As we reported yesterday, TiVo Desktop 2.3 has been released for Windows with a few new tricks up it's sleeve. Enhancements include scheduled series downloads and MPEG-4 to MPEG-2 video transcoding for a variety of portable devices. While we've been using unsupported methods for massaging video onto the iPod and PSP, official support is now provided at a cost of $24.95. TiVo's going with the soft sell and won't be issuing a press release, so we hit up Vice President of Product Marketing Jim Denney for the details.
We'd prefer TiVo didn't charge for the new conversion features, but recognize MPEG codecs don't come cheap. For example even Apple will sell you (partially-working) MPEG-2 playback in QuickTime for $19.99 and Microsoft offers zippy MPEG-2 decoding, free or otherwise. When asked about TiVo Desktop's $24.95 price point, Mr. Denney responded that they have attempted to find a sweet spot -- balancing TiVo's "real costs" including software development, "royalties for technology," and support with providing "value to the end user."
Mr. Denney clued us in to the "proactive steps" TiVo has taken to prevent piracy. In addition to the already existing (and easily bypassed) PC .tivo file encryption, Denney confirmed the unencrypted converted video includes a watermark "embedded in the file" (you can't see it) that references a subscriber's account. Additionally, TiVo feels by limiting transcoded files to a low resolution of 320 x 240, they further protect the rights of content owners while providing appropriately sized video for portable devices.
While TiVo did have some interaction with select manufacturers of hardware they're now supporting, they didn't communicate with studios or other content owners. So we presented a scenario to Mr. Denney for comment: If we were to configure TiVo Desktop to automatically download every episode of the Daily Show and then covert each show for iPod playback, how might Comedy Central and Apple iTunes respond seeing as how they charge $1.99/show for similar functionality? Mr. Denney said TiVo was cognizant of this while developing TTG and feels they've balanced both the rights of the content owners and of their subscribers in the new software. TiVoToGo shows are "content you've paid for in a legitimate way" (via cable/satellite subscription), saved for later "personal use" with "commercials still embedded." We'll see if these fair use arguments fly with the likes of NBC, who's already suggested this will be the source of "legal conflict."
Asked about future enhancements we might expect in TiVoToGo, Mr. Denney said new features would be feedback driven (they monitor forums and blogs) in the same manner they decided upon the current enhancements. TiVo hasn't announced any plans, though Denney left us with an enticing question... Once subscribers have these licensed codecs on their PC, how else might TiVo leverage this functionality to improve the customer experience? Our obvious answer would be to transcode personal content into compliant MPEG-2 files for TiVoBack the way Videora does.
Now for the bad (non)news... We felt compelled to ask what sort of TiVoToGo features are coming to Mac OS X and the upcoming TiVo Series3. While they are currently working on these technologies, Mr. Denney wasn't prepared to comment on functionality or time-frames other than to indicate they'll have more to say "closer to launch."
We'd like to thank TiVo and Jim Denney for taking the time to chat with us after-hours.