If you care to follow this blog via Twitter, I've set up automatic posting to @PVRblogfeed. Follow that account on Twitter, and you'll see pointers to new posts (like this one).
A couple weeks ago, TiVo announced the newest high-end product in their line, the TiVo Premiere Elite. It's a whopping four tuners combined with a 2Tb hard drive, giving you the ability to record four shows at once (instead of two like the TiVo Premiere) and ups the storage from 1Tb to 2Tb. The biggest change otherwise is that OTA (Over The Air) recording is not available in this device, making it digital-cable only.
I don't live in an area with any OTA HD channels, so I never used that capability. I suspect TiVo's own research showed much of their customer base either didn't know or didn't care about OTA recording and they decided to simplify their latest device to keep costs down. List price is $499 and lifetime service was a whopping $500 extra (monthly service is up to $20/month, so their lifetime pricing is still holding at about 2 years of monthly service).
If you're upgrading from the previous TiVo Premiere, it featured the use of a CableCARD mcard, or multi-stream card. My Frontier/Verizon TV tech claimed I could just remove the card from one device and slide it into the other without problem, but we found only the free major network channels worked. None of the cable channels worked higher in the line-up. After a few minutes of me insisting that he needed to call home base and re-authorize the card, he eventually did and they re-authorized it and all my channels worked.
Moving to a new TiVo allowed me to use a pretty great feature for the first time, the ability to transfer Season Passes on TiVo.com between the two boxes on my account:
It only took a few minutes after guided setup for my new TiVo to appear in my account, and with a couple clicks, my new TiVo box resumed recording everything I had set up on the old box (though the passes were out of order, dang).
I'll report more on the new TiVo after I get a chance to use it over the next few months but so far the out-of-the-box experience has been pretty good. TiVo is really smoothing out the setup process, but unfortunately, having to schedule a cable company technician visit just to call a number and authorize a cable card is the biggest stumbling block and unfortunately, one TiVo has no control over.
Just about two years ago, I was diagnosed with a tumor at the base of my brain and in an effort to simplify my life, I shelved a lot of projects, including PVRblog. I sold it to a small company in Texas and over the past two years they were pretty busy with other projects and let the site sit idle. In the past year or so I've spent a great deal of time researching and trying out PVR-related products in my own home theater setup and I always wanted a place to write up my experiences with them, so I recently got in touch with the new owners and asked if they were interested in selling the site back to me, gave them an offer, and they accepted, so PVRblog is officially back under my control.
I'll be posting casually here (probably on the order of a couple times a week) about new TiVo releases, Boxee, GoogleTV, AppleTV, video game systems as entertainment centers, TVs, and more.
For my last post at PVRblog, i wanted to do a quick recap of the previous ten years, talk about how my own media habits have changed and ask a few friends how PVR technology has impacted their lives as we look back at a decade of innovation.
Through the lens of PVRblog it's easy to call 2000-2010 the "Decade of DVR". TiVo and ReplayTV both formed at the tail end of the 90s, offering digital recorders for the bleeding edge technologist, typically recording only about 7-8 hours of TV and costing around a thousand dollars. By mid-2000, the devices started to catch on as prices came down to the $300-500 range and recording capacities increased to 30 hours. Early adopters couldn't shut up about the device and "TiVo" quickly became a household word and associated with all digital recording devices.
Throughout the 2000s, TiVo had its ups and downs, Replay came and went, Microsoft entered the game, a variety of free software clones emerged, and a whole rash of free somewhat feature-limited cable & satellite company provided DVRs flooded the market. The DVR went from expensive device for geeks in 2000 to a broadband research group finding in late 2009 that over 1/3 of all US households have some form of DVR in use. That's incredible growth for a device that kicked off a revolution and changed the way Americans watched and interacted with television.
As DVR use increased (and continues to climb), advertisers, networks, and studios have been in a panic for much of the decade. Even top flight award-winning shows are featuring product placement (Mad Men, 30 Rock) that can't be avoided while some advertisers purposely slow down on-screen messages so DVR fast-forwarders catch the ads. Studies show that DVR users still watch some (sometimes more, and more often) commercials and the data from DVR users is so detailed every year TiVo can declare which Super Bowl commercial was most-watched (and re-watched). What the future holds is unknown, but an overwhelming majority of DVR owners say they can't live without the technology and the numbers will continue to grow. The challenges ahead for content producers will be how to get paid for their work, either directly in a iTunes/AppleTV model, or through innovations in advertising. At the same time, the medium of TV itself is in competition with internet sites like YouTube and Hulu for viewer attention. All through this passing decade, the DVR landscape has grown by leaps and bounds and shows no sign of stopping.
