The Q4 Verizon FiOS TV Updates (eSATA, HD UI)

Dave Zatz —  August 19, 2010 — 48 Comments

In addition to the iPad hoopla yesterday, Verizon unveiled a number of other FiOS TV updates. Specifically, version 1.9 of the IMG platform arrives by the end of the year in Q4 — Bringing with it a number of sought after features, including a true HD UI and the ability to augment DVRs with external storage.

Amongst my peers, who live in a FiOS TV region, the most common complaint and request has dealt with the limited recording capacity of FiOS TV DVRs. Verizon has teased additional storage for some time, but they’ve finally come clean with the plan and timing. Basically, you’ll be able to slap any eSATA drive (up to 1 terabyte) onto any of your DVRs once the 1.9 update hits. Verizon will vet perhaps half a dozen brands and models. But, unlike TiVo, they won’t actually software-lock you to specific drive hardware.

That’s the good news. However, there’s even better news. Verizon’s whole home DVR will also be getting an IQ upgrade that includes a unified playlist of recordings around the home… on your drives or theirs. Record it anywhere, watch it anywhere – it doesn’t matter, all drives add up to a single virtual storage device. And, as most of you know, Verizon efficiently pipes data around the home via MoCA. Yes, I’m excited. It could be enough to get me to jump once we move later this year (assuming we’re in a FiOS ‘hood). And I know my buddy Jason was waiting for these two developments to dump DISH.

In terms of the UI, Verizon’s taking their 16:9 prototype into production. It’s a true widescreen, HD UI as opposed to the existing stretched affair. So, not only will it look better, more data can and will be presented. For those familiar with the current UI, the new IMG obviously also happens to look a lot different with a fresh color palette. But, what you can’t see from the screengrabs, are the new animations and 3D effects (as statically pictured by the cycling widget carousel above). Based on tweets from Verizon’s product guy, it sounds as if their new UI is faster than TiVo’s HD UI and more consistant in its speed throughout the experience.

There’s all sorts of other little enhancements sprinkled throughout the new UI. Some of the more notable additions: Automatic chapter creation leading to a much more interesting progress bar of thumbnail images that possibly surpasses the traditional skip-to-tick, an undelete/recycle bin of recordings (something we have on TiVo), and faster, broader search functionality with autocomplete available via the B button from just about anywhere in the UI.

Click to enlarge:

48 responses to The Q4 Verizon FiOS TV Updates (eSATA, HD UI)

  1. I’m a multi-year FiOS customer, so I’m trying to translate the PR speak into real life speak. Q4 this year translates into Q4 next year, right? (Why, yes, I have been burned by Verizon’s slip-slip-slipping schedules.)

    Also, something that has always bugged me with their guide. With the new one, will I finally be able to use it like I use to with Comcast’s where you can go into the guide, go to Channel 5 and see *just* the programs on that? Instead of having to scroll right and right and right all the while having the guide show channels 3, 4, 6, 7 above and below?

  2. Matt, I’m hopeful they post a video of the guide in action, so the finer details can be examined/determined. But check out this screengrab the Verizon peeps passed to Engadget. It may address your question. (They provided a similar image to me, but the wrong one – I think it was for internal use as it was dimmed and there were highlighted callouts with font face and size.)

    And you’re probably right to take any PR timing announcement with a grain of salt if a company is not launching like “next week.”

  3. Wow this is really a step in the right direction. It’s about time someone other than Dish Network comes up with a 16:9, HD user interface on their provider based set top box/DVR.

    More questions will be, what set top box can run this software? How will it look on SD only set top boxes? What if you have an HD-DVR connected to an SDTV? Will it require “Cisco” set tops, or will Motorola do?

    Now where’s the HD resolution 16:9 guides for Comcast, Cox, Time Warner and DirecTV? At least Verizon and Dish network looked at the calender and realized it’s 2010, not 1995.

