Verizon Preps FiOS TV Media Server

Dave Zatz —  December 22, 2011 — 36 Comments

As we collectively move towards the more efficient whole-home DVR model, Verizon has announced plans to launch a FiOS TV “media server” in late 2012. With such a long gestation time, they’re not quite ready to reveal their hand. Yet, I’d expect at least three tuners and 1TB of storage (compared to the DirecTV HR34‘s 5 tuners, 1TB or the TiVo Elite’s 4 tuners, 2TB). Of course, along with such a beefy centralized unit Verizon will introduce small form factor extenders to sprinkle throughout one’s home. And, as you can see in the video above, one of their marketing points is improved energy efficiency. Lastly, Verizon continues breaking new ground with their television-as-an-app initiative, potentially fed via the aforementioned media server – with references to tablets and the Sony PS3 possibly joining the Xbox as IPTV set-top box replacements.

fios-media-server

Update: Verizon tells me to expect 6 tuners (!) and that recording capacity is still being determined but they’re leaning towards 1TB at this point.

36 responses to Verizon Preps FiOS TV Media Server

  1. Wouldn’t it make more sense to use WiFi instead of all those big green arrows for connectivity?

    It seems those big green arrows would really clutter up a home. And what happens if a child or pet accidently bumps into one of them? Do they become the Incredible Hulk?

    (Finally, from recent experience, doesn’t it seem that FiOS is just as good as TiVo in their reliability of vaporware releases that hit the market six to twelve months later than promised.?)

  2. Yeah, I was intending to put a snarky comment in there about expecting it in 2013 but I’m hopeful they’ll share some pre-production/tentative specs with me and therefore restrained myself. ;)

  3. Cool video. I love the idea of eliminating as many set-tops as possible and streaming everything from my media server. I wonder if VZ will add the capability for an extender to take over a tuner in the media server to allow pausing on the remote set-top. That appears to be something that a lot of users want to do based on discussions over on the RCN DSLReports forum regarding the TiVo whole-home solution. TiVo is supposedly working on this Remote Recording Start (RRS) feature and it will be available to RCN customers mid-2012.

    As far as power consumption is concerned I don’t think that is the primary driver in my mind. Eliminating cords and clutter is a bigger driver for me.

    Does it look like VZ is sticking with Motorola for the media server? It will be interesting to see what the Google acquisition means, if anything, from a Motorola offering perspective. I’m sure Google will want to roll-out Google TV to VZ customers as an extender as well.

    My girlfriend constantly complains about the functionality of her current whole-home DVR solution on Verizon FiOS. She loses connection from her media server unit to her extenders all the time and has to refresh the connection to see her recordings.

  4. Chucky,
    Other than DirectTV TiVo what vaporware releases from TiVo are you speaking about? As far as I can tell, they’ve hit just about every release date other than that in recent memory.

  5. On the bright side for CableCARD products, it seems we’ve passed Peak Thailand Flood Effect.

    Retail 2TB platter drives are down to 2x pre-flood prices, instead of the 3x – 4x pre-flood prices we saw a month or two ago…

  6. “Other than DirectTV TiVo what vaporware releases from TiVo are you speaking about? As far as I can tell, they’ve hit just about every release date other than that in recent memory.”

    I think you are correct that TiVo doesn’t really issue vaporware other than the DirectTV stuff. But you do really think they aren’t as bad as FiOS is in generally slipping schedules? (My sense here could well be wrong.)

  7. Sam, Verizon is using both Cisco and Motorola DVR hardware these days. Not sure if it’s a transition or they intend to run both for whatever reason (cost). Regardless, their UI/experience is built in-house, so I’d say Motorola hardware running Google TV is highly unlikely for Verizon. In fact, most MSOs would be lukewarm at best for a variety of reasons. I’m more interested to see what happens with the SageTV acquisition – maybe it’ll end up integrated into retail Google TV. Assuming Google TV survives.

