Taking the Show Wherever You Go: TiVo Stream


I recently returned from a weeklong family reunion: there were five families and three generations in one house, including a dozen children under 19. During the week we were together, including one rainy day and night, I noticed that only the family members over 30 watched TV. Scattered among the children were two tablets, an iPod touch and lots of smart phones – and these devices provided all of the kids’ video entertainment for the week.  Just a couple of years ago, I recall our reunion included several nights of the kids watching DVDs and teenagers glued to popular television shows. This time, only the ‘old folks’ sat in front of a TV.

The flight home also revealed a marked change from just a few years ago, more and more people viewing video on their tablets, and ignoring the free movie overhead while in flight. Not surprising, given that Apple has sold over 100 million of their tablets and others such as the Surface are just starting to take off.

Cable and Satellite operators are well aware of this shifting dynamic in television viewing. They are working on solutions to extend their pay television service beyond the living room television. For example TV Everywhere (TVE) services extend the video service to web browsers on the PC, or to specific applications on the Tablet. TVE deployments to date however provide only a subset of the linear and VOD offerings in a cable subscription. For example they don’t offer local television stations, and they can’t access the user’s DVR recordings.

As a supplier to operators, TiVo provides traditional STB (DVR and standard non DVR), Tablet/Smartphone apps and TVE solutions. But now we have a third tool for operators: the TiVo Stream. The TiVo Stream extends the operator’s traditional service to include the two use cases I observed on my trip: watching your cable TV and DVR service on tablets and smartphones, and taking that content with you on the plane.

The TiVo Stream allows operators and users to extend their existing, high quality source of television – your digital cable TV service – to the devices the next generation will use. With the Stream you will be able to watch live or recorded programming on your tablet in the home, without worrying about download speeds or bandwidth caps. And you can transfer recordings to the tablet to take with you on the road: no more buying individual episodes from iTunes since you already get them with your cable subscription. Instead of driving customers to seek out alternatives to Cable, such as iTunes and Netflix, they can extend the value of their current cable subscription. Instead of disaggregating the operator by driving the user to Hulu or HBO Go, the Stream puts the focus back on the total cable package. Users also benefits from the higher quality, and better on-demand selection, that cable provides compared to over-the-top alternatives.

Like all TiVo products, the TiVo Stream takes a complex technology solution and makes it easy for users. It seamlessly integrates with the customer’s existing TiVo experience, adding functionality without adding complexity. Some of the technology we developed for the Stream includes:

  • MPEG trans-rating – After years of migrating digital cable to beautiful, high definition MPEG-2 streams, operators are now faced with the problem that tablets and smartphones don’t speak MPEG-2, or display high resolution images on their smaller screens. The TiVo Stream can trans-rate MPEG-2 to MPEG-4, plus change the image format to meet the smaller screen sizes. Better yet, it does this to both live TV and recorded content seamlessly. When I used to teach video compression in the 90s I said it would take a super computer to trans-rate compressed video. The Stream really is a “super” computer.
  • Multiple device support – We knew we couldn’t give our customers a product that only supported one mobile device at a time. Therefore the TiVo Stream can support multiple devices on the home network simultaneously, without adversely affecting the ability to record shows on the DVR at the same time. That means we had to be able to move almost 100 Mbps of content onto, and off the DVR hard drive, while simultaneously sending it over the home LAN to the Stream on onward to the wireless network. That’s a lot of bits to keep track of. Luckily the TiVo Premiere and Stream are up to the challenge.
  • Faster than real-time – As a road warrior, I routinely download movies or shows to my tablet before a trip. The Stream can take a one hour show from my TiVo DVR, convert it to the smaller screen size for my tablet, and copy it in about 15 minutes. Like the previous TiVo Desktop software, we will make it easy for users to copy shows they want and be confident they will be on their tablet when they head for the airport.
  • Auto-discovery – The last thing we want users to do is set up yet another home networking device; configuring things like DHCP servers, entering IP addresses, etc. Like all other TiVo devices, the Stream uses auto-discovery to locate the TiVo DVRs on the home network and automatically connect. Since we’ve been offering home networking support on our products for almost ten years, we have the experience to make it simple and robust for the user.

The rapid growth of smartphones and tablets, coupled with almost ubiquitous wireless networking means the next generation of TV viewers will not be confined to the couch in the living room. TiVo is creating the tools, and the integrated experience, to extend your cable service into this new model.

Joe Weber, PhD. is Vice President, Technology Strategy for TiVo Inc. Follow Dr. Weber or tweet him questions at @DrJoeAtTiVo.

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