Tablo Takes TPN Award at CES

Tablo LogoDigital video recorders (DVRs) are commonplace but usually they’re integrated with a cable decoder. Tablo’s offering records OTA (over the air) HD broadcasts that are transmitted from local TV stations, free of charge. Still not excited? The Tablo can stream both live and record programs to any connected device including Android and Apple devices, and set-top boxes like the Roku or AppleTV. Now that’s cool.

The Tablo contains two tuners (with a four tuner option), so can record two broadcasts at once. There’s no built-in storage but there are 2 USB ports for external HDD units to provide whatever space is needed. It’s perfect for cord-cutters. I’d love to see this come to the UK too.

The Tablo is on pre-order for US$219 and will be available in February 2014.

Interview by Daniel J Lewis of The Audacity To Podcast and Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central for the TechPodcast Network.

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DirecTV Offers Free Upgrade to Genie for Current Customers

DirecTV subscribers are often frustrated by the lack of benefits to current customers, while the service continues to advertise great deals, like free NFL Sunday Ticket, to new subscribers.  Well, right now the satellite company is throwing a bone to current users by offering their brand new Genie HD DVR for free.

The Genie is the latest upgrade to the receiver / DVR and it offers a long list of benefits that make it a much better device than the current HR 23 and HR 24 hardware.  Those older receivers featured two tuners, meaning you could either record two shows at a time or record one while watching another.  They also featured a fairly sizable 500 GB hard drive, which provided plenty of storage for most people.

If, however, you find yourself, as my family has, receiving messages that you need to cancel a recording because you have more than two things set, or because you are watching something while two other shows are scheduled, or running out of space during an big event like the summer Olympics, then you may want the Genie.  The new DVR offers an incredible 5 tuners and 1 TB of storage.  In addition, all of the previous version’s features are also included.

So why not upgrade?  Well, there is one stumbling block that may turn off some customers.  You will need to agree to a brand new two year contract just like the one you got way back when you first signed up for the service.

If you don’t mind the extra two year agreement, or simply can’t live anymore without more tuners or more space, then this is a no-brainer.  If you aren’t worried about these things, or planning to cut the cord, then you should probably skip this deal.

Thank You TiVo for Hulu Plus, But No Thank You

TiVo has been rolling out Hulu Plus on their Premier boxes for awhile now and it became available to me around the first week of June. I had used and cancelled Hulu Plus, before so I wasn’t eligible for the free trial. However, the Premier TiVo is connected to our living room TV, and I thought Hulu might be something my husband would like so I went ahead and paid the subscription fee. After using it for ten days I have already decided I am going to cancel it at the end of the month. Part of the reason I am going to cancel is how Hulu works on the TiVo and part is Hulu itself. The first problem I ran into was trying to find it on TiVo, it is not under Video, which is where you would expect it but under Music, Photos and Showcase. The second problem is the number of clicks it takes to get to something you want to watch on Hulu. Lets assume you are watching live TV and decide you want to watch a show you’ve subscribed to on Hulu, here are the steps you have to go through

1.  Hit the TiVo button

2.  Hit the Music, Photo & Show Case button (wait for it to load)

3.  Hit the Hulu Plus Button (again wait for it to load)

4.  Move to and click the Que and Subscription button

5.  Hit the Subscription button

6.  Find and hit the show you want to watch

7.  Find the episode you want, click on it and again wait for it to load.

The above list assuming everything goes has it is suppose to, but inevitably I end up hitting the most Popular button by mistake and have to wait for it to load before I can get to what I really want. That’s the biggest problem, it is not the number of steps, it is that at almost every step you have to wait for something to load. They are not short load times either, sometimes it can take quite awhile. Half way through the process I am thinking do I really want to watch this show is it worth the effort.

Then I finally get to the show I want to watch and start playing it. But wait first I have to watch two commercials and then the show starts. At that point I am thinking ok I knew there were going to be some commercials I am not happy about it but I accept it. Then 10 minutes into the program two more commercials play, then 10 minutes later two more commercials, another 10 minutes two more commercials and finally just before the end of the program two more commercials. Each time a commercial plays I become less accepting and more frustrated, especially since there is no way to fast forward through them. Having to watch eight commercials during an hour show when you’ve are already paying $7.95 for the subscription is just too much for me. To make matters worse you get the same commercials over and over again.

I do appreciate that Hulu Plus is now available on TiVo, however for the above reasons and the fact I can get a lot of the same programs through Netflix and Amazon Video much quicker and without the commercials. I am not going to be renewing my subscription at the end of the month.


DirecTiVo to be Released Soon?