  8. “Regardless, their UI/experience is built in-house, so I’d say Motorola hardware running Google TV is highly unlikely for Verizon. In fact, most MSOs would be lukewarm at best for a variety of reasons … Assuming Google TV survives.”

    Assuming Google TV survives, (and I want the first real release to have the codename “Tandoori Chicken”), wouldn’t TiVo be their natural partner?

    I mean, I know Google now owns a DVR division, but shouldn’t the Google folks just license Google TV to TiVo rather than trying to break into retail themselves? A good long-term platform builder should license like crazy, not manufacture hardware.

  9. How can Virgin Media, in good conscience, entertain the presence of Doreen Toben, an Exec Vice Pres and CFO of Verison, on its board of directors, at the same time that Tivo is doing so well for Virgin’s bottom line and suing Verizon for patent infringement.

  10. I’m testing the Arris/MOXI Media Gateway right now. It has 6 tuners and 500 GB hard drive expandable to 6 TB via eSATA. I’ve been able to stream content (pictures, music, and HD videos) to it from my computer as well since it’s DLNA enabled.

  11. Bring it on.

  12. I’m still waiting for the 1.9 update.:(

  13. Weird, I thought the 1.9 rollout was complete. Maybe because I was under the impression Virginia was last? Guess the schedule changed.

  14. Nope. I live in Metrowest Boston and still don’t have it. I hear parts of NY don’t have it either.

  15. 6 tuners? Are they OEMing the InfiniTV6?

    1 TB? At the end of 2012? Really Verizon? Why they don’t more embrace Windows Media Center, I will never know. Knowing Verizon’s history with software (Media Manager, Call Assistant, and In home Agent), I wouldn’t expect this to be released until late 2013.

  16. This is what Windows Media Center + Extenders could have been.

    And where are those WMC apps from Verizon anyway? I’m still interested. But have mostly given up on WMC…mostly.

  17. Carl, yeah 2TB would be better. Fortunately, Verizon allows us to hang external drives off their DVRs?

  18. 2TB would hold a lot of HD content! Something like 200-250 hours? We’re having trouble filling our 500GB FiOS DVR!

  19. That’s great and all, but what about the 95% of the country who can’t get (and will never be able to get) Fios?

    Verizon sure as heck isn’t going to pay relocation expenses for people that want it!

    Maybe they could do IPTV over VDSL2 or LTE to deliver the same product and experience without the costs of rolling out fiber? Or could they provide IPTV to the nation under a “Bring your own Access” plan? You know, like you subscribe to Netflix… it streams no matter what ISP you have (as long as it’s high speed).

    Or do they want to remain a niche provider forever?

    I guess it does motivate the other companies to move. Look how far other companies have come. Comcast Anyroom DVR, DirecTV HR34, etc…

  20. “2TB would hold a lot of HD content! Something like 200-250 hours? We’re having trouble filling our 500GB FiOS DVR!”

    Jeebus. You ain’t using it right.

    I’ve got about 10GB of MPEG2 harvested off my TiVo onto platter drives. Local caching is the way to get value out of the multicast. Why restrict your viewing schedule to the content companies’ windowing schemes?

  21. “That’s great and all, but what about the 95% of the country who can’t get (and will never be able to get) Fios? Verizon sure as heck isn’t going to pay relocation expenses for people that want it!”

    They ought to price it like cellphones. Sign a 30 year contract with FiOS, and Verizon will put you in a house inside their fibre footprint for no money down…

  22. For archiving, more space would be great. The way we use it (and I think the way a lot of people use DVRs) is to watch stuff that’s recent, not keep it for years. Now, if there was a way to organize and archive it for use way in the future…that’d be awesome. Is that what Verizon is going for with this media server setup?

