Tuesday, January 25, 2005


About three weeks after I signed up for the "priority list", I finally got TiVoToGo pushed down to my TiVo. 30 minutes later, I'm pulling stuff off of my TiVo that I've been saving for over a year, namely, an appearance I made on an AT&T/Comcast show (in support of a friend's movie, Working Stiff).

It's particularly interesting as the first time I've ever been on television in just my boxers.

More on TiVoToGo later. Right now, I'm digging it a good bit. It's good functionality -- with a really flawed rollout.

It'll be even better when I can push stuff onto my TiVo. That way, I can use BitTorrent like a second TiVo, download episodes of stuff that is on opposite stuff I currently TiVo, and not have to worry about hooking my laptop up to my TV.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

I need a whovel

I really wish I had bought a whovel.

Stupid blizzard.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

The Death of TiVo

So, after opining on the mostly goodness of Netflix, I'm sad to say that I think we're watching the waning days of TiVo.

I love my TiVo. I've had it for over a couple of years now and I've convinced other people to get one. I have never once regretted purchasing it. My TiVo (called Employee 8 after former Celtic and current Hawk Antoine Walker) has been one of the best and most rewarding purchases I've ever made. A DVR really will change your life.

But, even as a TiVo evangelist, I've seen the writing on the wall. The company needed to partner with a cable company to expand the userbase and reduce the hardware costs. There's just no way that TiVo could survive on its own in a landscape where Comcast can put out a DVR for just an extra $5 a month on your cable bill.

So I hoped that TiVo would start to push the boundaries of home entertainment, all the while looking to partner with Comcast or Motorola (the provider of most cable boxes). TiVo announced a partnership with Netflix. Not bad -- a forward thinking idea, but not really valuable when most people are getting used to DVD quality (or better video). But on a networked HD TiVo ... wow, that'd be amazing. TiVo had also previously announced TiVoToGo, an update to your TiVo to let it shoot video back to your computer to burn to DVD for taking it with you on a trip or archiving. And then there was news TiVo was beta-testing a HD TiVo.

All of this pointed in the right direction -- an HD TiVo, where Netflix customers could request a DVD-quality movie to be dripped down over an internet connection, and where you could then send recorded television back to your PC in case you needed to bring a show on an airplane. Combined with the existing Home Media service that TiVo had released letting you push pictures and music to your TiVo, and TiVo had the whole home entertainment center covered.

The last step -- figure out how to get a HD TiVo to market. A normal TiVo simply isn't going to cut it for a majority of these new features, especially not when the entire television industry is betting on HDTV.

Now, this is a tough road for TiVo. Most HDTVs do not automatically decode HD signals, so they require a converter box. The cable or satellite companies control the converter box. This is necessary until the CableCard 2.0 spec hits, sometime in mid-2005 (though TiVo could have released a CableCard 1.0 HD device in the interim). Thus, TiVo needed to get into the converter box. They accomplished this with DirectTV. The last step is to get in bed with a big cable company ... let's say Comcast.

Well, recently TiVO CEO Mike Ramsey stepped down as CEO. And now we know why: TiVo backed away from a deal with Comcast. Simply insane.

Even in the worst scenario, a deal with Comcast broadens TiVo's userbase and exposes millions of people to their interface and software. If TiVo then wanted to come out with a standalone system, they could likely convince some percentage of users to come with them. Good products have a way of drawing a market.

TiVo blows this deal. Then TiVoToGo ships arguably months late, and the rollout is done so unbelievably stupidly that a number of high profile users (Atrios, for instance) start to complain about it. This is the hallmark of a company circling the drain. In an attempt to get some great PR out of CES, they announce a product as being available, yet 90% of their customers can't use it.

But this is 2005 and an agile, Web 2.0-type of company can react to the bad news, explain the situation, and start to make amends.

Nope. Not TiVo. There have simply been more posts on TiVoCommunity.com talking about how they have to slowly build up to not overwhelm their support staff. Most users on the priority list (folks who knew how to sign up their TiVo to get precedence) should get the upgrade by February ... or March.

Jesus. That's just fucking stupid.

