TiVo for Comcast and Cox – and a brief summary of other things

I’ll have more to say later, but I wanted to toss out a few key points before I crash for a bit.

The biggest issue is that, contrary to what most of us believed previously, this software *is* running on OCAP, it is not a port to the Motorola hardware. Now, while OCAP is supposed to be a standard across platforms, it is still in its infancy, so it isn’t quite that simple. But it does mean that this code is fairly portable. The initial deployment will be to the Motorola 3400 and 6400 series set top boxes, but it will very likely be ported to other cable boxes. Hard drive capacity depends on the cable MSO and what they’ve deployed. For example, a 6412 has a 120GB, a 6408 has 80GB, etc.

Since this is an OCAP application, it is an entirely new code base. This isn’t really a ‘port’ of the TiVo software, it is an all-new implementation done in Java – which is required for OCAP applications. Even more than that, the entire thing is basically a big HME application. They used the HME toolkit to develop it – there is basically an HME client and server running together on the box. They’ve clearly expanded the HME toolkit from what is currently available to the public, but they don’t have immediate plans to update the public toolkit. That may happen down the road, but for now the engineering resources are needed on this project.

You’ll note, in the photos I posted, the new remote. When users opt for the TiVo software on their DVR, the remote will be mailed to them. It is basically the remote included with today’s Series2 units – except there are five additional buttons – and ‘OnDemand’ button and A, B, C, D buttons. The latter are required to be OCAP compliant, and they’re put to good use. In many screens the ‘A’ button can filter the data show. In the Guide it can toggle through filters such as ‘All’. ‘Movies’, ‘Kids’, ‘HD’, etc. In Searching it can rotate though ‘TV’, ‘OnDemand’, or ‘Both’. Which brings up a key point – it is fully integrated. So when you do a search it searches not only the standard cable channels, but also OnDemand content. Wishlists will also find both – though an Auto-Record Wish List will not automatically order an OnDemand program for you. Which is just logical I think. :-)

As it was a new implementation, they took the opportunity to revise some of the UI elements – and I really like what they’ve done. A lot of the UI uses a ‘two pane’ system, with navigation on the left and an expansion of the selected item on the right. This ‘flattens’ a lot of the UI, so you don’t have to drill down through as many menus. They also pulled the recording history out of the To Do List, and the To Do List screen is greatly enhanced. Now you can see what will record and what will not record, as well as checking specific days which will clearly display which programs will or will not record due to conflicts.

The Guide is color coded so you can tell what kind of content a program is at a glance. Currently only a grid guide is available, the ‘TiVo Style’ guide is not included, but it may be included in a future release. You’ll also notice a video window in the upper right of all the screens. That’s something Comcast insisted on, so it is common throughout the menu screens.

Searching has also been completely revised. On the current TiVos, Searching really isn’t, it is more like ‘filter by title’ than ‘search by title’. The word(s) you enter have to match from the start of the title. With this new search what you enter can match anywhere in the title, episode title, or description. The photos I posted show a demo of a search for ‘Rachael Ray’, and in the results you can see that it also highlights where the match is in the results – very slick.

You’ll notice an HD folder in the recordings list (aka Now Playing), note the photo of the screen when you’re in the photo. There is an episode summary at the top of the screen as you roll-over each episode in the folder. One thing that is missing on the Series3 is present – you can search and filter on HD content. So you can find shows that are only HD, setup Wishlists with ‘HD’ as a condition, etc. Wishlist creation has also been changed. It isn’t quited the ‘Advanced Wishlist’ capabilities with booleans, etc, but there are some more options.

So, what’s missing? ALL networking features – no ‘Music, Photos, Programs, & More’, no TiVoCast, no Guru Guides, no online scheduling, etc. However, Comcast is very much interested in networking features and the platform is still being developed and network features will be added in the future. Exactly which features are enabled will be up to the cable MSO. Also, KidZone is not currently part of this platform, but that is definitely coming.

I may be forgetting things, I’ll think about it more after some sleep.

As for the other photos – they have a display with the TGC box, with the Chinese interface (also shown last year), as well as the Spanish interface which will be deployed in Mexico. The Mexican deployment is using the standard S2DT hardware, it is just a UI change. I asked if we’ll see TiVos with a selectable UI – since there are non-English speakers in the US, of course. There aren’t plans for that right now, but it is certainly a possibility and the TiVo folks agreed that it makes sense. Personally, I think we’ll see that down the road.

