TiVo close to Comcast deal
March 15, 2005 4:32 AM   Subscribe

TiVo saved? After a grim 4Q04 conference call, focusing on bells and whistles for which there's little evidence of customer demand, it's now reported that TiVo is on the verge of striking a deal with Comcast to integrate TiVo software and services into Comcast's integrated tuner-DVRs. TiVo needs this deal very, very badly...
posted by MattD (29 comments total)
Bad, Bad, Bad, BAD!!!
I've always suspected that the reason Tivo didn't do so well in the UK was because Sky TV tricked them into doing something that meant they couldn't licence the tivo s/w to multiple manufacturers.

(Circumstantial Evidence #1: Sky Plus (PVR) doesn't use Tivo, and yet Sky are in charge of Monthly Tivo Billing. w.t.f.)

I'm sure that if Sky hadn't been involved with Tivo UK, they'd have done better.

As it is, they're rather stupidly getting into bed with the same company in the U.S. If this is a business decision, it's an extremely short sighted one. I just hope that their lawyers are clever enough to avoid being hobbled by Murdoch.

They have a top of the class product, and yet they seem to have no ability to use that advantage.

And, why, oh why didn't they just licence this as software?
posted by seanyboy at 4:48 AM on March 15, 2005

It needs the deal because TiVo's current cable products are incompatible with HDTV and can record only one program at a time. TiVo's growth has been powered by early adopters, so the loss of HDTV watchers (definitionally an early adopter community) has been a big hindrance to the company reaching the next level.

One good thing for TiVo about this deal, compared to TiVo's integrated tuner-DVR deal with DirecTV, is that Comcast has no incentive to block TiVo from remarketing its cable solution to the other big cable companies, and plenty of incentive to do so, since anything which strengthens cable generally will weaken non-cable competitors in Comcast's own territories.

On preview -- Seanboy, Comcast isn't owned by Murdoch. DirecTV is, and TiVos been in business with them for six years. Murdoch is gradually unwinding the alliance in favor of his own generic DBS DVR.
posted by MattD at 4:50 AM on March 15, 2005

oops. Misread that one. Comcast isn't the same as News Coorporation. Please ignore that last comment.
posted by seanyboy at 4:50 AM on March 15, 2005

posted by seanyboy at 4:51 AM on March 15, 2005

The deal has been announced. For more details see any of the following articles: AP, Reuters, PRNewswire or TiVo's 8-k
posted by sequential at 6:26 AM on March 15, 2005

What does Tivo bring to the table that isn't already in Comcast's DVR service? Granted, I've never used Tivo; but I subscribe to comcast's DVR service, and it seems to record shows pretty much as well as you'd expect. Is it mostly about the name?
posted by BigPicnic at 6:38 AM on March 15, 2005

Does anyone know what's going to happen to current TiVo subscribers?
posted by miss tea at 6:54 AM on March 15, 2005

BigPicnic: at its core, TiVo offers a much more flexible and powerful user interface than do the generic Scientific Atlanta and Motorola DVRs.

Enhancements include a somewhat better program guide, more and much better ad hoc and automatic ways to search the program guide and select shows to record, and significantly more sophisticated ways to manage the archive of recorded shows and the queue of shows scheduled to be recorded.

TiVo also offers a second tier of media management and access software for things like MP3s and sharing / mobile viewing of one's recorded media.

Miss Tea -- the 8k doesn't provide details on your question. TiVo might permit a one-time transfer of lifetime memberships by Comcast subscribers from their current standalone TiVos to ComcasTivo boxes, but I wouldn't count on it. An interesting question is whether the installed base of Comcast DVRs can be converted to TiVos by software and firmware downloads, or if new boxes will be required (and, if so, whether they'll be provided on monthly charge basis, like current cable STBs and DVRs, or at a customer-payable equipment acquisition cost, like current DirecTivo integrated boxes).
posted by MattD at 7:04 AM on March 15, 2005

BigPicnic, while there is certain marketability of the name, the Comcast DVR (single tuner) is nothing like the Series 2 or Series 2 TiVo. The dual tuner DVR is closer to TiVo, but there are major differences. Some of the features hinted at in the deal are:

