Feb 232012
 

href="http://hd.engadget.com/photos/tivo-network-transcoder-hands-on/"> src="http://www.gizmolovers.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/TiVo-Transcoder-Box-e1330044626501-300x276.jpg?9d7bd4" alt="TiVo Transcoder Box" title="TiVo Transcoder Box" width="300" height="276" class="alignleft size-medium wp-image-9088" /> I’ve actually been working on a post about this for a little while, and on href="http://www.gizmolovers.com/2012/02/23/tivo-reports-4q-and-fiscal-year-end-2012-financial-results-tomorrow/">today’s financial conference call President and CEO Tom Rogers provided the final piece. Last month at CES 2012 TiVo was showing off a transcoding box and EngadgetHD has href="http://hd.engadget.com/photos/tivo-network-transcoder-hands-on/">a very nice photo gallery of the unit (which is where I ganked the photo from). I didn’t report on it at the time since I wanted to gather some more info. Just before I left for my wedding & honeymoon I had a conversation with TiVo’s Public Relations Manager, Jessica Loebig, which filled in more info but left a few questions. She arranged for another conversation, with TiVo’s VP and GM of Product Marketing, Jim Denney, last Friday, just after my return. I’ve been a bit swamped catching up on life, and my day job, so more posts based on that conversation are forthcoming.

On today’s call Tom Rogers stated that the transcoding box would ship “later this year”, which I believe is the first firm public statement.

From a technical perspective, based on my conversations with TiVo, the unit that comes to market will probably resemble the unit previewed at CES, but it may not be exactly the same. It is planned to be an Ethernet only device, most likely installed near the router in the home. It will stream content from TiVo Premiere units using the same system as the Premiere-to-Premiere Multi-Room Streaming (MRS) available today. The content will then be transcoded to H.264 and forwarded to devices running TiVo’s client app – such as Android or iOS phones and tablets. Users will be able to view the streams in real time, or they can be saved on the device for later viewing – which is how side-loading is accomplished.

The hardware itself is powered by href="http://www.zenverge.com/">Zenverge, so it looks like href="http://www.gizmolovers.com/2011/10/01/is-this-how-tivo-will-get-place-shifting/">my prior speculation was close to the mark. However, the unit is not planned to have MoCA. I asked Jim Denney about this and he said that MoCA was considered, but given the envisioned use case it was felt that the added cost wasn’t justified. And after discussing it with him, I see his point. Even if the TiVo units are on MoCA, that MoCA network will need to be connected to a non-MoCA network to reach the client devices. And that connection point is a logical place to connect the transcoding box. It doesn’t really make sense to connect it to the MoCA network when it’d have to send the transcoded signal back over the same network to eventually be bridged off to the client network. Keeping the unit dirt simple – just a power connection and Ethernet – keeps it small and keeps the component costs down.

From a capability standpoint, the unit can accept and transcode up to four streams simultaneously. And on today’s call Rogers made the interesting comment that it could be a recording, or LiveTV. I believe the latter is new. Today streaming is only between units that have their own tuners, either Premiere-to-Premiere or Premiere-to-Preview, so there isn’t a need to grab a tuner on the remote device for ‘live’ TV. But for those who want to watch live on a second screen device, it’d be a necessity. (As well as for another application that’s coming, but I’ll leave that for another post. src="http://www.gizmolovers.com/wordpress/wp-includes/images/smilies/icon_wink.gif?9d7bd4" alt=';-)' class='wp-smiley' /> )

I asked about the streaming technology – is it based on Sling Media or Monsoon Multimedia, or anyone else? It is not. It is an in-house implementation using Zenverge’s silicon and developer tools. So it is unique, and the clients will come from TiVo. That gives me some hope. While Sling & Monsoon Multimedia treat their clients as a revenue stream, TiVo has been giving away their client software. And since you need a TiVo with an active subscription to use this transcoding box they have that revenue stream to draw upon. Rather than milking the customer for anther payment, I’m hopeful they will continue to provide the client software for free, relying on the sales of the hardware, and the TiVo subscription, for revenue.

