May 23rd, 2012

Gizmo Lovers

More Information On The TiVo Stream And IP STB

TiVo IP STB Setup Screen Since I made my post about the forthcoming TiVo Stream and IP STB last night I’ve been getting a lot of questions, and there were a few things I wondered about myself after I had some time to digest things. So I dropped by TiVo’s booth at The Cable Show again today and gathered some more information – including the photo you see here.

As they say, a picture is worth 1,000 words, and this one answers some of the questions I had, and that I heard from readers. Note that the photo is from a box running development software, so the screen and/or language therein may change before release, etc. But the underlying logic is what we should expect in the initial release. As you can see, you do not have to give up a tuner on your Premiere XL4 to use the IP STB – if you’re willing to forego Live TV, as I am. Basically you’re reserving one or two tuners in the XL4 for use by IP STB(s) elsewhere in the home. When a tuner is reserved it is not available for anything else. It is not used for recordings, it is only used for Live TV on the IP STB. Period.

Now, one question that occurred to me after I’d left the show today was if a tuner is paired with a single IP STB, or if it can be shared. Say you have one XL4 and three IP STBs – can you reserve just one tuner which would allow any one of the three IP STBs to use Live TV at a time? I’ll need to ask that.

But, that aside, you can see that you have the option to reserve 0, 1, or 2 tuners for use by IP STBs. Personally I’d go with 0 as I never use Live TV and would only want the IP STB to access my recordings or OTT content. I think this will make a number of people happy. Also, this is a settings screen on the XL4 and you can change this whenever you want. So it isn’t something you have to do at setup, etc. So if you know you want to watch Live TV in another room (the game is on, you’re sick in bed, whatever) you can reserve a tuner and then un-reserve it when you no longer need it.

Speaking of setup, there apparently really isn’t much of one on the IP STB. Setup basically involves ‘pairing’ it with the XL4 – and that’s it. There’s nothing else to setup, it pulls all of the settings it needs from the XL4. I’m told there are very few settings local to the IP STB.

I did confirm that the will not pair with the Premiere or Premiere XL at launch, only the Premiere XL4 (aka the Premiere Q for MSOs). So no Live TV on your IP STB if that’s all you have. And this isn’t a ‘soft’ thing where it isn’t officially supported but you can make it work, the software is just not there to support it on those units. However, the IP STB is a standard Multi-Room Streaming (MRS) client. It can stream content of of any Premiere unit in the home. So it does work with the Premiere and Premiere XL in as far as you’ll be able to stream your recordings via MRS. My understanding is that you will not be able to set recordings on the Premiere or Premiere XL, etc., as that requires the pairing that can only be done with the XL4. Basically whatever you can do with MRS between Premieres today you can do from the IP STB, but that’s all – for now at least. (I’m going to double check to make sure that’s accurate.)

As for pricing – again, they haven’t said yet. We don’t know if they’ll be a one-time purchase, or if there will be a subscription required, etc. Personally I expect them both to be one-time purchases with no subscription requirement. But they will need to be activated on the TiVo account so that they get the same MAK and can connect to the TiVo DVR units on the network.

I did have an idea which I suggested to TiVo – parental lock down on the IP STB. Basically ‘KidZone’ on a per-box basis. My idea is that you could put an IP STB in the kids’ room and lock it down so it can only access a wall garden of recordings and channels, just like KidZone did. You’d be able to (dis)allow functions – so the kids couldn’t delete recordings, or cancel them, or setup new recordings, etc. Whatever power you want to give them. Basically they’d have their own Nerfed virtual TiVo.

Enough about the IP STB, how about the TiVo Stream? The Stream will transcode at native resolution. So the 1080i recording remains 1080i as H.264, and the 720p recording remains 720p as H.264, etc. So it isn’t fixed, or limited to 720p, etc. And side-loading happens at better than real time. I was told ’2x’ is a good rule of thumb – so a 30 minute recording will side-load in 15 minutes, etc. But this varies depending on the bit rate of the source material. A 19mbps minimally compressed HD ATSC stream will probably take closer to real time, while a 2mbps highly compressed SD digital cable recording will likely side-load very quickly. In other words, results will vary, but it isn’t stuck with only doing real-time transcodes for side-loading.