    My only gripe? Verizon has POTS and DSL in my area. No word on wiring FIOS. With the FIOS new deployment slowdown and scaleback, it looks like I’ll never experience this goodness. I’m ready to send Verizon my money, but I guess they don’t want it. Oh well, their loss.

  4. Cypher, the new UI will run on any of the Motorola boxes being deployed now and the new hardware coming towards the end of the year. A percentage of boxes, the real old ones, will not handle the new guide… but Verizon is working on a plan to swap boxes of folks who have a desire to upgrade to 1.9. And they do have a shaved down 4:3 presentation for those with older sets. But we don’t endorse SD on this blog. ;)

  5. The one key feature keeping me with TiVo for the time being is the TiVoToGo feature which keeps my iDevices full of shows for the kids. Is there any equivalent (or plans for an equivalent) on the FiOS boxes? If so, hopefully I can recoup a bit from my pair of TiVo HDs with lifetime!

  6. Rich, no TTG functionality that I’m aware of. They do offer remote access to some things via different relationships like VOD or HBO Go. But nothing as flexible as TiVoToGo. (I’d appreciate TTG if I could actually use it – the CCI Byte on Cox Communications has me locked down.)

  7. “an undelete/recycle bin of recordings (something we have on TiVo)”

    That’s officially a Really Good Thing™.

    Do they have folder grouping too, cuz that’d be the other practical UI biggie I love in the TiVo UI.

    —–

    “Yes, I’m excited. It could be enough to get me to jump once we move later this year (assuming we’re in a FiOS ‘hood).”

    I’m a FIOS customer, and I’d theoretically love to use one of their boxes, just so I could get their VOD.

    But don’t forget that if you get to FIOS, you’ll suddenly have CCI byte freedom on your TiVo recordings, which is a big deal for me. There are ten thousand different ways this can come in handy.

    The reasons I’d stick with TiVo, even if FIOS rolled out the box tomorrow:

    - CCI byte freedom. I use it on a regular basis to take material off the box for my own personal usage.

    - I just don’t believe Moto can do a DVR well. My experiences are well out of date, but they were so bad, (compared not just to TiVo, but also to Sci-Atl), that’d I’d have to use one first to believe they can get the important usage details right.

    - I actually use the 30 sec skip. Enough material I view has predictable length commercial breaks that it really improves my experience.

    - I appreciate the consistent UI and remote control for cable, Amazon VOD, and Netflix. (And more importantly, so do other less technophile members of my household.) The Netflix UI on the TiVo may suck compared to other platforms, for example, but when you get to leverage your muscle memory of the UI and remote control from the rest of TiVo, it actually becomes a plus, not a minus.

  8. Sweetness!

    Though it looks like we’d need to replace our three year old FiOS DVR model with a newer one. I don’t think it has the eSATA port or the horsepower for this newfangled stuff.

    Can’t wait for the ability to add storage space. 20 hours of HD storage is just not enough.

    @Chucky the Moto DVR for FiOS is actually pretty decent. Verizon does their own interface for it and with the updates over the past few years it’s actually pretty stable. We may go weeks or even months without needing to do a manual reboot.

  9. “@Chucky the Moto DVR for FiOS is actually pretty decent. Verizon does their own interface for it and with the updates over the past few years it’s actually pretty stable. We may go weeks or even months without needing to do a manual reboot.”

    Stability was not my problem with the Moto DVR I played with, though I certainly heard rumors of those type of problems. The fine-grained details of the usability of the UI just seemed utterly retarded to me, compared to other DVR’s of the day.

    But, as stated, it was a while ago. Things could’ve changed. But I’d still have to play with one before I’d believe it. In my general experience with UI’s, bad UI thought patterns tend to remain in a product through revisions, even as the rough edges get sanded away around those bad thought patterns…

    “Can’t wait for the ability to add storage space. 20 hours of HD storage is just not enough.”

    Yup. If you’re on one of those boxes, a functional eSATA port will completely change how you use it. When/if it actually gets rolled out will be your lucky day.

