13 Comments

Summary:

Google has acquired the DVR software maker SageTV — but don’t expect DVR functionality to come to existing Google TV devices anytime soon. In fact, the acquisition may not be at all about time shifting, but about place shifting and taking the Google TV platform everywhere.

google-tv

SageTV’s announcement that it’s been acquired by Google this weekend has many speculating about DVR functionality soon coming to Google TV. But one of the few dissenters, interestingly enough, is the founder of one of SageTV’s competitors: SnapStream Media founder Rakesh Agrawal. In a blog post today, Agrawal had this to say about the SageTV acquisition:

“I consider it impossible that Google acquired SageTV so they could add native DVR capabilities to Google TV (remember, Google already manages the program guide, channel changing, and even automating your native DVR). I recently read “In the Plex” by Steven Levy and it gives a glimpse of how Google thinks — and for Google, the future is all about the Internet and the cloud.”

I’ve gotta say, I’m with Agrawal. Google TV is designed to work with existing DVRs, not to replace your DVR. Sure, eventually, we may see a DVR that runs Google TV software. But adding DVR functionality to the next version of Google TV would duplicate existing functionality and make the devices even more expensive. Hard drives still cost money, after all. And yes, Agrawal is right: Turning Google TV into a DVR would run counter to Google’s core philosophy.

So what else could Google want from SageTV? The company’s DVR software has also offered some interesting media playback capabilities, and SageTV offers a programming guide that could add some functionality to Google’s offering. But both features are incremental, and not something that Google’s engineers couldn’t have solved by themselves.

Here’s what my money is on: SageTV’s place-shifting software, which is essentially a Slingbox for your PC or media set-top box. SageTV place shifting makes it possible to watch live and archived TV programming on computers either in your home network or remotely. Third-party developers have already been able to port this functionality to iOS devices, and I expect that SageTV’s engineers will be working on releasing an Android client as soon as possible.

Google TV devices already have access to your live TV feed, and they’re capable of controlling your DVR. SageTV integration could make it possible to make your DVR recordings available anywhere and on any device. Essentially, this will be Google TV’s take on TV Everywhere — and it will add features to the device that will make Apple and others look weak in comparison.

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  1. Davis Freeberg Monday, June 20, 2011

    I don’t doubt that the internet and cloud are at the core of Google’s grand ambitions, however I view this acquisition completely differently. In a perfect world, I think Google would want to keep GoogleTV DVR free, but if you take into consideration the stalled negotiations for adding Hulu and the lack of progress towards launching a broader VOD catalog (YouTube’s still a chump in this dept), I think it suggests that Google is having more trouble than expected getting Hollywood on board. Despite having a huge warchest, Google really hasn’t been able to license any content beyond independent films. This makes me think that the movie studios are being just as unrealistic as the music studios were, when it comes to their prices for content. Maybe the studios are reluctant to repeat the mistake they made with Netflix, but instead of offering 10,000 movies in the cloud, Google has maybe 100. If Google has come to the realization that Hollywood is going to be unreasonable when it comes to their content, then they would need a fair use way to circumvent the monopoly that the studios heads have. One way to do this would be to launch a DVD by mail program like Netflix, a more logical way to do this is to incorporate DVRs and HD Antennas into a GoogleTV product. This would let them route around the gatekeeper’s restrictions and negotiate for VOD content on more reasonable terms. If anything, I think this acquisition tells us that HuluTV will never come to Google and that Google is about to go to war with Hollywood.

    1. Sir, you and Mr. Roettgers are forgetting that Google IS and ISP

      http://www.google.com/appserve/fiberrfi/public/overview

      …GoogleTV will have DVR record capabilities for those who have the Google ISP/home phone/TV bundle.

      :)

  2. Rakesh Agrawal Monday, June 20, 2011

    I doubt it’s the placeshifting thing. In the same way that DVRs require hard drives, placeshifting requires hardware to transcode from the source format to the target format and bit-rate that the audio/video get streamed out in. And I think one of the things that Google will react to in Google TV 2.0 is the high cost of Google TV 1.0 devices (Logitech Revue was originally $400 and the least expensive Sony TV with Google TV is $600 today and was more at launch). And plus, if DVR is relatively difficult to use (as I argue it is), place-shifting is probably 10 times more difficult to setup and get running.

  3. “Essentially, this will be Google TV’s take on TV Everywhere — and it will add features to the device that will make Apple and others look weak in comparison.”

    Janko, have you not heard of Apple’s iCloud?

    1. Janko Roettgers Rich Monday, June 20, 2011

      I have, but video is largely missing from iCloud – http://gigaom.com/video/icloud-no-video-streaming/

      Plus, Apple can’t even get iCloud to stream music – do you really expect it to stream live TV?

  4. I’ve been a SageTV user for years and this announcement caught all of us off guard. They shut down the official SageTV site, including the official support channels and store. I feel like someone just punched me in the stomach!

    FYI – There already is a third party Android client for SageTV (as well as an iPhone client). You can find information on it here (http://talluscorp.com/mediawiki/index.php?title=TASageTV_Application). We can already control our systems using our phones. This includes checkings schedules, creating or editing recording schedules, browsing music, videos, and TV recordings from our home based system, and even streaming video to our phones (although the implementation of this feature isn’t as polished as the other features).

