OTA DVR race heats up

Tablo TV with program grid.

What the Tablo program grid looks like on a TV with Roku.

At first I was going to brag about my new gigabit internet access, then I remembered that you’d want to know who was providing it (CenturyLink) and how the installation process went (pretty badly), so I skipped it. Anyway, there’s just too much over-the-air TV DVR news to ignore.

First I’ll tip my hat again to ZatzNotFunny, which reported that TiVo has a limited-time offer of lifetime service for its Roamio OTA DVR if you can purchase it for $300. As ZatzNotFunny’s commenters noticed, that special URL won’t always load, but repeatedly clicking the link (not just refreshing the unwanted landing page) has worked for some folks, including me. TiVo has long been the gold standard in DVRs, and this removes the Roamio OTA’s main competitive disadvantage – its really high monthly fees. At $300, it’s still a little expensive to recommend wholeheartedly, but now I would at least consider choosing the Roamio OTA.

That’s even truer given the second bit of news. As first reported by ZDNet over the weekend, the next major version of Microsoft Windows will not include Windows Media Center. In fact, WMC will be incompatible with Windows 10, so there would be no way to add it as an extra feature as with Windows 8. As the ZDNet article describes, this won’t mean much to existing Windows 7 computers running WMC, except that they now have a sunset date of 2020, when Microsoft will probably stop supporting that operating system. Computers running Windows 8.1 with the WMC add-on will be supported to 2023. Too bad WMC is fading just as cord-cutting is getting popular.

Over at Tablo, they’re celebrating a Best of Show Award from the recent NAB Show. Tablo was pitching to internet service providers and similar folks that could add an OTA antenna and some Tablo equipment during an installation to give their customers local channels. Tablo is also opening its Roku grid preview for all Tablo owners; it’s a decent implementation of a program grid considering that it has to be pushed through a restrictive Roku device.

And I’ll close with some good news: The HDHomeRun DVR Kickstarter that I wrote about last time has met its goal weeks in advance. Not only is the DVR funded, but they’re also closing in on the stretch goal of adding support for Kodi (until recently called XBMC). I look forward to getting a chance to try it out.

NAB Notes: OTA DVR roundup edition

Luc Tomasino, TabletTV CMO, describes his product at the NAB Show.

Luc Tomasino, TabletTV CMO, describes his product at the NAB Show.

I’ve about recovered from the annual National Association of Broadcasters Show in Las Vegas, held this week. Its organizers announced that over 100,000 people attended this year, a slight increase over last year, but the general mood was just a little quieter.

Before the show opened, Multichannel News hit the stands with a cover story on over-the-air TV: Threat From the Skies. You should read the whole thing, but the main idea was that pay TV should be concerned about OTA, especially OTA DVRs such as TiVo’s Roamio OTA and Channel Master’s DVR+, which is pictured in the article.

Despite this heightened awareness, not much actually happened with those OTA DVRs. The DVR+ displayed some recent integrated online video sources in its program grid, but Channel Master representatives expected to have bigger news in a few weeks. Simple.TV didn’t make a public appearance, although news came during the show that it had raised another $5.1 million. Tablo issued a press release that said it was trying to lure regional broadband operators to add its service. TabletTV hosted a conference session for low-power TV broadcasters to point out that in an OTA program grid, the LPTV listings are just as prominent as the full-power guys’.

There just wasn’t much news from this group in Las Vegas, but I expect to hear a lot more soon.

Other notes:

  • NAB President Gordon Smith’s keynote was genial and relaxed. For example, he said that in contrast to cable TV news, local TV news is important because it’s “where Americans turn when they want just the facts with no yelling, screaming and finger-pointing.” Smith is a sharp guy celebrating five years of satisfying the disparate audiences within the association, but this particular speech sounded a lot like a fireside chat from SCTV’s Mayor Tommy Shanks.
  • Features of the next-generation broadcasting standard, ATSC 3.0, found their way into several exhibitors’ displays, which demonstrated text-based emergency alerts, seamless mobile reception, 4K resolution, and many other wish-list items. What’s still uncertain is exactly which of those features will be included in the finalized version of ATSC 3.0, which will then require a whole new generation of TV sets to view it. Expect at least another decade with the status quo.
  • Camera drones were a big topic of conversion and demonstration. Brian Holl, VP of Strategy and Outreach for the Small UAV Coalition, showed off a small multi-rotor flier and discussed the FAA’s rules against commercial use of such devices. Holl said that his organization is focusing on Congress to change the law to allow responsible piloting of camera drones. While it might not happen soon, Holl believed that it was inevitable; as he put it, “Technology always wins.”