Recently it seems that satellite TV provider DirecTV accidentally released some information about the DirecTiVo, which used to exist, went away, and then was brought back, but has been “in the works” for around three years now.  Users over at the DBSTalk forums began reporting that the DirecTiVo briefly appeared as available for purchase on the DirecTV website for sale at $99.

According to the reports, the user interface looked more like the old TiVo HD as opposed the newer Premier.  That makes sense since the thing has been in development for so darn long.  Not much else is known, but I would assume it will contain the standard two-tuner hardware and not much of any ground-breaking features.

I had the original DirecTiVo and loved it, but had to replace it to move on to HD TV.  The HR-23 box is far from terrible, and actually is pretty good, especially compared to other cable DVR’s.  It has home networking capability, a 500 GB drive, and USB and eSATA ports that allow for additional external drives.  That said, I am sentimental for the old TiVo UI and if the hardware is comparable to the HR-23 then I will be plunking down my $99 for the new DirecTiVo.

The Simple Functionality that DirecTV Still Lacks

directv logoA few days ago I had a DirecTV HR23 box go belly-up.  I awoke one morning to the smell of melted plastic.  I didn’t open the box, so I don’t know what went wrong, but it was obviously something bad.  Despite having no LED lights on the front panel there was still power – although it wouldn’t even try to boot up.  But, as long as the power cord was plugged in, the smell and a chirping sound (which probably was from the hard drive) continued.

DirecTV has always had excellent customer service, at least in my experiences.  This was no exception – they were ready to send me a new HR23 via priority shipping.  The box arrived in two days, along with a paid label to send back the old DVR.

Setup is simple – just plug in the old connections that are already in place.  Of course, you need to call DirecTV to activale the box, but that isn’t a big deal either.  It’s after that step that you see where DirecTV, and every other DVR (as far as I know), are lacking.

What do these cable and satellite companies need to add?  Backing up all of your recorded shows would be nice, but we have seen how difficult a netwrked DVR has been for Cablevision.  What I noticed when re-setting-up my HR23 was a glaring lack for backup of personal settings.  I had to, once again, add all of my season passes, set my video preferences, re-enable my network settings, etc.

Is it too much to ask that all of these personal settings be backed up by the provider?  Or at east that they provide a path for backing them up locally to a networked PC?  After all, the HR23 has ethernet and shows up on our home network.  It seems like a simple update to add backup of personal settings.  More importnantly to the providers, it doesn’t seem like anything that would cause them to end up in court.

This seems like a minor addition to the software package of any TV provider.  Still, it doestn’t seem to be mentioned by anyone as an update that is on the roadmap.  I know that I would seriously consider moving to one that decides to add it.

 

TiVo Remote for the iPad

 

nullI recently lost my TiVo remote and I don’t care. It’s not because I not using TiVo anymore I use it almost daily. However I have fallen in love with the TiVo remote on the Ipad.   It is so much better and easier to use then the physical TiVo remote.  The TiVo remote is free from the Itunes App Store. When you first open the application up it will ask you for the Media Access Key, which you can get either off your TiVo under Account & System Information or on the TiVo Web site under your account. Once you get it connected you have a couple of options on how you can use it. The first option is to use it as you would a normal remote, where everything appears on your TV screen. The way I like to use it however is with the information sitting in front of me on my iPad.  At the bottom of the screen you have your Info, Guide, My Shows, Browse and Manage icons. Click on the Guide button it will bring up the Guide screen on the middle with the show you are watching highlighted. At the top of the screen you get some basic information on the show. You have the option to record the show, see if there are any upcoming episodes and share what you are watching. You can also see it the show is available through other places such as Netflix or Amazon download. It will only show you what is available through your TiVo, so Hulu will not show up.  If you click on My shows you can pull up what you have recorded.  You can choose to watch, explore, get a season pass or delete the show. You can also check to see if there are any upcoming episodes. You can even  share what you are watching  to Twitter or Facebook. Under the Explore button you may get information about the actors and crew. it will also suggest shows you might like based on the show you are exploring. Not all shows will show the same information. It is fun to be watching something and say I know I’ve seen that actor before somewhere and click on his or her image under the Explore button and up pops the shows they have appeared in, directed, wrote or produced. You can also add the actor or crew member to your wish list. At the very top of the screen it tells you which TiVo you are connected to. Change your connection to Twitter or Facebook and reset the application. You can also search what is available through TiVo.

