2004, Strangeberry, & Series 3

Discussion in 'TiVo Coffee House - TiVo Discussion' started by maggard, Feb 14, 2006.

  1. maggard

    maggard New Member

    Jan 9, 2003
    Remember 2004?

    Pundits were predicting the imminent demise of money-losing TiVo. Consumer electronics manufacturers were each promising their own DVR lines, it was Replay vs. TiVo, Microsoft was predicting their Media Center would assimilate all, everyone was wondering when Apple would announce their iDVR?

    Well, TiVo is still around, not bought, in partnerships with Yahoo!, Comcast, Roxio, and mebbe Netflix (don't think that number get's called much.) They're not hemorrhaging money anymore but still in the red overall.

    But back in 2004 TiVo did something that got a fair amount of attention: They bought tiny startup "Strangeberry". There were three things that made this notable:
    1. TiVo hadn't (and still hasn't) made a habit of buying startups for their staff, products, or patents.

    2. Strangeberry's Principal was Arthur van Hoff, legendary for being the Senior Engineer of Java, Founder & CTO of Marimba, all around smart-fella, and having boatloads of patents to his name.

    3. Stangeberry was rumored to have developed a nifty media player box to plug into TVs.
    However, van Hoff left TiVo a year later, on his resume characterizing his former role there as:
    Principal Engineer
    Lead architect for the TiVoToGo, Content Distribution Service, and Home Media Engine project. Designed TiVo’s DRM for in-home Media, DRM for Internet distributed content, content publishing, content encoding and encryption, and third party application strategy.​
    OK, we've seen HME, TiVoToGo, downloading digital media like RocketBoom, but did it take buying Strangeberry for however much to do this? And if the goal was to get van Hoff on staff, that didn't last very long for whatever TiVo paid, did it?

    I'm just wondering out loud how this all might play into the Series 3. With the Series 1 TiVo went with dedicated hardware, with the Series 2 they used more generalized hardware, and pushed it hard (witness the S2 not having enough oomph to support the CPU requirements of USB2). With the Series 3 they're shipping a new platform into a market already rife with media player devices, though admittedly few as smooth as the TiVo integration. So is there any other Stangeberry-esque stuff TiVo was unable to do in S2?

    High Definition and multiple tuners aside, anyone have any guesses as to what other features a TiVo Series 3 might offer?

    I'm guessing MP3 playback is a given, also MPEG2 & MPEG4 video. AAC would be nice but given TiVo's ongoing chronic Mac-incompetence I wouldn't hold out hopes there. RSS enclosures are a no-brainer with their existing support of RocketBoom. The server-based application idea seems promising but I've yet to see anything truly compelling. Built-in mebbe a nice web browser for those fine HDTV screens, and gaming is an obvious, if difficult, market.

    Anyone know anything? Hear anything? Brainstorm anything? What would you want on your Series 3, beyond kick-ass already-TiVo stuff?
  2. davezatz

    davezatz Funkadelic

    Apr 18, 2002
    Fairfax, VA
    I think folks have discussed video support in a few other threads, but I don't recall the conclusions.

    What I'd like to see is the simple gaming taken to the new level... The Xbox 360 dashboard and cheapie or freebie downloads prove there's a space for simple games. The HME apps so far have been OK, the only real standout being WordGrid because it's networked live. I'd like to see more animation and more networking with other TiVo customers. Though I guess we'd be limited by the remote in terms of functionality.

    Outside of that I want a speedier interface, more grouping, finer control searching and season pass settings, quicker offloading.
  3. HDTiVo

    HDTiVo Not so Senior Member

    Nov 27, 2002
    Don't expect anything more than the features we've already come to expect. That does include MPEG4.

    TiVo already was a digital media player before Strangeberry came along, and obviously got extended to video with some help from van Hoff, but the entire media player aspect remains very undeveloped and primitive with no reason to expect that anyone at TiVo currently can enhance it beyond small increments like iPod transcoding. Expect the Series 3 to have this functionality and more muscle to do it faster in the case of video.

    HME suffers the same malaise of development/enhancement.

    The time for TiVo to be the one to set the foundation upon which digital media is accessed and consumed has passed. The door was officially closed and locked at CES '06, but the cause was lost much longer before that. TiVo's only option is to integrate with the standard set by Intel/MSFT in cooperation with the major studios.
  4. ZeoTiVo

    ZeoTiVo I can't explain

    Jan 2, 2004
    There was also some software Strangeberry owned that TiVo wanted for discovery of "services" as an underlying structure that TTG/HME/downloads was built on. The buying of strangeberry was as much to get that software and get a significant jump on the development of the new TiVo services.

    I expect that internet downloads will be a significant part of Series 3 feature set and that could range all over the place from a Napster plugin to netflix to games to who knows what
  5. maggard

    maggard New Member

    Jan 9, 2003
    Well, sorta.