If they do this it also makes me hopeful that they might publish the client APIs for 3rd parties to build support, as well as create clients for other platforms that aren’t Android or iOS. But that might be a bridge too far since I’m sure they’ll need to protect the content to keep the content owners happy, and that means they couldn’t tell others how to decrypt.

From my conversation with Jessica & Jim, the current plan is for streaming within the home, with side-loading for ‘on the go’ viewing. But not for place shifting streaming content outside of the home. Jim & I talked about this for a while, since I’m a long time Slingbox user and for me streaming beats side-loading hands down. He made the valid point that side-loading has some popular use cases – the most obvious is for when streaming isn’t an option, such as on an airplane. I know parents also use it to load up a bunch of their kids’ favorite shows to whip out on demand to pacify them, etc. So I’m not going to argue against side loading. It isn’t a use case that really interests me, but I acknowledge that it is valid.

As far as streaming outside of the home, Jim was sure to stress that it has not been “designed out” of the product. It isn’t currently planned, but it is something that could be added if there is demand. A lot of the concern is over quality of the experience, bandwidth requirements, etc. I made the point that I’ve been using a Slingbox since I had 768kbps upstream ADSL and only 2.5G EDGE data on my phone, giving me maybe 200kbps if I was lucky, and it was usable even with 320×240 resolution. And these days I have a 5Mbps uplink and 4G LTE on my phone, which has a 720p screen and HDMI output capabilities.

I’ve streamed HD video from my Slingbox PRO-HD from Worcester, MA to Seattle, WA and viewed it on my laptop while I’m out there for work. Being able to access my personal content at home, in real time, while I’m on the road just can’t be matched by side-loading. So I’m strongly in favor of TiVo enabling remote streaming as well. I argued that bandwidth costs continue to drop as speeds continue to increase, and device capabilities have never been greater. Now more than ever before streaming is viable.

I felt it was a good discussion and that TiVo is very much open to feedback on this issue. So it’d be good to hear from the user base. Do you want remote streaming? Or does local streaming and side-loading meet your needs?

No pricing or specific release dates are available at this time, so I can’t comment on that. But if they can bring this to market at a decent price point I think this would be very attractive, especially if they add remote streaming. By way of comparison, the href="http://www.gizmolovers.com/2011/10/10/directvs-nomad-now-available-does-copying-not-streaming/">DirecTV Nomad is $149, but you also need to subscribe to the Nomad Mobile DVR Service. My impression of this TiVo unit is that it is a one-time purchase, so it may retail for more than the Nomad. By while the Nomad is strictly store-and-forward side-loading, with real-time transcoding, the TiVo unit does streaming and side-loading, and it sounds like it will transcode for side-loading in better than real time.

I, for one, would be very interested in getting my hands on one of these units.

Feb 232012
 

href="http://youtu.be/eFEjqat5y0A"> src="http://www.gizmolovers.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/Sling-Media-Logo-300x150.png?9d7bd4" alt="Sling Media Logo" title="Sling Media Logo" width="300" height="150" class="alignleft size-medium wp-image-4318" /> Over a year ago href="http://www.slingmedia.com/get/pr-verison-us.html">Sling Media announced a deal with Verizon Wireless to rent a Slingbox to Verizon Wireless customers for uses with their mobile devices. Instead of buying a Slingbox at retail users would be able to rent a Slingbox from Verizon for a monthly fee. href="http://hd.engadget.com/2011/01/07/exclusive-verizon-slingbox-in-the-wild/">EngadgetHD even got photos of the unit, href="http://support.slingbox.com/go/slingbox-120">a Slingbox 120, at CES 2011. But after the announcement and sighting at CES 2011 it seems like nothing new appeared, and everyone just forgot about the deal or presumed it fizzled.