1) WishList.
2) Season Pass
3) HMO, which includes:4) HME (more on pvrblog)
5) TiVoToGo
posted by sequential at 7:08 AM on March 15, 2005

"Series 2 or Series 2" should read "Series 2 or Series 1".
posted by sequential at 7:14 AM on March 15, 2005

It's official, Comcast will be rolling out TiVo cable boxes in 2006.
posted by revgeorge at 7:26 AM on March 15, 2005

So, I'm a Comcast customer who's been ready to jump into the TiVo pool for the last couple of weeks (steeply discounted hardware). Does it make more sense to buy a unit for $100 and start subscribing to TiVo (and their superior content) now or should I just start subscribing to the Comcast service and wait for TiVo to come to me? Will my TiVo box be useful after the integration?
posted by krtzmrk at 8:06 AM on March 15, 2005

krtzmrk, if you want TiVo now, you should buy one of the deeply discounted boxes. The rebates will be fewer and farther between in the future.

When the Comcast TiVo boxes are available, I expect TiVo subscribers will still be able to use the hardware they already own with any cable provider. Comcast is not purchasing TiVo, so TiVo subscribers and Comcast subscribers will differ in who they pay, not in the services they receive, at least not substantively.

TiVo is producing a new box that should beat the Comcast box to market by six months, early in 2006. My speculation is that existing TiVo subscribers will be unaffected by this change. The Comcast box may be cheaper with no startup cost, but may still have a different feature set than the new TiVo boxes, like requiring Comcast service.
posted by sequential at 8:32 AM on March 15, 2005

Has any one see this article?
posted by jsavimbi at 8:59 AM on March 15, 2005

Matt/Sequential- that's cool, I guess I'm pretty psyched then. Hopefully it won't accompany a substantial price hike thoguh. The $10/month DVR service adds to my cable bill is, I think, the same as Tivo currently costs anyway.
posted by BigPicnic at 9:03 AM on March 15, 2005


I hate Comcast with a passion...I have never had service as bad as with the people at Comcast. My girlfriend and I have had Tivo for about a year and a half, and love it. When we recently moved our only option for cable service was Comcast...and they completely blew it. Their installer was incompetent, they overcharged our service 3 months in a row(even after calling customer service each time), and when we cancelled our service they gave us a bill for four cable boxes(we had one) which came to about $1000. Only after a long and frustrating month of customer service calls and legal threats did they credit us for the extra boxes. After all this they send a customer satisfaction survey...anyone else ever use profanity on one of those? The only other option open to us was DirectTV which as noted above is owned by Murdoch (uugghh)


All in all i think that Tivo is making a mistake, but it is to be expected. The user interface for their DirectTV DVRs is almost useless compared to their standalone units(i.e. does not group shows according to show name in "folders" = very annoying)

Anyone know the status of Tivo's proposed merger with Netflix?
posted by schyler523 at 9:27 AM on March 15, 2005

I hate Comcast with a passion...

I'll second that. I'm stuck with Comcast since DirecTV requires that you spend $1000 on a DVR to record HDTV, and it's missing a firewire output. With Comcast I get an HDTV DVR with firewire output for $10/mo. That said, if the DTV box had firewire output I'd spend $1000 just to never have to deal with Comcast support again.

When I had my cable installed a few weeks ago, I took the afternoon off for my 12- 4 appointment. After several calls the installer showed up at 6:30 and installed a defective DVR.

When I called about the defective DVR, a borderline-retarded support person told me I was hitting an incorrect button, and that it was a "customer education issue".

I patiently explained that I was not hitting that button, and the DVR did not respond to any button on the remote or front panel. I thought I'd gotten through and she gave me an appointment for that afternoon.

I took another afternoon off of work, and the installer showed up without a DVR, saying it was noted as a customer education issue, and that they never have a DVR on same-day calls. I called support again, and they agreed to have someone out at 5 the following day so that I wouldn't have to waste any more vacation time.