4SeTV shows off 4-in-1 OTA TV

Founder Hyung Lim with a TV displaying four shows at once

Founder Hyung Lim with a TV displaying four shows at once

I love it when anyone tried to do something new with over-the-air TV signals. I also like hearing about entrepreneurs who took a great idea and did whatever was needed to make it a reality. So I really enjoyed meeting Hyung Lim, founder of 4SeTV, which was exhibiting at the ShowStoppers event just before the 2015 edition of the NAB Show in Las Vegas.

The basic idea is pretty simple – take four OTA tuners, build a four-panel display with four TV signals, then send them over a local network to a smart TV or other internet-enabled viewing device. According to the 4SeTV web site, the idea came to Lim as a great way to watch sports on several channels at once.

I don’t like to be negative, but despite several listings at the 4SeTV booth of some Saturday and Sunday afternoons that happened to include four OTA sporting events, live sports are running away from OTA, not towards it. Fortunately, Lim also sold 4SeTV’s mother company, DMT, on the idea of selling this as a feature to cable companies, possibly reserving one of the screen quarters for advertisements.

Still, it seemed to me that Lim would like to see that little 4SeTV device work in cable-cutter households. It’s on its second Kickstarter, where it’s available for $99 instead of the projected eventual, who’s-gonna-pay-it price of $179. It sure looks like a fun feature, and I salute anyone who cares that much about OTA TV.

Come have a great time with me at the NAB Show

NAB Show Official Blogger badgeJust a month from now, on April 13-16, the National Association of Broadcasters will return to Las Vegas to host the NAB Show. The strongest concentration of TV and video enthusiasts under one roof will flock to the Las Vegas Convention Center for a lot of networking, idea sharing, and general good times. Best of all, dear reader, you can join in the fun for free if you use my special guest pass code GA02 when you register for an exhibits-only pass.

This January at the International CES, I was chatting with a public relations rep who volunteered that her most enjoyable trade show of the year is the NAB Show; I had to agree. There’s an underlying current of camaraderie and creativity at the NAB Show, that every newsroom editor is one step away from directing a feature film, and that every TV news director is just one cool on-screen gadget from having the highest ratings in his market.

On the other hand, you don’t need to work in the broadcast industry to attend, and there’s plenty for us TV/video enthusiasts to enjoy. In addition to the entertaining opening keynote address and a later address by FCC chairman (and surprising Net Neutrality champion) Tom Wheeler, all attendees will be able to see a special session on “The World of The Walking Dead” featuring Steven Yeun and executive producer Robert Kirkman.

Of course, the primary benefit of an exhibits-only pass is the exhibit area, spread out over every hall of the LVCC. All of the exhibitors are pitching to broadcasters, but we enthusiasts can see possible new technologies and delivery methods, such as last year’s Tablet TV. (I’ll tell you more about that in my next post.) There are always surprises and plenty of personal networking opportunities, especially at the ubiquitous happy hours every afternoon. So come spend a day or three with at the NAB Show, where I’m sure you’ll have a good time.

One last lesson from CES 2015

Left to right: Kris Alexander, Akamai; Jeff Binder, Layer3 TV; and Michael Goodman, Strategy Analytics, three of the panelists at an Internet TV conference session at CES.

Left to right: Kris Alexander, Akamai; Jeff Binder, Layer3 TV; and Michael Goodman, Strategy Analytics, three of the panelists at an Internet TV conference session at CES.

