We knew they were coming, as there have been several leaks recently, but now they’re official. Best Buy has launched two models of Insignia Connected TV featuring TiVo Design, which is the new branding for products including TiVo’s software. And they’re doing their best to tout it, with press releases from Best Buy, TiVo, and a post in TiVo’s Blog. (Though they’ve missed Facebook and Twitter, so far.)
Although the launch itself seems to have a few glitches so far. The two new models are up on Best Buy’s website, the 32″ NS-32E859A11 and 42″ NS-42E859A11, but the prices given are $599.99 and $999.99 – when they are actually a much more palatable $499.99 and $699.99, respectively. And, interestingly, the online product descriptions don’t mention TiVo at all. In fact, they’re kind of weak, and don’t really cover the full capabilities of the product. They really need to be spruced up to better reflect the breadth of features available.
Furthermore, the packaging displays a ‘Mobile Code’ (a QR Code), which Dave Zatz helpfully has a nice photo of, but the page isn’t active. I scanned it and it resolves to http://bby.us/?c=BAEB1, which currently redirects to http://bby.us/TBD and an error not found. Someone at Best Buy is asleep as the switch, I think. Hopefully Best Buy will resolve these issues ASAP to avoid any bad first impressions or confusion.
The TVs themselves look like good values (at the correct pricing), especially the 42″ model. They’re fairly inexpensive for LED HDTVs (the industry calls LED-lit LCD sets ‘LED’ while ‘LCD’ sets have conventional backlighting – but both use LCD panels to create the actual image) and they are well stocked for connected TVs. The bundled apps include Netflix, CinemaNow, YouTube, Insignia OnDemand (which is powered by Flingo), Pandora, Napster, Photobucket, Facebook, Twitter, and more. But the real app power comes from support for Chumby apps, which provide over 1,500 app options. It’s no iOS App Store, or Android App Market, but it is a much broader selection than other connected TVs offer. And Chumby’s Flash environment is open to third party app developers, so they can start targeting apps to the big screen. Since the work has been done to integrate Chumby apps with the TiVo platform for these TVs, I’m hoping this will trickle down to the DVR units as well. The addition of Chumby apps would provide a huge jump start to TiVo’s anemic app selection.
As far as the specs go, they’re both Energy Star rated 1080p sets with 120Hz refresh, with four HDMI inputs and one each DVI, PC/VGA, component, composite, and RF antenna inputs. Interestingly they lack a media card slot (no CF/SD), but they do have a USB port. I’m not sure if the USB port supports mass storage for media access, but I’ll note that TiVo DVRs with USB ports do not. Both sets include audio technology from Audyssey and SRS. They also include a slot for a card to support Best Buy’s Rocketboost wireless audio system, which interfaces with Insignia Rocketboost enabled wireless speakers, etc. Network connectivity is via Ethernet or the built-in dual-band 802.11n WiFi. Both sets come with a two-year warranty, which is rather good.
I’m a little disappointed that the remote control isn’t a TiVo Peanut and that it lacks QWERTY (given the connected nature of the device), but it looks decent enough. It is a more conventional rectangular remote with a combination of conventional buttons and TiVo buttons. There’s a TiVo button, as you might expect, as well as an ‘Apps’ button to jump straight into the apps screen, the obligatory thumbs up/down, etc. A bit more busy/cluttered than a normal TiVo remote, but it looks functional. It is also a universal remote, and supports both RF (Z-Wave, not Bluetooth) and IR. It can be programmed to control up to three other devices – such as your cable DVR, a receiver, and an audio source – via on-screen menus, without having to enter codes.
An interesting feature of these TVs is that they are designed to work with your existing STB. The TV’s themselves lack CableCARD support, and are not DVRs, of course. But that’s where the universal remote comes in. When you want to access linear content you basically switch to your existing STB, but can control it from the same remote. I was disappointed to learn that there is a very limited EPG on these sets, just three hours of OTA. I wonder if if it is even downloading the EPG or just using PSIP. The TiVo Search capabilities are limited to the broadband accessible content, unlike a conventional TiVo where they encompass broadband and linear TV. I was hoping for something where you would have the full EPG just like on a DVR, and maybe integration with STBs via IR blasters. But these TVs are really focused on OTT content, leaving linear content to your existing sources. With the network remote on the TiVo S3+ they really could’ve done some transparent integration, the TV’s UI could’ve proxied for the DVR completely.
The elephant in the room is interoperability with existing TiVo units, specifically the TiVo Premiere. And right now the answer is – we don’t know. We have a pretty darn good idea, but there is nothing official. Unofficially it is expected that when TiVo officially launches streaming from the TiVo Premiere, these TVs will be able to act as a client. That would allow these TVs to be used as extenders in other rooms, streaming from a central TiVo Premiere – or TiVo Premiere Elite. Dave Zatz reports his sources indicate that not only is TiVo streaming is under discussion – but also DirecTV RVU, which would allow streaming form DirecTV DVRs in the home. (Maybe the new DirecTiVo will also support RVU? OK, that’s a big leap to make.) We do know TiVo is used MoCA in forthcoming products, and DirecTV also uses MoCA for their whole home DVR (which some people incorrectly call DECA – that’s the adapter, the protocol is still MoCA). There’s no mention of MoCA in these sets, but a DECA (DirecTV Ethernet-to-Coaxial Adapter) or ECB (Ethernet-to-Coaxial Bridge, for the non-DirecTV systems), would solve that.
There is no MRV, of course, as the TVs lack local storage and MRV makes a local copy. All of the services included on the sets are streaming – note no Blockbuster or Amazon video support either, as both systems are primarily download to play. Best Buy says they’re looking to add additional services in the future, I hope that includes Hulu and support for Amazon Instant Video. I think they missed a trick by not including and SD slot. They could’ve used it as many Blu-ray players do for BD-Live content, as user-added storage. Stick in a blank SD card and download a movie, use MRV, etc. Maybe they can use the USB port.
The other nugget from Zatz’s report is that the TVs include an all-new, redesigned Netflix app. That’s something TiVo users have been asking for for ages, so I hope it trickles down to existing units. I suspect it is Flash based, like everything on this platform seems to be, so it may only come to Premiere owners.
As part of their press push, Best Buy also released some ‘B-Roll’ footage for video bloggers, TV spots, etc., to grab clips from. I thought it was an interesting curiosity, so I stuck it on YouTube to share with you all. Warning, it starts with a test pattern with a piercing ‘beep’, just for a moment.
Right now I’m interested in a TiVo Premiere Elite for my main room and two TiVo Preview units – for the bedroom and my front room. If these TVs get TiVo streaming support, I’d seriously consider them. But it depends on how well the streaming works. If I can stream all my recordings and downloads from the main unit that’d be an easy choice. But I’d like to see some way to access Amazon and Hulu – this household no longer has a Netflix account but we do have Amazon Prime and Hulu Plus accounts. If the Preview provides access to those, but the TVs do not, it’d make the choice less clear.