  10. I think the biggest question left unanswered is when does the new season of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia start?

    But seriously, this looks really good and I doubt I’ll miss my DirecTV HDDVR anymore.

  11. Chucky, it’s probable you were not running Moto’s guide/UI on your Moto hardware. There’s all sorts out there including Comcast’s experience, Microsoft (which ran on Verizon Moto hardware before they developed their own stuff), TiVo, etc.

  12. All the updates are worthless if the guide data is as inaccurate as it is today.

    Any word on this?

  13. I guess my biggest beef with this new HD guide is the color scheme. I don’t like the light colored background, especially when the grid is already blue/light blue. It doesn’t contrast, and I find it tiring for some reason. Also it may just be the screen shots, but I just don’t see anything that takes advantage of the 1080 lines of res. It just seems so basic, with just simple gradients encompassing the grid layout. Its just bland for an HD guide I thought.

    I guess I am comparing this new HD guide to the yet to be released Comcast Tru2way HD guide codenamed “Barcelona.” That was the gold standard of HD guides and while this VZ HD guide is OK, it doesn’t WOW me.

  14. “Chucky, it’s probable you were not running Moto’s guide/UI on your Moto hardware. There’s all sorts out there including Comcast’s experience, Microsoft (which ran on Verizon Moto hardware before they developed their own stuff), TiVo, etc.”

    Good to know. Whatever the hell I was using seemed like it had been developed by the CIA to induce a feeling of helplessness in detainees at Guantanamo…

  15. The existing 62xx and 71xx boxes exhibit considerable lag in the program guide UI from time to time. I have assumed (with no proof) that the memory foot print is so small that they are either dynamically loading needed software (or data) or performing some processing on servers back at the head end. I sort of expect (or am inured) to lag in the VoD and widgets (after all, these are telco bell heads at heart) but the processes executed locally in the STB (eg channel guide UI) should be responsive. I hope they get their act together. Maybe they need to step up to the plate and spend more than $199 per box, so they can give us equipment that is more competent than this under powered General Instrument (Moto) crap??

  16. “Maybe they need to step up to the plate and spend more than $199 per box”

    I don’t think it’s a dollars issue. You can find a damn nice 3rd party DVR around that price point…

  17. @Bob In LA,
    Its my understanding that all of the current guides written on Motorola set tops are written in assembly / C, and no one has yet tapped the actual power of these set tops, as no optimized hardware accelerated video and I/O drivers have been created. Its akin to formatting your PC with Windows 98, and not installing any driver. Yeah you get low resolution, 16-color, slow drawing video, no sound, limited or no connectivity, etc. Once hardware optimized drivers and libraries are loaded on to fully harness this equipment, developers can finally utilize new java based routines for some slick animations, enhanced graphics presentation, and new levels of interactivity between client and server.

    Hopefully cable operators are soon to follow. I know it’s more than easy to blame the hardware (motorola or cisco), but in actuality, the hardware is just doing what the crap software tells it to do. Yes there are limitations, but there are tricks to soften that line. As for memory, maybe some elements will be cached to the hard drive. As for processing power, a client/server approach can be used so that heavy lifting is done in the datacenter, not in the set top. Some screen elements could be loaded on demand, just like a web page. Some items may be streamed via QAM or IPTV, instead of rendered locally.

    Lots of options… Just a very overlooked and untapped portion of every service provider. Face it, service provider UI’s generally suck (I-Guide, SARA, Passport, ODN, MDN). Its been overlooked for too long. How will Comcast distinguish itself from Verizon, UVerse, D* & E*? When they all pretty much already have the same most popular content, time to extend their brand image into the user experience. Apple sure does this well with IOS and MacOS. Microsoft does it well with Windows, Zune, XBOX. You see and use a modern interface and instantly associate it with the brand. Time to get crackin’ service providers. Looks like Verizon is going to beat everyone too it.