I promised myself that this year, at the International CES, I wouldn’t take photos of the zillion iPhone cases on display. If you wanted to see that, you’ll just have to content yourself with last year’s set. Instead, I’ll close the book on CES 2015 with truly useful insight.

Not my insight, of course. In this case, it came from a conference session called “InternetTV – The Disruption – Skinny TV – Mega Premium”. CES has plenty of conference tracks, but in general I find that the speakers at conference sessions either tell me what I already know or merely promote their companies’ initiatives, usually just new products or services. But this session ran before the show floor opened and at the same time as the opening keynote address. Unfortunately, I’ve never encountered a newsworthy CES keynote.

This conference session was better than most. The panelists discussed changing consumer behavior both caused by and driving internet-based TV viewing, especially as it related to the pay-TV bundle. Downplaying reports of widespread cord-cutting, Michael Goodman, Director of Digital Media for Strategy Analytics, said that millennials have always watched less TV and were less likely to subscribe to pay TV.  In support of pay-TV bundles, Jeff Binder, CEO of Layer3 TV, said, “I think that consumers have not changed a whole lot. Each household has different constituents that watch different channels.” That echoed an earlier statement by TiVo’s Evan Young, who said, “Consumers are not monolithic. It’s different if you’re single.”

Later, the panelists discussed the economics of multi-channel TV, largely agreeing the the content owners ultimately, albeit indirectly, set the price to consumers. Goodman saw that, for example, Netflix’s low-cost contracts with content owners would all eventually require renewal and renegotiation. “Netflix is not going to cost $9-10 (per month) a year from now,” he said. “It’ll be $20 or $30.”

It was all surprisingly meaty, interesting discussion about the always unknowable future, with equal doses of inevitable change and unyielding status quo. But it was Kris Alexander, Chief Strategist at Akamai, who distilled the future of TV into one sentence. When it comes to competing TV systems, Alexander said, discovery and curation are critical.

That was a great thought to keep in my head for the rest of the show. When Tablo, Channel Master, TiVo and even SiliconDust were showing off their latest, they all were looking to offer new channels and suggestions to the viewer. When I would mention those two keys to the TV future, exhibitors would pause, then nod in appreciation for that clear vision.

As we move toward free TV (as in free speech, not free beer) where every viewer can choose what to watch and when to watch it, the winning viewing platform will be the one with the easiest interface and the best suggestions. I’m looking forward to seeing what comes out on top.

12 secrets to surviving CES

Video wall at CES 2011

Prepare to be dazzled by video walls like this one from CES 2011. Part of a photo by Tech Cocktail.

The International CES, what we used to call the Consumer Electronics Show, opens in three weeks. I’ve already got my hotel and plane reservations, but as is tradition, I check prices every week leading up to the show. During the Great Recession, those prices would actually go down as the deadline approached. Last couple of years, they’ve gone up as the weeks went by. This year, in the runup to CES 2015, the numbers are crazy, climbing faster and reaching higher than I’ve ever seen. CES 2014 set an attendance record. CES 2015 should attract even more.

If you happen to be one of those new attendees, welcome! A couple of years ago, Chris Potter wrote 10 Steps for Success at NAB, a slightly smaller show at the same convention center. That’s a good primer for the personal connections aspect, and overall the second-best convention guide I’ve read. First place goes immodestly to my own guide, refined through years of experience of attending CES and the NAB Show. Here’s what you need to survive CES:

