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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Goodbye, MSN TV. Microsoft Finally Pulls the Plug

msn-tvThe first time I actually saw someone using this service was when I went up north. We ate at this awesome steakhouse , which probably was on its last couple years in business (two brothers owned it and they were in their 70s). In the corner, one of the brothers’ wives were typing away on the MSN TV, trying to find out what was going on in the world (pre-2001).

The little box that was known as MSN TV finally got decommissioned today – 16 years after it started. Microsoft announced earlier in the year the TV appliance would be shuttered on Sept 30th. Users had to move their account information to Outlook.com and all other information to Skydrive (Microsoft’s cloud service).

MSN TV first started as Web TV in July of 1995 by Steve Perlman, Bruce Leak and Phil Goldman. The idea was Web TV acted like a thin client – taking snapshots of the web and sending them over telephone lines to your device, which would then project on your TV. It officially launched in Sept 1996 and ran for a year when Microsoft announced they were acquiring the service for $453 million (vested).

MSN TV tried to find its place in the tech world. The WebTV team took their ideas and created not only Digital Video Recorders, but also the XBox 360 game console. Its hardware could be found in Sony, Philips, RCA, Mitsubishi and other client hardware.

So with that, we bid adieu to MSN TV. the last of the real dial-up systems.

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.

Fisher Price Kid-Tough® DVR Demo @ CES 2012

Fisher Price
Leave it to Fisher Price maker of great toys for kids and the kids in all of us to make a DVR that is kid friendly. That is what they were showing at CES 2012 the Kid-Tough® DVR.

The Kid-Tough® DVR is made for 3-5 year olds. It is rugged and easy to use. There is a touch screen kids can use to scan through the available videos. When they are ready to play a video just tap on the screen and it will start playing. They can also fast forward or rewind through a video. To record a video you just place the DVR into its dock which sits between your cable box and the TV, set the record time and hit record.

The Kid-Tough® DVR will be available around June-July. It will be approximately $150.00 and include the DVR, headphones, docking station, a car charger and a case. If you have a small child and take a lot of car trips this is worth a look

Interview by Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central

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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.

 

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.

Tech Serendipity

Sometimes things no one ever thought of simply seem to come together. Services and devices end up being used to do things the individual inventors and designers couldn’t have imagined.

For some time now, I’ve been thinking about attaching one of the new Mac Minis to one of my TV’s and utilizing it as a home theater PC as well as an over-the-air DVR to record high definition digital broadcasts from the local TV stations. A late Sunday afternoon trip to my local Best Buy and a Mac Mini was mine.

I sat the Mac Mini up with Eye TV and a USB HD tuner attached to my outdoor antenna. Depending on how I have the antenna rotated, I can receive upwards of 17 or more HD and digital broadcast channels. Of course, keep in mind that the Mini is on my home network, so I’ve got complete remote access in a number of different ways.

The Eye TV 3.4.1 software has easy iPhone/iPod/iPad/Apple TV file conversion, so I’m easily able to convert the files to the format of my choice.

A thought popped into my head. What if I converted the files to the iPhone format and put them into my Dropbox? I also have the Dropbox app for Android installed on my Sprint HTC Evo phone. Since I have an 8 gigabyte SD card installed with the possibility of going all the way up to a 32 gigabyte card if I wish, could I synch the exported iPhone files from my Dropbox on the computer to Dropbox on my phone?

To my surprise, I don’t even have to synch the exported iPhone videos to my phone – once they are synched to the Dropbox server, all I have to do is open the file from Dropbox on my phone and the file immediately starts streaming. If I’ve got a decent 3G Sprint cell signal, the video plays perfectly without a glitch.

So, I’m taking multiple different technologies, and using them in a way no single inventor or designer ever envisioned. I can record local TV programming from home, export it as an iPhone format file into my Dropbox folder, and stream the files to my phone. Pretty phenomenal stuff if you ask me.

For sure, there are other ways to accomplish the same end result, particularly if one has adequate bandwidth. For situations where bandwidth is limited and more variable, this solution works surprisingly well.

Will We Ever See The New DirecTiVo?

When I signed up for DirecTV back in 2004 I received the, now legendary, DirecTiVo (the Samsung S4040R).  I loved it.  I almost cried in late 2007 when I bought my first HDTV and “had” to give it up for a DirecTV HD DVR.  Time marches on, though, and DirecTV and TiVo were no longer partners.

TiVo joined forces with DirecTV in early 2002 with units made by Phillips, Hughes, and Sony.  Later RCA and Samsung joined in.  Then in late 2006, when NewsCorp gained control of DirecTV, They phased out TiVo in favor of another NewsCorp company, NDS, which was already manufacturing DVR’s for the European market.

In late 2008, with NewsCorp out of the picture, DirecTV again announced a partnership with TiVo.  And, since then, we have waited….and waited….and waited.  Delay after delay has been announced.  It’s really gotten to the point where DirecTV subscribers are starting to think of it as gamers think of Duke Nukem Forever!

The latest release, which was scheduled for late 2010, has apparently been pushed to early 2011.  Rumors persist that beta units are floating around, but I know of nobody who has received one and requests to DirecTV are denied.

So, is this the ultimate Vaporware?  For that matter, after reading reviews of the new TiVo Premiere, do users really want it?  The current DirecTV HD DVR (the HR23-700) has a 500GB hard drive, which is more than most other DVR’s issued by cable and satellite providers.  The software (interface) isn’t that bad either.  I am starting to think that TiVo, as much as we all pull for them, are verging on extinction.  They seriously need to get their Comcast and DirecTV boxes out the door yesterday before the battle is completely lost.