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Summary:

TiVo is finally getting its digital hub act together. The purchase of Strangeberry is yet another proof that it is going to be competing with the likes of Microsoft in the digital hub sweepstakes. While most of its conjecture, some nuggets gathered during course of reporting […]

TiVo is finally getting its digital hub act together. The purchase of Strangeberry is yet another proof that it is going to be competing with the likes of Microsoft in the digital hub sweepstakes. While most of its conjecture, some nuggets gathered during course of reporting tell me that this is the direction TiVo might be headed in.

ANALYSIS: For past few days the PVR universe has been hubbub about TiVo’s acquisition of a little known company called Strangeberry. I have refrained from posting anything about this for a couple of days because first, I was busy with work, and secondly I had to go through my old emails to dig-up some juicy nuggets about the company.

Strangeberry had caught my attention, thanks to a tip off from a venture capitalist who at the time was in the know about Marimba, a software company known more for their chief executive than their products. Nevertheless for JavaHeads this was big news. I did some follow-up reporting but nothing came off it, and since at that time Red Herring was going through some shaky times, it fell through and was forgotten. Anyway since then nothing much has been reported on this company, and TiVo’s SEC filing does not say much either.

On January 12, 2004 we acquired Strangeberry Inc., a small Palo Alto based technology company specializing in using home network and broadband technologies to create new entertainment experiences on television. Strangeberry has created technology, based on industry standards and including a collection of protocols and tools, designed to enable the development of new broadband-based content delivery services. In exchange for all of the issued and outstanding capital stock of Strangeberry, we issued shares of TiVo common stock to the stockholders of Strangeberry in a private placement. We have agreed to file a registration statement on Form S-3 to cover the resale of these shares by the Strangeberry stockholders.

So what are they really building? My best guess is that Strangeberry crew, all former Sun folks, developed a piece of software that actually makes finding devices on the home networks as easy as turning on the power switch. And it is using some variant of Apple’s Rendezvous technology. I remember these guys had released some variation of Rendezvous for Java in the early days of their operation. Rendezvous is a technology which can and does work with all sort of networks – Wi-Fi, Ethernet or powerline networks.

Now, at the 2003 edition of the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, a colleague of mine saw them talking to folks from companies like Philips and Sony. Add the two together, to me its seems that Strangeberry folks were developing an application for home networks–something that can detect all of the devices on the network and interact between them, maybe something that would let you control your Internet home gateway, PC, TV, stereo, etc. from one remote control device. Of course since more and more companies are supporting the high speed Wi-Fi networks and some are even contemplating streaming video wirelessly using the super speeds offered by 802.11g implementations, it does not seem that far fetched that Strangeberry came up with this killer app.

I am still trying to get more details on this, but if this is the case then TiVo could easily become a big player in the digital hub business. First of all it does not have the heavy footprint of Windows Media Player. This distinguishes the company from many PVR clones out there, and also provider higher value to its partners such as Sony, Toshiba and Phillips. I think this would be a killer and unique selling point for TiVo which has seen its innovation of PVR get commoditized.

More proof at the bottom of the San Jose Business Journal article?

Two weeks ago at CES, TiVo announced new development partnerships with digital photo and music companies XM Satellite Radio, Adobe, MoodLogic and Picasa that it said will expand the features and capabilities of the TiVo service.

In a press release, TiVo CEO said:

“DVR was just the beginning for TiVo… we’re committed to extending the TiVo experience to a host of new and exciting, yet very easy to use, services for our subscribers. Strangeberry shares this vision and can help us accelerate innovation for the TiVo service through our own engineering initiatives, and through our expanding third party developer program, to build new products and services for the TiVo platform,” said Michael Ramsay, CEO of TiVo.

TiVo at present can save video and playback video easily. It can easily take music stream from your computer and play-it back through your music system. (I personally would buy TiVo over some standalone MP3 streaming device – it is a great two for price of one deal, which somehow does not get enough attention.) And now if Strangeberry can provide easy control and management through TiVo, you are talking big dollars.

  1. Sounds like a lot of vapor to me. Tivo currently operates in a massive, very well understood market (watching and recording TV). All this other stuff is at best unknown. At worst, it’s shown to be unwanted by consumers. Also, not sure I would trust Sun people on a consumer product.

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  2. Michael Maggard Friday, January 30, 2004