The next day the installer showed up at 3:45 and left a note that he'd missed me.

I finally got an installer out with a new DVR on Sunday. The new one hasn't locked up yet, but did reboot itself in the middle of a recording last night.

I've written a letter to the Comcast board of directors to try and get the entire support department reorganized, but I'm not holding my breath.

I find Comcast support to not be just poor, but to be actively harmful.

btw, they refer you straight to legal and end the conversation if you mention a lawsuit. They seem to have a lot of experience with enraged customers.
posted by Malenfant at 10:38 AM on March 15, 2005

The user interface for their DirectTV DVRs is almost useless compared to their standalone units(i.e. does not group shows according to show name in "folders" = very annoying)

This is DirecTV's fault, not TiVo's -- they wouldn't roll out TiVo 4.0 to their subscribers. The 4.0 software release will run on DirecTV boxes as well as on standalones. And they won't give subscribers the Home Media Option either. This is incredibly frustrating to DirecTV owners.
posted by kindall at 10:47 AM on March 15, 2005

I'm wondering if this has any significance at all.... (other than perhaps slightly happier Comcast customers who dont have to deal with the SciAtl or Motorola crap software).

From what I've read, Tivo is supposed to come out with a CableCard capable, Hi-Def Tivo in early 2006. So regardless of what cable company you have, in early 2006 you can buy a Tivo and take it home and plug it into the cable system and get your cablecard and be able to watch TV, and probably have a more complete feature set vs these SciAtl or Moto boxes with Tivo software on them.

The only benefit I see is negating the large startup cost of a Tivo (I'd assume a Hi-Def cable card Tivo would cost about $500).
posted by SirOmega at 11:35 AM on March 15, 2005

FWIW, There have been other deals in the past between TiVo and other companies - AOL ring a bell? The bottom line remains to be seen.
posted by tomplus2 at 11:42 AM on March 15, 2005

...as for non-TiVo DVRs, all I have to say is "HA!". I have a series 1, and an HDTV dvr (motorola 6208 as provided by insight cable). Sure, it timeshifts HTDV, but it's a Piece-o-Crap(TM). I could rant for hours about how bad it is compared to my Tivo. They even just updated the OS/UI, and it's still the biggest POS I've ever used.

It's a bummer to see Tivo struggling so much. It's too bad that no one else has a clue about how to make a dvr. I really wish Tivo had a cable card ready unit.
posted by tomplus2 at 11:50 AM on March 15, 2005

The 4.0 software release will run on DirecTV boxes as well as on standalones.

Is there a way to install 4.0 on a DTV DVR?

*crosses fingers
posted by schyler523 at 12:14 PM on March 15, 2005

It's a bummer to see Tivo struggling so much. It's too bad that no one else has a clue about how to make a dvr.

Well, if you want something done right, do it yourself.
posted by BigPicnic at 12:27 PM on March 15, 2005

So far the COmcast box I have here has been awesome. Rock solid, dirt cheap ($5 a month or so) and dual tuner with HDTV compatability.

I can set series recordings, and compared to the TiVO I use the interface is blazingly fast. The only thing missing I can see is that "thumbs up / down" stuff... and I never use it.

HDTV, dual tuner, digital cable compatability and no need to try and McGuyver the damn IR emitter that TiVo needs at the moment... oh yeat, it was a no brainer.
posted by soulhuntre at 1:44 PM on March 15, 2005

$5 a month or so
That's not even remotely close to what it costs. Comcast is advertising it's DVR heavily right now as $9.95 more than you currently pay.

There's a few catches though. The actual fee for the DVR service is $15. $5.05 of that price is for "cable box and remote control rental fee". However, your DVR replaces your cable box and you pretty much need the remote.

Secondly, you must have digital service in order to get the DVR. That's $10 more than their analog service. Considering about a third of all Comcast customers have digital cable, for most people this makes the cost of the DVR $25.00 more a month.

If you have the most basic package, which works just fine with TiVo, but is only about 15 channels and costs less than $10 a month, you would have to pay $45 to upgrade to digital, on top of the $15 a month fee for DVR service.