  23. Not true, Joel. On my 2TB-upgraded Tivo Premiere, I have nearly a years’s worth of content I will probably never watch. I pretty much only get rid of the old stuff when doing an upgrade such as when I upgraded from my 1TB-upgraded Tivo HD and lost almost the entire season of Rubicon thanks to Charter’s clever use of the CCI byte to ensure I remain unilaterally disgruntled. During this great Winter media drought, Rubicon would probably been unmothballed this year because of I am still jonesing for spy thrillers after the season finale of Homeland. By next Xmas, I feel Hell on Wheels will be a decent vintage and ready for watching.

    Still waiting on the entire season of American Horror Story on the spinning disk to come of age; but the title reminds me think too much of my 401K’s pitiful performance and how my company’s CEO somehow won the lottery yet again this year, despite being virtually computer illiterate and nearly invisible with the never ending layoffs that seem to be his sole business plan. I may get around to it sooner than later now that favorable reviews are coming in, given we are past the describing every new show as a ‘hit’ stage.

  24. I think you verified what I assumed: most people will never watch 1000s of hours of archived content even if they do happen to save it. But it’s nice to have just in case? Hopefully that hard disk doesn’t fail. Got a backup or RAID array? ;-)

  25. “I think you verified what I assumed: most people will never watch 1000s of hours of archived content even if they do happen to save it.”

    Well, I can fill up my TiVo quite easily by just saving all the episodes of series we might want to watch, as well as movies we might want to watch. Then, when it’s time watch something, we have lots to pick from.

    For example, I didn’t watch Game of Thrones until the season had been over for several months. But there it was, just waiting for me on my DVR…

    “Hopefully that hard disk doesn’t fail. Got a backup or RAID array?”

    I’ve got a partial set of media backed up, around a third of my multicast video, mostly just the stuff I know I really want. However, the majority is single copy only. But considering it’s all free once I’ve paid the cable bill, I can tolerate a certain amount of living dangerously.

    (If the Thailand floods hadn’t happened, I’d have more stuff backed up. Those cheap 2TB drives were nice for a while.)

  26. I’m with you, Chucky. But most people won’t bother or understand how to do that now or anytime in the near future. If it was just easier…

  27. TechCrunch picked up the story. No credit to Zatz! :(

    One interesting note in their blog post.

    Update: Motorola wants you all to know that the Media Server is actually, an “advanced set-top gateway — a nextgen, smarter set-top that can now communicate to multiple devices in the home,” according to a company spokesperson, “…when people read the set-top is going away, they automatically (and mistakenly) assume our business is doomed.”

  28. “I’m with you, Chucky. But most people won’t bother or understand how to do that now or anytime in the near future. If it was just easier…”

    Y’know, if it were easier and more people bothered, it might not exist. The content companies would have reason to rebel.

    I’m conceptually breaking the rules by decrypting my TiVo MPEG2 files, just as I’d be conceptually breaking the rules if I got my content by buying Blu-Rays and decrypting them to my platter drives. But the fact that decryption is de facto and de jure legal means I can do it. And the fact that no one can commercialize decryption prevents marketing, and so limits uptake. But all the tools are there and reasonably convenient to use. Plex ties the whole room together. For someone who has moderate technical skills and wants a cheap and copious content library, it’s the best of all possible worlds.

    (Though I will say I do wish I had more backed up. The Thailand floods have really screwed with my planning. It was always a good idea to buy your platter drives slowly over time, since prices always came down and capacity always went up over time. But it looks like there is going to be a long lacunae before we get back to trend…)

  29. I’ll say that I too have lots of stuff backed up, doing it the same way as Chucky. And yes I realize I’m in the minority. Personally while the boxes drive me NUTS every so often, I’ve got all of it stored on a Drobo which keeps multiple copies in case of any single drive failure. Yes if my house burns down I’ll lose it–I could tweak Carbonite to back it up but it would likely take a decade to get the job done and it just ain’t worth it.