Oh, and the standalone HD TiVo people are pining for? They announced it at CES.

ETA: mid-2006.

I'll say it again. Jesus, that's just fucking stupid.

I've seen first hand companies who hit this stage. They grow to fast, decide that rather than giving the market what it wants, they're going to try to create a new market where they can dictate the terms and pricing. Much of this is driven by the need to pay back the investments of the venture capitalists who invested in the company initially. So rather than doing the slow build and trying to own a large piece of an existing market, small companies try to go it alone and own a niche. And it almost never works.

TiVo can be saved. A smart CEO could come in and get the company in order. There's still a ton of good ideas coming out of TiVo, as they're starting to embrace the idea that the TiVo shouldn't be a closed box.

But they are rapidly running out of time. At this point, they have about 2.1m subscribers, but a bunch of those are DirectTV users who will likely move to a DirectTV DVR when one is released. A bunch more are older TiVo users who have never upgraded. The rest - let's say 1 million - are a very small portion of the cable marketplace. Many of them are not technophiles or television hobbyists. They're grandparents and moms and dads who don't care how they "TiVo" Spongebob, they just need it done. Comcast's DVR will be fine for them.

TiVo's going to lose a bunch of people this year to cable company DVRs. If they don't act quickly, it will not matter how much better the TiVo is -- price and inertia will win out. A $5 a month device that records HD is good enough for most folk.

Thus, TiVo will end up owning a niche market ... but it won't be one large enough to sustain a company or pay back its investors.

Shaun of the Dead .... finally.

Netflix has finally decided that I'm worthy enough to receive Shaun of the Dead after having it at the top of my queue for like a month.

I understand that Netflix feels it needs to throttle users who burn through movies by not getting them new releases as quickly. It enables them to ensure that new customers can get any movie they want and have a good experience. That's completely cool with me.

But a month? Jesus.

Anyway, it's not enough to make me want to jump ship. Netflix has done some cool stuff with RSS (so you can see my queue over there on the right) and other cool collaborative features like letting me see what my friends like and dislike so I can use that to help judge movies I haven't seen. And the turnaround has generally been pretty good, though it's been much slower over the past couple of weeks than in the month before Christmas (maybe a subscriber spike after Christmas?).

On the whole, though, Netflix has been an amazingly good deal for me (at least in my opinion). I've had the service for a full year now. In that time, I've rented 109 movies at a total cost of $257.98, for a cost per movie of $2.37. Not too shabby. If I use about $4.10 as the cost of a Blockbuster rental, I've "saved" myself roughly $190.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Dear Mark Blount

Dear Mark Blount,

I warned the Celtics about resigning you. You have the worst hands in basketball. You play softer than a European swingman, except your 7 feet tall and 230 lbs or so.

And now everyone can see how badly you suck and how you started coasting once you got your big money contract. If you weren't such a pathetically bad basketball player, it'd almost be funny.

But it's not. It stopped being funny a long time ago.

Please do us all a favor and tear your ACL or something. You can use your millions of dollars to buy yourself a stylish suit and sit on the end of the bench while the Celtics play better with Kendrick Perkins and Al Jefferson in the game - two young players who actually have a future in the league.

So, I'd like to say thanks. Thanks for mailing it in all season, being the low point of what is, at least, an interesting Celtics season. Thanks for making me look really smart when I told everyone I knew that they should never resign you and they should have kept Chris Mihm. Maybe Danny Ainge will see this and give me a job.

A Celtics Fan

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Top 10 Episodes of 2004

Lightening the mood a bit, I tried to think of what I considered to be the best television episodes to air in 2004. Making it more difficult, I limited it to one per show -- otherwise, it probably would have been something like 6 episodes of Angel and 4 of The Wire.

  • 10) Gilmore Girls - "Emily Says Hello"

  • I had a very hard time picking the #10 episode. A Gilmore Girls episode seemed like a good choice, but I couldn't think of one that really stood out. This one stood out the most. When Gilmore Girls is good, it mixes comedy and drama as deftly as any show on television. This episode might have done it the best, ranging from the humor in seeing Jackson deal with life as town selectman, to the very heartfelt scene where Emily breaks down realizing what has happened to her life. Good enough for number 10.