They’re also showing off a new design for the TiVo website – and it is a radical change. The current design has been in place for several years now, and the new look reminded me a bit of iTunes 7 – and I overheard other people saying the same thing. It is a very slick design and I heard a number of appreciative comments about it. It may be live on the site later this month.

I also took a few photos of the new Roxio Toast 8 running on a Mac. The one closeup shows the option for TiVo style menus on burned DVDs, it looked fairly slick.

Finally, I took some general photos of their suite.

OK, sleep. :-)

EDIT 01/11/07: Today was the last day of CES and I wandered back over to TiVo near the end of the day, and had a chance to ask a couple of questions before the show closed and they kicked me out to pack up. :-)

I checked on some of the questions people have asked.

The current Comcast software does *not* have a ‘Native’ mode like the S3. it supports:
- 480i Fixed
- 480p Fixed
- 720p Fixed
- 1080i Fixed
- 720p Hybrid
- 1080i Hybrid

The hybrid modes are different than on the S3 – it means SD stats 480i, and HD is converted to the set resolution. Since the current software has the same issue, needing to be manually set to 720p or 1080i, with no ‘native’, maybe it is a deeper issue.

I also found out that some of the power of the box lives in a head-end server in the cable plant. For example, when you’re using the Search screen the first two characters you enter search locally in just the title, similar to TiVo today. But once you enter the third character it actually goes up to the server and does the extensive search in the title, episode title, and description. Most things are done locally, but since the boxes all have DOCSIS to talk to the head end, they use it.

There is a new 4x FF/RW speed. The person doing the demo didn’t know offhand what the speed was, but it looked very fast, I’m guessing 300x. So there is another sound too – one more pitch to the tone and you see four little arrows instead of the three we have today. FF/RW looks very responsive.

One thing I failed to mention, at least clearly, is that SPs and WLs have a setting to ‘get in HD if possible’, to prefer the HD version of a program if both SD and HD are available. To reiterate, Comcast is very interested in KidZone and network features. They will be coming, it is on the development road map. Right now the effort is to ship what they have in trials now and get it in the market, then update it later. Cable customers won’t really miss the features, since they don’t have them today. Keep in mind this software is aimed at cable customers using a cable DVR, and not existing TiVo users. Though, I think many TiVo users would be happy with the software even as it stands.

I also made my suggestion about Roxio releasing a lower price TTG product, just the Transfer and Player, and they said there is a possibility that Sonic could release a lower-priced SKU with a reduced feature set. And when I got back to my room I see TiVoBlog reporting that Roxio said pretty much the same thing at MacWorld.

I also asked about Closed Captions, and if they’re preserved when transfers are burned to DVD. The TiVo rep wasn’t positive, but believed that they are *not* preserved on the DVD.

About MegaZone

MegaZone is the Editor of Gizmo Lovers and the chief contributor. He's been online since 1989 and active in several generations of 'social media' - mailing lists, USENet groups, web forums, and since 2003, blogging.    MegaZone has a presence on several social platforms: Google+ / Facebook / Twitter / LinkedIn / LiveJournal / Web.    You can also follow Gizmo Lovers on other sites: Blog / Google+ / Facebook / Twitter.
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  • mhaithaca

    Many thanks for taking the time to share all this! And I’m even more jealous that you got to see Penn and Teller than about the close-up TiVo stuff. :-)

  • anonymous

    Wow! I really hope that the features on the Comcast/Cox boxes get migrated to the Series 3 (particularly the searching/UI changes). I wonder if the fact that the new features are implemented on OCAP means that they’ll have to be completely re-implemented in order to make it over to the Series 3? Or if it signals that maybe TiVo may move to using OCAP on their own boxes as well in order to reduce the amount of code differences between the various machines they have to support?

  • megazone

    I asked about that and it is likely that some of the features will eventually find their way onto other TiVo platforms. They don’t need to implement OCAP fully to reuse the code if they wanted – since they used the HME toolkit, and HME is already supported. Some new elements – specifically TiVoCast and Guru Guides – on the S2 (coming soon on the S3) are already implemented in HME and not ‘native’.