    Van Hoff did an implementation of ZeroConf, which Apple popularized as Rendezvous and later had to rename Bonjour. Van Hoof's implementation is called jmDNS and has always been freely available.

    TiVo does use Bonjour as a way of finding other TiVos and TiVo-services on a network, and was indeed an early adopter of the technology. However they clearly don't use jmDNS as it is Java-based and there is no Java technology on a TiVo or in their desktop clients. Furthermore there is nothing all that special about van Hoff's implementation, certainly nothing worthy of a fraction of the presumed millions spent to buy Stangeberry, especially when TiVo could have jmDNS or a half dozen other like packages free for the download.

    Yes, TiVo already features RocketBoom, and has pulled down other digital content as part of promotions.

    Netflix, I think that ship has sailed, at least for the foreseeable future. When the TiVo/Netflix partnership was announced the first thought through every techies head was "How will they get permission to distribute the content / how will they secure the content?" Unfortunately that seems to have been an afterthought to the TiVo/Netflix plans, one that bit them when they actually went to turn on the content.

    Just this week Disney announced plans to resuscitate (with a lot of Cisco cash) their own streamed/stored MovieBeam digital movie server, offering the hardware for $200, requiring a $9 monthly fee, and costing $2-$4 to unlock a movie for viewing for 24 hours. The player will come pre-loaded with 100 films and get 10 new ones rotated in a month. Everything, of course, secured, DRM'ed, and audited, to the nth degree.

    However TiVo/Netflix was never heard to negotiate any contract like this with studios, instead seemed to think they could count downloads as DVD rentals. If that was the situation then there was some serious cluelessness going on in both companies, in any case the project got abruptly dropped after being hyped for a few months. I don't see it getting resumed unless TiVo Series 3 has some serious DRM they can reassure the MPAA with.

    Actually for me that is one of the big questions - how picky will TiVo be about their content sources? Will they try and lock their box down tight and go the MPAA-authorized route or adopt a more laissez-faire attitude and show whatever however, it's the users responsibility to police their content sources.

    What sort of downloaded video content, and downloaded how, do you anticipate TiVo supporting?
  6. jmoak

    jmoak Beware of Conky!

    Jun 20, 2000
    for what it's worth.....

  7. maggard

    maggard New Member

    Jan 9, 2003
    How much of that is constraints of the S2 architecture and how much of that is TiVo's lack of good developer tools/relations?

    I 'get' why TiVo has had to keep putting off the S3, and looking at the hardware specs of the S2 I could understand their reluctance to overload it and degrade their core functionality, what I don't understand is why no Series 2.5?

    If the problem was hardware upgrading the processor and popping in some more memory would've cost $5/unit in chips and $20 more to the consumer. Was there a fear of creating too many models, coming out with a S2.5 with a 3 close on it's heels, did they just keep expecting the S3 to be possible 'next quarter', for several years?

    Or is TiVo that muddled inside, this season it's Strategy A and next month Strategy B, with lots of motion but not much action? I could understand developer support getting lost in those sorts of tides but if so then they're worse off then anyone thought.

    Tellingly, yesterday TiVo finally released an update to their Mac client that works under MacOS Tiger, ironically the same day Apple released their 5th upgrade to that version of the OS. Wow - Apple gets out 5 OS revisions in the time it takes TiVo to fix their one application, and that application still doesn't support TiVoToGo...

    But the dropping of Galleon, and Leon's bittersweet resignation letter, really highlights TiVo's developer problems. We've been hearing about their media strategy for years, heck I paid $99 for HME, and still it's a complete disappointment and apparently a craptacular mess on the inside.

    Does TiVo have a rabbit-in-the-hat for S3 or just more promises? I just hope it's at least backwards compatible with Galleon 'cause TiVo's own offerings are tragic.
  8. HDTiVo

    HDTiVo Not so Senior Member

    Nov 27, 2002
    Given that TiVo now supports both DRM wrapped (.tivo) and open (mpeg) content I am willing to assume they will do so in the future. So I think they'll support the paid MSFT-DRM wrapped video all the studios are going to offer as well as a broad spec. of mpeg2 and mpeg4 that folks may happen to "find" on their PCs.

    How tight they play the "external" network support is open to question. Will they only support internet download (direct to TiVo) of specific paid content from specific paid services? Good chance there.
  9. ZeoTiVo

    ZeoTiVo I can't explain

    Jan 2, 2004
    Magagrd you are reading a lot into all this, and your speculation is as valid as anyone's speculation and certainly more detailed but I think you are reading more in than is there and your last post is getting terms confused now.

    You paid 99$ for HMO which is very different from what HME is now.
    Leon is a 3rd party developer of the open source Galleon - He may have written of his opinion of HME and if so I would count it an expert opinion but I do not recall anything like that.

