Verizon Rolls Out Multi-Room DVRs
Joe Ambeault, Verizon‘s director of interactive TV applications, likes to tell his team the following story: At the turn of the previous century when auto manufacturers were trying to figure out how to build a car, the top requested feature from consumers was a place to hook their horses. Ambeault said the above example held true to form with Verizon’s Home Media DVR platform, which was announced earlier this week for its FiOS service. While a lot of the media attention has focused on the multi-room capabilities of the DVR set-top box, which enables customers to view recorded programs on three different TVs simultaneously, customers have been drawn to the Media Manager software. Verizon’s free, in-house Media Manager software allows subscribers to find and organize digital photos and MP3 music files on their home PCs, which are then routed through the home network to either a TV set or home entertainment system that is connected to the Home Media DVR set-top box. “For customers to not have to gather around a PC to look at family vacation pictures delivered way more value than customers comprehended before they had it in hand,” Ambeault said. “Now they talk about it almost as if it’s the top line feature and not the multi-room DVR capability. There are lots of sexy things that consumers read about that don’t really resonate with them, but when you put them into their hands, all of a sudden they become part of their daily lives.” Verizon touts the convergence of the PC and TV service as the first of its kind by a service operator. It uses Actiontec Electronics‘ broadband home router to hook up PCs within the home to the Internet by either a Wi-Fi or F5 connection. Currently, the service doesn’t support Apple computers or play music files with digital rights protection from companies such as Apple’s iTunes, but Ambeault said Verizon was working on solutions on both fronts. “The technology is ready, and we’re absolutely working on those business deals related to DRM,” he said. “Currently, it just supports Windows, but we’ll add Macintosh support.” Rooms to view For the multi-room DVR service, Verizon is using Multimedia over Cable Alliance (MoCA) to link Motorola‘s QIP6416 DVR set-top boxes to Motorola’s standard definition (SD) QIP2500 set-top boxes in other rooms of a house. HD service is currently only available on the DVR set-top box that is connected to the TV set. “Support for HD on nonHD-capable set-top boxes requires us to do a downconversion, and we need to be able to do that in an economical manner without driving up the expense on any of the components in the home,” Ambeault said. “At this point, we’re in research mode, trying to figure out an economical way to do that.” Digdia analyst Gary Sasaki said cable operators could use the same technology to deploy multi-room DVR solutions, or they could elect to use Scientific Atlanta‘s multi-room system. S-A’s solution uses an out-of-band frequency and modulates a QAM signal to the other S-A set-top boxes. Ambeault, who formerly worked for SeaChange, said there are similar offerings by DBS and cable operators. “What DBS is offering is the ability to share a set-top’s output on two TVs, by using an RF remote control to manipulate the STB in the far away room,” he said. “Time Warner has began rolling out this capability with S-A’s 8000 series set-top boxes in third tier markets like Terre Haute, IN, and St. John, LA, but there are no major market deployments. Charter and what used to be Adelphia are deploying Digeo‘s Moxi, which allows you to extend to one room off of the main DVR. “So there are similar offerings out there, but there’s no one in the service operator realm that is offering the media management capabilities that we’re providing. The closest competition out there would be the media center players like Snapstream, Microsoft and the Tivos of the world.” Ambeault said one distinction between Verizon’s offering as opposed to one from a consumer electronics solution is simplicity. “We set it all up and help take care of it as opposed to someone going to Best Buy, buying all of the pieces, building your home network, and then connecting the devices to it,” he said. If customers already have an HD DVR, there’s no truck roll to the customer’s premises; it requires just activation from the call center. Customers who don’t have a DVR can install one themselves or have Verizon do it. The home network comes with a TV or high-speed data service installation, so there isn’t an additional truck roll for provisioning the Home Media DVR service. “One of the biggest reasons we believe this hasn’t gotten further deployment in cable operations is because they have to do truck rolls to build the home network, which we’re doing at the point of installation,” Ambeault said. The service was trialed in May and then launched in Massachusetts and Texas last week before a nationwide rollout by the end of this week. The cost for the Home Media DVR service is an additional $7 to the monthly charge of $12.95 for Verizon’s DVR standard DVR service, and there’s an additional charge of $3.95 a month for the SD set-top boxes.