I finally made it over to Moxi’s booth today for some Q&A with the folks there. I wanted to learn more about their forthcoming retail products.
First off, they’re planned to be available in the latter half of the year, likely late in the year. Right now they’re vapor – all of the boxes in their booth were empty plastic shells with some fixed LEDs to make them pretty. The back of the box was completely smooth, no connectors. It was completely smoke and mirrors, with machines running the demos hidden away. I was told that most of the specs are still up in the air – hard drive size, final appearance, software feature set, etc. So there isn’t a lot of hard data today. The interface is the same as the one they currently have in the field on approximately 400,000 cable boxes. Some people like it, some don’t. Personally I really prefer the TiVo interface design. But I know UI is something that people will forever disagree on, so be it.
There will be two units – one CableCARD device and one based on AMD’s Live! reference platform. The CableCARD device will support unidirectional CableCARD 1.0 & M-Card, like the TiVo Series3, and NOT CableCARD 2.0 as some sites had previously reported. It will also be *cable only* – no antenna support. In fact, one of the Moxi people I spoke to was convinced the Series3 didn’t do antenna either, until I corrected him. Conversely, the AMD-based design will not support CableCARD. It will support antenna, analog cable, and probably clear QAM for unencrypted digital cable. (I had 2 reps tell me yes and one said no on clear QAM.) You’ll need an external cable box for anything else. I think not supporting CableCARD on what they’re positioning as the premium product of the two is just dumb. But it may be too much – it will be Linux based, and not Windows Vista, so maybe they just can’t work it out for CableLabs. But if you’re looking for a premium, PC-based product in that range, there will be a lot of Vista-based PCs with CableCARD to select from. I don’t think the Moxi features are really enough to sway a lot of people to give up native digital cable capabilities.
The demos had OnDemand, but without CC2.0 it can’t do that, so I asked about it. Their plan is to provide broadband video on demand, and Digeo is working on establishing partnerships to provide that, but don’t have any in place at this time. They have PC connectivity, but only to access music and photos off a PC. No one was sure what audio formats would be supported in the end, other than MP3. There is no capability to move video to or from a PC, let alone a portable device. They’ve demo’d conversion for a PSP in the past, on the box, but it was just a demo and today I was told there aren’t firm plans to include it in the product.
The CableCARD box also has a CD/DVD drive, and by default it automatically rips any CDs loaded to the internal drive. However, the rip settings are fixed. There is no way to adjust the bit rate, etc. And now you have music using some of your drive. I really think TiVo’s system of playing it over the network is the better way to go. They do plan to support external storage expansion via USB 2.0 drives. They say that they won’t have any trouble getting approval for that, though we’ll just have to see. CableLabs is holding up TiVo’s eSATA support. Digeo pointed out that they can do it today in cable boxes – but some cable operators also have eSATA working today. Apples and oranges, the rules for CableCARD aren’t the same as integrated STBs. I wish them luck – if they get approved, and TiVo hasn’t been yet, it should help TiVo’s case.
There are two planned models of the CableCARD box – one dual-tuner, the other quad-tuner. It isn’t clear, but since M-Card is supposed to enable up to 5 streams, it should be possible to use one M-Card for four tuners. Why so many tuners? Well, the one thing they have that I wish TiVo had, is multi-room support via client boxes. There will be small boxes for other rooms which don’t have drives, tuners, etc. Just output connections and a coax connection. These client boxes can talk to a master unit and access any of the content on the box. Multiple clients can even simultaneously access the same program. And, if there is a tuner free, a client can watch ‘live’ TV by using the tuner in the master. Even the DVD is shared, though only one client at a time can access the DVD. However, networking is via FireWire over coax, only. So you need to have coaxial cable to any site where you want to use a client. This is meant to make it easier to setup by using existing cable from cable TV, but not everyone has a convenient coax drop. I asked directly and was told that networking over Cat5 or wireless would *not* be supported for this sharing, nor Moca. It will only be FireWire over coax. I was told that have about 30,000 of these client boxes in use today, with their cable customer base.
They wouldn’t discuss pricing, except to say ‘competitive’. One that that should help them is that, starting in July, cable MSOs must begin using CableCARD on their own cable boxes. Any new boxes they deploy need to use CableCARD for security, instead of being integrated. Moxi is planning to sell the same hardware to cable MSOs as they sell in retail, and if they do land any MSO sales it would help spread out the manufacturing costs to keep pricing down. However, to date they have not been very successful at moving into the cable market. After several years they have the aforementioned 400,000 users, which is why they’re trying retail now. With Comcast and Cox stating they plan to bring the TiVo interface to all of their DVRs, it is going to limit their potential client base. Oh, they did say something more specific about pricing. There won’t be any monthly fee for the DVR functionality, just an upfront purchase. But other features will be ala carte. You want OnDemand? Pay for it. You want to play a game? Pay for it. You want music? Pay for it. So they’ll be looking to up-sell these features to users.
I think Digeo/Moxi should’ve done this (trying retail) years ago, when they were starting up. That was their plan, and they had some very nice features, but then they changed plans and decided to stake everything on licensing to cable MSOs. That hasn’t worked out well for them, and now TiVo has entered that market with two major deals and overwhelming brand recognition. And TiVo’s new OCAP implementation should be portable to other systems, whereas Moxi is looking to sell specific hardware.
The best thing they have going is the multi-room system. It is certainly better than TiVo’s MRV system – it is fully interactive streaming – but I don’t like being limited to coax networking. Some people do like the Moxi interface, so that’s what it is. Integrated support for CD/DVD is nice – thought it isn’t a burner, just a player. At least on the CableCARD box, final specs on the AMD Live! box are set but I’d expect a burner there.
So, overall, I wasn’t impressed with that they were pitching. It won’t be a bad product, if they deliver what they promise, but by late 2007 I believe TiVo will have a number of additional features for the Series3, and the price will have come down quite a bit. And the Comcast and Cox software roll-outs should be well along. So Digeo is going to face an up-hill battle to gain market share for Moxi.