  • krellis

    The new UI for the Comcast boxes looks wicked nice… now I’m upset that I’m going to be moving out of Comcast territory later this year. Here’s hoping they ink a deal with Time Warner! :) And hopefully those features will be finding their way backported to the S2 and S3 sooner rather than later. Very sweet.

  • anonymous

    You didn’t happen to see it fast forward, did you? The biggest downside to the current Moto 3412 I have is the horrible fast forwarding and lack of responsiveness. If Tivo has addressed this, it would be great. Having intuitive fast forwarding that jumped back when you hit play would be worth the monthly charge alone. The current sytem just freezes and then recognizes the remote command 4 pushes later….grrrrrrr….don’t get me started

  • megazone

    From what I can tell it is very TiVo-like in playback. But the box in the booth is a 6400, so I don’t know if it is the same. And, honestly, I wasn’t really scrutinizing the video playback, I was mostly looking at the UI.

  • anonymous

    On the Moto boxes, the 6400 and 3400 series are identical except that the 6400 can receive both digital and analog signals, whereas the 3400 can receive only digital signals. The 3400 is cheaper but it requires enough bandwidth on the feed so that you can have duplicates of all the basic channels, one in analog and one in digital.

    Thanks for the info. I’ll post around a bit more, but either way it sounds like a significant improvement to the current I-Guide software. Now to figure out how to become a beta tester…hmmmm….

  • anonymous

    Thanks for this great report! Sorry if I missed it but did they say anything about when this offering will start to roll out to customers? I am in Maryland (DC metro area).

    Also do I understand correctly that they just roll out this software upon request onto your existing 64xx?

    Lastly and perhaps most importantly – do you know if this software will offer a native passthru mode with regards to output resolution? For instance the 6412 must be manually switched between 720p and 1080i which is a major PITA. I want a mode so that if the show is broadcast in 720p that what it outputs and if in 1080i that’s what it’ll output – as I want my high end scaler to do that work for me.

    Thanks again!!

  • anonymous

    Sorry – forgot to mention that I am on Comcast (not COX).

  • megazone

    The software is in field trials now and is expected to have initial availability soon. But Comcast hasn’t said where it will start rolling out or how widespread it will be. They are expected to start out small – a city or two, and then spread it out steadily as they gain confidence in it.

    And yes, it is a downloadable upgrade to 3400 or 6400 series STBs already in the field, and they ship you the remote.

    I’ll see if I can find out about the pass-through.

  • anonymous

    Since its not running on the raw hardware, and has to interface with Comcast’s back-end, I’m wondering if the delay problems that plague these DVRs will be any better with the Tivo interface than with the existing DVR interface…

    When you press play after fast-forward, does it switch almost immediately or is there a l-o-n-g delay?

    Does the box miss a lot of the IR commands you send it?

    Is the guide relatively responsive, or are there long delays while it contacts the back-end to fetch the data or do the search…


  • megazone

    There’s no communication with the back-end during normal operation, everything is on the box. Searching, guide, etc, is very responsive – you can see the video CNET posted that I just linked to in a new post here. During the time it was demoed for me I didn’t notice any IR misses.

  • anonymous

    Does the guide data get saved to disk, or does it get lost on reboot like for the iguide?

    Does the Tivo remote use different IR codes, so that two boxes can live in the same room?

    Will Comcast be actually sending down expanded guide data, or is the existing guide data just supplemented by contact with the headend when needed for a search?

    Does 30 second skip work?

  • megazone

    My understanding is that there is some guide data locally stored, for the guide screen, etc, but some things are done on the server. Note that the demo at CES was a Motorola box talking to the local Cox MSO – which has a Scientific Atlanta head end. And the back end servers were in Alviso, CA, I believe. And it still performed very well. I think the search seemed faster than my Series3 today. So even if it uses the head end, performance seems good.

    I believe the remote can use different codes, but I’m not positive. Note that the new peanut does NOT have a 1-2 selector, the space is used for a new ‘Stop’ button and the A-D buttons.

    Episode descriptions, etc, are all still there, so there is data on the unit. I don’t know the exact split between what happens on the head end and what happens locally.

    I asked about 30-second skip – unfortunately, the person I spoke to told me he’s not aware of it being in the code today.

    I didn’t get to ‘drive’ at all myself, TiVo made sure the remote was always in control by someone from TiVo while I was there, so I couldn’t poke around and try things myself. He did say shortcuts work – TiVo+2 is the To Do List, for example.

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