  1. Wear comfortable shoes. I can’t emphasize this enough. Attending CES involves a whole lot of walking, and worse, a whole lot of standing. Standing during presentations. Standing in the taxi line. Standing in the lunch line. Not only will you walk farther that usual, you’ll stand a lot more than usual. Find those comfy shoes now and break them in before you arrive. Another way to save your feet…
  2. When you get a chance to sit, take it. This can mean keeping an eye out for empty chairs and couches. Also, time your booth visits to take advantage of seated presentations. If you pass by a booth with a mob standing around watching a presentation that you’d like to see, or in a long line for a presentation theater about to start, make a note of when the next showing will be, then keep moving. If you pass by a booth with a presentation that’s going to start in 10 minutes, have a seat if you think it’ll be of interest to you. Use this 10-minute break to check your schedule, check your email, and get friendly with the folks at the booth. You’ll get the benefit of an unobstructed view of a full presentation and your feet will get the benefit of a full half-hour break.
  3. Drink plenty of water. Las Vegas is a desert city, and the lack of moisture in the air can be deceptive. Dehydration quietly saps muscle strength, making your legs feel more tired. Drink even when you don’t notice that you’re thirsty. A really good tactic is to get a small water bottle to sip while waiting for something, then to refill from a water fountain. And to carry that bottle, you’ll want to …
  4. Get a good bag. (Or bring an especially good one from home.) Don’t just grab the first one you see. Make sure your bag is substantial enough to carry the boxed Fitbit you hope to win. Select a fabric bag with a tasteful, colorful logo and a short, strong handle. When you see one of those, grab it fast; those are the bags that run out before the show’s over. Pick a name that you won’t mind displaying at your side for all the time you’re walking around. And here’s another good use for that bag…
  5. Bring food. A PowerBar or Clif Bar or maybe even a Snickers will do. If you prefer something warm and mediocre, you can take a half hour to wait in line, pay too much, then struggle to find a place to eat lunch. Or you can unwrap a protein bar from your pocket or bag and munch on it as you sit and watch an exhibitor’s presentation. Save your time to visit more booths, and save your money for a real meal after the exhibit hall closes for the night.
  6. Get a lightweight map. If there’s an application with a map that you can load on your smartphone, that’s the lightest map you can get. Otherwise, get the map that weighs the least. When you remember that you wanted to visit TooCool’s booth, you’ll want to know where to find it. When you want to find the nearest rest room, you’ll definitely be thankful for the map.
  7. Beware of heavy freebies. There are so many great things for free at a big show. Free magazines. Free catalogs. Free paperweights. You can probably haul around all the pens that you’ll get, but anything that feels a little heavy at 11 is going to be a burden by 4. If you really need that inch-thick catalog, plan to pick it up as you leave for the night.
  8. Have a plan, but don’t expect to stick to it. Make note of the high points that you absolutely have to see. Add some topics that sound interesting, but which don’t have the same high priority. Make a list of exhibitors you want to meet. Then walk onto the floor with the expectation that your schedule may change. There will be a lot of interesting stuff out there, including something you never thought of. Don’t be afraid to set aside what looked good yesterday when you want to learn more about something that’s amazingly cool today.
  9. Allot enough time if you want to meet someone famous. There will be celebrities of various statures who appear at booths for signings or photos. If you want to be sure to meet one, know where to be and when the celebrity will arrive. The length of the line waiting to see the celeb will be proportional to the celeb’s popularity. If Paul McCartney will be at the Apple Records booth at 11, you’d better be in line by 10:30 or earlier. If it’s me signing my feature story in the Tele-Satellite International magazine booth, you can drop by whenever.
  10. Get a room. Some folks like to roll into Las Vegas at the last minute and expect to find decent rooms near the convention center at a good price. That strategy might have worked in 2009, but it won’t today. If that sounds like you, my best suggestions would be the decent hotels downtown, such as the Fremont, or Sam’s Town on the Boulder Highway. Downtown has direct (if meandering) city bus service to the convention center; Boulder Highway doesn’t.
  11. Get coffee. Almost all Las Vegas hotels, no matter how swank, lack two amenities that I could find at a Super 8 in the middle of Kansas: an in-room coffee maker and a pot of free coffee in the lobby. If you visit the Starbucks or equivalent inside your Las Vegas hotel, it will be a mob. If you wait until you get to the convention center to go to Starbucks, it will be a mob. The alternatives are joints that serve regular morning coffee with other stuff. My pick would be the ampm gas station/convenience store across Paradise Road from the Westgate (formerly LVH, formerly Las Vegas Hilton). Any McDonalds or 7-Eleven would also work.
  12. Ride the CES bus. If the CES shuttle bus goes to your hotel, take it going and coming. It’ll be slow and crowded, and it’ll still be the best option for getting to the convention center and back. I love the monorail, but it’s a terrible, slow crush during CES unless you’re staying at the SLS (where the Sahara used to be). Taxi lines get insanely long. Private parking is expensive, distant, and still subjects you to the same traffic the bus oozes through. Better yet is a hotel within walking distance.

