Entropic Communications Inc. has made a $10 million investment in Zenverge Inc., buying their way into the video transcoding segment. So what, you ask? Entropic is the company supplying the MoCA chipsets to TiVo for the TiVo Premiere Elite and the TiVo Preview.
In addition to giving Entropic an undisclosed stake in privately held Zenverge, the money will go toward the development of products aimed at MSOs and other service providers that convert incoming video signals into formats that can be displayed on PCs, tablets and smartphones that are within reach of a home’s Wi-Fi network — akin to what a Slingbox does today, but without the out-of-home access element.
The companies initially will focus on a video-transcoding “sidecar” product that will connect to set-top boxes. Future implementations will be baked into network-attached storage (NAS) devices and set-tops or video gateways, says Vinay Gokhale, Entropic’s SVP of marketing and business development.
Place shifting is perhaps the key feature still missing in TiVo’s products. I think it is becoming increasingly important as MVPDs introduce direct streaming services that bypass the STB, delivering their content directly to PCs, tablets, and smartphones. There is also competitive pressure from Echostar’s SlingLoaded efforts and other products like DirecTV’s upcoming Nomad and Comcast’s Televation box, both of which use Entropic’s silicon for MoCA, but ViXS chips for the transcoding. I think TiVo needs to provide a way to stream content to remain competitive, both in retail and for their MSO partners.
The inability to stream video from a TiVo to a portable device is most painfully evident in TiVo’s iPad and iPhone apps. You can fling content from the app to view on your TiVo, and you can setup recordings, see what is on the TiVo, and manage them – pretty much everything except watch them. The real issue is that TiVo recordings are high-bandwidth MPEG-2, that’s what digital cable and ATSC OTA broadcasts both use. But the high bandwidth makes it less than ideal for streaming to mobile devices. And, even if that weren’t an issue, most mobile devices aren’t designed to handle MPEG-2. The standard for mobile devices is MPEG-4/H.264, and maybe support for other modern codecs like VC-1, DivX, and/or WebM. To stream content to an iPad, for example, TiVo really needs hardware to transcode it to H.264 first, just like a Slingbox.
One possibility is a solution along the lines of the Sling Adapter for the Dish Network ViP 722 DVR. It is a simple USB hardware dongle which handles the transcoding. The video signal is fed to the box via USB, transcoded to the proper codec, resolution, framerate, etc., for the destination device, and then fed back over the USB to the DVR. All of the network communication is handled by the DVR, as is the real intelligence. TiVo could create a transcoding dongle like this for their hardware. Now that EchoStar, Sling’s parent company, and TiVo are no longer beating on each other in court, perhaps they could even license the Sling Adapter wholesale and simply implement the required support in the TiVo software. The advantage is that Sling is the place shifting market leader and they have clients for a number of platforms. It wouldn’t be hard for TiVo to build support into their apps either.
The Nomad and Televation boxes take a different approach, the same one Entropic is apparently pursuing with Zenverge. Instead of a USB sidecar dedicated to one DVR, these are network sidecars, kind of like network attached storage. They live on the MoCA network and thus can theoretically be shared by multiple DVRs in the home. Just like the Sling Adapter does via USB, these units take a data stream of the encoded video in over MoCA, do the necessary transcoding, and feed the data back to the DVR via MoCA. The DVR then handles the intelligence for routing the transcoded video to the client device over whichever network connection is appropriate. Since the new TiVo Premiere Q and Premiere Elite will have MoCA, this would also be a viable solution for them. Older TiVo units, like the Premiere, could use the devices via Ethernet as long as there was an ECB (Ethernet Coaxial Bridge) into the MoCA network.
Given the existing supplier relationship between Entropic and TiVo, and the competitive pressure on TiVo to add place shifting, this could possibly be how TiVo gets there. This is all speculation, of course.
As for the statement that it is for streaming within the home only, that may be true for the initial plans. However, once you have the transcoding working and a solid client, extending it to streaming outside of the home is the easy part. That’s all basic network routing. If you can ever everything else working, adding that is a snap.
Via Light Reading.