If you decide that you rather have the information on your TV screen this is where the access button for it is. The button looks like a the physical TiVo button click on it and a virtual representation of the TiVo remote appears. To be honest I don’t use this option very often. The only time I use it is when I am fast forwarding through commercial. At the bottom of the screen is a time line and you can use that to swipe backward or forward through a recorded show. Unfortunately they haven’t figured how to enable you to fast forward through a live show and believe me I’ve tried. However you can go back if you missed something on a live show. It also has a keyboard that I actually enjoy using, instead of one that makes me want to throw it.  The share button tends to be a little flaky at times and refuses to work. The other negative is that the TiVo remote on the iPad is that it works only with TiVo Premiere and Premiere Plus. For a Series 3 TiVo I recommend DVR remote which is available for both the iPhone or iPad.  If you have an iPad (version 1 or 2) and a Premiere TiVo I highly recommend downloading this app.

OTT: Are We There Yet?

It’s been a while since dumping my $100-dollar-per-month Dish Network habit. Ominously for the existing broadcast/cable/satellite structure, I haven’t missed it – not even one little bit. Sorry guys, that money now goes for other discretionary things.

Save Our Buggy Whips!

I saw an article about the traditional broadcasters in Canada saying they needed to somehow “get ahead” of the Netflix/Hulu phenomenon before the inevitable hits them, before what is happening in the USA happens to them. Like most dinosaur products and services, instead of talking about how they can come up with better ways to serve customers in an ever-changing, innovative marketplace, they are essentially discussing how they can somehow entice or even force customers to maintain the status quo.

A primary reason that market and business conditions change over time is improved, innovative products and services come along that better serve the end consumer. Organizations and individuals that grow fat and lazy consuming cash cow largess naturally start whining when market conditions change and the cow has no more grass left on which to graze because the stagnant field has been stripped bare.

I Want My Set Top Box

I’ve been experimenting with several different TV set top box solutions. I’ve got an Intel Mac Mini set up as a DVR with an HDTV USB tuner stick. I’ve got a couple of Western Digital WD TV Live Plus boxes. I’ve got Playon TV software running on a an HP Windows Home Server box with about 30 different plugins that give me quick organized access to a ton of different on-demand streaming video content, including Hulu and a fair amount of network programming. I’ve got an original Mac Mini running a $50 software hack that includes Boxee and XBMC software. Finally, I’ve got an LG Blu-Ray player that has a number of different on-demand video services built in, including Netflix, Vudu, and a new recently-added service called Divx TV.

So far, none of these solutions is perfect for every viewing situation. My biggest complaint about on-demand video is that it’s virtually impossible to set up a video play list where I can start the video playing and get it to automatically continue to play without any further intervention. This is especially frustrating when I have a bunch of two or three-minute-long video podcasts to watch through and each file has to manually be started playing. Why can’t someone solve this problem? Every past successful form of media has been able to go into a continuous-play mode. Coming up with a solution to this problem of being able to start a group of video files playing and have them play continuously is ultimately critical if OTT is to be widely adopted.

Divx TV Comes Closer

Divx TV, which is currently available only on select LG Blu-Ray players, actually attempts to solve the continuous play problem. It has a channel up/down feature that immediately begins to play streaming podcast content in a window from a number of different content partners. As you go through the categories and drill down into the sub-categories, the video will immediately change to the newest one selected, just like changing a TV channel. The content is categorized in a number of different ways. Revision 3 is one of the content providers. If a Revision 3 podcast is selected, the latest episode will immediately begin to play in the window. At any point in the process, a “swap” button can be pressed to instantly make the video full-screen (or vice versa) without having to restart the video from the beginning. After the latest episode plays, the next-latest episode will play, etc. If left playing, it will eventually go through all available content and start playing the first episode.

Additionally, Divx TV has a search function where it’s possible to save search terms for future use. One of the problems I’ve ran into when using the search function to find videos from their database that aren’t in the packaged categories is file sizes are inconsistent. Since I’m using a point-to-point wireless Internet provider, my home Internet connection isn’t as fast as traditional cable or DSL connections. Larger video file sizes tend not to stream over slower connections so well and buffering can occur. The pre-packaged Divx TV category content providers provide a more consistent video streaming experience on less-robust Internet bandwidth connections and the video looks pretty good.

Eventually all of these problems must be solved.

What would be an ideal system for me? I’d like to be able to play the hundreds of video podcasts I’ve downloaded on every TV in my house and have them play continuously without intervention. I’d like to be able to mix and match custom streaming content, again with minimal intervention on my part. I’d like to be able to play any video I’ve recorded on my Mac Mini DVR on any TV set in my house via my wired home network. So far, none of these solutions I’ve tried can quite combine all of these features into one sleek package. By the way, the Mac Mini DVR can be a bit of a pain in the rear, since the on-screen computer screen text can’t be read from 15 feet away even on a 58” screen.

Are we there yet? Not quite, but the journey has definitely started.

