All Things TV - TiVo, Dish Network, DirecTV

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Official TiVo Blog

Earlier this week, TiVo announced the launch of the Official TiVo Blog. Hopefully this will lead to a little more open communication between the TiVo team and the TiVo community. In the past, TiVo has been rather notorious for ignoring the comments and suggestions of the community.

So far only one post, but it's a start. I'm sure the whole TiVo following is hoping they'll actually use this to announce new stuff, talk about problems and bugs, and generally to keep the TiVo faithful up to date on all things TiVo.

More discussion at PVRWire.com

Also take a look at their contest to pick a new "TiVo ambassador". This isn't part of the blog launch, but it sounds like an interesting contest. First you must accumulate 25,000 TiVo Rewards points. Then, create a VHS tape or DVD explaining why you'd be the ultimate ambassador. Finally, get a letter of reference from someone you've convinced to become one of the TiVo faithful. All this, and you could win $25,000 and a Mini Cooper convertible. Sweet!

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Friday, October 28, 2005

Dish Network yanks OLN, No More NHL

Due to a seemingly simple squabble over who has how many viewers of something or other, EchoStar decided last week to yank Outdoor Life Network (OLN) from the Dish Network lineup entirely. Normally no one would care except for the 12 people who sit glued to their TVs during the Tour de France every year. The problem is, OLN recently acquired the rights to show NHL games from ESPN. Don't know exactly what pro hockey has to due with outdoor life, but whatever, that's beside the point. If you're a Dish subscribing hockey fan, you're just a little bit out of luck for the time being.

It seems that OLN has a requirement that in order to show its programming, over 40% of viewers must have access to the channel. Because OLN is not offered in the most basic Dish Network lineups, Dish isn't meeting this requirement. This apparently made Dish angry, and they just decided to rip out the channel entirely. "I'm taking my toys and I'm going home", said EchoStar Senior Vice President Eric Sahl. Ok I made that up, but I'm sure that's what he was thinking.

Dish Network has done this before. Last year it pulled all Viacom programming, which includes MTV, The Comedy Channel and Nickelodeon. That only lasted a few days, though, so there's probably hope that OLN and NHL will return in some form.

Source: CNN/SI

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Wednesday, October 26, 2005

DirecTV to offer XM broadcasts

On November 15th, DirecTV will begin offering XM radio broadcasts to their 14.6 million customers, replacing the current MusicChoice service. Subscribers will receive a subset of the full XM lineup, up to 65 channels, depending on the DirecTV package they have. Competitor Dish Network has been offering satellite radio from XM's biggest competitor, Sirius, for about a year now.

This makes a lot of sense, when you think about it. Satellite TV and radio companies merge together to form satellite medio companies. Why should DirecTV come up with its own radio programming when it can just partner with the largest satellite radio company. Some DirecTV customers are unimpressed, however, worried that the highly compressed XM feed won't be up to the near-CD quality of MusicChoice.

More info:

DirecTV to offer XM broadcasts
XM, DirecTV Ink Distribution Deal

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American Idol and your DVR

Don't know how many American Idol fans there are out there. Oh wait, it's only the hottest show ever on TV, so probably most of you are. The ratings on this show are insane. Apparently last season American Idol on Tuesday night was the #1 watched show. Guess what the #2 show was! American Idol on Wednesday. People are really getting antsy about having to wait until January for the next seaon to start. Have a look at this American Idol website, where you can discuss all the latest Idol news with other like minded individuals.

It seems last year Fox tried all sorts of tricks to foil DVR users, in an attempt to get people to watch the extremely expensive commercials aired during the show. I've read reports saying a 30 second spot cost over $700,000. We're talking about a regular show here, not even the finale or anything. Now that's insane.

Anyhow, if you have a Comcast HD-DVR, you may have noticed that they were actually blocking fast forwarding of episodes of American Idol last season. According to at least one user, the fast forward button ceased to work, and a little "no" symbol appeared on screen:

American Idol blocking fast forwards | PVRblog

Fox, apparently not satisfied with the standard NBC trick of mucking with the start and end times of their shows, marked some new episodes of Idol as "reruns", even thought they were indeed first run episodes. This caused many DVR users, who have their season passes set to record only first run episodes, to miss them entirely. Better, Fox seems to think, people not watch the show at all, than to have them watch and skip through the commercials. Seems like a classic case of cutting off one's nose to spite one's face.