    Why would someone like Van Hoff be content to stay at TiVo - the Man has done so many things in his life I highly doubt a 9-5 responsibility would have long term appeal. And I highly doubt TiVo would just give him total free reign within such a critical piece of their business strategy. Never was the right fit.

    TiVo openly advertised for Mac developers adn seem to have found some. For quite a spell it seems they had no Mac developer (I would bet they fired the other one ;) ) it was not a question of taking a lot of time, it was a question of finding someone to spend the time.

    You seem to be wrong on Netflix - and Netflix knew they needed a download type license, but the studios had no interest in giving them any. It was not due to cluelessness, just competitive playing field.

    Seems to me we will just have to wait and see what will unfold from TiVo this year to see what kind of plan and how well they execute it.
  10. HDTiVo

    HDTiVo Not so Senior Member

    Nov 27, 2002
    Its all TiVo's lack and not the S2 architecture.

    The only limit TiVo has hit with the S2 - or would hit with the kinds of feature extensions I think we both are talking about - is the data rate over the network. This only impacts video transfers(MRV/TTC&G/IP download) at a practical level.

    They did create an S2.5 (as its dubbed in the Forum) - it has noticably lower network performance than the original S2, exacerbating the video transfer limits. They did this knowing about the constraint; historically the 540 came out before TTG, but not MRV, however TiVo had to have known by the 540 release date the TTG issue as well; what does it say if with the original S2 release TiVo did not have a roadmap that told them the demands of MRV/TTG and that an S2.5 ought to have more network oomph? You know the answer. But TiVo was caught between two strategies - A) cheap to produce boxes and B) high performance. The decision obviously turned out to be to sell a passable box with significant cost of ownership (to non-eBay users) under a brand that had become known for premium quality and revolutionary vision; this put them in an undefined market space between highend and mass market low end with a low end box and a high end price.

    If TiVo held back on a high end S2.X because of an internal faction that believed an SA HDTiVo was six months away for the last three years, then what would you say about an organization that chose to not produce a product line that was say $200 more because a product line that was suited for a different (and small) market segment and maybe $800 more might also ship soon after? Again, you know.

    You are right, the Tiger situation is one of many little things that "tellingly" speak to the state of affairs within TiVo for the last 3-4 years.

    There's no rabbit in the hat, but the S3 will be a good machine. Will it be as stable and reliable in all respects as the S2s and S1s were? I doubt it; nothing TiVo has done in the last several years has matched that early quality and vision. I fully expect the S3 will have the power to do what needs to be done well enough to stop complaints about video transfer rates, and will be far superior in quality to today's and even later this year's cable DVRs.
  11. moyekj

    moyekj Well-Known Member

    Jan 23, 2006
    Except that the data size of 1080i recordings can be as much as 8-10GB/hour so that's a lot more data to deal with than S2 boxes have to so I'm sure we will be complaining about slow network speeds for HD recording extraction.
  12. gonzotek

    gonzotek tivo_xml developer

    Sep 24, 2004
    I'm interested in the TGC box, specifically its S2 architecture with a onboard ethernet port. I don't know if there's been any real information about the actual workings of the networking features on these boxes.
  13. mattack

    mattack Well-Known Member

    Apr 9, 2001
    Haven' t read this whole thread yet, but it's largely stuff I've wanted ever since I started using Tivo.

    Media server -- Have each Tivo be able to have a relatively small drive (so as to be able to absolutely record shows, not losing data due to network probs). Then have each Tivo upload (possibly even MANUALLY, but preferably automagically) the recordings to big hella server I have somewhere, filled with Fry's $100 hard drives du jour.

    The server could even be the gateway for cooperative scheduling.

    DVD recorder with multi-session and editing-before-burning. I know this is probably never gonna happen, but it's why I bought a far less reliable third party PVR/DVD recorder to use along with my Tivos.

    Free space indicator.. but with a media server, much less necessary (except for the server itself).
  14. HDTiVo

    HDTiVo Not so Senior Member

    Nov 27, 2002
    No way. I'll be disappointed to see less than 40mb/sec - ie. about 2X max HD bitrate.
  15. HDTiVo

    HDTiVo Not so Senior Member

    Nov 27, 2002
    This is the hope...fanned by the disappearing S2 inventories...that there really is an S2+ coming.
  16. ZeoTiVo

    ZeoTiVo I can't explain

    Jan 2, 2004
    the last I heard there was no TiVoDesktop done for thsoe boxes in Asia yet. So there would be no tests of that speed
  17. maggard

    maggard New Member

    Jan 9, 2003
    Not particularly.

    Seriously, HMO offered MP3 & JPEG. HME with TiVo Desktop offers music and photos. They're substantially the same thing.

