Charter TiVo – Today Ft. Worth, TX, Tomorrow the World!

Charter Logo OK, not quite today, but soon. Back in January Charter & TiVo announced an agreement under which Charter would offer TiVo hardware to their customers, just as RCN, Suddenlink, and Grande Communications do. And with their quarterly financial announcement last week they stated that they’d already launched their TiVo pilot in Texas. They expanded on it even more during the associated conference call:

We’ve also initiated a key component of our next generation TV strategy with our TiVo pilot underway in Texas. Early pilot participants have responded favorably to the overall service, particularly the improved recommendations, user interface and search capabilities, all of which enhance the customer experience and should increase usage of our on-demand library.

We will complete a full production launch in Texas and conduct pilots in a few additional markets later this year with a full production launch enterprise wide in the first half of 2012. As you can see we are making great strides in improving our video offering and we believe that these enhance our competitive position in video.

And now Charter has their TiVo page up, and it says TiVo is coming soon to Ft. Worth, TX. And coming soon to other markets after that. Since they plan to have it launched ‘enterprise wide’ in the first half of 2012 it seems like it should happen fairly rapidly.

Charter also has a quick demo video up to promote their TiVo service:

They have a good deal of support information up as well, including a Viewer’s Guide, Quick Guide, and Quick Tips. The materials strongly promote Charter’s OnDemand, YouTube, and Pandora. Interestingly they also make a point to promote TiVo Desktop and the ability to transfer shows via TiVoToGo. But, as a Charter customer myself, they copy protect nearly all of their content. Unless they’re planning to change their practices it seems like their customers are in for a disappointment.

It looks like the only video services supported will be Charter OnDemand, YouTube, and web videos. No Netflix, Hulu Plus, Blockbuster OnDemand, Music Choice, or Amazon Instant Video for Charter TiVo customers. That’s interesting since just last week they announced an initiative to integrate Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Instant Video content into search results on Perhaps down the road they’ll enable these same services on their TiVo units. It sounds like Charter wants to do so, but their hands are tied by rights issues. From an article last week in FierceCable about the announcement:

Charter spokeswoman Anita Lamont told FierceCable that the MSO would like to allow subscribers to search for Web video content from Hulu, Amazon and Netflix through their cable set-tops, but that rights issues prevent it from offering that fuction. “Right now, that functionality is essentially disabled on leased boxes due to programming rights issues. This is disappointing to us, and our customers, but we believe that it should and will change over time,” Lamont said. “This is all very fluid, and we anticipate that the rights equation will change over time,” she added.

On the music side in addition to Pandora they will have Rhapsody and Live365 support.

Charter customers will have Multi-Room Streaming (MRS), and they will be getting the TiVo Preview as well, if the Viewer’s Guide is anything to go by. From Page 57:

Streaming from another TiVo Box

Movies and programs stored on a TiVo Premiere DVR can be streamed to another TiVo device (either another TiVo Premiere DVR or a TiVo Preview HD-STB) using Multi-Room Streaming (MRS). (Streaming means playing a video as it downloads, without having to wait for the download to finish.)

I’m happy to see TiVo is using the same Multi-Room Streaming “MRS” abbreviation I’ve been using. ;-) (I swear, I didn’t know. It just made sense vs. MRV for Multi-Room Viewing.) I take issue with the description though. Streaming is not downloading, there is nothing to wait for, no ‘finish’. And no, it isn’t confused with the MRV copying – that’s the previous entry in the manual. I think this is a case of a confused tech writer who didn’t really understand the subject matter. TiVo, you might want to get that corrected.

Streaming means, well, streaming the content directly from the other unit for display via the local unit, with no local copy being made. That’s as opposed to MRV which is a copying process and allows you to begin viewing the local copy while it is still transferring.

There is one item I found very, very interesting. On Page 75 of the Viewer’s Guide:

Tuning adapter

This setting is not applicable to your setup.

As I said, I’m a Charter customer. Charter is heavily invested in using Switched Digital Video (SDV), and as such I need to use a Tuning Adapter with my retail TiVo. Could this mean that Charter is using the same IP back channel used for OnDemand for SDV? If so, that’s the one thing that would kind of tempt me to use a Charter TiVo box instead of a retail unit. I’d love to get rid of my TA. It is the weakest link in my setup. Every once in a while it resets or locks up and I lose recordings until I power cycle it. And I sometimes have recordings fail with the reported reason being the video signal was not available, but my cable wasn’t out – sometimes the other tuner recorded a different program at the same time. I suspect the TA failed to tune the SDV channel.

TiVo, Charter, I’m begging you. If you have developed this software for the Charter-distributed units, please find a way to bring it to retail units! Cox and Comcast are planning to support OnDemand on retail units, surely it can be done. For that matter, give us OnDemand – all it can do is increase your business!