Shredding The Cord

Ah, my once-beloved Dish Network account – the thing I once thought I could never do without; the budget monster that consumed $100 per month, month after month, year after year. I agonized for months over the idea of simply killing it before finally pulling the plug.

It’s been the better part of a year since I put the budget-busting beast to rest and cancelled the account. Dish Network itself seemed to want to throw up as many roadblocks as possible to get me to change my mind. They wanted the LNB module off of my roof, in addition to the two receivers. I had 30 days to send the units back in the packing boxes they sent or they would make me pay full price for them.

I was able to talk the guy out of forcing me to climb up on my roof to retrieve the LNB, and I was able to get the two receivers sent back to them within the 30 days of cancellation. However, somehow they had in their billing system I had three receivers, not two. They sent return packaging for three units. I spent time on the phone with them to make sure this discrepancy was resolved, and they assured me it was.

Ooops, not so fast! A month or two later I got a letter from them stating I still owed them for a receiver and they intended to hit my bank account for the amount. A phone call to them resolved the issue and I haven’t heard a peep from them since.

How has life been without all of those channels? $ome part of me hate$ to admit it, but I haven’t missed it at all. I’ve got an Intel Mac Mini set up as a DVR for local over-the-air HD broadcasts, as well as a Netflix account and several other Internet-connected set top box viewing solutions.

Observations

A very large percentage of TV programming is marketing presented as content. Much of what passes for entertainment depicts multitudes of dysfunctional drama queens assaulting and insulting the people around them. The more dysfunctional they are, the more likely it is the marketing messages will seep into the mesmerized minds of the audience. Even if one isn’t watching commercials, product placement and even behavior placement abounds. Viewers are being programmed to buy certain products, as well as behave in certain ways.

Think you can’t do without cable or satellite TV? Think again. I was paying $1,200 dollars a year for Dish Network. Multiply that by just 5 years and that’s a whopping $6,000 dollars for the privilege of being shaped and influenced by marketing messages so I would spend even more money.

Let’s go one step further. For many people TV is an addiction. These people are crack dealers in disguise. How else could it be that they can continue to raise their prices and people continue to pay ever more?

Let’s be honest. The vast majority of cable TV programming is less than worthless. Could that $6,000 dollars been better spent on higher-quality programming? Of course it could.

Hauppauge Colossus HD Video Recorder PCI Express Card

Ken Plotkin, the CEO of Hauppage (www.hauppauge.com), describes the Colossus HD H.264 Video Recorder PCI Express card for the PC. The Colossus card is designed to record high definition video from sources such as an X-Box 360, Playstation 3, as well as high definition video coming from a cable TV or satellite box via component video outputs on those devices, thus avoiding the DRM problem. The Colossus HD Video Recorder retails for $169 dollars, available in the first week in February 2011. According to Plotkin, the Colossus is the only recorder solution available that can record high definition video from component video outputs.

Interview by Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central.

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The Future Of OTT TV Apps

I’ve been experimenting for some time with connecting computers to televisions, along with a variety of other set-top boxes. I’m now at a point where I’ve begun to draw a few conclusions.

Are we there yet? The short answer is no. We’ve still got a long way to go.

After living a while with Apps on an Android smartphone, along with apps on an iPod Touch, it has become clear to me that the best apps running on these sorts of hand-held devices give a great, slick, quick-access media-consumption experience.

Apps running on Internet-connected TV’s or set-top boxes are going to be important in the future. However, so far what we have available today is a somewhat frustrating experience.

I’ve got a Mac Mini set up as an HTPC/DVR with an Eye TV USB HD tuner. The Eye TV software fails in a living room setting because the text within the application is too small to be easily read from across the room even on a big screen. I’ve also got the Boxee app installed on the same machine. Boxee does have a growing list of apps. However, many of the currently available Boxee apps still often fall short of genuine usefulness.

I want a software interface that I can read and interact with easily from across the room without having to deal with it as if it’s desktop software. I want software apps that are powerful, easy to use, and give me a consistent experience from one app to the next. If I’ve specified I want only videos, then the software should serve me up ONLY videos, with no audio podcasts mixed in.

The trouble with OTT content is that one size doesn’t fit all. The perfect app should allow me to cherry-pick my favorite Internet video content sources and turn them all into a single channel or series of channels.

The ideal OTT/set top box content delivery system is going to incorporate a system of apps much like either the Apple IOS app store, or the Android app store where the customer can choose from thousands of content gathering and/or content delivery apps. Like my Evo Android phone or my iPod Touch, I will be able to customize MY particular set top box with precisely the apps that I want without someone trying to steer me towards content that someone else wants to push towards me against my will. My iPod is my own, with my own selection of personal content. I want my TV to work in exactly the same manner.