Serving Up TV Content

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Most of the recent press attention given to the convergence of computers and audio/video components has focused on moving digital audio and video content from computer hard drives to home stereo equipment or high-definition televisions. This market segment has exploded with a plethora of product offerings, from sub-$200 media receivers from companies like Linksys, Netgear and D-link to the $25,000-plus video server solution from Kaleidescape.

But a new trend is emerging that is equally engagingthe ability to transfer recorded television content to computing devices like laptops and mobile media players. In addition to moving audio/video content from the office to the living room, were now looking at the return path of moving audio/video content from the living room to the office.

At first glance one may question the wisdom of moving entertainment content from the homes comfortable media area to the office. If this audio/video content remained on the office computer, then this functionality would not be very appealing. The prospect of storing this content on portable computing devices, however, makes this a very attractive proposition. Think of the success of the Apple iPod and now add recorded television content to these mobile devices and one can foresee the potential popularity of this product category.

The one caveat that must be included for products in this category (an especially important one to CEDIA dealers) is that while Hollywood has accepted the fact that standard recorded television can be transported digitally around the home and into computers, the same is not true of high-definition recorded television. These recordings must stay in the set-top box in which they were recorded and are not legally transferable. Given the state of network transport and storage technology today, that is not necessarily a showstopper. High-definition recordings require an order of magnitude greater storage capacity than standard-definition recordings. Even with the various compression algorithms available to move this content, they can still be very time-consuming to transport and store throughout the home and almost impossible to upload to a site outside the home. Also, a valid point can be made that when one sits down to watch recorded content on a mobile player that a high-definition experience is not generally expected or required.

Lets briefly review the pros and cons of three new products that are enabling the movement of recorded television content to the computer world:

TiVoToGo (www.tivo.com): At the end of last year, TiVo announced that it had received approval from the FCC to let TiVos content out of its box and onto peoples hard drives. Now anyone with a TiVo Series 2 recorder can have their TiVo DVR firmware upgraded to the latest 7.1x revision that will allow the TiVo to serve recorded files to PC clients. The process to enable this functionality requires the following steps be taken:

1) You sign up on TiVos website stating you would like to have this firmware upgrade. TiVo will put you on a priority waiting list to get this upgrade. My upgrade took about six weeks to process, and I was notified that my upgrade had been completed via e-mail.

2) You must have a TiVo-approved USB-to-wired or -wireless Ethernet connector attached to your TiVo Series 2 unit and the homes local area network to transport the TiVo content to a computer or laptop.

3) From the TiVo site you download TiVo Desktop to your Windows 2000 or XP client (not yet Mac compatible) that enables your computer to search for TiVo PVR servers in the home for content.

4) Once TiVo servers are discovered, you can download TV shows to your computer or laptop. Keep in mind that these shows or movies will require several gigabytes of space so you will need lots of extra space on your hard drive. Also, these audio/video files require decompression codecs that may or may not exist on your portable-computing platform. If they dont exist you will not be able to playback the video until you download the appropriate codec to your computer.
From reading the previous TiVoToGo implementation description, it should be clear that this service, while marketed to the masses of TiVo users, would only be successfully implemented by a small percentage of their tech savvy customers.

This relatively complex integration represents a great opportunity to the CEDIA dealer that can set up this TiVoToGo service for their clients. With your assistance, a customer only needs to know how to click a TiVo icon on their laptop to begin downloading their own personal TiVo content.

Sonys LocationFree TV (http://12.155.226.67/flash.html): At the end of last year, Sony announced its wireless location free television solution. Instead of moving stored audio/video content from one hard drive to another, LocationFree TV takes advantage of the faster 802.11a/g wireless protocol to stream recorded television to their portable 7-inch or 12.1-inch diagonal players. These portable players can be viewed anywhere around the home (as long as youre within 50 to 100 feet of their wireless gateway transmitter. Currently, Sony allows one to stream television only to its mobile players, but the company plans to release software this year that will enable content to stream from a gateway to a Windows-based laptop.

One very intriguing feature of this product is the ability to stream personally recorded video content over the Internet to their player. Sonys gateway has a composite audio/video input port that will encode and stream content coming into this port. The example given by Sony is that one could sit in a hotel room with broadband Internet access, call up the site of their home Sony LocationFree gateway from their browser and begin watching any content recorded on their home personal video recorder. Better yet, Sony provides IR blasting capability from its gateway so one could control a home PVR from a LocationFree Sony player in the hotel. Of course that could be a real nuisance if someone else at home is watching the same PVR, but that is something a phone call home should help alleviate.

Sling Media (www.slingmedia.com): There is another video transport solution by a new company called Sling Media. This company has developed a set-top box that will encode any content coming out of any composite or S-video audio/video port (i.e. from a CD/DVD player, VCR or PVR). This encoded content will stream onto the home network and can be decoded by any computer or laptop on the network accessing this content. They also have developed onscreen software customized for many common A/V devices that lets one control their A/V devices from the computer screen that is viewing the content. I saw a demonstration of this product at CES earlier this year and was impressed by its capabilities. It is scheduled to begin shipping during the second quarter of this year.

As custom electronics integrators we typically think or ourselves as providers of great entertainment solutions inside the home. With these new networkable audio/video solutions we can help our clients leverage their in-home solutions with portable entertainment platforms that allow them to enjoy their content anywhere and anytime outside the home. I think Apple has already proven what a successful proposition that can be.

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