New Tivo Applications

A week or so ago, we added ourselves to Tivo’s priority list for their new online applications and Yahoo partnership. The software update arrived within the last couple of days and I spent some time yesterday tinkering with it.

Most of the new stuff is found under the “Home Media Option” section of the menu (called “Music, Photos, and More” now) and it falls into a couple of categories:

1. Yahoo Services 

2. Games 

3. Online Media

Yahoo Services — In this category were things like Yahoo’s Traffic, Weather, and Photos. Basically, you just use Tivo to log into your “My Yahoo” account. After you supply a zip code (or even multiple zip codes), you get a weather forecast and current traffic reports. I don’t have any pictures in the Yahoo Photos services, so I didn’t test that but the weather and traffic seem to work fine. It’s not quite as fast it would be through a browser, but it’s workable.

Games — There are three games on the menu now, all of which are single player games and can be played with just the remote. One of them is a “Connect 4” clone, one is a “Jawbreaker” clone, and the third is sort of like a one-person Scrabble game where you make words to earn points. High scores are recorded for each game. It’s kind of a novel idea, but I don’t see anyone playing a whole lot of games with just a Tivo remote. It also suffers from speed issues.

Online Media — Under this category are a Podcast retriever/player and a client to listen to Live365 Internet Radio.

First, the podcasting interface… it works, but is just barely useable. Up front, there are a few categories (Entertainment, Technology, News, etc) and each category has several podcasts already in it. You can also enter your own URL, which is horribly slow and painful with just a Tivo remote. Try entering http://www.itconversations.com/rss/recentWithEnclosures.php by navigating one letter and symbol at a time. Tivo really needs to provide a better way to subscribe to podcasts via URL — maybe using the Tivo Central Online service or the Tivo Desktop client that runs on PCs.

Once you’ve subscribed, you see a list of the shows/episodes for the feed, along with a little graphic (if the podcaster provides it in their feed) and brief description of the show. You can then hit Play to listen. Unfortunately, your controls for playback amount to “Play” and “Stop”. You can’t fast-forward or rewind and there’s no way to stop something at a certain point and then pick up at that point later. I suppose if you really want to hear a certain podcast show, it’s passable but I don’t see this getting adopted very widely until its much easier to subscribe to feeds and control playback.

On the Live365 Internet Radio front… it’s not bad. You see a list of genres and then a list of the internet radio streams under each genre. The streaming was a little choppy at first, but it seemed to settle down and stay consistent once it was running for a minute or two. I didn’t find a lot of great stuff on there, but I’m not much of a broadcast radio listener.

Overall Impressions

It’s an interesting first step and I really like that Tivo is planning to take advantage of the broadband connections that many people have in their homes. I hope we’ll see more experiments like this. The main issues with this first release that I see fall into two categories:

Interface Speed – It was noticeably slower to navigate through the online options and menus. I couldn’t see whether it improved over time through caching, but even navigating around an on-screen keyboard to enter a URL was pretty slow. It’s frustrating when your button pushes aren’t registered right away, so you push it again, only to have the cursor then jump twice at once.

Remote Control – I’m hoping that they soon make it possible to set up options or subscribe to podcasts via either the Tivo Central Online web interface or via the Tivo Desktop client that runs on PCs (for the Home Media and TivoToGo capabilities). Otherwise, these new features will get very limited use, at least in our house. It’s just too much of a pain to do things character by character using a standard remote control.