2005 Reviewed, 2006 Previewed

Dave Zatz —  December 30, 2005 — 1 Comment

2005 Review
2005 was the year we collectively dipped our toes into the portable media pool. Sure, there were many product introductions, price drops, and business mergers across the board but a mobile revolution was brewing.

On the hardware side, Apple’s video-capable iPod obviously grabbed most of the headlines. I wasn’t overly impressed with the technology, but Apple put portable video into the palms of the common folk. Neither the Creative Zen Vision nor the Archos AV500 are perfect, but they’re good examples of full-featured portable media players that debuted in 2005.

Two media devices, both sexy, did impress me in 2005: Sony’s PSP and the Slingbox. I’m not much of a gamer, but the world has never seen this sort of graphical power and luscious display in such a compact form factor. Combine that with WiFi and a low $250 price point — the PSP’s a winner. Sony’s ongoing firmware/functionality updates earn them brownie points. The Slingbox could be the slickest device you don’t need. By leveraging your home video sources and your broadband connection, SB allows you to view your content on any Internet-connected PC worldwide. Not only did they introduce the place-shifting category, they nailed the functionality on their first try.

On the content end of things, iTunes video and TiVoToGo were the big news items of 2005. While both services have short-comings, it’s the first time mainstream consumers have had access to portable content outside that travel DVD player for the kids.

2006 Preview
What about 2006 you ask? We’ll see mobile media go mainstream as Apple commits to a full-fledged videoPod and expands their content offerings. TiVo and others will assist by automating content acquisition, conversion, and synchronization. 2006 will be the year video-on-demand, via broadband, gains a toe-hold… Microsoft, Apple, and TiVo will experiment with renting movie content for PC, TV, and portable playback — maybe Netflix will even find partners and recommit. Akimbo will be the odd man out, either moving solely to software and service (see ReplayTV) or being acquired. XM will offer video, but no one will care.

As with 2005, in 2006 microdisplay prices will continue to plummet and confusion will continue to shroud CableCARD. On a personal note, TiVo’s stand-alone dual tuner HD DVR is overdue in my living room… will I get some love in 2006? I’d also like to see Verizon’s FiOS TV in my neighborhood — Comcast has absconded with enough of my cash. Will local and regional jurisdictions step up to the plate and issue Verizon licenses to operate?

TiVo Takes On Fear Factor

Dave Zatz —  December 29, 2005 — Leave a comment

TiVo continues to blur the lines between advertising and content (see Navy Football, CNET Reviews) with today’s debut of a new video feature called “TiVo Takes On…” The first Showcase is a 10 minute behind-the-scenes look of NBC’s Fear Factor. TiVo employee Shanan Carney, of TiVo Newsletter and video advertisement fame, does a nice job hosting the entertaining featurette (assuming you’re into Fear Factor). Based on the audio and video quality, though, I’m guessing either production was handled in-house or they need to work on their video compression. Trivia: Joe Rogan owns three TiVo units.
Continue Reading…

XM Goes HD

Dave Zatz —  December 28, 2005 — 1 Comment

I’m no audiophile, so this announcement doesn’t do much for me. However, those of you who enjoy fully immersive music are in for a treat. Beginning in March, XM subscriptions will include two “XM HD Surround” stations and special hi-def programming. Obviously, you’ll need some new hardware to handle the 5.1 audio… but why let money prevent you from achieving auditory bliss?

XM says: The new offering of 5.1 Surround on XM is called XM HD Surround, which provides content with six discrete channels of digital full fidelity audio powered by Neural Audio technology. Beginning in March 2006, XM will broadcast the free-form music channel Fine Tuning (XM Channel 76) and the classical pops music channel XM Pops (XM Channel 113) in XM HD Surround. XM will also broadcast a variety of special shows and live music performances at the XM studios in XM HD Surround. XM manufacturing partners such as Denon, Onkyo, Pioneer Electronics (USA) Inc., and Yamaha will introduce home audio systems capable of playing XM HD Surround powered by Neural Audio in 2006.

Dave’s Deal Of The Day

Dave Zatz —  December 28, 2005 — 2 Comments

OK so I don’t have “deals of the day” on my site, but every now and then I do come across a bargain on some sort of gadget which needs to be shared.

Walmart has been selling the Garmin i2 under $200 this holiday season and they’re back in stock today. CNET and Amazon reviewers seem to dig it. GPS with audio for under 2 bills… how can you go wrong! In other words, I just got my order in — what are you waiting for?

TiVo’s custom wireless G USB adapter has arrived. As previously reported the adapter is compatible with Series 2 models and off-loads some of the network processing, by utilizing a “full MAC chipset,” resulting in improved throughput over, say, my Netgear WG111. The sexy little adapter retails for $49.99 direct from TiVo or less via Amazon. I’ll post photos with a TiVoToGo and Multi-Room Viewing (MRV) performance comparison as soon as mine arrives.

More visual goodness after the jump…
Continue Reading…

DirecTV Goes Mobile

Dave Zatz —  December 27, 2005 — Leave a comment

DirecTV is joining TiVo and Dish as a competitor in the portable media market. Next week they’ll be announcing a new partnership, possibly with a hardware vendor and NBC, as part of this mobile content initiative. No word yet regarding which DTV models, current or yet-to-come, and portable devices will be covered.

There’s strength in numbers – the more companies that provide us with tools to legally copy and playback free content and content we’ve already paid for, the better. Hopefully a large player like DirecTV will dissuade studios and networks from attempting to block these services now that they’ve found a temporary market to sell shows.

ReplayTV Moves To PC

Dave Zatz —  December 18, 2005 — 1 Comment

ReplayTV is leaving the hardware business once all 5500 models have been sold. Additionally, D&M Holdings has ported ReplayTV software to the PC platform which will begin shipping next year bundled with Hauppauge tuner cards. ReplayTV intends to become solely a software and services company as first disclosed last summer with their intentions in the Chinese market. More details on offerings and pricing models will be available early next year.

ReplayTV has always had a solid, usable UI running on nice hardware. Commercial skip and DRM-free video have also been major pluses for me. However, the various lawsuits and ownership changes doomed Replay to second tier or worse. Assuming D&M Holdings see value in the product and stays the course, I’m hopeful ReplayTV will find new life as a software solution. Sling Media, are you guys listening?

Reuters says: A company spokeswoman said ReplayTV will complete its transformation from a hardware manufacturer to a DVR software and services provider with the sale of all remaining 5500 Series DVR models, probably by the end of 2005. More product and pricing details for ReplayTV’s software will be announced in 2006, the company said.