The unseating of Tivo

The Myka TV Torrent Box

The Myka TV Torrent Box

Every once in a while from the world of tech pops a ground breaking device. The Slingbox, the iPod and the iPhone immediately come to mind. But before all of these came Tivo. Tivo identified a pain point with analog cable and fixed it with a cool UI, intuitive program guide and most importantly recording features that not only allowed customers to watch programs when they wanted but also smartly skipped the annoying commercials. Before long, Tivo enjoyed a cult status.

Late 2006 saw Google taking over YouTube for $1.65B. While it didn’t seem obvious to some of us then, in hindsight it does seem like a fantastic move. Today more that 10% of all internet traffic is attributed to YouTube. Last year saw the birth of Hulu which stood out from YouTube by breaking away from the popular UGC (User Generated Content) and focusing on studio content from NBC and News Corp (Fox). They host all their popular TV shows (full length) on this site, to be streamed on demand. The personal video recorder on the web was suddenly born. This then led to the birth of set top boxes like VuDu, Roku and the likes that allowed you to watch the same streams on your large screen TV instead of on your PC. Tivo too has joined the bandwagon now by announcing support for NetFlix, Amazon Unbox and CinemaNow (Haven’t heard of Hulu support on TiVo yet).

There is still one fundamental problem with this approach. While the world is shifting to HD broadcasts, bandwidth limitations create a barrier to large scale adoption of streaming HD content. According to the Hulu website the minimum bandwidth requirement to view HD content is a 2.5mbps internet connection and this for a 720p resolution. Note that NBC’s regular broadcasts are at 1080i. Even with 720p there is 1.5mbps requirement. If streaming has to truly replace broadcast TV, the viewing experience has to be identical – no breaks, stutters, pixelization and ideally little or no latency.

However, increased bandwidth requirements imply increasing cost to the customer. In addition in countries like India where over 90% of  “broadband” is at 256kbps these shows are practically unwatchable. [Note that Hulu and many others still don’t allow you to view content outside of the US…but I believe (validated by text on the Hulu site) that its only a matter of time before they ink the legal agreements with the content owners to allow worldwide streaming.]

However there is a new model emerging that allows you to watch TV in HD without any of the breaks & stutters associated with a low bandwidth internet connection. Welcome to the world of video torrents. This when combined with TVRSS makes for a very powerful modern day PVR. Subscribing to a TVRSS feed allows you to get notified every time a new episode of your favourite program is uploaded. The RSS feedreader then picks up the torrent file associated with the program and the bit torrent client downloads the file from several seeds hosting the same file on their PCs/NAS boxes. Your show is downloaded  into your hard drive and will be ready for uninterrupted viewing at your convenience. TVRSS is not restricted to the 200 channels that your cable TV company broadcasts (which was Tivo’s forte) but in effect covers almost all media channels the world over. Here is an interesting article on how to set one up at home.

The recent announcement of the Myka box makes this setup a whole lot easier. I now see devices like Myka unseating Tivo (unless TiVo incorporates these features) and truly breaking the shackles imposed by cable and satllite TV companies.

The internet has changed media distribution forever and there will definitely be a fresh look at business models given the new distribution channel. Note that the internet is a very powerful distribution channel given its ability to target its viewers and collect metrics and viewing patterns when compared to one way broadcast channels.

Will Myka be the new Tivo? We’ll just have to wait and see.

Stay tuned….


5 Comments to “The unseating of Tivo”

  1. Yes, I too think this could be a big deal in the iTV evolution.

    Things that excite me in Myka:
    – Open source hardware (have already been smitten by openmoko for instance)

    – Linux based s/w architecture (with the promise of access to the guts of the system for developers)

    – Fairly small memory requirement @ 256MB; processing requirements are frugal too @ 450DMIPS

    – The UI is nothing to write home about; at least not yet

    – Support for 1080p seems to be missing (myka website gives contradicting info on this), but is probably not a big issue, given the limited amount of content in that resolution

    – The BCM7403 SoC will not be able to play flash content (an x86/clone would’ve helped but then …); the scene may change soon, with Broadcom’s plans for partnership with Adobe for flash support


  2. Vinod,
    good to see you on line blogging! TiVo certainly of late seems to be innovating in fits & starts, responding to the market rather than driving it. Hopefully all this means the customer wins!

  3. TiVO should move to and harness markets like India, to make money. They are not even bothering to sell here, let along customize their EPG for indian diaspora! The only player in india with a integrated DVR offerring is TATA. There is a window for a good PVR device to be coupled to other set-tops and to the analog/digital cable connections.

    • This post on newteevee came out today:Why TiVo Is Struggling While Netflix Is Thriving
      An excerpt:
      The good news that came out of TiVo this week was that, encouraged by an initial $105 million patent-infringement ruling against DISH/Echostar, the company is now suing AT&T and Verizon with similar complaints. The bad news is that this is what passes for good news at TiVo these days.

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