None of these packages include HD content, which is a separate service which costs an additional $10 a month.

Sure, the Comcast DVR has two tuners. Sure it can record HD content. Can you use your Comcast DVR with any cable provider? Can you upgrade your Comcast DVR to have two 250 Gb hard drives? Can you change the quality of your recordings to save space? Can you take the content off the drive and watch it on your PC or burn it to a disk?

In no way am I bashing the Comcast DVR, but it is not a TiVo, for all the good and bad that TiVo boxes are. Not to mention, it doesn't cost an extra $5.00 a month.
posted by sequential at 2:46 PM on March 15, 2005

In my experience, the TiVo is very ergonomic and subtly attractive in appearance, not unlike high end electronics. And the little TiVo guy on the screen is a lively animation for being so limited. I even like the bleeps and bloops that the system makes.

Smooth products rarely disappear; but sometimes they do. Luxman electronics never made the jump from $5000 electronics to mass market electronics in the late 80's to early 90's despite wonderful interfaces, quality, and longevity. Mercedes has made the jump with it's new line of affordable models.

TiVo makes TV viewable. I am glad TiVo is going to be around for a while longer.
posted by buzzman at 3:08 PM on March 15, 2005

Is there a way to install 4.0 on a DTV DVR?

On a TiVo-based one: yes, and a lot more, too.

DTV is apparently rolling out a new release that includes folders and a faster program guide, but still none of the Home Media Option features. And of course the hacks don't work on it yet either...
posted by kindall at 3:31 PM on March 15, 2005

Can you change the quality of your recordings to save space?

I think there is a fundamental misunderstanding of how Tivo stand-alone boxes work VS. Comcast DVR, DirectTivo, etc. (disclosure: I write set-top guide/DVR/etc software for a non-Comcast, non-Tivo company -- wont say who as these are my personal opinions and not the companys).

A stand-alone box like a Tivo or Replay you get from Best Buy takes an analog signal and re-encodes it, usually using a hardware MPEG2 encoder. This process is lossy, and thus there are "quality settings" which tweak the trade-off between recording space and video quality.

An integrated DVR does NOT re-encode the signal. It takes an already encoded MPEG (or H264, or whatever other standard the provider uses for digital video) and copies those bits directly to the hard drive. When you play back, you get exactly the same quality as if you watched the show live, b/c they are the same bits. So, of course you can't change the quality setting, that would not be possible, you are not re-encoding the video.

Nor would you want to. What sucks about stand-alone encoders on a digital system like satellite or digital cable is that they take a lossy-encoded digital signal which has been converted to analog, RE-ENCODE it to digital with another lossy compression step, then re-convert it to analog for display (on most TVs). This produces absolutely horrid video quality. It's not their fault, per se, it's just how things work. Integrated DVR will always be better because you are not re-encoding the video, you will always get the best possible quality (which can still suck --- Comcast for example has abysmal quality on their standard-def channels, and when re-encoded with Tivo or Replay I find it unwatchable. However, they give a LOT of bits to their HD channels, so even a standard-def show will look great on one of the HD channels (say, a standard-def Simpsons episode on the HD Fox channel).

Of course, there are other downsides to integrated DVR (they can enforce more restrictions from your provider, are less expandable/moddable b/c you rent instead of buy, etc). Personally, I find the video quality issue significant enough to never go back to stand-alone (for someone with analog cable this isn't an issue as you pretty much have to encode the video in your home anyway), especially for HD.

If you want to take the content off your integrated DVR, you can stream the analog output to your PC and encode --- and will get the same results as a stand-alone Tivo (possibly better, as you can choose to use an insane amount of disk space and achieve somewhat better quality than Tivo's higher settings). While the integrated ones COULD allow you to take perfect digital copies (well, as perfect as the headend encoded), no provider will let you do this (presumably even with Tivo), as their providers (networks) would freak out.
posted by wildcrdj at 6:30 PM on March 15, 2005

Myth TV - feature laden, open source DVR
posted by Mr_Zero at 7:56 PM on March 21, 2005

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