

As no one beyond TiVo Inc, and their NDA-ed testers or partners, have spent more than a short while with the TiVo Premiere, there are quite a few outstanding questions of the CableCARD DVR. Is the hard drive still user expandable/replaceable? To what extent has the HME API been expanded to support the new Flash UI? How much faster is re-ordering Season Passes? How has the grid and/or live guides been updated? Etc, etc, etc…

But there are also three very new mysteries. Which I missed by being a little too efficient. As I was preparing my Premiere coverage, I knew exactly what images I wanted based on our demo time together. So those are the ones I specifically asked for. As it turns out, the total HD UI press pack imagery spotlights some real curious and compelling items…

tivo-premiere-comcast-ondemand

Comcast On Demand? Hm… For a retail Premiere, we know it’s not tru2way. So could this be an IP/Internet version of Comcast’s TV Everywhere initiative for third party set-top boxes? Or does this foreshadow a replacement of Motorola hardware for the Comcast-deployed TiVo initiative. Unfortunately, I suspect it’s just as likely that this is a Photoshop error.

tivo-premiere-users

In my original Premiere write-up, I dinged TiVo for lacking the sort of personalized user experience Sezmi is championing. Yet TiVo pioneered this with Kidzone, filed a possibly related outlandish RFID patent, and has made some vague comments leading me to believe it’s on their radar. And, surely, the proof of the pudding is seen above.

tivo-premiere-friends

Another item many of us have been requesting for some time is the ability to share scheduled recordings, show recommendations, or similar. As it turns out, TiVo may be on the same page given the ‘Friends Recommend’ tile above.

Stay tuned…

45 responses to Three TiVo Premiere Mysteries

  1. Honestly I have about zero interest in doing “actor research” on my TiVo. I also don’t watch the extra’s on my DVDs. I just want to consume TV better/more convenient… Do they really not get that? I mean the screenshots look more “up-to-date”… now I feel like I am on the complaining bandwagon….

  2. As an existing S2 owner with Lifetime sub, it appears I could purchase the Premier for $300 & transfer my lifetime sub for an additional $200. However, I am also considering a Mac Mini as HTPC for approx the same amount and can’t come up with a compelling reason why I should stick with Tivo.

  3. Well in an exceprt from Light Reading: http://bit.ly/baJBZa

    “TiVo, however, has notched a deal with SeaChange International Inc. (Nasdaq: SEAC) that enables its DVRs to access a cable operator’s video-on-demand (VoD) offering without tru2way, relying instead on the box’s Ethernet port to communicate upstream to the cable plant and set up VoD streaming sessions.”

    I do know that the majority of Comcast does use Seachange. It is apparent if you go into the set top diagnostics under “Code Modules” We have the Seachange ASTB VOD Client version 6.18 loaded. This latest version allows for 5 min VOD Skips (Forward and Backwards), as well as greatly improves VOD trick play performance by reducing the lag and improving button response time.

    Now what I think *may* have to happen, is the MSO would need to install some kind of a gateway server (or 2 or 3 for redundancy of course). This would interpret all of the VOD requests via IP. How the Tivo would know where this server is (DNS name or IP address) is yet to be determined. But over on the RCN thread at Broadband reports: http://bit.ly/c2OVzF – RCN employees are committed to saying that it will have full integration with their Video on Demand service. I posted some questions and hopefully they will be able to provide some answers, but as we know some of the information may be behind an NDA and we will just have to wait and see. If RCN can do it with their Seachange VOD system, then why can’t any other operator do it as well?

    Photoshop? I don’t know about that. Why go to the lengths to Photoshop a Comcast logo of all things? On the EngadgetHD video of the UI, I can hear them touch on Comcast VOD integration, but there’s so much background noise that I can’t understand what the lady is saying.

  4. @David TiVo would not transfer your lifetime sub. They are offering a discount on a new lifetime sub, so you’d still be able to use your S2 box.

    I like TiVo because I’m not the only one watching TV at my house. An HTPC would have to just as intuitive as TiVo is for the other non tech people. Heck my wife learned how to use TiVo in 10 mins, by herself.

  5. David, actually it’s better than a transfer. Lifetime will remain on your existing box. Which will make it much easier to ebay for more. :)

    If the rumored Mac Mini with HDMI materializes (with presumably more power as well), it might make a nice HTPC with Boxee and EyeTV. No digital cable options, of course.

  6. Dave,
    Is there any chance that the Comcast on Demand tile is just a link to the Xfinity online web service that allows rewatching of shows? This seems the most likely scenario to me, rather than any sort of IP based VOD. Thoughts?

