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TiVolution and Extinction

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Over at LewRockwell.com, Mike Rogers, their man in Japan, sees the future of digital television, and it's a grim one for advertisers and for TiVo alike:

I'm guessing that most folks are completely unaware of a new product that is about to be sold on the Japanese market in April of 2005. It is called HDD DVD. That would translate into "Hard drive disk, digital video disk." At first glance, this might look a bit like TIVO–a popular hard disk recorder in use in the United States–but HDD DVD is much more–or much less–depending on how you look at it. HDD DVD will allow you to record programs, sports events, movies, etc., and cut your own re-write-able DVD's for storage. Not only that, HDD DVD will not have a monthly charge like TIVO does and the units will sell for approximately the same price. With TIVO charging about $12 per month for use of their product, it is easy to see how TIVO will go the way of the Beta video once HDD DVD comes on the market.

Besides HDD DVD completely revolutionizing the mass media as we know it today, it most certainly will bankrupt many satellite broadcasters and possibly TIVO–unless those folks have something up their sleeves. And it doesn't matter if we are talking about satellite radio, satellite TV, cable, FM radio, or even multi-media TV and radio conglomerates such as Clear Channel. They all have a decidedly dim future. And there's not a thing they can do about it…..

HDD DVD is basically a computer hard drive system coupled with a DVD RWR (Read, write, re-write) player. The unit is merely switched on in the morning–no programming necessary–when you are heading out for work. When you return home, an on-screen menu will show you exactly what was recorded and at what times. The menu listing will allow you to click a button to immediately view only what you want to view and in what order–as easily as choosing a track on a CD. Television and radio commercials, or entire sections of programs, can be automatically deleted. I'm not talking technology that will be outrageously expensive either. Through some investigation, I found that Wal-Mart will be offering units at $299 dollars by this Christmas in the United States. Perhaps $99 dollars by Christmas 2006?

Speculation on the potential hows and whys of financing the production of televised entertainment in a world such as Rogers sees looming–or reasons why he's all wet–welcome.

NEXT: He Won't Do the Time

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  1. I’m not really sure I understand this argument, which is not my backhanded way of saying I disagree — I just don’t understand it.

    What you pay for on an ongoing basis with TiVo is the TV schedule information. You can use a TiVo as a hard-drive VCR (i.e., you manually enter in the time and channel to be recorded) for the cost of buying the unit — about $100 — and never pay another cent. I pay $99/year for the schedule information because it makes the unit much more useful to me. What recording technology is used (hard drive, rewritable DVD) isn’t really of interest to me.

    I can imagine that you could build a box that could retrieve schedule information from some free source, and that would obviously be a TiVo-killer, but I don’t think there is a free source for that information. (I know that you can get that information from Yahoo!, for instance, but only on their web pages. Yahoo! pays some company — I think Tribune Media — for that data because they want you to look at their ads. You can’t just suck the data from Yahoo!, and if you wrote a Perl script to do that they’d probably rewrite their pages to block it.)

    So what am I missing here?

  2. alkali,

    It records everything — what you want, and what you don’t want. You just delete what you don’t want later, and keep the rest.

    Most cable signal feeds have some kind of list for what’s scheduled, along with a date/time stamp. So if you know the day and the time and the channel of something you want to watch, you just select it.

    I have my doubts about big media going away. They have interesting ways to protect their turf. Also, digital broadcasts are coming in 2007, which might mess up the formatting.

  3. I built and programmed myself a linux box that does basically the same thing, but this one sounds more user-friendly.

  4. I will step up and disagree – what’s described here is no more than an evolutionary advance on the Tivo. Tivo has avoided DVD RW because of legal copy protection issues. If those issues are eliminated, there’s nothing (other than dubious patents) that would prevent Tivo or Replay from offering the same concept.

    Second, there’s the monthly fee – I paid a big premium on my Replay so I wouldn’t have one. But the cost of collecting the programming is the same. There is a free service out there, but they don’t allow it to be used for commercial products (only for open source).

    Third, given their brand-name dominance, if Tivo were to OEM one of these boxes and put their UI on top, they’d probably have the top seller in the market. I’ve owned a ReplayTV for 3 1/2 years now, never owned a TiVo, and I find myself referring to the Replay as a TiVo.