My own story
Being a gadget freak working in the web industry, I'd followed both TiVo and Replay's early news and anticipated someday getting a unit. I grew up sitting in front of a TV for hours a day and though programmable VCRs got smarter, it was nearly impossible to track multiple shows at multiple timeslots without some serious time spent setting each show up. In mid-2000, TiVo threw a contest and gave away hundreds of TiVo boxes in an essay contest that many early bloggers participated in, including me. My wife and I quickly fell in love with the device as we had two busy professions and didn't get home in time to see many of our favorite shows.
I remember the sense of freedom having a DVR provided, that I was no longer bound to be at home at a certain time if I wanted to see something, but also the wonderful feeling of being able to set aside some time to be entertained and knowing there was always a dozen options of my very favorite shows to watch whenever I wanted. At first I watched much less TV, on the order of just a couple hours a week of my 2-3 favorite shows, but the Season Pass feature worked so well that eventually you are following 30-40 shows and I was watching more (but better!) TV. Still, having a TiVo around meant I could concentrate on important stuff around the house like my family and my work, and make time for entertainment when I needed it. I literally became more productive because of TiVo.
Needless to say I became a huge fan, scoured sites for tips and tricks, wrote so many emails to friends encouraging them to get their own that I eventually started this site just to make it easier on me to put everything I knew about DVRs in one place. To this day I love my Series 3 TiVo as well as my hacked AppleTV running Boxee that both meet my entertainment needs. That combination of devices lets me watch almost anything on TV or online that I like, whenever I want. My four year old daughter has never known a world without a DVR, and the few times we've been at a relative's house or in a hotel, she's been disappointed that the TV seemed "broken" and didn't have several dozen options for her favorite shows a button click away.
But enough about me, here are some leading technology buffs talking in their own words about how their relationship with TV changed in the past ten years, thanks to the almighty DVR.
Adam Savage, co-host of Discovery Channel's Mythbusters
Time shifting has had a radical effect on the way I watch tv. For one, I often have a hard time knowing what networks my favorite shows are actually on, let along when it's actually aired. I'm used to (and paced for) watching large chunks of my favorite shows all at once. I never watch LOST as it airs. I watch in weeks after airing in 3-5 episode chunks. Once per season I'll actually make time to watch a particularly excellent show when it airs (for the last two years it's been Mad Men) and even then, we usually lag about an hour behind just because we're no longer forced to pace ourselves to the schedule. So we don't.
When I stay in a hotel, and I have to watch the commericals (or mute them) I can't believe 1. how many there are, and 2. how long the disclaimers are on the drug commercials (when "depression" is a SIDE EFFECT, perhaps you should choose another option). I find myself wanting to pause everything I missed to hear it again. In 30 second bumps. The radio, a movie in a movie theater, my kids. I really found myself wanting to do a 30 second bump DURING A STAGE MUSICAL.
Time shifting is one of those "oh well of COURSE it should work that way" kind of inventions that seems inevitable and immediately crucial, like answering machines. Once that pandora is out of it's box there's no putting it back in.
Heather Armstrong, Author, creator of Dooce
I think Leta was about 15 months old, and one Saturday morning she woke up at some ungodly hour. So I took her out to the living room to let Jon get a few more hours of sleep. I sat down on the couch, flipped on the television and clicked around looking for cartoons when I stumbled upon an episode of Sesame Street. I thought she'd find it totally boring, but she was TRANSFIXED. So much so that she made it clear that when it was over her life could not go on. I think there was screaming involved.
Thankfully I was quick enough on my feet that early in the morning to have pressed record the moment I saw that she was interested, so I started it back at the beginning and she sat there and watched it — I am not even kidding — five times in row. I'd go back to sleep and then wake up when it was over and start it all over again. Some parents would call that neglect. I call it THANK GOD FOR TIVO.
That episode remained on our TiVo for YEARS. And it was Sesame Street that taught her the alphabet and how to identify letters. I love that I could pull up any number of recorded episodes of Sesame Street AT ANY TIME and she'd stop whining and start learning! I can't directly link that first episode of Sesame Street with the fact that at five-years-old she can read at an almost third grade level, but I wouldn't be surprised!
