TiVo: UK Comeback?

April 23, 2007

Mike Ramsey (former TiVo CEO), told the Sunday Herald in an interview that TiVo may be planning a return to the UK market. Although, rather than supply it’s own hardware, as it did initially (the Thomson Scenium – still to be seen on the front page of the UK TiVo website http://www.tivo.co.uk/) the intent seems to be to embed TiVo software into Freeview set-top boxes.

Ironically, TiVo’s biggest direct competitor in the UK is likely to be Sky, with it’s Sky+ PVR hardware and service. TiVo originally licensed their technology to Sky, however Sky chose not to use the TiVo software in their set top boxes. Not to mention the fact that on power-up my (UK) TiVo advertise the fact that it is “recommended by Sky”.

I am a fan of TiVo, having had a Thomson Scenium since 2003, and I’m dreading the day it dies. The TiVo user-interface is beautifully resolved… simple and easy enough for my kids to use, yet sophisticated enough to do things such as smart capture of complete seasons of shows (Season Pass feature). From what I’ve heard from folk who have tried both TiVo and Sky+, it seems that the TiVo UI seems to be superior to that offered by Sky.

At the time I bought my TiVo, I had some very clear aims, in terms of getting a cost effective system that just worked, straight out of the box, which TiVo does, well. Doing it all again now, for a number of reasons, I would more than likely go down a different path, and create a system based on the open source project MythTV. One of the reasons is that the maturity of the MythTV project today allows for a smooth installation, and it “just works”, as long as you stick to known supported hardware. Ultimately a system based on MythTV is far more powerful and flexible than a TiVo ever can be, despite the fact that, at least originally, TiVo supported the “pimping” of their hardware. For example my own TiVo (long since out of warranty) has had a hard-disk upgrade to a total of 240Gb, and a marvellous caching controller/network card, which allows a web interface (TiVoWeb) to be used to control the TiVo remotely, very handy.

This brings me to one of the other reasons why I would likely prefer a MythTV solution. Initially TiVo (the company) was quite hacker friendly, encouraging people to play with the hardware, to see what could be done. In fact the original UK TiVo was a PowerPC based Linux system, source code modifications all available, natch, as per the requirements of GPL v2.

However, beginning with the Series 2 TiVo generation (never officially available in the UK), TiVo hardware required all software to be digitally signed before it would run on the TiVo. This process has since become known as “Tivoization“. As with all heated debates, there are two sides to the story, with some prominent supporters and detractors to this apparent restriction of use of GPL’d software.

I can sympathize with TiVo, as, clearly they are subsidizing the cost of the hardware, and could feel that they have a legitimate claim to restrict how that hardware is used, after all they are selling an appliance – i.e. a hardware/software/service combination. TiVo must be able to make money from this! I would prefer it if TiVo stayed in business to provide me with the EPG service that I signed up for when I purchased my TiVo.

The flip side to this, is of course, if you use/bundle software that is made available under a particular license, in this case GPL v2, then you should abide by both it’s spirit & letter. My former employer Novell, has recently been thrust into some uncomfortable lime-light due to it’s agreement with Microsoft; which included a component including some form of patent protection/cross-licensing for customers of Novell’s SUSE Linux product . A deal, ostensibly about improving the (Novell & Microsoft) customer experience, which all the customers I spoke to were extremely pleased with, incurred the justifiable wrath of much of the Free Software Community. The deal with Micorosft even cost Novell a couple of good people, including lead Samba developer, and all round nice guy Jeremy Allison.

I am not a lawyer. My understanding is thatGPL v3 will seek to address issues such as Tivoization, and possibly outlaw parts of the agreement between Novell and Microsoft, but I digress.

I hope that TiVo does come back to the UK.

[From the TVSquad Blog: http://www.tvsquad.com/2007/04/22/tivo-could-return-to-the-uk/]

[Also, from HDTiVo Blog: http://hdtivo.wordpress.com/2007/04/21/107/]

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Back-dating of posts

April 4, 2007

I’ve probably broken some cardinal rule of blogging by back-dating a post…

… but in case you’re interested there’s a new “first” post, scroll all the way to the bottom!