  5. While you don’t have to pay for the program information, don’t you still have to pay for Comcast (or whoever) to bring the program to your house? Also, I have an ATI All-in-Wonder video card in one of my puters, and it has something called Guide+, which is just like the TiVo system, only it’s just 7 day out, and it’s free. The other downside is that it records evrything, all day, and you delete what you want, right? How does it record all 90 channels worth of all day programing without multiple inputs? Why would I want the hassle of deleting 8 hours times 90 channels worth of all the crap I don’t want?

    I’ll stick with my computer: All of the advantages, none of the hassle.

  6. No there there. My grandmother in Oz has one of these. I have (until recently. More on that momentarily) TiVo. Comparatively, hers is garbage. I get the distinct impression that Mike has never engaged in ongoing use of a PVR, because if he had he would recognize his own bizarre ranting.

    TiVo’s already planning on supporting DVD-burning (with DRM) via a home media network. The current series may already do this, in fact. I haven’t kept up. It’s possible to roll your own very easily with Snapstream, GB-PVR, MythTV or any other of a large number of technologies that turn your computer into a PVR with a DVD burner. What Mike fails to recognize is that most people don’t care. The number of people who want to manually archive television episodes is very small.

    And I think it’s all moot. Comcast is currently rolling the best technology. We just picked up their latest box, which includes a PVR with twice the capacity of a TiVo (though a horrible interface) and their OnDemand service, which lets you pick from any of a few thousand shows on their servers, and it will instantly blow it down to your TV over their cable. This is quite likely to be the future of television. The cable companies will convert into television libraries, where you check out whatever show you want to watch whenever you want to watch it, without the irritation of having to setup a PVR.

    “It records everything — what you want, and what you don’t want. You just delete what you don’t want later, and keep the rest.”

    No chance. MPEG-2 typically encodes to 3.5 gigs an hour per show roughly. 24 hours of programming on one channel is about 80 gigs, or larger than most consumer hard drives. We get about 80 channels, which would be 6.4 terabytes a day. Also, unless the streams are already being sent down in a digital format that can be written directly to the drive (increasingly, but not universally, true), you would need one MPEG encoder chip per channel.

  7. None of these devices have a DIGITAL output. They are all analog and will remain so. The Movie industry wont allow the manu’s to make a device with a Digital OUT that is not copy protected and they control. With the Broadcast Flag due 7-1-05 then the industry will start flagging shows they wont allow you to tape. They have been trying to get around the Sony/Betamax decision back in the 70’s that allowed the VCR come into existence. All TV’s and electronic devices must incorporate the Flag after that date. You can buy Digital PC cards and the MythTV software to run on Linux that turn you PC into a Digital Video Recorder and record both High Def and Standatd TV. But after 7-1-05 it is illegal to make a device without the Flag capability. So get your stuff now.

  8. Weasels will find a way to make money no matter what.

  9. sidereal sez:

    No chance. MPEG-2 typically encodes to 3.5 gigs an hour per show roughly. 24 hours of programming on one channel is about 80 gigs, or larger than most consumer hard drives.

    (1) It encodes in MPEG-4. (300 megabytes per hour.)

    (2) The hard drive is upwards of 300 gigs. 80 gigs is a small drive these days, my friend.

  10. you are going to have nowhere near hdtv quality with ~683 kbps (excluding audio, which would be at least a few hundred if you wanted decent surround for your home theatre) mpeg4.

  11. I can’t stand primetime programs, why would I record unwatchable daytime crap? It’s a 300 buck box for soap opera addicts. Big deal.

  12. Tivo has already been paired with a DVD-R. I know Pioneer made two consumer grade products last year. Had quad speed HD>DVDR dump, tons of jacks, the works. So what’s the BFD?

  13. do the math, even 300GB drive doesn’t come out to a full day, not to mention you need a seperate feed for each station

  14. I would rather my cable company do all the hard work for me, and just let me select the TV shows I want to see – like the pay channels already do with a large number of Movies On Demand.

  15. I concur, I don’t think the author of the article grasps why you pay a fee to TiVo. Not only do you get the upcoming show schedule, you also get software updates from TiVo.