That is, until today. EngadgetHD’s Richard Lawler called my attention to this video,“Introduction to the Verizon Slingbox Subscription Plan”, posted yesterday by Sling Support: /> width="500" height="284" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/eFEjqat5y0A?autohide=1" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen>

According to the video the Verizon Slingbox Subscription Plan is available now, for a $49.99 deposit and $9.99/month – plus taxes and shipping. You get a Slingbox 120, Slingbox player software for your Verizon mobile device (which is not the same as the generally available SlingPlayer app), and ‘accessories’. I href="http://support.slingbox.com/get/KB-2000434.html">found this FAQ on Sling’s website, which indicates the ‘accessories’ amount to a pair of SlingLink TURBO powerline network adapters – also seen in the video. The deposit is refundable if you cancel the subscription and return the hardware.

The video states that the subscription is available if your have a 4G LTE device, but the app doesn’t seem to be available on my Verizon Galaxy Nexus nor my wife’s Verizon Droid RAZR. The FAQ indicates the supported phones are the HTC Thunderbolt, Samsung Droid Charge, and LG Revolution, while the video explicitly mentions the Thunderbolt, Charge, and the Motorola Droid Bionic – but not the Revolution.

Since the phones mentioned are all last year’s models, and this hit out of the blue, I left the following comment on the video:

This was announced last year, and the FAQ on Sling’s site? (support.slingbox.com/get/KB-2­000434.html) seems out of date – the phone models listed are all last year’s models. Is this actually launching now? Which phones are/will be supported? I don’t see the app on my Verizon Wireless Galaxy Nexus, which is 4G LTE.

Somewhat surprisingly, Sling Support responded quickly thusly:

Good point, but that FAQ is actually accurate. We have a limited roll out right now and are evaluating other VZW models as they come to market.? Thanks!

If the flagship 4G LTE phones aren’t supported it does seem to be ‘limited’, but hopefully they’ll expand this to newer models rapidly. It certainly seems to have been a very quiet launch. Not only did we miss any sign of it, but I can’t find any mention of this service anywhere on the Verizon Wireless website. And even the Sling Media website is pretty much limited to the old 2011 press release and the FAQ. It doesn’t seem like either party is doing much to publicize this option.

What about you? If you have a Verizon 4G LTE phone, especially a model not listed above, is this available to you? Would you take this over just buying a Slingbox outright? A Slingbox SOLO is currently href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/B000VXKD8K/?tag=tiv-20">$162.02 at Amazon, and SlingPlayer for Phones is $29.99, so you’d be looking at just over $192. That’s about 19 months worth of subscription fees (I won’t count the deposit since that’d refundable). Personally I think buying a Slingbox at retail is a better deal in the long run.

Oct 102011
 

href="http://www.directv.com/DTVAPP/content/technology/nomad"> src="http://www.gizmolovers.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/DirecTV-Nomad-e1314378711766.jpg?9d7bd4" alt="DirecTV Nomad" title="DirecTV Nomad" width="499" height="149" class="alignleft size-full wp-image-7690" /> Back in August href="http://www.gizmolovers.com/2011/08/26/directv-nomad-coming-soon/">I posted a number of details about DirecTV’s then forthcoming Nomad place shifting product, and href="http://www.directv.com/DTVAPP/content/technology/nomad">it is finally here for $149. It turns out that most of the info I had at the time was correct and, unfortunately, the rumors were generally confirmed. The Nomad is a copy-based device, similar to how TiVoToGo works, and not a streaming system like a Slingbox. So there is no real-time access to your content. You need to load everything onto your mobile device before you leave home. Which is admittedly useful for something like a plane where streaming generally isn’t an option, but if you’re away for an extended time you’ll probably still want a Slingbox to keep up with your shows from the road.

