TiVo announced today that they will be bringing YouTube videos to the TV via the TiVo interface – but only on the TiVo Series3 and TiVo HD:
TiVo Inc. (Nasdaq: TIVO), the creator of and a leader in television services for digital video recorders (DVRs), today announced an agreement with YouTube™ that will offer access to YouTube videos directly from the TV via a TiVo DVR. The service will be available later this year to broadband-connected subscribers with TiVo Series3™ DVRs, including the new TiVo HD.
Every day hundreds of millions of videos are viewed on YouTube and hundreds of thousands of videos are uploaded. Upon launch of the TiVo-YouTube service, TiVo users will be able to search, browse and watch these videos directly on their television sets through their broadband connected TiVo DVRs. The combination of having the YouTube experience with the convenience and familiarity of TiVo’s intuitive user interface will provide TiVo subscribers with the ability to discover and enjoy the most shared and most discussed web videos in the world on their televisions. Importantly, users will be able to log into their YouTube accounts directly from their TiVo boxes and access their favorite YouTube channels and playlists.
“We’re delighted to be working with the world’s leading online video community so that TiVo subscribers can access YouTube’s popular content on the TV via the TiVo DVR,” said Tara Maitra, Vice President and GM of Content Services at TiVo Inc. “Being able to make available YouTube videos to the TiVo subscriber base using one device, one remote and one user interface is another major step in our commitment to combine all of your television and web video viewing options in one easy to use service.”
Now, before Series2 & Series2DT owners break out the pitchforks and torches, this was pretty much inevitable. It is a hardware issue, the Series2 platform is just behind the times. The Series3 family (which covers the box generally known as the Series3 and the TiVo HD) has hardware that can decode MPEG-2, MPEG-4/H.264, and WMV/VC-1 – while the older Series2 platform only decodes MPEG-2. That means the S3 platform can support more services than the S2, and that’s just how it is – technology moves ever forward.
Interestingly, TiVo may owe a major debt to Apple. YouTube long encoded all of their video in FLV, or Flash Video, format. But the Apple iPhone does not support Flash. In order to get YouTube on the iPhone, YouTube has re-encoded all of their videos into H.264, which is playable in QuickTime – and, coincidentally, in the decoders in the TiVo S3 platform. (Adobe also added H.264 support to the most recent versions of Flash, due to demand, so content providers can use H.264 for all their needs.)
Which leads me to the next point. This implies TiVo is enabling at least H.264 decoding. Today the hardware is there, but the software support is not. The S3 is limited to decoding MPEG-2 just like the S2. But this announcement certainly means they’ll be enabling MPEG-4/H.264 decoding, and I’m hoping it means they’ll also be enabling WMV/VC-1 decoding at the same time, but I won’t count on that. In any case, this little implied nugget is probably the biggest news of all,
Why? Because H.264 is a highly efficient codec which is widely used to encode video blogs and video downloads, including high-def video. (H.264, also known as AVC, is the most widely used codec on Blu-ray Disc, for example.) So this decoding capability would allow for much more than just YouTube (not that YouTube support isn’t big news, of course), such as wide support for video blogs – without the PC-based transcoding announced for TiVo Desktop 2.6, high-def movie downloads from Amazon Unbox (though Amazon Unbox uses WMV/VC-1 for their PC & portable downloads, which is why enabling that support on the TiVo could be good – same HD file could be played on the PC or TiVo), support for PC-to-TiVo transfers without needing to transcode, and possibly other services.
Back when the Series2DT launched I remarked that I was surprised TiVo didn’t include advanced codec support in the hardware, as they did with the Series3. I foresaw that online content would be increasingly important, and had genuinely expected TiVo to including H.264/VC-1 decoding in all of their new hardware at that point. I felt that keeping the S2DT restricted to MPEG-2 would prolong the transition because it would take longer to reach a critical mass of S3 units to make it worth developing features restricted to that platform. And I think that has been the case. But it looks like we’re finally reaching the tipping point, and I hope this is just the first of many new features to take advantage of the additional capabilities in the Series3 hardware.
I know Series2 owners may not be happy (I own two S2 boxes myself, as well as my S3), but this is just how it is. At some point old platforms can no longer support all the new features. Someday there will be a Series4 and it’ll almost certainly support things the Series3 cannot, just as the Series2 has features the Series1 lacked.