    Can HME do a lot more? Sure. I can download the Late Night guest lists (works 50/50), get the weather (like the TV channel!), subscribe to a 3 minute daily video podcast, and play a few games from a non-TiVo site that do what a $5 kids toy or a Flash applet do. None of those are in any way compelling features, nor I expect widely used.

    At least with Galleon I get some more substantive features, it shows off HME a heck of a lot more then the TiVo-labelled offerings.

    HME may have had great potential, and it may still be nifty, but with everyone and their strategic partner breathing down TiVos neck those possibilities need to be realized in a quarter or two.

    And TiVoToGo? Painfully slow downloads, no edit capability (yeah, folks want to save the commercials to their PSPs & iPods), and paying $60 more for Sonics DVD software. And, not to harp on it, they've really shafted their Mac customers in a shameful way, deserving all of the bad press & unhappiness they've garnered for it.

    He did, it's his blog entry just before the one you reposted, where he threw in the towel. It basically deplores the state of TiVo's HMO & HME APIs (they're separate), the lack of documentation, the lack of direction, the lack of, well, any signs of life by 3rd party developers or by TiVo. It's pretty damning.

    I agree. So why the money spent on Strangeberry? Was it viewed as a breathtakingly expensive (I assume) 1 year consulting fee for van Hoff? He lasted just over that year, basically as short as he could under a typical buyout deal. He left behind - HME? So it cost TiVo that much to hire someone to oversee development of HME?

    I keep hoping there was more then meets the eye, some 'synergy' between the box Strangeberry was showing around and what TiVo has done. Instead I see a great DVR with a decidedly underwhelming Media-thingy awkwardly stuck in it's menus.

    I've hired Developers, nobody takes that long to replace a Developer if they're in any way serious about the product. Or, if they're REALLY serious about it and want to find the absolute perfect match then in the meantime they toss someone's drinking buddy who does Mac coding gigs on the side a few grand to make TiVo Desktop work again. Instead it took.. how long?

    I'm guessing Netflix really did know they needed deals with studios and other copyright owners. I'm also guessing Netflix knows that EVERYONE wants access to those kinda rights and their owners are being VERY cagey about them.

    Downloadable movies are where downloadable music was a few years ago - everyone excited but the owners terrified of letting their magic bits get lose in the wild. It took Steve Jobs to get five labels to sell to iTunes for that market to finally happen, and it'll take a Sumner Redstone or Steve Jobs or some other big studio/store/service deal to happen for movies.

    So who was blowing the smoke? Was TiVo believing Netflix had some magic 'in'? Was Netflix thinking they had some special edge? Were they just both talking big for the press (and their investors)? Did they honestly think that a DVR maker, admittedly a very nice one, and a DVD rental-by-mail business, were gonna get the gold ticket?

    The assumption by everyone else was there was some cause for the hype, then when it came time to deliver it all dropped dead. Leaving the question was it all big plans in small rooms or was a rug pulled out at the last minute?

    I agree.

    My own concern, as someone who is fond of his TiVo, that they'll find themselves irrelevant in 12 months. I don't see plugging a desktop PC into a TV to be a big threat, those are still in separate rooms. But I can imagine another company out-DVR-ing TiVo. Right now they're sorta secure with their patent portfolio but nobody can plug every hole and their technology lead is about spent.

    Game Console + OpenTV, Happy Lucky Factory #45 HD DVD/DVR, Samsung Personal Player Videopod with Base Station, or Cisco/Linksys/Scientific Atlanta/Frog Design uber-box, I could easily imagine any of those sideswiping TiVo.

    I don't mean to be all doom & gloom. I'm hoping that TiVo has been playing it's cards close to it's vest, that they really do have something impressive coming together as their S3 ship date approaches, that they'll be able to offer a great HD DVR with media features and a great non-HD DVR with media features. I'm just wondering what that could be, and what we can anticipate from looking at what they have already tossed over the wall.

    It'll be interesting to revisit this in 12 months.
  18. ChuckyBox

    ChuckyBox New Member

    Oct 3, 2005
    While I think your original contention (i.e., what did TiVo get from the Strangeberry acquisition) is valid (and interesting), I don't see these issues having a huge impact on TiVo's business near-term. While product differentiation through advanced features will become increasingly important, in the current market the vast majority of consumers don't even have basic DVR features yet. TiVo is really the only brand name in that space, and I think they'll be able to leverage that position to continue their growth for some time. And while others may be catching up, I don't see TiVo falling behind in the advanced features -- that market is still uncertain, and I see the company exploring the space to discover what features customers really value.

    As for development of HME, my guess is that the Comcast and Series 3 projects have the company a bit over-extended in the engineering departments. Up until a month or so ago they were still hiring like mad. That seems to have slowed somewhat now, but I'd expect those projects to still be the priorities for the next few months. Based on recent comments by the CEO, though, TiVo is very committed to moving forward with advanced features.

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