  18. Bob, Two things… I’m told the revised guide/UI is faster than the current one and there is more modern Motorola hardware slated for deployment this winter. Perhaps both of those will result in an improved experience for you.

  19. Yay! New hardware! Finally! These 6xxx series boxes we have look so antiquated.

  20. There are also Cisco boxes being tested by Verizon. Some areas are deploying Simulcrypt which will render the ATI DCT’s obsolete, until a firmware update is developed to support it. The Ceton card and Tivo DVR’s work just fine.

  21. Dave,

    I see that the grid layout has ad space in the top right corner. Do you know whats up with this? Will it be like Comcast’s Ads? I hope not! At least it’s not IN the guide, which only gets in the way of scrolling.

  22. @rv65

    How are there Cisco boxes currently being tested in the field before they have pushed SimulCrypt?

    Or can they inject or limit SimulCrypt into specific areas so that entire areas of a VHO aren’t covered in SimulCrypt yet, which would kill many ATI tuners quicker than expected.

  23. I should have said that the Simulcrypt areas are the ones that are testing the boxes. Verizon has to deploy Simulcrypt before launching the Cisco boxes.

  24. Juice, I’m compiling a list of questions that I’ll present to a Verizon contact. We’ll see which, if any, they answer. But for that ad spot, I’d assume the worst. This is where everyone is or is headed. If they’re not advertising a partner, they’ll advertise something of their own is my guess.

    Regarding ATI CableCARD tuners, forget it. I highly doubt they’ll ever see another update.

  25. “I know it’s more than easy to blame the hardware (motorola or cisco), but in actuality, the hardware is just doing what the crap software tells it to do.”

    I agree with this 100%. You can run a nifty DVR on very cheap hardware. You just need a decent OS.

    “Face it, service provider UI’s generally suck (I-Guide, SARA, Passport, ODN, MDN).”

    It’s funny. I used to have a cableco provider’s Scientific-Atlanta DVR that I absolutely loved. The OS ran locally on the box, was nicely scaled to what the hardware could do, and provided a very well thought out and functional UI.

    But then my cableco started heavily pushing me to “upgrade” my box to a model that ran one of the sucky UI’s you listed, hinting that I soon wouldn’t have any choice in the matter. They essentially forced me into the arms of TiVo and a different wireline provider.

    Cableco DVR’s are a wacky world.

  26. Dave,

    I really don’t like the light background of this new HD guide. Can you ask them if they can add a color option, sort of like what Comcast offers on their i-guide, but obviously a little better I would hope?

    The grey background is so stale to me, especially when the guide is 1080i. I was hoping for dark contrasting colors, and maybe some alpha blending with some transparency added in. That would spice it up to a worthy HD guide. (We all know the Comcast Tru2way guide does this well).

    Thanks again Dave

  27. this is cool and all but practically speaking i have 5 tv’s in my home and am using windows mc 7 with a huge drobo array hooked up. given the limitations of hooking up only 1tb to each box and having 5 tv’s will i have to rent 5 boxes at 20 each to get near the capacity of my current solution which is bought and paid for. renting 5 boxes at vz cost is like 100 bucks a month for boxes.

  28. The boxes might have “untapped” potential but you have to remember the Motorola Q62xx boxes FIOS uses are 5yrs old now. Would you use a 5yr old PC? Probably not…

    We are in desperate need of new routers and DVRs. The routers need to support true wireless “n” and have wired gigabit ports. Also the internal drives need to support more than 320GB (what the newer Motorola boxes support). It’s nice that Verizon is finally opening up the eSATA port but imposing a size limit (albeit a 1TB one) is still short-sighted. You can never have too much space, and with HD that’s doubly so.

  29. “The boxes might have “untapped” potential but you have to remember the Motorola Q62xx boxes FIOS uses are 5yrs old now. Would you use a 5yr old PC? Probably not…”

    The (3rd party) DVR I happily use with FIOS employs 4 year old hardware, and is still quite nimble.