  7. Cypher, Doug, I sent an email inquiry over to two of my TiVo contacts earlier this morning. I’ll let you know what, if anything, I hear back. It sure is interesting…

    Cypher, your excerpt pretty much confirms my theory on RCN, as we discussed last night.

  8. Dave, will the 200 lifetime offer only on Premieres purchased through Tivo.com? or can i buy one at amazon and have the same offer?

  9. Dave, the main question I have is whether the retail box through Tivo.com or Best Buy will be able to support the same VOD options as the TiVo boxes that will be available through the cable companies.

  10. Al, I’m not certain. In the past, TiVo has done tivo.com only only a community uproar and then fixed it for all.

    Bill, I’m not sure what RCN’s intentions are. But I could see them limiting outside VOD as part of the deal.

    Regarding Comcast, I’m not sure where they’re going with their TiVo rollout. I expect things to change given the deployment issues they’ve had, the new hardware, and in light of that Comcast On Demand thing up there which we need to get some clarification on.

  11. I’m assuming the SeaChange relationship means the VOD will only work in SeaChange systems, but who knows! Also, what the hell does provisioning look like for that? As Bill says, will cable companies provision the retail boxes for VOD if consumers are also digital cable subscribers?

  12. Call me when it says directv on the front.

    hohum.

  13. I was just checking out images on tivo.com, and i noticed 3d glasses with the premiere XL:
    https://www3.tivo.com/assets/images/products/page_elements/inthebox_669x200.png

    whats up with that?

  14. I’m assuming that none of the advanced features (other than the new interface) will work in Canada as is the case now with the S2 and S3. All we can do up here is record and watch TV shows. No on-demand nothin! No cableard support.

    If anyone hears/sees anything about availability and services offered to Canadians, please let us know. I’m expecting a big fat goose egg as always!

    Good write-ups Dave.

    ..Dale

  15. I’m surprised about the extensive use of Flash.
    Flash rips Atom processors to shreds and taxes i5′s during HD playback, causing the fan to come on and destroying battery life. TiVo has always used underpowered chips (i.e. cheap) so is this a hardware optimized version of Flash for the Broadcom?
    Since we’re talking about basic menus and video playback, can’t this be done in HTML instead?

  16. SeaChange covers most of Comcast. Some of the newer locations(where Comcast bought another company mostly) may not be backed by SeaChange but they will eventually.

    Also since SeaChange is partnered with Tivo and Comcast, all of this does make sense.

  17. jon: those do not look like 3D glasses to me, they look like filter glasses used to calibrate a display’s color.

  18. I guess this means I’ll be holding off on purchasing a box from retail until they answer that question.

  19. Over at Lightreading, I found some articles that go back to about a year ago today. All of them were pointed to the Seachange Deal and how it was an intermediate step between a retail DVR and a Tru2Way software push. SeaChange indicated that all session setup and control information would flow through the internet pipe to their servers. The box would be told where to tune the VOD stream, just as a normal set top box does. So it wouldn’t matter if you have a 3mbps connection or a 50mbps connection, you could still get HD-VOD because it’s broadcast in QAM. The internet connection is again only for control, session setup and heartbeat monitoring (so if knows to tear down the stream if you loose power).

    The latest Lightreading article released today states that Tivo IS building a Tru2Way version of it’s UI to be sold to cable operators. Check out the article here: http://bit.ly/8X1lCL

    Anyway, it seems like there could be options.

  20. Oh and those aren’t 3D glasses. Those are the color filters for the THX certification. You are to wear them to filter the blue out of the TV so the onscreen video will help you set the proper color balance.

  21. I wish I could edit that comment… I didn’t mean to say filter the blue out of the TV… they are blue filters to filter the red and green.

    See this THX Certification page:
    http://www.thx.com/consumer/home-entertainment/home-theater/thx-optimizer/thx-optimizer-color-and-tint-set-up/

  22. Sorry! We used to have comment editing. The AJAXy method crushed the server (and my hosting bill). One day, we’ll update the site. I also had a request for a larger content area. 420px is too narrow, but I wouldn’t want to go too wide given the number of shorter posts I run. Unless I also bump the font. Sadly, the webmaster is on permanent vacation. ;)

  23. Interesting, nearly 24 hrs after the “event’ I cannot find any positive reaction to this on any site. Some level of disappointment is nearly universal from reviewers, and reporters and customers are definitely on the upset/disbelief side. Dave, any indication from your contacts that Tivo Mgmt is huddled away somewhere trying to figure out to heal their self inflicted wound? The reaction has got to be a concern, they can’t be happy being described as “giving a dinosaur a jet pack.”

