TiVo has long had the practice of trickling new updates out to a small number of users before officially deploying the update. It is a kind of feeler, one last check to make sure there are not major issues that were missed in testing, and to make sure the deployment systems are ready to go. And it looks like they’ve started to do that with the 9.4 update for the Series3 and TiVo HD, as users at TiVoCommunity have started to notice. You can tell it is a pre-release from the version number: 9.4.L6.01-2-648. That ‘L6′ indicates it is revision L, build 6 of the development effort. Final release versions drop that bit.
This looks like a great update, and it brings a number of features to the TiVo – some of which have been requested for years. According to LoREvanescence at TiVoCommunity, the updates notice is as follows:
Subject: You have a new service update!
From: The TiVo Team
Date: Tue 7/15
Congrats! You’ve just received the Summer 2008 TiVo Service Update for TiVo HD and Series 3 DVRs, including these new enhancements to your TiVo Experience:
*Play or Delete a Folder
Play or delete an entire folder of programs with a single button press (including kids shows, music videos ext). Highlight a folder and press PLAY to play all the shows in sequence. Pres CLEAR to delete the entire folder.
*Browse the Guide Any Time
Press the GUIDE button to display the program guide over what you’re watching: live TV, a previously recorded program, or even a video download.
*Jump Forward in the Guide
When the Guide is on-screen, press the ADVANCE to jump 24 hours ahead. Press INSTANT REPLAY to go back 24 hours.
*Find a Station in the Guide
Now you can search for a station “call sign” within the Guide, e.g. KQED, WPIX, MSNBC. When viewing the program guide, press ENTER to bring up Guide Options, then SELECT Find by call sign.
*Toggle Closed Captioning On and Off
The Closed Captioning icon in the Channel Banner now toggles closed captioning on and off.
*Review Thumb Ratings
To display a list of all programs that you have rated, select Find Programs, then TiVo Suggestions. Press ENTER to bring up the Review Thumbs screen
-The TiVo Team
Playing or deleting an entire folder has been requested since the first day folders were introduced – probably before that during the beta for that matter. Being able to view the guide without jumping to Live TV is something that has probably been requested since the earliest days of TiVo. I know people have been asking for it since I first starting using TiVo in 2002. Being able to jump forward and back in the guide is something we just heard about as coming for the Comcast TiVo software, and in that post I said I hoped TiVo would add that to the standalone boxes too – and here it is.
Being able to find channels by call sign is interesting too, I’d never thought of that, but it sounds neat. Controlling Closed Captions from the channel banner, without having to go down in menus, has been requested since the S3 first shipped. So it is nice to see it added.
Reviewing the Thumb Ratings reminds me of the old hidden feature, Teach TiVo. Most of you probably don’t remember it, since it was a hidden feature and pretty much went away with the release of 3.2. But in the early days of TiVo there used to be backdoor features that could be enabled by entering the right phrase on the right screen. These were generally incomplete features that TiVo was working on developing but were not yet ready for release. So they’d still be in the code, just disabled by default. If you knew the right codes you could enable these features, at your own risk of course, and play with them. After 3.2 you could still access some of them for a while by hacking the software, but eventually most of them seem to have been completely removed, or well hidden. IIRC, Teach TiVo went away completely with 4.0.
So what was Teach TiVo? Well, early on TiVo wasn’t really sure how people would use TiVo. One of the concepts they had, to help with Suggestions, was to provide an interface in which users could edit their thumb ratings for not just programs, but actors, directors, etc. Basically it exposed the underlying thumb rating data system – when you rate a program you’re also influencing the ratings for any associated actors, directories, etc. Teach TiVo gave power users a way to fine tune their ratings. Say you hated a program, but happened to like one actor in it. You could rate the show down, but go in an adjust the actor’s rating up. Or vice-versa. But it did make for a bit of a complex interface and since it didn’t fit with TiVo’s philosophy of keeping the UI simple it was never completed and released.
So, anyway, this new ability to see your program thumb ratings and edit them sounds like a new, simplified approach to at least a subset of what Teach TiVo provided.
But that’s not all, exploring the menus has revealed some additional features. First and foremost, support for the Switched Digital Video (SDV) Tuning Adapter is here! Both Motorola and Cisco/Scientific Atlanta has their TAs scheduled for certification testing by CableLabs at the end of June. So if they passed testing we could see cable MSOs making them available soon, and it looks like TiVo users will be ready with 9.4.
And remember when the network remote control functionality was discovered in May? Since it is always on and has no security at all, at the time I said TiVo should really do something to protect that before someone writes malware designed to probe networks for a TiVo and send random commands to it. Well, it looks like TiVo has taken a step in that direction with 9.4 There is now a menu item for Network Remote Control and it is disabled by default:
“The network remote control feature allows your TiVo Digital Media Recorder to be integrated with home automation and entertainment control devices on your network. These device include touch panel remotes and other devices that are configured to work with TiVo’s network based remote control protocol. This setting will be enabled by your home entertainment or home automation installer.”
That’s certainly safer for the majority of users who will never use this feature, and the power users who will can easily enable it. It sounds like it is just an on/off toggle currently. I’d still like to see TiVo make it on/off/secure, with the secure option forcing some kind of authentication. But just being able to turn it off is a big step in the right direction and I’m glad TiVo did it. I just wish they’d officially publish the network remote protocol.
There is also a report that the Live TV buffer has been extended from 30 minutes to one hour. Looks like this was a false alarm, unfortunately.
Note that 9.4 is only for S3 & HD users, but I suspect there will be a 9.4.1 for S2 units to follow. We saw that with the last updates, with 9.3 for the S3 & HD, and then 9.3.1 for the S2. Since the TiVo HD is the current flagship and the focus for TiVo it isn’t surprising they’re now getting the updates first. Staggering the S3/HD and the S2 helps avoid overloading the engineering and beta teams by trying to do it all at once.
No word if this release includes updates under the covers to support H.264 decoding to handle the forthcoming YouTube support, or if that will be delivered in yet another update. I’d say it is a toss up. TiVo has certainly done that before, slipping features in an update deactivated and only enabling them later when the new feature launches.
The priority page hasn’t been updated yet for 9.4, but it probably will be soon.
Thanks to Dave Zatz of Zatz Not Funny for the heads up.