Home Media Magazine Compares Video Download Boxes

This issue of Home Media Magazine has an article, ‘Battle of the Boxes‘, which compares the four main options for watching broadband downloaded video on your TV: TiVo, Apple TV, VUDU, and Xbox 360. Overall the article is kind of down on the download services in general:

“Not a consumer interviewed wants to buy another set-top box,” said Richard Doherty, research director for research firm The Envisioneering Group.

I certainly can’t argue with that, I’m loathe to add another STB to my stack. And I’ve said so repeatedly. I think that gives TiVo and the Xbox 360 an edge – people buy them for other functions (DVR & gaming, respectively), and the downloads are kind of a bonus. And when it comes to HD, I have to agree with this as well:

Richard Bullwinkle, chief evangelist for Macrovision, predicts a layering effect. Macrovision has looked at TiVo, Xbox 360, Vudu and Apple TV.

“The best experience on a large TV is Blu-ray,” he said. “None of the download boxes gives you the same experience.”

But I thought what they said about TiVo in particular was unfair.

But download times are long, nothing is available in high-def, and the 24-hour rental period once the movie has started can be problematic.

The download times are roughly comparable to other services – but it, of course, will vary a lot. The TiVo Series3 and TiVo HD have had progressive download since 9.2 – which means they can start playback once enough of a buffer has built up, with no need to wait until it is all downloaded. I’d expect the Series2 to get the same in the next update. (They’re still on 9.1.) And the article makes the 24-hour window sound like a problem unique to TiVo when it is common to all of the download rental services. They don’t mention it when talking about the three other products, so readers who don’t know what will think this is a TiVo limitation. But there is more:

However, Bullwinkle said, TiVo offers the worst quality of any of the movie downloading options he’s tried, and the number of TiVo owners who download movies is small.

Ouch. That especially stings given who it is coming from. Why? For those who don’t know, once upon a time Richard Bullwinkle was known online as TiVolutionary. He was one of the early TiVo employees and their primary online evangelist on forums like TiVoCommunity.com. Back in May of 2002 he left TiVo and went to work for ReplayTV. And now he’s with Macrovision.

The quality issue is largely subjective, so I’ll leave that as may be, but how does he know how many users download movies? I don’t believe TiVo or Amazon release those numbers. Did they do an independent survey of TiVo owners? Where is the data to back up the claim?

But TiVo isn’t the only one to get a little heat in the article. All four products get what I consider to be fairly poor reviews, highlighting their shortcomings. But read the article for yourself.

TiVo also got another mention in this issue, with a small article on the roll-out of TiVo Desktop 2.6. (And I apologize for not having my review of said up yet, the behind-the-scenes work on the renaming took a lot more time than I expected.)

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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  • http://bjdraw.com Ben Drawbaugh

    I agree that it’s unfair that they mention the 24 hour period, since that is the same on all the services, but the rest of it in regards to TiVo is dead on.

    I agree it’s the worst quality and the amount of time you have to wait to start a movie is longer than I experienced on the ATV. Sure I only watched like two movies on each, so it might be a coincidence that HMM and I had the same experience.

    Amazon UnBox on the TiVo could be free and I wouldn’t use it, but then again, I’m an HD snob.

  • Robm

    I am pretty down on the video download scene so far, myself. Between the poor quality of the downloads from Amazon, and the inconvenience of the Microsoft “Points” system, I’m happy to stick with Netflix, and with Netflix I get another advantage. If I want to watch a movie tonight, but my mate wants to go to sleep and watch it another time, we can watch it more than once. None of the services I know of offer that convenience.

  • MickeS

    The problem for me is that the Unbox offerings are of such uneven quality. Some have been near-DVD, others have been an unwatchable mess. I don’t disagree much with Bullwinkle’s assessment, but I’ve never had any problems with download times, except the very first time I tried it.
    And FWIW, TiVo has started to roll out version 9.3 to Series 2 boxes, and it does indeed enable progressive downloads: http://www.tivocommunity.com/tivo-vb/showthread.php?p=6102488#post6102488

  • DSSwonsob

    My biggest complaint about Unbox was having to wait for the movie to download before I could watch it but since 9.3 is here that’s not a problem anymore. I agree that not having HD downloads for my TiVoHD stinks but I CAN live without it – after all I still watch rentals on my DVD player since I haven’t gotten a Blu-Ray player yet.

    Like the people polled, I don’t want another STB in my rack so my hope is that TiVo will release a box that plays Blu discs (and Unbox will give us HD). It seems to me that a large part of the PS3′s success with it’s Blu player is that it has a PC driving it and can download software patches to provide new features. TiVo would have the same opportunity if they added Blu to a future box. Otherwise I’ll be buying a Blu-Ray player that can download HD from SOME service.

  • Brad

    What i don’t understand is why doesn’t Tivo add to their desktop software the ability to “rip a DVD to the tivo” and flag it? This way I can watch my DVDs with a Tivo functionality (Pause, return to what I was viewing), and get a good quality version of the movie. To be totally honest you can already do this with bit torrent versions of movies, why not enable a legal version of this that respects the legal aspect of content holders? Putting a flag means that they would not be able to move it to other Tivos, or transcode it into another format… I mean sure there are other non-approved ways to do this, but it would be a great future, that would also mean one less box in my Tivo set up… Just my 2 cents…

  • http://www.gizmolovers.com/ MegaZone

    Technically ripping any DVD protected by CSS, which is most commercial discs, is illegal – thanks to the DMCA. That’s probably the main reason TiVo doesn’t do something like that. There is no legal way to do it – the very act of ripping the content from the DVD requires breaking CSS, which violates the DMCA.

    That’s why you don’t see the feature in the big commercial authoring tools. The software that supports DVD ripping is generally either open-source and/or based off-shore.

  • http://www.tivo.com Stephen Mack

    I love Richard, but he doesn’t know anything about our download business, and certainly doesn’t have access to any numbers. As you say, they aren’t released. But I would certainly not use the word “small” to describe the number of TiVo users who have downloaded a movie.

  • Brad

    Isn’t that the problem that content holders are having, is that since there is no legal way to utilize DVDs people investigate no legal ways. Seems like the people that are holding the CSS should seek out good ways for good and protected commercial technologies to use DVDs in new ways? I guess the question is, is CSS protection set in stone where no one can ever legally break it or is there some coalition of the willing business that can exempt their content to this type of application? Or am I just pie in the sky thinking here?

  • http://www.gizmolovers.com/ MegaZone

    Brad – It is the content owners. They could license things to allow copies to be made. Or they could just not use CSS at all – since it really isn’t stopping anyone who wants to make copies these days anyway. It certainly doesn’t reduce piracy. So using it is really just causing pain to legitimate users and holding back potential synergy.

  • Keithrichardson

    hallo i am looking for a software to download youtube videos in my pc and convert them to mp3 to listen them in my ipod too, can you help me pls?

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