Archives For Remotes

Over the last year or so, we’ve come a long way from those initial, unsightly and simplistic iPhone IR remote control dongles. And Peel ($100) represents the next generation of virtual remote. In fact, it’s potentially a contender to replace your Harmony.

The Peel solution consists of an attractive iPhone app, a small orb-like thingy (“fruit”) that you’d place on a coffee- or end-table, and a wireless transmitter (“cable”) that connects directly one’s router. The Peel fruit and cable communicate via the ZigBee spec, as opposed to garden-variety 80211 WiFi, so the fruit may get up to 6 months of power from the included C battery. But the networking is transparent as setup is a breeze – connectivity is automatically configured with next to no intervention. Sync and go.

Configuring Peel to control the devices in your AV cabinet is also fairly efficient. It may not offer the same level of complex interactions as found with Harmony, but it also doesn’t require endless tweaking from a computer. Peel’s iPhone app quickly walks you through the process of registering your components. I had a loaner unit controlling my Panasonic plasma and FiOS DVR in just a minute or so from the couch. A minute later, I had my Roku added to the mix with the television inputs correctly mated to their respective set-tops. Continue Reading…

The virtual remote news just keeps on coming… TiVo went ahead and updated their free iPad companion app yesterday. In addition the various bug fixes, better support for multiple DVRs, and background functionality, one user reports a noteworthy upgrade notice:

This app currently requires a TiVo Premier Series 4 DVR. Support for RCN and Suddenlink Premier Boxes, along with limited support for TiVo Series 3/TiVo HD DVRs, is coming soon.

At launch, and as currently designed, the iPad app only supports new TiVo Premiere hardware. Although TiVo has alluded to supporting additional mobile OSes, like Android, we haven’t heard anything in regards to support for previous generation DVR hardware, like the Series 3 and TiVo HD.

Who knows if enabling support for “legacy” DVRs was part of the original plan or is related to customer feedback – TiVo has indeed taken some lumps on Twitter, the forums, and even their blog. Regardless, it’s nice to see this functionality on the roadmap. Now all we need to know is when… and what limitations?

(Thanks to Josh, Rob, and Steve for helping track down the visual evidence!)

roku-iphone-remote

iOS remote week continues here at ZNF… As the very fine Roku DVPRemote ($3) was updated early this morning to version 2.1. I’ve been using the app for a few days via my Verizon iPhone (seeya, AT&T), and the two most notable new features are the full fledged gesture area and graphical channel icons.

While DVPRemote has always provided a virtual representation of Roku’s physical remote, the update provides a toggle-able gesture area (above, right) designed “to support heads-up, TV screen-facing operation.” I’m not quite sure if I’ll be putting this feature to use on a regular basis, but there’s a pretty comprehensive list of smooth interactions to choose from:

  • U = UP, D = Down, L = Left, R = Right
  • Single finger swipe U, D, L , R for U, D, L, R
  • Drag finger U, D, L, R for repeated U, D, L, R
  • Single finger tap to select OK
  • Two finger tap to select play/pause
  • Two finger swipe R for fast forward
  • Two finger swipe L for rewind
  • Two finger swipe D for instant replay
  • Two finger swipe U for info

One of my favorite features of DVPRemote is direct channel navigation. Meaning, instead of scrolling through a list of Roku channels on the television one by one, simply tap a visual representation from the iPhone to bring that content up. The first cut was textual. But DVPRemote 2.1 makes it much more visually rich by using channel banner graphics. Which also happens to be more efficient. However, for better use of space, I’d like to see a 2.2 update move to grid view of channels over the current vertical listing. Continue Reading…

Looks like TiVo is skipping a simplistic mobile remote control app, leapfrogging directly from their limited mobile website to a supercharged iPad app… that is much more than a mere remote. The upcoming app appears to replicate nearly all TiVo functionality in your lap and, most impressive, doesn’t duplicate what’s on screen — meaning you can browse the guide or your recordings without interrupting whatever’s already on screen. From the press release:

  • Gesture based control – Take complete control of all recordings, even dragging forward and back through a show with a simple tap or swipe
  • Start watching what you want – Launch a recorded show, live TV or streaming video with the swipe of a finger
  • Program guide – Browse your full-screen TV program guide without interrupting TV viewing
  • Schedule - Schedule one-time recordings and Season Pass recordings from the device at home or on-the-go
  • Get more from your shows and movies – Explore cast and crew and other recommendations of your favorite shows without interrupting the big screen
  • Search – Search for all of your favorite TV shows, movies, actors or directors across both broadcast and broadband from Netflix, Amazon Video On Demand, and more

Additionally, the iPad app will enable users to fire off tweets and Facebook status updates about the shows their watching, spoilers and all. Although it’s a heck of a lot more natural way to communicate online than the early kludgey Twitter-on-TV apps we’ve seen.

In talking to TiVo, Premiere DVR hardware will see a software update to support the new app. And, given what it does, they’ve obviously added a slew of new hooks accessible via WiFi. Although it’s yet to be seen if third party developers will be able to tap into them. Additionally, TiVo has nothing to say at this time regarding other mobile devices or platforms. Although anything destined for a smaller screen iPhone or Android handset would surely require a reworked UI given how much they’ve packed in.

TiVo says this free iPad companion app will be available “in the coming weeks” and I assume they’ve decided to pre-announce with the knowledge that folks are currently stocking up on holiday gifts.

Click to enlarge:

Comcast Xfinity TV iPad app guide listingsComcast launched the Xfinity TV app to much fanfare today, and though we knew it was coming, we didn’t know all the nitty gritty details until we got our own hands on. After a test run on the iPad, here’s my take on the good, the bad, and the future of the Xfinity app.