  • 9) Arrested Development - "The One Where Michael Leaves"

  • An amazingly funny episode, with a number of subtle (and less subtle) parodies of Fahrenheit 9/11. And this episode had the line where Tobias says "I just blue myself" ... that makes the list.

  • 8) Wonderfalls - "Karma Chameleon"

  • A simply marvelous show that Fox aired about 3 episodes of because they are insanely stupid. This ep was written by Tim Minear, and I just dig his writing. Pretty much every episode of Wonderfalls that aired was hysterical, so this one wins as a representative of the rest.

  • 7) American Dreams - "Tidings of Comfort and Joy"

  • Ahh, the little show that could. American Dreams has no reason to be anything more than a trite, cloying 7th Heaven-ish show. Except it is. Using the 60s as both the basis for the storyline and as a metaphor for dealing with modern issues, it just generally pushes all of the right buttons. And it's loaded with 60s pop music which is awesome. "Tidings of Comfort and Joy" deals with JJ's homecoming from Vietnam and milks it for all it is worth. And it completely works. I'm a sucker for good melodrama.

  • 6) The Shield - "Strays"

  • Damn. The Shield is a great, great show. Outside of The Wire, it's easily the closest thing to Homicide: Life on the Streets that's left on TV. Except it is a bit more over the top. Dutch finally gets the Cuddler Rapist and later strangles a stray cat ... which sounds ridiculous but was chilling on screen. This episode further ratchets up the tension in the Strike Team, which would seriously boil over in the last couple of episodes of the season.

  • 5) Deadwood - "Sold Under Sin"

  • The season finale of Deadwood. Just masterful in wrapping up the season, opening new storylines for next season, and aligning two characters who had been set up all year to be advesaries. If it wasn't for The Wire, Deadwood would be the best show on HBO.

  • 4) Lost - "Walkabout"

  • The fourth episode of Lost is the number four show of the year. "Walkabout" dealt with Locke's backstory, including a remarkable reveal towards the end of the 3rd act (I think) where you learn that Locke had previously been confined to a wheel chair. It was one of thost moments where you realize that good television is all about pacing and act breaks, and there are few shows that do them as well as a Joss Whedon or JJ Abrams show.

  • 3) Scrubs - "My Screwup"

  • Scrubs is probably the best sitcom on television. I move back and forth between this or Arrested Development, but when I sit back and think about it, I would be more upset if Scrubs left the air. A good example of why I feel that way is "My Screwup." Brendan Fraser, who's actually a pretty good actor (really!) plays Dr. Cox's brother-in-law Ben, who we first met in season 1 when he learned he had cancer. The entire episode deals with Dr. Cox dealing with Ben's return to the hospital. It is just an amazing episode with a wonderful twist at the end that forces you to rething everything that happened during the episode. Twist endings can be rather douchebaggian, but this one is pitch perfect.

  • 2) The Wire - "Middle Ground"

  • It's all about conversations. Omar and Brother Mouzone. Avon and Stringer. Stringer and Bunny Colvin. Bunny and McNulty. Omar, Brother Mouzone, and Stringer. If you don't get this show, you shouldn't be allowed to watch tv.

  • 1) Angel - "Not Fade Away"

  • Could there be another choice? The series finale of Angel was a huge "fuck you" to the WB Network, as it may have been the finest hour of television in a long time. Long character arcs (in some cases, 8 years) are brought to a logical end. The long time comic relief character kills someone in one of the coldest, surprising deaths ever. The tortured Wesley goes out on top, dying a heroes death and then some. Huge, huge battle scenes including a giant dragon. Tons of in jokes and meta-references for long time fans, but an episode that, for the most part, could completely stand on its own.

There it is. The Top 10 Television Episodes from 2004. If you're a TV dork like me, you'll notice a running theme of episodes written by former Buffy or Angel writers (episodes 10, 8, 4, and 1). Anyway, feel free to disagree with me. I'm more than willing to explain to you why you're wrong.