Some people got last minute updates from their DVR manufacturers, warning them of the problem: American Idol and my DVR. Others likely were quite disappointed to find their American Idol folder on TiVo EMPTY!

So keep an eye out this next season for new tricks from Fox. The DVR is their enemy. Seems they're willing to let you miss the show entirely, in the interest of keeping their sponsors happy.

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Monday, October 24, 2005

TiVo - Welcome to apps.tv

I'm Learning something new every day here... You can apparently download and run custom apps on your Home Media Option enabled TiVo. And you don't even have to get your geeky nephew to bring his torx screwdriver over, crack your TiVo open, void your warranty, etc. You just punch in the IP address of the apps.tv server into your TiVo, download one of the apps, and you're off.

Step by step dummy proof instructions:

  • Press the TiVo button on your remote.
  • Select Music, Photos & More.
  • Scroll down and select "manually add a server".
  • Enter the following IP adress: 209.97.196.52
  • Press left to go back to the previous screen.
  • Behold! The "apps.tv" subscription manager.

Once inside the land of apps.tv, you can choose one of the following apps:

  • Hot or Not (visit hotornot.com if you dare)
  • Video Poker
  • Skull Bones (?)
  • Sudoku
  • Tic Tac Toe

Download the app to your unsuspecting TiVo, and you're off. Just think of all the time you weren't wasting before.

Get going: apps.tv

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Sunday, October 23, 2005

Satellite TV Blogs - Now I'm Just Annoyed

Now I'm just annoyed. I've spent the last hour and a half or so trying to locate another real Satellite TV blog. Go to Google Blogsearch, and type in "satellite tv". Oh look, a list of 5 "related blogs". That should be helpful. Click on any one of these related blogs, and you get nothing but a giant pile of crap. These sites are designed solely to be ranked highly by Google, and to promote the sites that they are linked to.

Then, below the "related blogs", we have post after post from expertsatellite.com/blog. expertsatellite.com is, of course, selling satellite systems. DirecTV to be exact. I recommend you not type that URL into your browser window, lest your eyeballs be melted into little puddles of sizzling goo by the loud and obnoxious site. There is absolutely zero point of the "blog", except to get indexed by google and drive traffic to the site. Here's a sample entry from the blog:

I just got a free direct tv dvr from Expert SAtellite (expertsatellite.com). It is the world’s greatest invention (along with the iPod)! I’m a tv junkie, and this is a “must have” if you love tv. I can’t live without it!
Thanks Expert satellite!

Come on! What a completely lame abuse of the whole blogging concept. I know there must be people out there with genuine blogs about this stuff. If you know of any, post them here. If you have a website or a blog, and you enjoy this blog, link to me. Tell your friends to link to me.

Ok I'm done ranting for the moment. You may return to your regularly scheduled activities.

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Comcast Tivo Beta?

According to some sources (which may or may not be reliable), Comcast may be beta testing their new TiVo DVR's in certain parts of the country. Nothing has been made public yet, but I guess it isn't unusual for cable companies to be secretive about new technology.

Here's a thread from the rumor mill:
Comcast Tivo Beta? - TiVo Community

I highly recommend tivocommunity.com, for all your TiVo questions. Especially with TiVo tech support being notoriously unhelpful and slow.

That's all for now. Come back soon!

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Dish Networks Offering Free DVR upgrade

I may be severely behind the times, but I just noticed that Dish Networks is giving away a bunch of equipment. If you sign up with them now, you get a free Dish, free installation, and you get free DVR upgrades. Now that's cool. In case you're new to this stuff, a DVR is a digital video recorder. A DVR does basically what TiVo does. You record your shows and movies digitally, and can play them back whenever you like. You can also pause live TV, rewind, and all that good stuff.

The service, including DVR service, costs less than I currently pay Comcast just for cable. I'm beginning to get interested. I currently shell out over $50 per month to Comcast for basic service, plus $20 per month for my two TiVo boxes. So total, figure over $70 a month for cable + TiVo. The same service from Dish, including service for 2 DVR boxes, comes up at $36.97. Check out the link at the bottom of this post for more details.

