TelstraClear’s TiVo Rival Delayed UPDATED
UPDATE: Since posting this story, The Dominion Post has reported “software glitches” to be the culprit.
TelstraClear has missed its February deadline for launching its DVR rival to TiVo and MySky HDi.
ScreenScribe.tv wasn’t surprised to learn this given it has been unsuccessfully chasing TelstraClear for weeks seeking an update on progress.
It came yesterday, when customers who had registered their interest in the HomeMedia device were sent an email informing them of the “unexpected delay” due to extra testing.
“We want to make sure this highly anticipated product is thoroughly tested and performing to our extremely high standards.”
The email said “our first, small group of Alpha Test Pilots” will begin testing this week. TelstraClear’s website says the DVR can be viewed in its Wellington and Christchurch showrooms from mid-March, with installs likely at the end of the month.
TelstraClear’s initiative sounds as if it will combine the best features of TiVo and MySky HDi but this delay continues the telco’s history of poor service to customers who elect to bundle its TV service with its broadband and telephone services.
For years, those customers have had to endure an antiquated set-top box that couldn’t record and had neither component video nor HDMI outputs for owners of HDTVs – and now there’s yet another vague postponement that does nothing to buoy confidence in the telco’s triple-play capability.
While TelstraClear hasn’t responded to ScreenScribe.tv’s inquiries, its market manager for TV, Jeff Doyle, did disclose details of the HomeMedia service late last year to Onfilm.
“It’s been a long wait but we have something that will really stand our competitors on their ear,” he predicted about the telco’s plans to launch its first personal video recorder to drive uptake of its broadband, telephone and TV services beyond Wellington and Christchurch.
“We’re ring fenced in Wellington and Christchurch but believe we can deliver triple play to a wider market. We waited to get a product spec that would deliver on our strategies. We can’t continue to run a business just on 80,000 households.”
Doyle acknowledged Telstra has lost TV customers to Sky, which launched its original MySky four years ago. Freeview-capable DVRs have been around for more than a year, TiVo went on sale in November and Panasonic offers a Blu-ray recorder with a 500GB hard drive and a limited FreeviewHD electronic programming guide (EPG).
“We are late to market with a PVR and we apologise to our customers for that,” he said, “but I think in hindsight we’re in a better position now for waiting.
“The chips that were available to us … didn’t deliver on the customer proposition we were after. Sky has set a pretty high bar with its HD solution – there’s not a lot of boxes out there that can record three HD channels at the one time.
“The chip set we’re running with, the Sigma 8654, is now capable of [recording simultaneously] even more than three channels. But the box we’re going to launch is three channels.”
A key point of difference, however, is it will offer the Holy Grail of HD reception, 1080p. Why bother when TVNZ broadcasts in 720p, and TV3 and Sky in 1080i? “We will pass through anything a content provider gives us, and 1080p is the highest possible at the moment,” Doyle said.
“But linear broadcasting content is not the end game – we’re looking at other options where we can deliver 1080p through other content providers.”
Telstra’s access to other content will be restricted by its partnership with Sky — the four-year supply contract was renewed this time last year — but it is continuing discussions with the satcaster about what it can and can’t do.
“We are looking at other content options,” Doyle said, “especially in the broadband space, because a lot of people are starting to shift their viewing methods to when and where they want it – and we’re in a good position with our broadband coverage to do that …
“Our skills are in broadband. We’ve got the best IP [internet protocol] core network in the country … and we can use that skill plus our broadband knowledge to take the PVR to a wider market.” (Indicative of the possibilities is Telstra’s relationship with NZ’s first internet TV network, Ziln. It streams Stratos on its clearnet site.)
Doyle said coverage will depend on the broadcast choices customers want. “The [Digisoft] box we’ve developed is very flexible at broadcast level, IP level and middleware level. The Java-based middleware will allow us to develop applications that will bridge the broadcast and the YouTube world, develop applications that customers would like themselves …
“That’s where we want to go: develop core applications for our customers and deliver a variety of video capability that, depending on their needs, may go all the way from triple feeding something to a set-top box, because they don’t have the bandwidth, to IPTV.”
Soon after launching HomeMedia, Telstra expects to offer a remote booking service, where customers can programme their DVR away from home; also likely are pay-per-view movies that can be downloaded in HD or standard definition.