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HD PVRs – Rock and Hard Place

May 19, 2005

Thomas Hawk has some comments on my Dish 942 article.

Thomas writes:

These type of HDTV PVRs will be the competition for TiVo and Media Center going forward. It will be important that TiVo and Media Center are able to distinguish themselves in the HDTV PVR space in order to convince people that it is worth spending the money over what you can get for free (kinda free anyway) from your cable or satellite provider.

Absolutely — and there’s the rub.

HD sources come in three forms today — broadcast, cable, and satellite. For broadcast, you can get your local channels, unencrypted. Cable and Satellite come with their own encryption on board, and by and large, there’s no way to get the unencrypted data stream into a standalone PVR.

At the moment, the only way to get HD “premium services” (anything other than local broadcast) into a PVR is if the cable or satellite company provides the PVR.

DirecTV offers the HD Tivo, but the price-point is awfully high for a “provider” PVR, and DirecTV’s current ownership is just as liable to orphan it as they have the DirecTivo. Since the satellite providers seem to be getting ready to shift to MPEG4, buying this (as opposed to leasing a PVR like the 942) is a real risk, as the odds of them doing a free upgrade of the box to MPEG4 seem pretty slim.

The cable PVRs I’ve seen are an unfortunate joke, with horrific usability issues. Having spent a little “quantity” time with a Comcast box, I’d rather chew razor blades.

It’s possible that CableCard will offer a solution for getting content onto a standalone PVR, but I’m not holding out a great deal of hope, as if it ever appears it’s liable to come along with all of the “transitional fair use” garbage that’s appearing on cable company PVRs.

In short, there’s still no good anwers for HD PVRs if you want to use them for anything other than local content. I put the Dish 942 in the category of “less evil than most” alternatives.

Would I rather do HD on my MCE box? Or on a “DIY” PVR system like SageTV? Absolutely. In fact, I’ll probably add an HD tuner to my MCE box before fall, as there are a couple of network series I follow that I could record in HD from broadcast.

The fact is, I trust companies like Sage (and even to a degree, Microsoft) a lot further than I do the cable or satellite companies (or even Tivo at this point) to not go out of their way to take away my ease of use to appease the content providers.

But until there’s a way to get the premium content into a standalone box, so I can watch things like HBO series in HD, it’s still just half a loaf, I’m afraid.

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