Nick Denton, founder of Gawker Media (including Gizmodo)
My relationship with TV has changed entirely. I used to disdain the medium. That was partly out of English snobbery. And, when I lived in San Francisco, nobody ever seemed to talk about shows. The English snobbery was overlaid with geek detachment. The DVR -- and a move to New York -- has changed all that. There's more buzz about shows, or at least I'm more aware of it. And the DVR allows someone to have a social life and still watch TV when one stumbles home. It's not so much appointment TV as TV that arranges itself around ones appointments. I've become an addict. 30 Rock, Damages, Nurse Jackie, Dexter, Bored to Death -- even Desperate Housewives, though I'm embarrassed by that one. TV is so much more reliably entertaining than the movies. And -- waiting for me on the DVR -- so much more convenient. So thanks, technology, for finally turning me into a goggle-eyed moron.
Gina Trapani, Author, Tech Blogger, Founding Editor of Lifehacker
In 1999, I barely watched TV. I thought television was a waste of time, even though I secretly felt left out when my friends talked about their favorite shows. Then TiVo--also known as The Best Christmas Gift Ever!! in my house--converted me. Without timeshifting, I would have missed out on some of the best shows ever created (and the conversations about them). The key is control. Giving people control over how and when they consume your content means they'll watch more, not less.
Chris Anderson, Author, Editor of Wired Magazine
We've had a Media Center PC since they first came out, and now have Xbox 360s (as Media Center extenders) on every screen in the house. The result is that my kids have grown up never knowing live TV. The deal we have with them is this: they crave control over the screen in all ways, including having the remote. So in exchange for them been allowed to pause or rewind funny bits, they're required to skip commercials, which they now do automatically. The result: they don't bug us about junk advertised on TV, all shows are 20% shorter, and when we go to hotels they're confused by why their shows aren't just there waiting for them.
In short, they are totally typical DVR kids. But given a choice between any TV and YouTube, their true colors shine through. They'd rather watch web video than anything broadcast. There is nothing Hollywood makes that can hold a candle to Fail Blog for them. Was it the control that the DVR gave them that made them so drawn the ultimate control of the Web? I'm not sure, but what seems clear is that they're not going back.
Annalee Newitz, Author, Journalist, Editor of scifi blog io9
DVRs are the perfect tools for the television obsessive, which is what scifi fans tend to be. I can't tell you how many times I paused for intense debate with friends (often with rewinding and rewatching) in the middle of watching Battlestar Galactica or Dollhouse. Honestly, how is anybody supposed to watch Lost without a DVR? One unexpected result of the rise of the DVR, however, is the destruction of one basic way fans relate to each other, which is by sharing videos. In the days of videocassettes, we swapped Star Trek:TNG and X-Files episodes, but most DVRs make it difficult to pass along copies of what you've saved.
Jeff Jarvis, Author, Journalism professor, creator & founding editor of Entertainment Weekly
The DVR killed the networks, yet may save the networks. Even more than the VCR, it freed us from the tyranny of of programmers' schedules and then -- to their surprise -- it also enabled us to watch more shows. The DVR showed 'em who's boss.
I think Hulu, iTunes, et al will have a greater impact on TV viewing, making it entirely personal. If I tried to start Entertainment Weekly today, I wouldn't, for a one-size-fits-all magazine would serve our entertainment needs just as poorly as one-size-fits-all networks have. EW's job will be done by peers' links and taste algorithms.
I can't leave this event without also noting the importance of PVRblog itself: Your what-the-heck experiment in niche content -- and advertising -- opened a path straight to current development of hyperlocal and hyperinterest blogs and entrepreneurship for that, I salute you.
A guy said to me once, "Wow! As a woman, you can get laid whenever you want!" and I said "Yeah and I can eat dirt whenever I want too!" For years there was a blinkx advertisement on 101 between Silicon Valley and San Francisco with a tagline that said something like "Find something to watch", which I thought was one of the stupidest taglines I'd ever heard. It's not hard to find someone to sleep with, it's hard to find someone you'd WANT to sleep with. It's not hard to find something to watch, it's hard to find something GOOD to watch. The tagline should have been, IMO, "There's Something Good On!"