The Good
Set-up is quick and painless, and the TV guide experience on the iPad is awesome. Remember how easy it used to be to read the print version of the TV guide out of the newspaper? It’s like that, but better. Scrolling on a large touch screen is fast and effortless, not only through all the different channels, but also across hours and days. You can also filter channels so you’re only looking at a certain category of content (like sports or movies), or so you only see HD shows available. The search function still separates linear programming from on-demand content, but results are in tabs right next to each other, making it easy to toggle between views. I had no trouble setting up a recording from the iPad app, and while there was a delay when switching channels from the touch screen, it was still cool to be able to browse and then change stations without picking up my regular remote.

The Bad
As Jeff Baumgartner points out, you can’t start an on-demand program using only the iPad app. The app will take you to the screen on your TV that shows the program listing, but you still have to hit select on your standard Comcast remote. I also found that you can’t tune to a channel if your TV is in On Demand mode or if you have a DVR menu up. Speaking of DVR, the remote DVR function that lets you manage recordings isn’t integrated in the new Xfinity app. On the iPad, the app exports you to the Safari browser to access the myDVR Manager. Finally, the application crashed on me a couple of times as I tried to dig deeper into program descriptions. Restarting required surfing through menu screens again to return to the right page.

The Future
Comcast has been very clear that not only is it bringing the Xfinity TV app to the Android and Blackberry platforms next, but it’s also adding on-demand TV viewing to the experience soon. This is what Verizon is doing now with the Flex View app, though we don’t know how Comcast’s on-demand library for mobile devices will compare to its telco rival’s. Ultimately I’m hoping we’ll also see linear broadcasting, which Verizon has promised for the future, and access to DVR programming through some kind of syncing mechanism.

Aside from video availability, there is a big future for the Xfinity app in how much metadata it provides for different programs, and how it uses the web to link information across multiple databases. For example, I found out from the app about Summer Glau’s guest appearance on Chuck this week. A natural extension to the application would be to see it link to more information on Summer, including other current projects and potentially where I can watch other programming she’s in in the Comcast line-up. The web is an infinite source of information, and suddenly it’s all available in the wonderful world of IP.

Note: The screenshot above is from iTunes. The rest of the photos here are my own.

We recognize that folks have widely divergent tastes, needs, and budgets. Which is why there are very few products we outright recommend. However, if you own a Roku and an iPhone or iPod Touch you should pick up the updated DVPRemote app. And, if I’m wrong, you’re only out 3 bucks.

While the original DVPRemote was quite useful as a secondary Roku remote, version 2 may very well become your dedicated Roku remote. Assuming, you’re OK with a touchscreen remote. The developer is doing things with the Roku SDK that I don’t even think Roku themselves are doing. For example, instead of scrolling left or right on the television one Channel at a time, with DVPRemote you can freely re-order your Channel lineup and directly select the one you’d like to view merely by tapping it on your iDevice (as shown below right). DVPRemote also does something similar with your Netflix queue, by optionally linking your Netflix account. Not to mention this DVPRemote update features an improved QWERTY keyboard entry (direct versus macro).

But the primary reason that owners of earlier Roku models will want to purchase DVPRemote is access to the new remote buttons and functions that our physical remotes lack – specifically: Instant Replay, Info, and Back. The power of Instant Replay is obvious but that Info key will be more important than you might realize… as once version the 2.8 Roku software update is released, you’ll need it to reorder your channel list.

Here’s the complete breakdown of new and updated DVPRemote features:

  • Support for new “Instant Replay”, “Info”, and “Back” buttons.
  • Integration with Netflix to support automated Instant Queue navigation. DVPRemote provides the list of movies in your instant queue which can be presented in queue order or alphabetical order.  It allows you to select a title from the list by tapping on it or entering a search term to find it and then automatically  navigates to it on your Roku (great for large instant queues).  No more left, left, left, …, or right, right, right, …, to find and select the movie that you want to see!!
  • Full keyboard support for any screen that requires text entry (including symbols and non-english characters). (Search automation from Version 1.5 is no longer needed since text can be directly entered)
  • Improved player discovery speed and accuracy.
  • Improved key repeat.
  • Direct Navigation to Channels through Channel List tab.
  • Toolbars for additional channel functionality where supported (currently only Netflix).
  • Support for iPhone 4 Retina Display.
  • New 12 button remote skin.
  • Tested with iOS 4 (including support for background operation).

Not only is Comcast planning to launch a TV remote app “very, very soon,” but CableLabs is making it possible for other cablecos with fewer resources to do the same. At the SCTE Cable-Tec Expo last week, CableLabs execs were talking up a proof of concept the organization has developed for smaller companies who want to get in on the iPad action. The technology uses an IP remote web server (SOAP in this case) to communicate to an EBIF application in a consumer set-top. It’s very similar to the Comcast implementation, but I was assured that the same functionality could be developed using any kind of web services protocol, and could even be accessed on the set-top through something other than EBIF. (OCAP/tru2way optimists live…) The remote application includes the ability to surf an integrated program guide on the iPad, search for program information, and change channels directly from the touch screen.

Setting aside whether one wants to use an iPad as a remote control, the new technology does provide an easy way for operators to push out a better electronic program guide to their subscribers. An iPad EPG not only looks better, it adds features that are sorely missing from most existing guides: the ability to merge linear and on-demand listings, more intelligent search, and greater programming detail. Operators want you to think of the iPad as a TV companion device – one that you won’t only use to watch subscription Netflix streams.