One hesitation I have is my Humax TiVo DVD recorder. This thing will take video recorded on your TiVo and record it directly to DVD. The interface is TiVo simple. You don't have to call in your geeky nephew to get your show on DVD. But I digress. Back to the Dish DVR thing.

Another advantage of the Dish DVR, compared to TiVo, is the quality. As with the DirecTV DVR, the satellite video data is recorded directly onto your DVR without the need for re-encoding. When you record to TiVo, even if you use digital cable, as I do, there's a significant loss in quality. Here's what happens:

  • Digital signal is decoded by cable box.
  • Analog signal is sent to TiVo box, usually via low quality composite video cable.
  • TiVo encodes video back to MPEG-2 format.

All this results in quite a loss in quality. Since the Satellite DVR's are all integrated into a single, smarter box, they can just write the digital video directly to the hard drive without any loss in quality. Thus when you replay the video, the quality is just as good as if you'd been watching live.

But what really interests me is the new Pocket Dish portable video player that I talked about before. I can just hook this little beast up to the Dish DVR, and transfer all my programs over to watch on the go. Not that I really ever go anywhere, but it that the point?

I've always been a cable subscriber, mostly because I'm too lazy to change. Satellite has been gaining steadily on cable for the past several years, largely due to the fact that satellite service costs less these days than cable.

I've also been a loyal TiVo fan for the last 5 years, but I'm actually seriously considering switching to Dish Network DVR for all these goodies. I may consider switching back if TiVo and Comcast ever come out with any interesting news on the deal they signed back in March.

Let me know what you think I should do. Post a comment for me.

Here's the link I found: www.buymydish.com

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Saturday, October 22, 2005

New DirecTV DVR - What does this mean for us all?

A while back DirecTV announced they would be giving TiVo the proverbial boot, and coming out with a brand new and improved DVR, the R15 DirecTV Plus DVR (shown here). This shiny new beast will record up to 100 hours of DirecTV video. The service will cost $5.99 a month, same as what they charge now for TiVo service.

I just read today from one source (Multichannel News), that the new DirecTV DVR will be delayed. I have not yet been able to confirm that anywhere else, but I'll keep you posted if I find anything. Do post a comment and let me know if you have information about this.

Because DirecTiVo is now officially a lame duck, you can get one for almost nothing. Under $50 after your rebate is what I've seen. DirecTV's contract with TiVo doesn't run out until 2007, but they'll certainly be trying to get everyone switched over to the new DVR by that time. I'm not clear what will happen to TiVo subscribers at that point. Presumably the service will no longer be offered.

So what does this mean for TiVo (and for us)? Well, in the near term it means they're hurting. DirecTV accounts for a fairly sizable chunk of their revenue. But back in March, you may recall, they signed a deal with cable giant Comcast. I haven't heard much about it since then, but if TiVo can get themselves integrated with Comcast service, they'll be in pretty good shape for a while. The downside for the long term, however, is that satellite service has been steadily gaining on cable service for many years.

The other big threat for TiVo is Video on Demand, which Comcast already offers. The selection of programming is not yet huge, somewhere in the neighborhood of 3500 titles, but it's growing. If your cable/satellite provider gets to the point where it can let you watch anything you want, whenever you want, the whole DVR concept may become obsolete. Who needs a gigantic hard drive and video capture/encoder hardware when you can just stream down video on demand? Would certainly be cheaper for the providers, and probably even simpler to use for your average non-techy consumer type. No need to set up season passes, and so forth. Just turn on your TV and find what you want to watch.

The whole Video on Demand pie in the sky may be a while off, however. There will be massive legal hurdles. Providers will also have to figure out how to appease the networks, who of course rely on advertising to buy them bacon to take home to their hungry families. They hate DVRs, and would have no reason not to hate Video on Demand, unless of course you're not able to fast forward. And if you're not allowed to fast forward, that means the DVR crowd will probably keep their DVR's. I know I would.

So it's all up in the air now. I've rambled enough I suppose. Check back soon, I'm adding new stuff frequently!