And speaking of mobile devices, right now your options are very limited. You can use a Windows PC, an iPhone 3GS or better, or an iPod Touch. That’s it. The Mac, iPad, and Android devices are all listed as ‘Coming Soon’. Though you can run the iPhone app on the iPad for now. As I previously reported, the Nomad communicates with DirecTV DVRs via Ethernet. Using DirecTV’s existing multi-room system, shows are streamed from the DVR to the Nomad. There they are transcoded to H.264 and saved for syncing with your device. One thing to note, Nomad is a ‘one size fits all’ system. Unlike TiVoToGo, which will transcode to different resolutions and bitrates for different devices, or Slingbox which can stream in anything from 320×240 up to 1920×1080 depending on the device and bandwidth, Nomad has one setting. It transcodes to 720×480 (which is DVD resolution). The bit rate varies, but seems to be around 1.5Mbps.

Up to five mobile devices are supported per account. You can set it up to auto-convert series, etc. Again, it seems to work very much like TiVoToGo, only in a dedicated HW box instead of software on a PC. Transfers from the DVR to the Nomad happen in real time. So a two hour movie takes two hours to stream and transcode. Fortunately, once transcoded and stored, copying to a device happens much faster, with about an hour of content transferred in ten minutes according to reports.

The folks over at DBSTalk got their hands on one early and have written up href="http://hr20.dbstalk.com/docs/Nomad%20First%20Look.pdf" class="broken_link" rel="nofollow">a first look document. There’s also href="http://www.dbstalk.com/showthread.php?p=2861656#post2861656">a running discussion thread in their forums with more info.

Oh, one thing to note, the player app will not work on any jail broken iOS devices.

Via href="http://www.engadget.com/2011/10/06/directv-nomad-is-ready-to-launch-transcodes-dvred-shows-for-mob/">EngadgetHD.

Aug 262011
 

DirecTV Nomad Engadget noticed that DirecTV put up a ‘Coming Soon’ teaser page for their new Nomad product. The page itself doesn’t reveal much, it is just an image of a DirecTV DVR and the Nomad, along with a Mac, iPad, and iPhone. The FAQ page adds the text “DIRECTV nomad™ Take your movies and shows from your home DVR wherever you go.” All of this isn’t new, we’ve known that Nomad has something to do with making content portable (as if the name didn’t give it away).

But I did find more, the July 2011 DirecTV training video (also streaming) includes a bit about Nomad starting at the 12:15 mark. The site requires a login, but if you’re reading this you’re probably clever enough to find it online.

The video content itself isn’t really worth posting, you don’t see much. But the information given is useful. To have the Nomad you must have an HR20 through HR24 or R22 and they must be connected to the Internet. Only one Nomad is allowed per account, you must have active DirecTV DVR service, and the account must have MRV capability. The customer’s broadband service must be active during installation. At launch, wireless capability will be available in iPhone and Android clients, as well as a PC client. You’ll need to add the Nomad Mobile DVR service to the account. Also, it appears that the Nomad box requires a physical Ethernet connection – but it doesn’t need to be collocated with the DirecTV box so you can stick it with your router, etc.

Based on the video the Nomad pulls content from your DirecTV DVR over the network via DECA/SWiM and transcodes it. That jibes with the need for MRV on the account and how the unit is connected. From the brief look at the back of the unit in the video it looks like it only has power, Ethernet, and maybe a USB port. Note that also means it will not work with the new DirecTiVo as that does not support MRV, according to the info available. (Maybe in a future update.)

Unfortunately, the video isn’t clear on if Nomad provides streaming support, ala Slingbox, or simply transcodes video and makes a copy for your mobile device, ala TiVoToGo. The graphics, to me, imply wireless streaming, but I can’t say they’re conclusive and the narration never states anything either way. There are numerous discussion threads about Nomad around the net, some of which mention being able to take videos on an airplane, which would mean copying. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t stream, they’re not mutually exclusive. A survey from last year (the Nomad was first expected in late 2010 – the DirecTiVo isn’t the only delayed release) implied copying and streaming as well.