Right now the TiVo Stream will only stream content from a TiVo DVR to one of the TiVo client apps on iOS or Android. TiVo hasn’t announced anything for other platforms at this time. I don’t know if we might see an updated version of TiVo Desktop that would support streaming to a PC, though it may make more sense to just add MRS to TiVo Desktop to allow it to stream content to a TiVo as well as from one. And PCs can handle MPEG-2, so I don’t see the need for a TiVo Stream for that.

Hopefully this news makes a few folks happy.

Lastly, this won’t be news to regular readers of this blog, but the Stream is powered by a Zenverge ZN200 chip. I speculated to that effect last year, and TiVo confirmed it for me in February, but today it was officially announced via press release. The release is below:

Collapse )

Mirrored from Gizmo Lovers Blog.

Gizmo Lovers

More TiVo Tidbits From The Cable Show

TiVo Logo While most of the TiVo news out of The Cable Show revolves around the TiVo Stream and IP STB, and the Pace XG1, I did talk to TiVo about a variety of issues. So this is a bit of a grab bag to collect some interesting bits, in no particular order.

TiVo will continue to support ATSC in future products, in some way, shape or form. I asked about this because the TiVo Premiere XL4 is a QAM only product, and knowing how hardware development and refresh cycles work I fully expect the Premiere and Premiere XL to be refreshed at some point and migrate to a shared design with the XL4. It is much more cost effective to produce one board and simply populate it differently for different products. The Premiere and Premiere XL will clearly be updated to add MoCA at some point, and it makes sense to go to a shared design. But that had implications for ATSC, hence my query.

TiVo can’t say, probably because at this point they honestly don’t know, what form an ATSC-supporting product might take, but they know there is a solid niche of ATSC users. Clearly the majority of their business comes from cable subscribers, but they do not plan to abandon ATSC users. There are issues with supporting ATSC however. ATSC tuners are more expensive than QAM tuners, and aren’t available in the same densities. We’re seeing single QAM tuner chips with six QAM tuners, even fully integrated SoCs with six, or more, integrated QAM tuners – but not ATSC.

This makes it harder, and more costly, to design and build a product with ATSC support. And the more ATSC tuners you include the higher the cost and complexity. And there are often knock-on costs – additional RAM, ancillary chips, etc. Add to that the effects of economies of scale. There are more QAM-enabled products than ATSC, that means there is more demand for QAM chips. The greater demand drives higher production levels of QAM chips, and the per-unit costs keeps coming down. ATSC components aren’t following the same decline, but remaining at higher price points.

And that’s why we don’t have an ATSC XL4, and probably won’t see one. And also why the bulk of products going forward are likely to be QAM-only, with specific SKUs to address the ATSC market niche.

On a different note, the new TiVo SDK will be released ‘this fall’. TiVo has hired someone who is working full time on running the SDK program and driving it to release. They’re serious about getting it out there and attracting more developers to create apps for TiVo.

TiVo would like to support Amazon Prime Streaming as much as users would like them to, but at this time they have nothing additional to announce.

My own take is that it is in the road map but they need developer support from Amazon to get it done. Remember the situation with Hulu Plus? Same deal. It will almost certainly happen, the question is when, but TiVo isn’t going to announce anything until there is something firmer to stand on. Like I said, that’s my read on the situation.

As for HBO Go – they know there is demand but they have nothing public to announce right now. My take is they will probably do it but won’t be saying anything until there is ink on paper to authorize it.

While I’m on the subject, TiVo says to expect a lot of additions to OTT content and, further out, extensive changes to the UI for selecting OTT content. I’m heartened by this, as the weak support for OTT content has been a pet peeve of mine for some time. For myself, I’d love to see content like NASA TV and Crunchyroll supported. I know others would love sports channels, such as MLB.TV. And the UI for Web Video is very creaky now. Next to something like Roku it is kind of sad.

I think the ’tile’ HD UI for ‘browse’ that TiVo has now could make for a decent web video UI. You could have a tile for a provider, and then tiles for each ‘show’ from the provider within that screen, etc. I think that if TiVo can really enhance the UI and expand the content list, the IP STB could have a secondary life as a general purpose streaming STB even for non-TiVo households.