  24. Unfortunately, I think a lot of the negative feedback would go away if they were able to showcase more of the features. IF the Comcast OnDemand that is shown is something that will be accessible from all Premieres (on Comcast, obviously), that will be a HUGE improvement and one that would get me to make a purchase.

  25. No Comcast VOD OR social aspects…
    http://www.engadget.com/2010/03/03/oops-tivo-premiere-wont-have-comcast-on-demand/1#c25935977

    Hope your reading this Tivo…. but I’d have to pass on this product at this time. As are many others, look at the commotion that those simple screenshots caused?

  26. Cypher, yeah I’ve been in touch with some TiVo reps today. They were wondering where I got the images. Of course, the link above goes straight to Engadget’s gallery. And presumably they received the images from TiVo. So somebody somewhere goofed. After calling me, they obviously called Engadget. Which led to that post.

  27. Well if they somehow manage to get VOD, or perhaps the ball rolling on the Tru2Way implementation of their new software… they’d win me back.

    I know not everyone cares about Cable VOD when there’s so many other places out there to get content. In fact I might be able to survive without it… but the WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor) is another story all together. To spend at least $300 for the base model box, take on another monthly fee, and loose something we both use (her more than I..) Video on Demand? Yeah, not going to fly.

    Sure we can keep the current Motorola DCX3400 DVR and use it for additional DVRing and VOD/HD-VOD, but then your talking about switching inputs.

    Is it that bad that I was hoping for my “one box fits all” dream DVR/Content aggrigator?

    I’m sure one day we may get to that point, and I may of gone into this with too much wishful thinking… especially with the “Inventing the DVR was just the beginning…” tagline. They really set themselves up for something big.

    Interesting comment on the AVSForums thread regarding Tivo Premier:

    “Originally Posted by bull3964:
    What was unveiled yesterday was not the Tivo Premiere, it was the software running on the Premiere. They set out to design a modular content aggregation software package with a UI that’s easily ported to nearly any new STB. The hardware is incidental at this point, it’s just a stepping stone to the next evolution of the company, being a software vendor for MSOs STBs.”

  28. The biggest mystery that remains to be seen is how user-friendly the new UI will be in the long run.

  29. I’m not clear on exactly what is really new about this model now. Most of the coverage has talked about the “new” features like Amazon VOD or Netflix, acting like we don’t already have these. I’m sure that’s what Tivo had in mind, e.g. a sort of relaunching. But for those who already have Tivo HD, what exactly are they offering for the additional $300-$500?

    A GUI that looks a little better, and is 16:9, including PIP. I guess PIP is nice but not a big deal to me. A quicker, faster GUI would be nice, but again, not sure it would justify an upgrade.

    The ability to access the 802.11n dongle? I’m guessing they’ll support that even on existing boxes honestly. And I’ve actually switched to MoCA myself since 802.11g was too slow for the HD transfers.

    What else? I’m at a loss. Everything else I see is already available on the box I’ve already got…

  30. VOD on a TiVo ain’t coming for a long time:

    “Would we like to see the big guys ultimately gravitate to this kind of solution? Yes. Realistically, we think the tru2way path is the way they’re going, and we have to be geared toward translating what we’re doing here to a tru2Way opportunity. And they’re funding us to do that. But it’s going to take a long time,” TiVo CEO Tom Rogers told Light Reading Cable after unveiling the new boxes here at Rockefeller Center.

    http://www.lightreading.com/document.asp?doc_id=188664&site=lr_cable&

  31. I’d like to know what this Broadcom SoC costs, as CELL seems infinitesimally faster and can be had for $13 in bulk. Lord knows, if TiVo boxes didn’t use such dinky MIPS based (i.e. dead architecture) solutions, they might be able to actually improve their product through software. Then again, TiVo’s software team’s competence is suspect at best leaving long outstanding issues unresolved.

    Verizon’s Motorola built boxes utilize similar chipsets as the current S3 and now manage a 16:9 interface, TV Widgets, and a mini-TV window. TiVo unfortunately shows time and again, they simply don’t care about existing customers. They merely covet new ones. There’s no reason current S3 hardware couldn’t handle a 16:9 720p UI providing it’s not Flash/Air based. TiVo Search is slow because it’s a Java-HME app that loads itself and everything else through the network while purging itself from the cache when the user exits.