    Again, you can run a nifty DVR on very cheap (and very old) hardware. You just need a decent OS running on that hardware.

    “It’s nice that Verizon is finally opening up the eSATA port but imposing a size limit (albeit a 1TB one) is still short-sighted.”

    It’s not short-sighted. It’s intentional. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that it’s taken Verizon so long to open up the eSATA port in the first place. It goes against their perceived interests to have you locally cache much programming, and they are they are always going to be intentionally lagging far behind what is possible.

    “We are in desperate need of new routers … The routers need to support true wireless “n”

    I’m pretty critical of Verizon’s in-home hardware choices, but here I’ll defend one. The supplied routers handle most legal wifi needs except hi-bandwidth video quite nicely, and Verizon expects you to be getting your hi-bandwidth video via coax.

    If you want a nice 3rd party 5ghz wifi ‘n’ access point to easily attach to your router with no configuration hassle, you can buy one for $50 retail including free shipping. The NETGEAR WNHDE111 is my recommendation.

  30. Get on the stick comcast. An external hard drive is a big deal. I will change providers if verizon rolls this out and you haven’t.

  31. Even people with FIOS have something to complain about, I see. Meanwhile, most people wish they could get on some sweet FIOS action :) Anyhow, if I had FIOS (and not Uverse), I’d build Win7 box with Ceton tuner or use new TiVo.

  32. “Even people with FIOS have something to complain about, I see … Anyhow, if I had FIOS (and not Uverse), I’d build Win7 box with Ceton tuner or use new TiVo.”

    If you’re willing to bring your own gear, FIOS service does indeed rock.

    “Meanwhile, most people wish they could get on some sweet FIOS action”

    To make you even more jealous, FIOS had just finished their build-out in my area, and were taking on the incumbent cableco by offering some craaaaazy deals to get switchers.

    Verizon essentially paid me a four figure sum for the privilege of running fibre to my home. At the end of the day, they bought me my 3rd party gear, and left me with a nice chunk of change afterwards. I love cutthroat competition among my vendors…

  33. Just had a tech leave my house in Cherry Hill, NJ. He said he’s installing Cisco STB’s every day now (he was out to replace my ONT which had a fried Ethernet port).

    I asked how I could get one and he claims that if I just call to say my STB is a problem that I’d get the new Cisco box. I’d KILL for more space before the new fall season is in full swing as our habits mean the DVR is no longer a DVR with us HAVING to watch everything live or not see it.

    Anyone think this is actually the case–that I can just call and ask and they’ll bring a Cisco box?

  34. All of this sounds great, but what Verizon really needs to to in order to make all of this worthwhile is get a new TV schedule provider that has accurate listings as to what’s new and a repeat, and make the boxes smart enough, like Tivo, to record an alternate airing of a particular program if there is an overlap with other recordings. The Record First Run Only is good if there are no conflicts, but the Record First Run and Repeats is kind of useless if it’s going to record every single airing of the same episode. If it records it once, that should be enough. Even when you set the thing to No Duplicates, it still schedules every episode available. That’s why I switched to Tivo for my main TV, but I still have two FiOS boxes so hopefully the changes will be not only cosmetically attractive, but useful to the users as well.

  35. I love that the gui font becomes more difficult to read with increasing versions

    And I am delighted that there is ZERO option to increase font size — despite consumer demands!

  36. wow esata… how about samba/NFS mounts over ethernet?

    by default fios installers inflict moca — oh noes, giant LAN loop so no excuses that are not lame.

    will their eSata BS allow any lan workstation to view media? no, of course not, home users are evil, remember?

    dry loop internet + usenet = F* off TV draconia

  37. “Verizon efficiently pipes data around the home via MoCA.”

    do the notions “backplane bandwidth” or “switch fabric” mean anything to you?

    verizon gateway devices have VERY little of either.

    uh oh?