  16. No devices record ALL the channels. You have to have a tuner for EACH channel you record. To be able to records ONE channel and watch the another requires you have 2 tuners. That is all you can record. We have the new Cox Cable DVR which is a Motorola 6120 which has 2 tuners and a 120 gig HD. It records standard TV and High Def. But again it only outputs standard 480i analog signal. If you want to tape or burn to DVD you will only get Standard Def equal to VCR or regular TV. You cant burn a digital copy of anything. Even if the new BluRay discs come out they will be prevented from copying HD from network TV since their is no direct Digital out. And the Broadcast Flag will still be there. They wont let you copy Sopranos if they dont want to. Even with the Cable DVR, the flag enables studios to have the ability to erase it when they want to. They may only let you keep it on the drive for 2 or 3 days then they will erase itself depending on what they have the flag set to allow you to do. If they decide it is HIGH VALUE content they may not allow you to copy it even to the DVR.

  17. For what it’s worth, Mark Cuban tackled this question a few months ago. I don’t agree with everything he says, but it’s interesting, especially from someone at the vanguard of HD technology.

    http://www.blogmaverick.com/entry/7706137582525561/

  18. What everyone else has said. This post completely misses the fact (and no, I didn’t RTFA, so it might be in there) that the programming has to come from somewhere. And in the US at least, unless we’re proposing a near future where everything — and I mean everything — is delivered in an over-the-air, HD digital signal, a prospect for which “bloody unlikely” seems far too kind, it’s trivial for content deliverers to scramble the entire thing unless an addressable device of some kind exists at the viewer’s end. And at that point, they have control over what kind of signal you can get and what you can do with it.

  19. Tivo can stop charging the monthly fee any time they want. Tivo probably plans to drop the charges the moment the cost of lost sales to no-fee competitors exceeds the value of that monthly revenue stream. I’m pretty sure they’re looking at finding advertisers to support the service. Or maybe they’ll enhance the value of the Tivo service by offering not-quite-on-demand downloads: Pick the video at Netflix and it’s downloaded to your Tivo by the next evening.

    I think Tivo is in the same place as any other vendor when it comes to DVD burning: fearful of the legal wrath of Big Content.

    Tivo could easily blow their chance bacause of all the tricky timing and partnering problems, but it’s hardly a forgone conclusion that they will.

  20. Uh, I think mrbill knows more about this topic than Mike Rogers.

    Further, I’ve had a non-TiVo Toshiba HDD DVD for 18 months now and North Carolina is not in Asia.

    It is quite fun, but is in no way revolutionary. For one thing, there is about 300-pages of manual to master and no interface anywhere is as easy to use as TiVo’s.

    The combo of time-shifted HDD content and permanent DVDs is hard to beat for AV geeks though.

  21. I read the article. It’s just a jumble of wide trends, not a convincing analysis of *anything*. The whole article boils down to “the internet will kill all other media”.

    Here’s my equally-in-depth counter-analysis:
    I saw exactly the same trends predicted by a bunch of bright-eyed internet startups 10 years ago. Remember the lessons those guys learned? (1) Content is King. (2) The guys who own the Content aren’t about to start giving it away. (3) The public isn’t going to be satisfied sifting through mountains of low-grade free crap to try to find something they like kinda sorta almost as much. Particular content delivery systems will come and go. Oh well.

  22. Think HD DVD is the wave of the future? Its aready becoming obsolete. Two words: Blue Ray.

  23. I threw out my TV in 1971 and am very happy.

    The trouble with video is that it takes over the room. A radio is capable of admitting that you’re in fact doing something else, which in fact is the case.

  24. Yeah, Ron. TV is dead. No one watches it any more because too much is on.

  25. Discussions about TiVo killers need to realize it isn’t about price, media or technology. It’s the usability.

    My cable company offers a very cheap DVR option for $10 a month with no upfront cost. But I won’t touch it with a ten-foot pole because the software on the thing blows chunks.

  26. If it will not block out commercials, forget it!

  27. As others have pointed out, this isn’t exactly new. This – http://www.kiss-technology.com/?p=dp150408&v=users – has been on my gadget wish-list for a while. Though if it goes mass-market, obviously that would have some impact.

  28. This thing records EVERYTHING? IF that is possible which I doubt, I wouldn’t want to spend the time searching through a thousand or so programs for the ones I do want to watch.

