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Posted by on Mar 3, 2010 in Science & Technology | 5 comments

TiVo Series 4: Broadband and Broadcast Together

We had a friend over for dinner Saturday and afterward watched a series of YouTube videos late into the night. We watched on the large living room screen with home theater sound via TiVo.

Logged in to YouTube on both TiVo and my laptop, I would favorite the video we wanted to watch on the laptop and it immediately appeared in My Favorites on TiVo. Not too difficult. Still, I’m guessing not a lot of people do that.

Sadly, the TiVo subscriber base fell by 21 percent last year, to 2.7 million, from 3.5 million the year before. Last night at a big Manhattan bash, TiVo debuted two new set-top boxes to try to reverse that:

The Premiere will cost $299 and will hold up to 45 hours of HD video content, while the Premiere XL will be available for $499 and will hold up to 150 hours of HD video.

But the real innovation is happening in the software, where TiVo is seeking to blend broadcast and broadband content into a single, easily searchable user interface. With the amount of content that is available not just on linear TV, but on broadband, [TiVo CEO Tom] Rogers said consumers need an easy way to weed through what is now an infinite amount of content. “The problem is that consumers can’t get all that broadband content to the TV, and even if they could, they couldn’t navigate it,” Rogers said.

In the new user interface…not only can you search by title, but you can also search through TV shows and movie titles by cast members, something Rogers called searching by six degrees of separation. The new TiVo search function also allows you to navigate through multiple collections, some of which are timely — like March Madness or Oscar films — and some of which are timeless, like the AFI Top 100 Movies list.

John P. Falcone of CNet’s Crave Gadget Blog details the new features:

  • Tight integration of TV and Web-based video content: An upgraded search function now ropes in results from compatible online video sources–including Netflix, Amazon Video On Demand, YouTube, and Blockbuster–as well as your TV listings. …
  • HD wide-screen interface: … Series4 delivers a user interface in true high definition, and it uses the full real estate available on a wide-screen display. (TiVo touts it as a Flash-based interface, though that TiVoRemote.pngshould not imply compatibility with all Flash-based content from the Web, such as Hulu.)
  • Additional content partners: Beyond Netflix, Amazon, YouTube, Blockbuster, and Rhapsody–already available on current Series3 TiVos–the new TiVos (and older Series3 models) will be getting Pandora and FrameChannel access “in the coming months.” Already available on some digital photo frame products, FrameChannel aggregates news, weather, and photo feeds that the user can customize.
  • New remote options: The default remote that ships with the Premiere DVRs is a slight derivation of TiVo’s famous “peanut” controller, but it now includes A, B, C, and D buttons for one-click contextual menu changes (such as sorting recorded program lists). More enticing will be a step-up remote (sold separately) that includes a slide-up QWERTY keyboard, similar to a smartphone.

The NYtimes sums up the challenge for TiVo

…as always, is to persuade consumers to spend the extra money for a premium service, when they can get a free, if inferior, set-top box from their cable or satellite company instead.

The new device “is of course elegant and wonderful in all the ways TiVo has historically been able to deliver,” said James L. McQuivey, an analyst at Forrester Research.

“The question is, do people need that well designed of a product? That’s got to be very painful for TiVo.”

The economy isn’t helping. But TiVo owners agree it’s well worth it. I’ve owned a TiVo since the first one was released in 1999. I bought lifetime service and put a TiVo decal in my car window. It’s there still.

Reuters has more from McQuivey:

“It’s easier to make the decision to go with the cable providers, and it’s easier to stay with your cable provider,” said Forrester Research analyst James McQuivey. “That’s the problem that TiVo faces. They offer a lot of benefits, but they still are saddled with a lot of barriers.”

McQuivey said that TiVo’s latest innovation is more likely to inspire a wave of upgrades by current users with older version’s of TiVo set-top boxes, rather than spur new customers to join.

It’s also a tough product to explain; the value is experienced rather than sold or described. TiVo is beautifully engineered with an engaging interface, the very best remote and top-notch customer service. Installation still takes an afternoon and a fair amount of patient diligence. For cable it’s simply a check-box add-on to a service bundle.

TiVo Series 4 Premiere DVRs will arrive in stores in early April.

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