When Charter brings this to my service area (Worcester, MA) I may get a unit to try it out. But I’m still more interested in the retail TiVo Elite’s four tuners and broad support for OTT content. Being able to handle SDV without a Tuning Adapter is tempting, given the TA issues I’ve had, but it isn’t enough to convince me. I really don’t understand why MSOs like Charter, RCN, Suddenlink, and Grande Communication don’t allow retail TiVo units to access their OnDemand content, etc. They have the infrastructure in place and the software exists, why keep customers locked out of services they’d be happy to pay for?

Speaking of the TiVo Premiere Elite, I’ve received one of the few review units TiVo is sent out to bloggers & press. It just arrived late this week, I’m planning to get it set up tomorrow.

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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  • Bryan Phx

    Technical Questions regarding MSO VOD on a TiVo…

    1) Is the VOD client on the TiVo SeaChange?

    2) The content request is sent over IP, correct?

    3) What is the actual VOD content delivery method, via IP, or via one of the TiVo’s tuners.

    4) What is the VOD stream mpeg2 or mpeg4 or something else?

    5) Is the available VOD offerings the same as with a cable STB?
    The cable STB is receiving an mpeg2 video feed and using a tuner for delivery. So are the MSOs encoding to some other format for the TiVo?

    • MegaZone

      1. I’m not sure which system(s) Charter uses, but TiVo has implemented support for both SeaChange and ARRIS VOD systems.

      2. Correct.

      3. Via one of the tuners.  To the best of my knowledge it is just like VOD on a non-TiVo STB, delivered over a QAM channel.

      4. I believe Charter is still using MPEG2 for all content, but I couldn’t say for certain.  The TiVo HW can handle MPEG2, MPEG4/H.264, and WMV9/VC-1.

      5. It is the same VOD content as non-TiVo STBs.

      In theory a cable MSO could deliver MPEG4 to compatible STBs, TiVo and non-TiVo, and save bandwidth.  The only thing keeping them tied to MPEG2 is legacy STBs which can’t handle MPEG4.  

  • Bryan Phx

     Hopefully Cox will be next to launch VOD, I still have my fingers crossed.  I agree that it would also be nice to see SDV tuning requests via IP.  It should not be a major leap from VOD requests to SDV requests.

    • Tech Wizard

      Hopefully Comcast will do the same for their retail support of the Premiere platform. This would be huge news. If TiVo was savvy enough to have this in their agreements that would be great. 

    • Fanfoot

      Yup.  Very similar.  For an SDV channel you request it, and if nobody in your area is streaming the channel at the moment, it assigns a channel first.  Then it tells you the channel to tune to (freq X, channel within multiplex Y).  And maybe a heartbeat saying you’re still watching or something.  For VOD it doesn’t matter if anybody else is watching since each session is unique, but they assign you a channel and you tune to it.  In both cases the information could CLEARLY flow over IP instead of using the SDV tuning adapter back channel.  And hopefully all of these companies will see the writing on the wall and start supporting IP as a protocol for this soon.

  • Fanfoot

    Hey Mega, what Tuning Adapter does Charter use?  Seems likely to be Cisco given their preponderance in SDV accounts for some reason.  I’m surprised something that causes you to lose recordings with regularity wouldn’t be the #1 thing you’d want fixed.  How often do the things lock up?  Have you tried just rebooting them every night at say 3am using a digital timer?

    • MegaZone

      Cisco STA1520.  And the issues are often enough to be annoying but not often enough to justify paying a monthly fee for the box.  Most of what I record is cable shows and they re-air so even if it glitches I generally just record the next airing and don’t care.  I always go lifetime on TiVo, and if I switched to Charter I’d have to pay them monthly for their box indefinitely.  That’d end up costing me a heck of a lot more than the issue is worth to fix.

      I haven’t tried restarting it regularly but I don’t think it’d matter.  There is no rhyme or reason to it, no pattern of up-time related issues.  It seems more likely tied to firmware updates being pushed.  And some of the glitches are transient – where it misses a recording do to ‘video signal unavailable’ but records content on other side of the missing show – and even at the same time on the other tuner.  I doubt a restart would do anything for those.

      There have been a couple of instances where I missed something that I cared enough about, but for those I just hit Amazon or Hulu Plus.  I seem to always have Amazon Instant Video credits due to purchases I make getting them as a bonus, and my fiancee subscribes to Hulu Plus so I just piggyback on her account if I need to.  I’ll check legit sources first – Amazon, Hulu, network websites, etc.  (We, rather she since I never subscribed, dumped Netflix when they increased pricing.)   But you might be surprised at how much ends up on YouTube, if only for a limited time until it is yanked. ;-)

      For all I know it could be my TiVo – I’ll see if the Elite I have to review now experiences the same issues as my S3.  Some of the issues could also be with the wiring – crosstalk or interference with the SDV signalling perhaps.  All I can really be certain of is that it is an SDV-related problem.

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