    Alas, TiVo has my money so they don’t need to care. I never felt more screwed by a company, than I did with TiVo over the S3. First they ditch any effort to certify the original S3 for M-Card M-Mode functionality (and saving a whopping $250K in the process for the cash-strapped company). Then, they can’t bother to even deliver a proper HD UI. TiVo never promised the latter, but in a Vlog Jim Denny stated that M-Card M-Mode was awaiting CableLabs to create a certification process for it (I believe TvTechnology had it but I can’t find it). Months later, TiVo HD launched with full M-Card and nothing more than a cryptic peep (by TiVoPony on TCF) was mentioned about the S3 ever again. Granted, TiVo brought the S3 platform up to feature parity with the S2, added YouTube and partnered with Netflix and Amazon, but in terms of improving the UI with cohesive functionality or polish; they royally failed.

    I’m sure TiVo realizes HTML5 can easily push ads onto customers the same way Flash/Air can. HTML5 and WebKit also don’t eat CPU cycles the way Adobe Flash/Air does.

  32. I’d like to correct myself. It was TechnlogyEvangelist that had the interview with Mr. Denny.

    http://tinyurl.com/yflpxs3

    Directly from the transcript:

    “Benjamin Higginbotham: What about, right now the series3 uses the CableCARD the stand of their original form CableCARD 1 and it will take 2 single stream cards or one multi-steam card, but it’s…”

    “Jim Denney: Right now its only two single stream cards. The platform is capable of multi-steam card technically capable, you need to go through certification. We are in the midst of going through that certification now.”

    That’s why I feel cheated. The CTO never stated M-Card M-Mode was a mere possibility, but hinted it awaited CableLabs. Had TiVo stated M-Card mode would never be properly certified for M-Card mode, I would have passed.

  33. Verizon doesn’t offer a 16:9 UI.

    The v1.7 software stretched the 4:3 SD UI to fill the 16:9 screen. The 1.7.2 software eliminates the stretching and puts the UI back to 4:3.

    Verizon is preparing a 16:9 HD UI for new boxes. I haven’t seen anything to indicate a plan to bring it to existing boxes. If Verizon were to deliver a 16:9 UI with Series3-like hardware, they would be the first; no cable provider offers a full 16:9 UI, much less a HD UI, on Series3-like hardware.

  34. @bfdtv,

    Correct. With Verizon moving from Motorola to Cisco STBs going forward, seems unlikely they’ll be updating the UI on the existing Mot STBs…

  35. http://tinyurl.com/yz4xlb6

    “”We think the new [TiVo] interface is innovative, and while there are no immediate plans, we are talking with TiVo about how we might use it with our tru2way software platform,” Comcast senior director of corporate communications Jenni Moyer said.”

    Sounds like the cart before the horse to me…

  36. also wrong info above on Mcard in original S3. That was an old interview. TiVoPony did in fact post on TCF and what he said is that they have found the firmware on the original S3 had a glitch that did not let M-cards operate correctly. The only fix they had found for the firmware introduced a hole host of new risks that were not manageable. So the technology issues forced a business decision to go with two S-cards that are known to work in S3 and the TiVo HD has different chipset and different firmware that did not have this issue.

    There was no waiting for cable labs or saving 250,000. The hardware picked for the original S3 simply had glitches that could not be overcome. Old news – some people need to move on

  37. and yes – I think the 4th mystery is why they did not go with a tagline like “Give TiVo a new look” and make it all about the new interface and what it means over the next year. As we dig into this interface we will find good things aplenty.

    However like the “photoshop” idiocy, TiVo decided to go all out as if they had the box that would replace DVRs. rolleyes. The utter silence as Rogers paused after putting the picture of yet another black box up and dramatically pauses was surreal. What was TiVo thinking in this press event????? It is like they tried to dilute the UI message and make sure it was the “oh and also” part of the story. sigh.

  38. crud – forgot to add
    current TiVo owners are NOT the target audience for the premiere. As they tout all the features they do so from a perspective of wowing people who do not own a TiVo yet.
    That will be the Best Buy tie-in. Hey look at this shiny DVR to go with your new TV. Look at all the neat features.
    current S3 owners will just have to decide if a shiny interface is worth the bucks.

  39. Boo!

    “TiVo tells us this screenshot is actually just a mockup and not indicative of any actual partnership”

    http://www.engadget.com/2010/03/03/oops-tivo-premiere-wont-have-comcast-on-demand/

  40. ZeoTV: Do you have a link to TiVoPony’s TCF post. I recall his statement being far more cryptic. Considering Jim Denny’s position with TiVo, I take him at his word. If TiVo found a flaw, then they should have recalled and replaced the chip. Old interview or not, he’s a senior officer and bares a responsibility for his statements.