    Rendezvous is Apple’s implementation of the ZeroConf protocol suite. It’s TCP/IP based so yes it’ll work over anything that IP can be run over -”Wi-Fi, Ethernet or powerline networks” or pigeons carrying little notes or whatever.
    The partnerships TiVo announced were all for TiVo-server-based services. The trick is that TiVo is the *client* here. Run a TiVo server on your PC or Mac or whatever that advertises itself using Rendezvous and then a TiVo with the Home Media Option will be able to find it, and then they can exchange material via TiVo’s open file format & protocol. These partners are all just shops that have included TiVo’s formats in their products, nothing particularly fancy. Indeed any good coder can bolt on TiVo’s sample code to any appropriate application in a few hours.
    As to why TiVo’s HMO doesn’t get more attention – Well, it costs an extra hundred bucks. It’s fairly limited in what it can do if you only have a single TiVo. It can only do one thing at a time – no photos AND music, one or the other. Only some formats are supported; no AAC for instance. Their implementation of streaming audio is broken so most net radio can’t be accessed. No video at all (so much for those collections of MPEGs & AVIs and QTs and DIVXs.) No picture-in-picture. It requires the TiVo server service be running on a local machine. It can only share TiVo video with another local TiVo on the same account. It allows the TiVo to be programmed via the TiVo website but it doesn’t have the nifty conflict-resolution that makes TiVos a joy to use. In short for $100 it does about half of what a dedicated $200 device does.
    The good news is that hackers (good sense) have come to the rescue. There’s an excellent JavaHMO service being freely developed that vastly improves on the lacking (“lame-ass”) TiVo supplied server. Unfortunately the HMO service itself hasn’t improved, or even had it’s bugs fixed, since it was first rolled out quite some time ago. Indeed many customers are getting worried they’ve being abandoned by TiVo, some sort of uber-service is being developed (Strangeberry-based?) that will leave us with our somewhat pricey and not-quite-finished HMO behind and forlorn.
    Of course there’s also the issue that TiVo hasn’t got a lot to work with. They’re processor & memory bound, while their boxes are excellent at what they do they’re also highly tuned for just recording & playing TV. All of the added functionality has to run on top of TV-recording without interfering with it, probably a tricky proposition. The Series 1 TiVo’s reached their wall, it appears that the Series 2 are now reaching theirs. Presumably the eventual Series 3 will have more headroom and be able to do more, possibly enable Strangeberry services.
    Finally, it’s important to keep in mind what TiVo has that others don’t: Mindshare, easily the best interface on the market, and a boatload of patents. Since TiVo is heavily owned by ‘big media’ they can’t really rock any boats. But as TiVo’s competition improves (the various cable co’s PVRs, MS’s offerings, etc.) the arguments against many features will be weaker and then TiVo can really become a “hub” and not just a specialized service.
    Because Marketing always told me lists should have 7 items.

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  3. Barranger Ridler Friday, January 30, 2004

    I’d imagine that if they are ex Sun guys, there probably using Jini ( http://www.jini.org )

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  4. I have the Home Media Option on my Tivo and love it. To me, it was worth the money. It effortlessly pulls my digital content off my Mac…but why oh why can’t my Tivo play AAC files that I’ve bought off the iTunes Music Store!!!???? I think this is a huge problem and they should be concentrating on fixing this first.

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  5. Excerpt from eHomeUpgrade:

    TiVo vs Microsoft: The Future Battle Over Connected Home Entertainment

    If you connect all the dots, to come to a speculative conclusion, the partnership with Strangberry will lead to a device, coupled with a possible TiVo compatible Media Adapter, that will give Windows Media Center (WMC) a run for its money. You might be wonder, what is he talking about? But hear me out. This is the exact same market Microsoft is going after. MicrosoftÌs intention is to partner with content and service providers to offer entertainment services via WMC. Moreover, they want to easily distribute this content around the house using Windows Media Extender technology, empowering XBOX and other WME devices to stream native PC media content and paid services. If you think about it, this model will work out quite well for Microsoft in the long run. However, TiVo is no dummy. It currently has one of the best implemented, easy-to-use DVR user interfaces on the market, but it knows it faces a shaky future. If positioned correctly, TiVo has a fighting chance to give Microsoft some pretty hefty competition.

    Possible future TiVo scenario:

    A no PC required Digital Media Server that is digital video recorder, broadband entertainment content/services device, and a home network digital media streaming device all in one. Moreover, TiVo will introduce accompanying Network Media Adapters that will be able to stream the content from the TiVo server (and from network PCs) to other rooms in the house; as well as, be able to remotely program the TiVo server to record television programs and order on-demand services like movies, music, games, etc.

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  6. One other thing to mention on TiVo’s HMO, it is not enabled on any of the DirecTv-TiVo combination boxes (including the upcoming HDTV-TiVo). I understand that this out of fear from DirecTv that enabling the HMO will support digital piracy and undermine their lucrative market.

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  7. Michael Maggard Friday, January 30, 2004

    One other thing to mention on TiVoÌs HMO, it is not enabled on any of the DirecTv-TiVo combination boxes
    Right. Last I heard there were two reasons for this: DirecTV wasn’t paying TiVo the bump for v.4 of TiVo’s software, and v.4 is required for HMO.

    That DirecTV would limit functionality out of concern of illicit digital video extraction seems pretty doubtful to me. TiVo uses a robust public key encryption system, probably better then the encryption DirecTV uses. DirecTV’s weak points wouldn’t be TiVo’d DVDs.

    Anyway TiVo has put a lot of work into (re)unifying their code base & migrating back in the ports they did for DirecTV. It is reported that knowledgeable folks can replace their DirecTV-TiVo v.3 drive image with a generic TiVo v.4 drive image and then order HMO for that hybrid beast.

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  8. I heard a about a box out of India called a “wice box”. There was an article on it floating out on the internet, but never anything after that. Anybody else know anything about this device. Sounded spectacular at the time

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  9. As far as I’m concerned, acquiring Strangeberry was a good move on TiVo’s part. Now maybe M$ will wake up and put out something good as well (do they ever??)..

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  10. Cool article!!!

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