If you want still more advice, the official short video for first-time CES attendees reminds you to register online before you arrive to avoid long registration lines, and to make your dinner reservations early. If you don’t know how to qualify to attend CES, it’s easy; just follow Step 1 in How to get a free pass to CES, which I wrote a while back. So make your plans, come join me at the show, and be ready to be amazed.

CEDIA Expo shows that even the rich watch OTA TV

Diginova TV antenna

Diginova OTA TV antenna displayed at the Televes booth at CEDIA Expo.

Do you remember the CEDIA Expo, that showcase for folks who install high-end electronics equipment for high-end customers? I visited the latest version earler this month and found surprising encouragement for the future of free TV.

Mind you, I’m not talking about free-to-air satellite TV, the hundreds of quirky channels that got this blog started. This is plain old terrestrial over-the-air TV, and I’m happy to say that even the folks who can afford anything they want are still seeing the value in it.

Last year, if you’ll recall, I found exactly one booth that promoted anything to do with OTA TV. This year, there were at least four. Last year, TiVo announced a new line of Roamio DVRs, and they were the company’s first that didn’t include OTA inputs. This year, TiVo announced a new OTA-only receiver for cord-cutters, although technically that announcement was a couple of weeks before the CEDIA Expo and the Roamio OTA didn’t make it to the show.

I also found OTA two antenna manufacturers (Winegard and Televes) at CEDIA, and way in the back was Tablo, an OTA DVR designed with tablets in mind. Yet another OTA specialist, Antennas Direct, had a trailer set up across the street from the convention center. Consider that the Expo was chock full of super-high-end speakers, room-sized golf simulators, and Blu-ray movie management consoles, then it’s refreshing to learn that the customers who buy such high-end frills still care about OTA TV. Maybe they can help us work to support free TV for everybody.


CES finale: My lunch with Valeo

Vitrine interactive de Valeo au CES 2014 from Vendredi 4 on Vimeo.

Here’s my last report from the 2014 International CES. (Not the “Consumer Electronics Show,” as too many ill-informed stories still name it. I suppose their authors still write about the “Entertainment and Sports Programming Network” or the “Columbia Broascasting System” or even “Kentucky Fried Chicken.” But I digress.) This story took a long time to finish because it’s kind of embarassing. Let me try to explain.

CES is an amazing, mind-blowing supermarket of eye candy, self-importance, incremental improvements, and occasionally real breakthroughs, all spread out over two huge convention centers and a couple of parking lots. All that wonderfulness and walking can tire the mind and feet, and quiet breaks are a great way to recharge for more exploration. With the crush of 150,000 milling people, quiet can be difficult to find.

Although I’ve attended every CES since 2005, this was only my third CES with certified press credentials. As much fun as it is to attend as a regular old industry affiliate, being a member of the press makes it so much nicer. There are a couple of oases called press rooms with coffee, water, and around noon, a horde of press attendees covering every sittable surface while they consume their free box lunches. Outside on the main foor, exhibitors (some of them, anyway) see a press badge and make a special effort to tell their stories.

Another press perk is the willingness, nay eagerness, of so many exhibitors to hand out goodies. Press room staffers hand out handfuls of USB drives, each with a different exhibitor’s press info. All sorts of email invitations pile up before each show. Audio-Technica asked me to schedule a fitting for what turned out to be the best earbuds I’ve ever used. Gavio lured me with its Metallon Zinc earbuds, which were just as good. I accepted invitations to attend the Compass Intelligence Awards luncheon and a “Transforming Television” breakfast with the Interactive TV Alliance. I even made a note to drop by for lunch at the invitation of Valeo.