    While the new TiVo may not be targeted at new customers (the ones TiVo needs to care most about with their financial position), I don’t see how alienating your current base is productive. I’d wager it’s suicide. I can’t recommend a new TiVo in good faith. I’d have to tell them outside of partnership additions, don’t expect TiVo to provide any extensive updates to your service.

    As for horsepower and HD, my old PowerPC 750 updated 9500 can handle 720p resolutions with its pathetic 2D-only ATI GA PCI Graphics. Again, if the S3 can handle TiVo Search, it could handle a 16:9 UI. With CELL selling for $13 in bulk, there’s little excuse for underpowered hardware either (and CELL’s SPEs can easily handle multiple 1080p streams in h.264 or VC-1 formats; as well as 3-D HD UI elements). TiVo’s S3 chipset supportes PiP which we never seen either.

  41. I meant the TiVo announcement is specifically targeted at new customers.

  42. I should also note the use for CELL in future hardware vs. underpowered Broadcom MIPS-based SoC designs.

  43. ZeoTivo: I think you are right, that is what Tivo’s mgmt expects. The problem is that apparently they do not go out into the real world or at least they haven’t in the past 2 years. EVERYTHING they think they have just invented duplicates/exists in the product they think they enhance and will sell with. Visualize thi scenario- buyer walks into BB and has 15 bills to drop. Clerk sez let’s look at the Panny, LG and Visio flat screens. These babies are THX certified and will connect direct to internet thru this ethernet port right here on the back. Now you can stream Netflix, Youtube, Amazon right from the TV. You can read the news, check the weather as well. And those pictures of your kids you want to show to the grandparents when they visit, You can see those pictures from Picassa right on the TV, or you can put an SD card in the slot on the side. Want some music instead? You can stream Pandora right from the TV. Don’t want to use the remote to type, no problem, the TV has a USB 2.0 port on the side that will connect to ANY wireless keyboard. Now that that the TV is chosen, how about a Tivo premiere? Only another $800. It is THX certified, yeah so is the TV. You can stream YouTube and Netflix from this baby, yeah JUST like the TV you bought. Don’t want to watch Tivo, how about streaming music from Pandora. Oh yeah, the TV does that, too. Well, how about displaying your vaction photos? YES, the same ones you can display directly from the TV. But hey, here is something, for $800 you can look up the movies that Clint Eastwood has made. Isn’t that worth 8 bills? Yes you can use keyboard, but you need to buy this blu tooth dongle QWERTY remote for extra $ (yes it is small and awkward isn’t it), YES you also need to drop another $90 for the propriertary network adapter. I guess it is a good thing you already know all his films! You say you want to watch a BD movie, No, Tivo can’t do that. But we have an LG Blu ray player with a 250GB HDD that also connects to Hulu and CinemaNow and can store your movies. Yes it is only half the price of the Tivo Premiere. Boy are you picky!

    That will have people flocking out of BB with new Tivos on the cart next to the flat screen! This is new coke for the technology market. They have succeeded in alienating and pissing off their loyal customers and providing nothing new and innovative to excite potential new customers. I tink the question is, “can they make up with their loyal fanbase (the evangelists for the Co!) and climb out of this hole before it falls in on them.

  44. As I learned with my Series3, (I was an early adopter having purchased it in Feb. 2007, a month after Jim Denny’s “old” interview), TiVo is not the company you want to lock a long term investment with. They fell back on full M-Card support and can’t bother to even provide a 16:9 UI, exploit their own hardware chipset (which is capable of PiP), or worst of all, squash glaring long standing bugs. I suffered the worst “early adopter” burn ever.

    People elsewhere were quick to jump on Apple screwing customers with the iPhone 3GS vs. original iPhone. They neglect Apple still providing full OS updates for original handset customers, adding new features not directly linked to partnered revenue sharing, and even issued cash rebates for customers caught “off-guard” with their price drop.

    If the TiVo S3 platform were easily hackable, I’d love to see what the OSS community could do with it. If they managed to get M-Card M-Mode support working, and a 16:9 UI (720p) with MythTV/Linux; I think it would prove embarrassing for TiVo engineers or product managers. TiVo is a great DVR, but it *SUCKS* for everything outside of recording digital streams. It’s pathetic as a media extender with it’s kludgy HME Apps, poor support for handling non MPEG-1/2 video files, and inability to process meaningful user-generated metadata for uploaded video files. The day someone manages to marry Boxee and a decent PVR UI; TiVo is dead. Patents don’t last forever, and TiVo’s biggest strength are exactly that, patents. They largely exist because there’s no real competition.

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