  5. I’m not convinced by your arguments any more than Mr. Agrawals (who seems to think DVRs are a failure when some 40% of US households are using them). A DVR version of Google TV would be even more expensive than a non-DVR Google TV? Okay, but would it be cheaper than a Google TV plus a separate DVR? And wouldn’t it work better since most of the DVR vendors with the exception of Dish have refused to play ball with Google TV? At least it would be able to search your recordings, and control your DVR without using two different remotes and user interfaces…

    Still, I do find the argument that Google would seem to prefer “On Demand” (personalized unskippable ads) to DVR (with ads intermingled with the content, recorded the day the show aired, easy to skip) given their focus on selling advertising. So if a Google TV without DVR could be made successful, I’m sure they’d prefer it…

    Except that the current version of Google TV is floundering and maybe they think this is the way to get some uptake? Sure they’d have to deal with cable cards, and all that, but Google could use its muscle to push the AllVid proposals forward and push the FCC to have some backbone, making them feel like they’re “not doing evil” in the classic Google way.

    Does that mean they’re doing a DVR? Nope.

    Since neither DVR functions nor slingbox functionality would make a lot of sense wrt Google’s long term objectives (selling ads), you have to ask which one would make Google more successful more quickly? I’d have to argue that adding DVR capabilities to Google TV would be more successful.

  6. Eh, for a company like Google it could be more efficient to acquire than to build a team. I’m sure they’ll tackle multiple challenges, perhaps a hardware reference design is one of them, as Rakesh suggests. Obviously, I think DVR capabilities will be a priority. Placeshifting may be too (Microsoft picked up that WebGuide developer once upon a time for similar), but only if Google takes their DVR to the cloud – hosted at home potentially comes with more technical challenges than most civilians are prepared to handle.

    1. DVR in the cloud isn’t an idea that has legs IMO. You’d have all the setup hassle with the added difficulty up uploading all that content over the Internet? I still think this acquisition is mostly about the talent and their expertise in “networked digital media” (upnp, remoting audio/video inside the home) and maybe general experience in video capture, streaming and program guides.

    2. I think integrating a DVR into GoogleTV is a good idea, and is probably Google’s method for both
      A)getting around licensing nightmares relative to Hollywood and hosted content, and
      B)enacting a slow, smooth transition from present-day DVRs to what GoogleTV is currently aimed at, where all content is hosted online.

      A large part of the reason why GoogleTV is not selling well is because it doesn’t offer to reduce the complexity of your home entertainment setup by replacing your STB and DVD/BluRay player, etc. I’d love to see Google come out with a combo DVR/BluRay player(maybe recorder)/online-content-browser device.

      SageTV was a good choice, considering that Sage probably didn’t have the backing to enable CableCard within their software, but with Google backing them, they likely will. Where I see this going for Google is both enhancing their GoogleTV product, but ALSO…Adding functionality similar to “SoftSled” (from the Windows Media Center world) to BOTH Android AND especially, ChromeOS (via SageTV’s place-shifting).
      The timing of this acquisition coinciding with the initial release of Chromebooks makes me wonder if some early consumers of ChromeOS turned to Google and asked “So where are the video capabilities ?”

      Just my 2 cents…

  7. Chris Painter Tuesday, June 21, 2011

    Just a thought, but it seems that most everyone’s comments are focused purely on a US market point of view. In the US Google TV is floundering and struggling with content. The design of the system being sold in the US is also about not trying to replace the current STB which may or may not include a DVR. Breaking into the US market is challenging for them. Lots of competition, not only from Roku, Apple, and others, but also now the MSO themselves who are trying not to get left behind.

    However, if you look at other markets like Asia, Europe, and even other emerging markets, many manufacturers are already incorporating a version of Android into their TVs or other boxes. Sony’s GoogleTV group has people dedicated to just emerging markets. In these markets, content is not so much of an issue, i.e. they may already have hard drives that have all sorts of content on them.
    One thought is that Google is looking to fill out their offering of GoogleTV with a more complete solution, DVR, place-shifting, etc, for these markets, thereby hopefully winning them over and getting them to use GoogleTV rather than some home grown experience built on top of Android.

    1. Excellent point, Chris.

  8. I have the Sony model, and I’m pleased. It took too long to find a good media server match (love the Twonky!), and they should provide a search function for DLNA content.

    Incorporating various Google features like Gmail and docs directly from the apps menu without sending out to the browser would help them build synergy (hate myself for using the word, but it is appropriate here).

    The real breakthrough over other media players would be installing a hard drive, or allowing attachment of a USB connected drive or NAS and utilizing this box as a DVR. It would really put the box into another class. Alternately, if they integrate with the big cable providers (and not just one satellite provider. I’m supposed to pay one provider for net access and another for TV? Tweaker please!) DVR services would also end around the networks (except Comcast I guess) to an extent, and potentially make the viewing experience more seamless. They could even allow access to the hard drive/DVR contents through mobile (Android) platforms to provide a more full featured web/media/social network/cloud storage gateway, which seems to be the ultimate goal.

    Copyright fights may ensue, but if the Networks aren’t playing nice anyway…

    I’ve had few problems with the DLNA function. I wish it supported more audio formats, and proprietary media server software would help (was not successful with the Google desktop media server, but could have been user error) and would better enable the DLNA content search function.

    If I were one of those evil bad bad people who torrent copyrighted material improperly, I’d be thinking about testing a digital HDTV antenna for local content into a tuner card for my desktop machine for watching and DVRing local content and broadcast content, and then cutting back to internet service only from the fastest cheapest provider.

    The media PC provides everything or virtually everything my Google box does and potentially more, but my girlfriend would be calling me at work, in the bar, or at the hardware store, and asking how to watch Oprah reruns, I guarantee it. If the power cycles, I have to remind her to turn on the surround receiver.

    But she’s a lovely and lively Luddite who cooks and cleans without complaint for my sorry butt while providing access to breasts, so I’ll keep her.

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