Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Tivo, Directv and my PSP

I have been itching for some kind of new tech toy for a while now but nothing has been jumping out at me. No gadget has raised my interest level. I have been looking at some of the cool Japanese stuff for the PSP like GPS and a Video camera attachment but they are only available as gray market products and honestly besides the nerd factor neither of those have much appeal for me. Ok, maybe the video camera.

The one thing that I have been slightly intrigued by has been the Tivo To Go offering that allows me to take my Tivo shows with me on my PSP. When I had first heard about this I thought it was pretty cool and I checked out my Directv account to see if they offer the Series 2 Tivo, which is a requirement. Not. There is some historical battle between the two that I am not too familiar with with the result being that they don't offer the newer boxes. Because of that, and my undying devotion to Directv, I let that idea float out of my mind.

Recently however, Amazon announced the Unboxed program which will allow people to do pay per view on their Tivo of new releases over broadband to their television. That sounds pretty promising if only because I can now expand the offering beyond what Directv offers me. This new data point combined with the desire to play with a networked Tivo device got me to take the plunge. I picked up the cheapest Tivo Series 2 and eagerly started my exploration.

Right off the bat I hit a pretty substantial snag. The Series 2 Tivo allows you to record two shows at once. My HD DVR from Directv is supposed to do that as well but how it does continues to escape me. On the coax from the satellite I had to install a splitter from the satellite with one end going into my receiver and then other end going into my Tivo. Seems easy enough. For some reason, which I am still investigating, this just doesn't work. My sense is that there is some power issue or some drain on the signal that makes this not work and results in no picture. When I looked at the signal levels there isn't enough strength.

I ended up just plugging one connection into the receiver. This worked but renders my Tivo unable to change the channel on the satellite. Actually that is not entirely true. It sometimes changes the channel but it seems like there is in fact two channels being dealt with. I need to dig in more and my next step is to get a powered splitter. I have a hunch that this will solve the problem. There are a number of other smaller problems around the guide and my need to manually switch channels but with the television on the NFL channel, I am getting a pretty good chunk of off-season programming to help me through my post football grief.

So with my first step at least partially accomplished I went back to the reason I went down this path, to put movies on my PSP for long flights. In order to get content off the Tivo and onto the PSP I have to first get the content off the Tivo and onto a PC or Mac. In the PC case this is easy with the free version of Tivo desktop that you can download from their site. In the case of the Mac, the software from the website allows you to connect your Mac to the Tivo device which allows you to show pictures from your Mac on your TV or to play music from your Mac. While certainly cool, the inability to download and play shows on the Mac is a bummer.

At this point there are two purchases that have to occur, or rather at least one. If you want to get the movies from your PC to your PSP you have to purchase the Tivo To Go software. This is around $25 and allows you to transfer shows to your PSP and various Windows Mobile and other devices. On the Mac front, you can buy the Roxio Toast package that lets you play the shows on your Mac, transfer them to portables, or even burn DVDs. Nice, although the price tag is around $100. Ouch.

For now I have passed on the Mac piece although with a house full of kids you can be sure I will be burning Thomas The Train and Barney before you know it. As far as the PSP piece goes, once you transfer a movie to the PC the software automatically converts the show into a format that is compatible with the PSP. After that you have to connect your PSP to the PC and use the PSP Media software to move the files across. All in all that is pretty labor intensive but the end result is worth it. With my largish frame, sitting in a middle seat on a cross country flight is brutal. Opening a laptop up to watch a show makes no sense. On the other hand firing up the PSP and watching the NFL network or Jackass Number Two is a no brainer. Duh.

So clearly there is some more work to do on my side but I think there are some items worth considering beyond the mechanics I just outlined above. First, the idea that I can time shift and place shift my content is immensely powerful. I can stream live television to my PSP with my Location Free server or package it up for non connected consumption on a long flight. Second, although there are a number of steps and theatrics involved in moving the content around, this can only improve with time. For example, all the devices mentioned, PC, Mac, PSP and my Tivo all have Wifi and in some cases broadband connectivity. Once the mechanics are smooth I'd love to see my PSP talk to my Tivo and grab some shows while it is sitting in my computer bag without me having to do cartwheels.

There are a lot of follow on items to consider when thinking through the various ways this plays out over time but one thing is certain to me and that is that the user is increasingly in charge og what, where, when and how their content is being consumed and independent of any other force, this one is truly out of the bag and how the media companies choose to address this from an economic perspective will be one of the great stories of the coming years. I plan to watch with great interest.


dmkanter said...

Great post! I too enjoy LFTV and have struggled with getting content on my PSP. One low-tech way is to purchase a neruos recorder from amazon. For the simplicity of being able to stick a media card into the recorder, you have to sit there and "wait" while the whole show plays. However the results are pretty good on the PSP.

Anonymous said...

Some great info here. One thing, the Series 2 TiVo and DT TiVo do not work directly with satellite. You have to use the serial cable or IR blaster cable and hook your DirecTV box into the TiVo. There is no satellite decoder in the TiVo, it needs the box, just like it needs a cable box to get digital cable.

Once you do that, it will work great, or maybe you could just use it for Unbox...