    Like others I think this is interesting news, but a) it doesn’t matter at all until they standardize the access method for TV manufacturers and others to build it in; b) Verizon FioS TV isn’t that important anymore now that they’ve signed that deal with the devil (Comcast, Time Warner, et al) to get access to more spectrum for their presumably more important mobile business. The service will remain a niche market at best for the next decade, and unless a large player like Comcast does something like this (and even then maybe not) the TV manufacturers etc won’t back it (having been burned only recently as I recall…) without an industry standard.

    I do believe this sort of future is coming. I’m just not certain its coming on any kind of ‘fast’ or ‘predictable’ time table.

  30. Vaporware was my first thought too, Chucky.

    CES 2012 is about 3 weeks away and FIOS promised a streaming TV iPad app at CES 2011. (They did introduce that FlexView app a few months back, but it doesn’t really work and they haven’t bothered to fix/update it.)

    Question For The Group Do you think Verizon is giving up on expanding their FIOS service because they see some superpowerful new WiFi system emerging long before they’d be able to finish wiring a significant portion of the US – remember, it takes them close to an entire day to wire a house- or is it just that their business model has changed and someone else will pick up where they left off?

  31. “Do you think Verizon is giving up on expanding their FIOS service because they see some superpowerful new WiFi system emerging long before they’d be able to finish wiring a significant portion of the US”

    No. My guess is that laying fibre costs a lot of money, Verizon sees the next decade as being weak for US consumer spending, and thinks they’ve already picked the low-hanging fruit in terms of income and population density.

    “…someone else will pick up where they left off?”

    Assuming we’re looking at a lost decade for the US economy due to the ZIRP liquidity trap, the only folks who could possibly fund a FTTH program in that period is the Feds.

  32. Not only is the fiber expensive, but so is brokering licenses to operate in each and every municipality. Not to mention that getting those things done doesn’t guarantee customers, just the ability to compete against the largely entrenched incumbents.

    I am bummed we didn’t see the live TV iPad app out of them this year. And it may not happen before we possibly flip our house (with our potential transitional residence having a bizarre DirecTV-via-QAM offering). Stay tuned?

  33. Thanks Chuckie and Dave. I was afraid that would be the answer.

    I just DMd you Dave, but FIOS renamed and updated the iPad app sometime this week (I keep it in a little used folder, so just found it)

    They added access to your photo and music collection (cloud based, but not sure why you’d want it) and access to their TV shows

    BUT

    You still can’t stream anything
    You still have to go to their website on your browser to buy anything (was able to do that via Dolphin browser on iPad)
    The UI is counterintuitive and has serious errors: the Comedy category is called “the Hangover” but clicking on it reveals about two dozen movies, including the Hangover. Similar errors on other categories)
    You can’t download any premium channel content – even from the website, you can only send shows to. Your STB, not to your FlexView library
    You only have access to maybe 30 shows, none of which are all that popular (One Tree Hill)

    And, in what is surely the most baffling move of all, you don’t ever get to see their entire movie line-up, just select ones. You can, however, find any movie you want by using the search function. You just have to guess what they might have available. This is true on the iPad app and the website.
    Maybe it works better on a PC?

    Anyway, that’s the early report. I was so hoping for streaming anything- even 5 year old TV episodes.

    Oh well….

  34. Dave, yes Verizon let users of the 7xxx series boxes on IMG 1.9 hang an external drive off the STB. However, I am a WMC guy and love the control I have over the content, and I am not sure I would be willing to give that up to Verizon.

  35. Any word on if these mini boxes will have Ethernet ports? Or will they be Wi-Fi only

  36. David, Could be neither… Verizon’s current boxes largely communicate via coax/MoCA.

    Carl, yeah WMC is very compelling and hard to move from once set-up. It’s too bad the 360 is still the only extender in production and that Microsoft never enabled headless WHS MC capabilities. I don’t see MC going away any time soon, but MS is obviously investing very little in its future which is concerning.

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