  29. well i can strip out ads on hit & run as well… so what?

    http://69.90.152.144/collab/GreaseMonkeyUserScripts

  30. I don’t buy it. How is it going to effect satellite tv? Direct TV or Dish Network. Someone has to broadcast the shows.

  31. A more likely satellite and cable killer is BitTorrent. It’s a bit further in the future though.

  32. Here’s how it works in the real world. Movie studios sell their product to HBO, Showtime, Encore. They turn around and sell it to cable and satellite companies which charge a monthly subscription. Now unless HBO etc etc are going to start beaming their stuff over the web, someone is going to have to broadcast the stuff. So I think this Rogers guy is sorta off his rocker. What he’s talking about is a next generation TiVo.

    I can see in the future where everyones TV set will be just one big computer

  33. Did anyone mention Comcast just bought TiVo the other day?

  34. I think most of you have missed the main meat of his article, yes technology has pushed what you can do in terms of collection and sorting of television media, but his main point was that coupling this with internet media(radio, news, blogs, and in the future tv) Big Media will have a pretty tough time in collecting millions from sponsors to put trash on tv.

  35. So these products will kill TV?

    Anybody remember the VCR? Didn’t they tell us that would “kill” tv? But what do do you know, it only increased the publics appetite.

    Change TV sure. Kill it? Not likely.

  36. Both Verizon and SBC are now dragging FIBER OPTIC to the home (FTTH) they will be offering pure optical feeds eventually so cable will be getting competition very soon. I would guess that cable will eventually have to drag Fiber directly into each house to compete. Now they only have fiber out to the local nodes, than copper to the home.

  37. Dial 1-800-WAAAH, Mike. Let the market decide. If this HDD-DVD ends up being a better, user-friendlier product with no monthly fees, it will kick TiVo’s ass. If it doesn’t, TiVo will be safe. That’s a fact.

    “it most certainly will bankrupt many satellite broadcasters and possibly TIVO–unless those folks have something up their sleeves.”

    If they don’t have something up their sleeves, and they’re not offering entertainment people want in a easy-to-enjoy format and a reasonable price, um, then, haven’t they earned extinction? Sorry, what’s the big tragedy here?

  38. Well, where I live Tivo with regular DirecTV satellite service only costs $5 extra per month (not $12) and all the hardware (recorder, dish) is free (with a one year service commitment). I don’t see how having to pay $299 up front will threaten that.

    Anyway, as others have said, Tivo is more than just a high tech VCR. It searches out programs and records them automatically for you, based on information you give it (title, actor, director, keyword, genre, etc.) Just enter a show once and it can record the whole season for you. Watch it all at your leisure and zap out the commercials. And while I also agree that the average viewer probably doesn’t care that much about archiving every episode of the X-Files or whatever to DVD, I don’t see why you can’t do that with a Tivo right now. It would be an analog video signal (with digital audio though) but it would still look better than VHS tape. Or, if you have enough disk space (I think the newest Tivos can store 200 or so hours of regular programming, or much less of HD) you can just save the shows or movies you want right on the Tivo.

  39. The TIVO killers are already here, courtesy of your cable company. I have a Motorola 6412 HD cable box with built-in PVR. The software is not as good as TIVO, but it’s getting there. I go through the program guide, and just hit the record button on any program I want to record. I can set up ‘series’ recordings that will look for the show on any channel and record it when it finds it. The box has two tuners, so you can record two channels simultaneously, even while watching a 3rd program from the hard drive. When I’m watching live TV, the box streams to the hard drive so that any time I can hit pause to go to the bathroom or answer the phone, or rewind to see something I missed.

    The box also has numerous outputs, including firewire for connection to a PC or external hard drive or DVD burner for recording. And, this box receives and record High Definition television. I pay no extra monthly fee for these services, but I did have to buy the box outright.

    But here’s the big limitation: content protection. The cable company can block any content it wants, preventing it from being output through the firewire port. Currently, HD content goes through the firewire port downsampled to TV resolution and 4:3 aspect ratio. If I request a pay-per-view movie, the hard drive will not record it.

    The content companies are trying to push to require any hi-def boxes to only output their content on encrypted HDCP outputs, so that they can block anyone from recording them.

    This where the real fight will be, as many of the limits the content providers are seeking basically prevent you from exercising fair-use of the content. The technology is already here, and has been for some time.

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