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Lack of HD & multiple tuners killing Tivo?

November 15, 2005

Reuters reports on a new study that claims Tivo is rapidly losing mindshare…

Brandimensions, the research firm that conducted the study, said that TiVo’s standalone set-top box is failing in two areas: its inability to record two shows simultaneously and to play back shows in high-definition TV quality.

“This may not sound like a big deal,” wrote one TiVo user about the latter, “but after watching ‘Lost’ or ‘The Sopranos’ on HD, there is no going back.”

Can we have an “amen” from the congregation?

Providing multiple tuners is a big deal, with networks constantly scheduling leading shows against each other. That was one of the best reasons to have a (dual tuner) DirecTivo back in the day, and I’ve not had a DVR with a single tuner since.

The HD issue is bad and getting worse, and the real problem revolves around rights management (DRM) — sure you can do off-air HD DVR stuff today, but the real ongoing battle is going to be for premium content, which is going to require being able to capture the video stream after the cable or satellite provider has decoded it.

Capturing the rendered HD stream in 720p/1080i/1080p requires performance that isn’t in the hunt for today’s hardware (nor is it likely to be for a time), so that means that a DVR has to work with the provider to get the unscrambled MPEG2/4 stream before it is rendered.

Not surprisingly, today this pretty much means “an HD DVR from your content provider”, which vary from “Just Okay” (the DishPlayer 942 for instance) to “Orphan Stepchild” (the HD DirecTivo) to “Somebody Shoot Me” (the various HD Cable company DVRs).

In theory, this is what CableCARD is all about (at least for cable providers; I’ve not heard of an equivalent for satellite providers, but since both US alternatives are in the DVR business, I’m not holding my breath); today you can put a CableCARD in a “Cable Ready HD Set” that has a CableCARD slot, and amazingly enough, it actually becomes Cable Ready — you can view premium content without the set top box.

Support for this in third-party DVRs has been said to be coming for a while now, but so far it shows no sign of surfacing.

Anyone who gets this out the door, particularly in a multi-tuner HD & SD supporting DVR is going to have a major jump on the future third-party DVR market.

Anyway…

Despite the fact that the study draws a fairly defensible conclusion, I can’t help but wonder who commissioned it for the purpose of goring Tivo’s already badly-wounded ox… The article doesn’t give any clues, and the “methodology” certainly seems open to reaching some pretty subjective conclusions:

Brandimensions used its technology to gather such comments from Internet forums, discussion boards, blogs, chat rooms and other online sources. The firm searched more than 80,000 Web sites where digital video recorders were critiqued and used relevancy algorithms and other techniques to boil results down to 1,300 consumer mentions.

Ahem… You know, even in the Tivo world of historically loud drum-beating supporters, the percentage of unhappy users who bother to go online to bitch is far, far higher than the percentage of happy users who go out of their way to post how great a product is.

Details of their “relevancy algorithms and other techniques” aren’t mentioned, but in general, it’s tough to draw reasonable conclusions about a product online by counting pissy-to-thrilled post ratios…

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