One more note I need to add, one you may have already figured out, is that there’s never enough time to visit everything at CES. Based on past visits, I resolved to keep to a narrow focus on TV and video, pausing only to accept free earbuds and to eat. I drew up a personal schedule with press conferences, booth visits, and meals. For each appointment, I listed only the company name, location, and time. Most of the entries matched my narrow focus. I had winnowed away most invitations and offers from exhibitors who didn’t fit what I write about. Somehow, I don’t know how or why, I added Valeo’s lunch invitation to my schedule.

And so we finally arrive at this story. It was CES Tuesday, Day One for most exhibitors but Day Three for the press, including me. After Sunday’s CES Unveiled event and a Monday full of press conferences, I started much too early at that ITV Alliance breakfast, then rode a shuttle bus to the Venetian’s exhibit halls. where I talked with folks from Samba and Tablo. I returned to the Las Vegas Convention Center a little after noon, and my mind was already too full. I consulted my schedule, which said “noonish – Valeo lunch, Central Plaza 10.” So that’s where I went.

Quick question: What does Valeo make? Did you know before you started reading this? I’ll admit that I didn’t know that Tuesday. Since they were on my schedule and I vaguely remembered something about lighting, I assumed it was a home theater supplier of some kind. The front display of its outdoor booth had a much of TV screens with eyes. Yeah, that must be it. And that set up a scene right out of the Beverly Hillbillies or some other farce where both sides of a conversation completely misunderstand each other. Or maybe it was just me. It went pretty much like this:

Valeo guy: Welcome to our booth. Which product line of ours are you most interested in?

Me: Uh, the lighting.

Valeo: Great, what aspect of the lighting? How can I help you relate that to your coverage area?

Me: Uh, y’know, how families depend on those lighting sources for what they need.

Valeo: I see. Would you like to have lunch with one of our product managers so we can explain it more to you?

As I sat there eating a delicate, expertly prepared lunch so graciously provided by Valeo’s chefs, a friendly account manager patiently explained Valeo’s innovations in the world of automotive lighting. Magnificent, ground-breaking, stylish automotive lighting. Which have as much to do with FTABlog as iPhone cases. Awkward!  My lunch guest explained that they’ve created a smart high-beam headlights that detects oncoming traffic at night and automatically reduce the light only in the direction of that vehicle, which sees only normal low-beam light. (Too bad that system is currently illegal in the US because of esoteric headlight rules.) Valeo has created designer headlight patterns so that certain car models could sport distinctive lights. It all sounded very impressive, but still not relevant. After lunch and a few demonstrations, I thanked my Valeo guest, exchanged business cards then stumbled back into the Las Vegas sunshine on my way to the rest of my appointments.

I mentioned the products and glitter, but my favorite memories of CES are always those of the people I meet, not the products I see. Now I’ve got one more of my accidental lunch and its generous hosts. I’ll be sure to keep that memory easily accessible so I can keep in mind when I build my schedule for CES 2015.

CES Photo Roundup: iPhone cases and more

After last year’s International CES, I received so many comments from readers that said, “What a tease! You said there are a gazillion iPhone cases at CES, but you only showed us two measly pictures of them. Next year, we want more.” And then there was the guy who asked, “They’ve got everything else at that show, what about Hobots?” Comments like that were what drove me to take all of the following photos. Be careful what you wish for!

iPhone cases

Hello Kitty iPhone cases

iPhope cases

iPhone cases

iPhone cases

Scary poster from a vendor selling iPhone cases claiming to protect kids by blocking cell phone radiation.

From a vendor selling iPhone cases claiming to protect kids by blocking cell phone radiation.

iPhone cases

Hobot window cleaning robot

And there’s your Hobot. Turns out that it cleans windows.


What it was like to attend CES

I still have at least two CES stories left to run, if you include the iPhone case roundup. But neither of them will be as long or as thorough as Kara Swisher’s sweeping, photo-dotted roundup that she wrote for Recode.net. If you want another glimpse of CES from the trenches, go read it!