  38. Any word on support for HD multi-room DVRs. Right now my HD DVR can be viewed from another room buy only using a SD set-top box. My way around this since I have more than one HDTV was to have two HD DVRs that record independently for each TV. Is the “unified playlist of recordings around the home… on your drives or theirs” quote above what you mean as a fix for this? In other words, now both of my HD DVRs can record and be played on either TV (even in HD)?
    Thanks

  39. If you guys think any of this stuff is coming ANY time soon, do NOT get your hopes up. Let me just say what Verizon has done in the past to it’s users:

    1.) Dvr storage capacity was talked about in 2008! (That’s almost 3 years ago) — it’s still not here…and now we’re finding out that USB drives will NOT be supported, only eSATA! What a joke — IIRC, Tivo supports usb, esata, and firewire drives, and has for years.

    2.) “Media manager” – streaming from PC to STB — again, it took 2 years to launch, and when it finally did, it friggen SUCKED. Only standard definition video content was is supported (480p!), and only certain codecs. Forget about it if you were planning on streaming 720p MKVs to your STB — don’t even bother trying.

    3.) FiOS app — looks awesome — but I guarantee you this will NOT come out any time soon. I’m thinking christmas 2012…and that’s not an unrealistic estimation, based on what Verizon’s PR people (scumbag bottom feeding monkeys wearing suits) have said to their customers in the past.

    So why do they do this? Simple — they want you to think they have features that no one else does and they want you to sign a contact to get their service — then come to find out the features aren’t available yet, or they just plain don’t work (media manager). And as far as the iPad app goes — it’s amazing to see all the companies out there riding apple’s coat tails with this device. Sling media said in april 2010 that they’d have an iPad app “soon” — it’s still not out. They’re even worse than Verizon when it comes to missing dates. Still no slingbox app for the palm pre (which was promise AT LAUNCH over 14 months ago!).

    Sounds like a lot of ranting, yeah, but I’m sick and tired of these LIES being put out there by PR people.

  40. surge, in my experience most vendors underestimate what it takes to bring something to market and you’re right the idea is to drum up interest. However, I do appreciate those who foreshadow even when the timing turns out to be way off. By comparison Apple or TiVo rarely allude to anything, which I find more maddening.

    Regarding DVR storage, TiVo only supports eSATA. And both the Premiere and HD are software locked to using only Western Digital “DVR Expander” hardware. Verizon’s solution will be much more flexible, whenever it lands. Another example is DISH Network – they do enable USB 2.0 drives for external storage, however they charge a one-time $40 fee for that luxury.

    Regarding Sling… the iPad Slingplayer was on display at the GDGT event in SF last night, so it must be close. On the webOS front, it’s been radio silence – not sure if it’s been harder to implement than they thought or if the low number of adopters changed the plan. Given their track record and the fact that hardly anyone owns hardware, I was real surprised to see a Windows Phone 7 client at launch.

  41. OK, it’s now Dec. 19 and I’m still waiting for the update.

  42. Hey i just got fios but my guide doesnt even fit the screen , it looks nothing like the picture you have of it. So what im asking is is there a way to make the guide bigger or change it like the picture

  43. “By the end of year”, but now it’s 4 months into the following year and still no new guide (at least not here in NYC).

    Lesson learned: Don’t get excited about Verizon’s announcements.

  44. True, they got ahead of themselves. There were some open issues they had to take care of and obviously the release has been delayed. But it seems like it’ll go live any day now, although total deployment probably takes a few weeks.

  45. “But it seems like it’ll go live any day now”

    Or it’s all just FUD and rosy projections to keep folks like you from buying TiVo boxes. Stay on / move to our platform, and 77 virgins will await you 4 months from now.

    Platform design and development is hard. That’s why Apple is worth more than oil companies. There is a lot of FUD thrown out by all the companies in the DVR space, TiVo included…

  46. No, it’s going live. And unlike TiVo, Verizon puts out release notes. ;)

  47. I’m still waiting for for the FIOS guide to actually be correct.

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