TiVo Premieres Its “Premiere” Set-Top Box

TiVo finally took the wraps off its new set-top box tonight at an event in New York, showing off new hardware and a new software interface that is designed to bring together broadcast and broadband content. In a presentation frequently interrupted by Jack MacBrayer (better known as 30 Rock‘s Kenneth the Page) and capped off with a dance party led by The Jersey Shore‘s Paulie D (I’m not kidding), TiVo CEO Tom Rogers highlighted the need for an easy way to bring together infinite amounts of content in one easy — and fun to use — interface.

In terms of pure hardware, there weren’t a whole lot of surprises. As expected, the company will be rolling out two new set-top boxes, the TiVo Premiere and a TiVo Premiere XL. The Premiere will cost $299 and will hold up to 45 hours of HD video content, while the Premiere XL will be available for $499 and will hold up to 150 hours of HD video.

But the real innovation is happening in the software, where TiVo is seeking to blend broadcast and broadband content into a single, easily searchable user interface. With the amount of content that is available not just on linear TV, but on broadband, Rogers said consumers need an easy way to weed through what is now an infinite amount of content. “The problem is that consumers can’t get all that broadband content to the TV, and even if they could, they couldn’t navigate it,” Rogers said.

In the new user interface, broadcast and broadband content are integrated, so it doesn’t matter whether you’ve recorded something from the TV or downloaded it from the Internet — it all appears in the same menu. Not only can you search by title, but you can also search through TV shows and movie titles by cast members, something Rogers called searching by six degrees of separation. The new TiVo search function also allows you to navigate through multiple collections, some of which are timely — like March Madness or Oscar films — and some of which are timeless, like the AFI Top 100 Movies list.

“People like the idea that there is broadband content available to them on the TV, but that doesn’t make it easy and it doesn’t make it usable,” Rogers said. The goal, he said, is to enable users to “browse, navigate and search, and do it in a way that can guide [consumers] through limited choice.”

What will also help improve the search and discovery experience is a new remote with a built-in sliding QWERTY keyboard. Rather than having users hunt and poke through the interactive program guide, users will now be able to use their thumbs to type out the programs that they’re looking for.

The new Premiere platform also has the possibility of being hugely extensible, due to the introduction of an interface based on Adobe Flash. As a result, TiVo is counting on the Flash developer community to create new games and Flash-based applications that weren’t previously available on set-top boxes, TiVo or otherwise. As just one example, music streaming application Pandora will soon be integrated into TiVo.

During the presentation, Rogers reasserted the company’s distribution partnerships, including those with Best Buy. “Best Buy is a critical partner in bringing to the public this whole new approach to bringing video content to the TV,” Rogers said. Without commenting specifically on the possibility of bringing a Best Buy digital storefront onto the TiVo, Rogers said that the partnership would help Best Buy in filling its strategic need to extend its relationship with the customer beyond the cash register and into the digital realm.

Also in attendance was RCN, which will be making the Premiere its DVR of choice beginning in April. At that point, the cable operator will begin introducing the TiVo Premiere into its regional markets, beginning with Washington, DC. While the monthly price of the TiVo DVR has yet to be determined, a representative for the operator said that it would be sold at a premium to its existing set-top box.

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