That's what DVRs did. Find you the one thing, or the five things, that were good, so you didn't have to spend the time looking or surfing, hoping against hope you'd find the one good thing that was on. And you didn't have to be there, on time, to view it! Fantastic. Lifechanging. During the brief TV-watching era of my life between 2005-2007 my television life was completely changed forever.
Thanks to everyone for contributing here and to you the readers for following the site! I can't wait to see what the next decade has in store for entertainment technology and stay tuned for continued coverage of the PVR/DVR landscape here at PVRblog starting in January.
I have put this site up for sale on eBay! It's kind of crazy, but any longtime readers have probably noticed I've been only posting rarely here for the past year or two, nothing like the good old days. I've become increasingly busy running other blogs and a family and realized instead of pulling the plug, I might as well hand it off to another up-and-coming technology blogger, hence the no reserve eBay listing.
UPDATE: The site sold through eBay for $12,110 on December 18, 2009 to a web firm in Austin called BrightFire. Their plans call for continuing PVR-related news and content on the site and the transition will take place sometime in January.
Great news for RCN cable customers in Philadelphia, New York, Boston, Chicago, and Washington DC: RCN is partnering with TiVo to be the cable company's DVR provider. From the looks of the promotional site, it might just be a low-end TiVoHD with cable cards in it supplied and subsidized by RCN, but that would mean no on-demand style programming. [via Margret Smith's twitter feed]
Justin Mecham has a fantastic wishlist for Series 4 TiVo features he'd like to see. Most of them are season pass related and I have to say I agree with them all 100%. Some of them are a bit complex, but I could picture the menu options in most cases (like setting defaults for season pass options).
For myself, in addition to everything Justin mentioned (especially Hulu integration), I'd like to see the two-way CableCARD technologies implemented so that video on demand and pay-per-view content directly from cable companies could be accessed.
I'd also like to see other ways to be notified by my TiVo, perhaps by RSS, when an important event is coming up. I keep a bunch of wishlists around that I don't set to automatically record, but I often forget to periodically check them for the 1 in 25 upcoming items I do want to see. If I could subscribe to a feed of upcoming keyword/wishlist items with a handy link to record, I could easily scan recent matches and ignore or record items without having to dive into deep menus on my TiVo.
In addition to Hulu, I guess I'd like to see something more like boxee where I could play any media file on my TiVo (which is just a small computer capable of running anything), but given TiVo's ties to the major studios, I doubt that ever happens.
There's a great long post at Engadget commemorating the ten years of TiVo and along with it are five ideas for how TiVo could improve. I really like all the suggestions and would love to see TiVo try at least a few of them. When TiVo was on the ropes a few years ago I wanted to do a "100 ways to save TiVo" post (ala Wired's 101 ways to save Apple issue) but me and a few friends petered out of ideas after 30-40 of them. A lot of the ideas were similar in some ways to the Engadget ideas by basically extending the TiVo box in ways the studios probably don't want them to.
Usually these sorts of posts where a blogger posts a few ideas never get anywhere, but amazingly enough, TiVo's head of marketing sent Engadget a response. It's got quite a bit of marketing boosterism in it without too much concrete plans for the future, but it's good that TiVo is at least listening to criticism.
It looks like Amazon just added HD-quality video to their video on demand offerings, releasing the feature to both high-def TiVos and the Roku set top box player (they also offer it for Sony and Panasonic connected TVs).
Amazon seems to be charging about a dollar more for HD over standard definition content (HD shows look to run $2.99/episode instead of $1.99, HD movies are $4.99 per rental instead of $3.99) and strangely enough the Amazon site is telling me I have to go to my TiVo to browse and rent movies, since they can't offer HD movie playback through a browser (likely a licensing issue with the movie studios).
I forgot to post this soon after it went up, but a few weeks ago, my friend Peter Merholz got to do a long interview with Margret Schmidt, head of User Experience for TiVo. It's in three parts on the Adaptive Path blog: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3. In it, they talk about the design of the interface, how new features are developed, how groups work internally at TiVo, and how user experience ties into the business aspects of TiVo.
A few years ago I got to ask Ms. Schmidt a bunch of questions about the design of the TiVo remotes, how the user interface of TiVo was developed, and my personal favorite -- how they designed the audio bleeps and bloops that still to this day are the only helpful sounds I've used in a consumer device.