The rumor is that DirecTV is working with Morega on the Nomad. Morega and DirecTV are both members of the RVU Alliance. In July Morega received a patent on their system for ‘TV Everywhere’, and the info in their press release does jibe with the rumors around Nomad:

Morega Systems, a developer of content portability solutions, revealed today that the company received patent approval for its breakthrough content portability technology. This unique content delivery solution gives satellite, cable and IPTV service providers, and equipment manufacturers a better way to extend premium, multimedia content beyond the television and the set-top box to support the Connected Home and TV Everywhere.

Today, the predominant way to “placeshift” content – in other words, to deliver content to any device such as a mobile phone, tablet, or a PC – to support TV Everywhere is by streaming content across a broadband network connection. But Morega’s technology takes TV Everywhere to a new level by allowing consumers to placeshift via two methods: adaptive bit rate streaming with quality-of-service or sideloading. With Morega’s unique sideloading solution, authorized users can securely download content either directly from the cloud or from a set-top box onto alternative viewing devices.

This solves two key challenges posed by cloud-based mobile video delivery solutions: First, streaming or sideloading from cable, satellite or IPTV networks at the edge is much more bandwidth-efficient to the operators and requires fewer network resources for transcoded content management and storage. Second, it preserves the original broadcast ads while providing the ability to track and report mobile viewing metrics. Also, with the sideloading option, users no longer need a broadband network connection to view the content.

In addition, Morega’s sideloading technology uses a sophisticated back-office, standards-based and proprietary authentication, encryption and digital rights management (DRM) system to protect copyrighted material and to assure the delivery of high-quality video entertainment content.

The new patent specifically covers the transcoding, streaming and downloading of premium content from a video source to a mobile platform such as a smartphone or a laptop or tablet computer. It also covers Morega’s unique approach to track, restrict and monetize premium content via digital rights management (DRM), which leverages both industry standards from the Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA) and Digital Transmission Content Protection (DTCP), as well as proprietary methods to protect copyrighted material and assure high-quality video when customers securely download content from either a set-top box or directly from the cloud.

That sounds a lot like what’s expected from Nomad. Also, DirecTV is known to use DTCP-IP with the DirecTV2PC offering today.

There is a thread at DBSTalk with a lot of info sprinkled about. Keep in mind this is all leaked info from a discussion thread and not official information. Reportedly, it does use MRV and the transfers count as one available MRV stream. Transfers happen in real time. The unit has 16GB internal storage and supports up to 2TB of external storage via the USB port. Content is transcoded to H.264 and ‘down converted’ from the original, but no word on what the resolution of the mobile versions will be. (Given the growing number of HD displays on mobile devices, and HDMI output, hopefully not too low.) Content will obey the ‘maximum entitlement date’ – aka expiration date, as set when recorded. (So something that says you can keep it on your DVR only 7 days also stops working via Nomad in 7 days.) It definitely does copying, but the general sense from the thread is that it does not stream. (But no one seems to know for sure on the streaming.)

If it doesn’t do streaming that would be disappointing. DISH Network has their SlingLoaded 922 DVR and the Sling add-on for the 722 DVR which both stream in realtime. And, of course, anyone can connect a Slingbox to just about any video source and stream. Copying is a nice feature for use when streaming isn’t an option, such as on an airplane, but the clear trend is toward streaming services – not just traditional place shifting via Sling Media and Monsoon, but OTT providers such as Netflix and Hulu and MSO services like Comcast’s Xfinity. With the growth of 3G, and now 4G, services, and the ubiquity of WiFi, having to plan ahead and pre-load copies just seems archaic. And if you’re on an extended business trip you can’t access anything on your DVR at home that recorded after you left. So it is useless for keeping up with your shows on the road.

I really hope it does streaming, or they have concrete plans to add it shortly after launch, or I think the Slingbox will remain a better option. Especially if this thread is correct and Nomad costs $150. You can get a Slingbox SOLO for that, and a Slingbox PRO-HD for just over a hundred more.

We’ll just have to wait and see.