Cheers,
Gary

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Friday, October 21, 2005

Transfer video from your TiVo to your video iPod

The new iPod plays video. You all know that I'm sure. So what kind of video can you put on it? Apple is hoping, obviously, that you'll download TV shows and short films from the new Videos section of iTunes. (Maybe iTunes should be rebranded iMedia or something). So you pay Apple $1.99 and you have your video. TV shows will be available the day after they air on TV. Seems like a decent deal. Trouble is, they've currently only got a deal with Disney, who owns the ABC network. This means you get to download the latest episodes of "Lost" and "Desperate Housewives", but you don't get all the shows you want.

Have no fear! TiVo to the rescue! Dave Zatz from engadget has cooked up a very nice how-to for us on how to get your TiVo shows off your TiVo and onto your PC, where you can then use some free software to convert the show to MPEG-4 format. Can be a lengthy process, but your little iPod hard drive will thank you, as MPEG-4 is much more compact than the pod-busting MPEG-2 encoding used on your TiVo. When can I get a TiVo that will decode MPEG-4?? Anyone have any leads on that? Post a comment!

Full details here

Thanks for stopping by! Stay tuned, I'll keep finding all the coolest stuff out there for you, and spouting off about it. Now if only you could convince me to stop spouting off...

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DirecTV making MPEG-4 Set Top Boxes

DirecTV just sent out a press release yesterday. Apparently LG will be making new MPEG-4 set top boxes for them. As I mentioned in my previous post, this is a highly good thing. Right now there aren't any MPEG-4 DVR's in production, but they will undoubtedly be on the way. When they do appear, they'll be able to hold something like 3 times as much video as your standard MPEG-2 recorder.

Obviously this is a good thing for DirecTV now, too. Since their data is compressed 3 times as much as standard MPEG-2 video, they get to save tremendously on bandwidth, at least as soon as people start upgrading. It also means they can cram HDTV broadcasts into the same space that they used previously for normal low resolution video. So it's a good thing for us now, too.

The new DirecTV boxes will of course be backward compatible, capable of decoding both MPEG-4 and the old MPEG-2 streams. They'll have new digital outputs (HDMI/HDCP), as well as the old style composite and component outputs.

Finally, satellite providers are catching on to the idea that MPEG-4 is a good thing.

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Pocket Dish from Dish Network

I just discovered that Dish Network is releasing a new "Pocket Dish" device, and it looks incredibly cool. Comes in three different sizes, with progressively bigger screens and hard drives. You can transfer video directly from your Dish DVR to the Pocket Dish, and away you go.

Can I have one please?

Also apparently does music, photos and games. Prices apparently range from about $300 for the 2.2 inch screen to about $600 for the 7 inch screen. Seems like a pretty good deal, compared to the price of, say, buying a laptop to watch tv on the go. Then again I suppose a laptop is a little more generally useful than a tiny TV with a hard disk.

Yet more goodness on these things. Apparently they're going to support MPEG-4 video, which means you can actually store a very significant amount of video, even on the smallest 20GB hard drive. Go Dish Network!

MPEG-4 is the encoding that all the video pirates use out there to transfer movies over the internet. A 2 hour movie can generally be crammed into about 700MB while still keeping acceptable video and audio quality. It's not going to be DVD quality or anything, but do you honestly need DVD quality video on your 2.2 inch screen?

The bigger Pocket Dish models (4 inch and 7 inch screens) will apparently come with stands, external spekers, and remote controls, so the road warriors will be able to set up a teeny tiny home theater in their hotel rooms.

I'm not yet sure if you can load any old MPEG-4 video onto these things, or if they'll only work with Dish Network DVR's. Seems a shame to limit them, but I can imagine the studios would make a stink if they were allowing any old pirated video file to be played on your Pocket Dish. Then again your iPod can easily play pirated MP3 files, so maybe that won't be a problem.

Here are some pictures from the official Dish Networks site for the thing:

2.2" model:

4" model:

7" model:

Here's the link to the Dish Network "get one" page: http://www.pocketdish.com/getone.jsp

I think I might need one of these!

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Welcome to My New Blog!

If you are reading this, you've somehow managed to find my TV & TiVo blog! Well done!

Here I will ramble incessantly about all things TV related. TiVo, as you likely know, is the best thing ever to happen to TV. Makes sliced bread look like chopped liver.

I also plan to ramble somewhat about other TV related items. DirecTV, Dish Networks, Satellite TV, Cable TV. There is just so much to discuss with myself.

Ok, must work now. Cheers!

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