As I reported back in February, TiVo continues to consider adding support for DLNA/DTCP-IP but doesn’t have anything more to say at this time. However, I have to say that, after talking to many vendors at the show, TiVo will add support for DLNA/DTCP-IP. It is a question of when now, not if.

Why do I say that? Because everyone else is doing it. It is really taking off, it seems like every vendor I talked to had something to say about DLNA/DTCP-IP. Just one example, the Pace XG1 box that runs the TiVo software can also run several other software stacks. On every other stack it uses DLNA/DTCP-IP for whole home streaming – but when running the TiVo software it uses TiVo’s proprietary system. ARRIS’s Moxi DVRs use DLNA/DTCP-IP – and therefore you can use a PS3, DLNA/DTCP-IP-enabled Smart TV, etc., as a client.

The stack is rapidly becoming MoCA+DLNA+DTCP-IP – and with RUI coming on strong as the next likely standard component. Since TiVo is serious about playing in the MSO market, and MSOs all seem to be extremely interested in standardizing on these components, I believe TiVo will simply have to adopt them to remain a player. It is almost painful to say, but the big, legacy players seem to be adopting standards faster than TiVo. You’re going to see DLNA everywhere before long, and TiVo needs to invite themselves to that party or risk being on the outside looking in.

Oh, a little side note. I was in Pace’s booth today, looking at the XG1 (there will be a post eventually), and I got crowded up for a bit by a gaggle of suits who came in for a demo. I noticed they were with Suddenlink, and they were quite interested in the XG1 running the TiVo software. I overheard some generally favorable comments about TiVo as a solution, but they seemed to like the idea of more ‘MSO-friendly’ hardware like the Pace unit. Which is kind of the whole point of TiVo’s partnership with Pace, so that’s a good thing.

Another good thing is that the Pace reps I observed doing the demo for various groups were all pretty gung ho about the TiVo solution. While they had an number of units setup, running different UI stacks (Comcast X1, a few Rovi solutions, etc.), they really stressed the TiVo solution. I head things like “TiVo is the one we’re really excited about” from the reps talking to MSO people dropping by for a demo. So that’s good to see & hear; it is good to see TiVo with an enthusiastic partner.

On a different note, unsurprisingly TiVo wouldn’t comment about future DVR products, aside from indicating it was likely transcoding will be ‘baked in’ to some future box, as I previously reported. But reading between the lines I think we can expect to see more tuners in a future box as well – an XL6 if you will. There are chips available now with six, or more, integrated QAM tuners. And an M-Card supports a maximum of six streams.

In addition there are a growing number of units from other vendors appearing with six tuners, which means competitive pressure on TiVo. Their MSO partners are going to want to “keep up with the Joneses”. While they could do that by using a box like the Pace XG1, those that have based their solutions on TiVo hardware are likely to want commonality.

My speculation is that sometime in 2013 we’ll see an ‘XL6′ using one of the newer chips, such as the BCM7435, with six QAM tuners, MoCA 2.0, and on-board transcoding. It probably will not have built-in WiFi as TiVo is trying to steer users away from WiFi and toward Ethernet or MoCA, to avoid customer experience issues and support headaches with streaming and flaky WiFi networks.

The tablet version of the Android app is actively being worked on. I reported in March that TiVo was saying ‘spring’ for Android tablets, but that’s clearly slipped a little. They recently made changes to the way they handle app development and they’re committed to iOS and Android. When the TiVo Stream is released this fall there will be clients for both, on phones and tablets. The streaming functionality will be incorporated into the existing TiVo apps.

TiVo is aware that the new YouTube and Netflix apps have long start-up times, and they’re working on ways to speed that up. The apps themselves are out of their control, that’s Google & Netflix, but they are working to improve performance, especially the start-up.

TiVo is updating their software more frequently, and we can expect more and more of the UI to migrate to HD with the coming releases. Screens such as the Season Pass Manager, To Do List, and screens from a remote unit (such as when using MRS), will be made HD this year. I think TiVo has made some real progress with the migration over the past couple of releases and I look forward to seeing it continue to progress.

OK, I think that’s it for now – and I really need to get a few hours of sleep before I return for the last day of the show. I have plenty more to write up as posts – such as my visits with Humax, Pace and Arris – but that’ll have to wait.

Mirrored from Gizmo Lovers Blog.