TiVo as a whole home DVR WMC replacement

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TiVo as a whole home DVR WMC replacement

Post#1 » Fri Oct 07, 2016 12:33 pm

We've been using WMC since Windows XP, and it has and still is a great whole home DVR system. But due to the combination of Microsoft's decision to remove WMC from Windows 10, the uncertainty of their support, and Comcast's plans to upgrade our cable system to H.264, we have decided to leave WMC and move to a TiVo Bolt+ for our UHDTV and several TiVo Mini boxes for our secondary TV.

When Microsoft announced plans to discontinue WMC, we invested in SiliconDust's DVR project and also began an evaluation of Comcast's new X1 DVR service. An evaluation spreadsheet was created to compare the alternative solutions from SD, Comcast and TiVo with WMC.

SD's DVR project has taken much, much longer to get to even a basic DVR with DRM support, and due to design decisions, it appears they will fall far short of a WMC replacement for us, at least with their first release (if they ever get it out).

The X1 DVR is a considerably improvement over Comcast's previous DVR, but it has restrictions plus the monthly box rental fees for the DVR and the satellite STBs.

With TiVo's release of the Bolt+, we can get a 6 tuner DVR, using a single cable card that can provide a whole home DVR environment, with functionality surpassing WMC, and support for mobile devices and viewing of live/recorded TV away from home.

Before leaving The Green Button, I had promised in earlier posts to provide a summary of our evaluation of TiVo vs. WMC:

  • Hardware Cost: Bolt+=~$500; each Mini=~$150; replaces our WMC PC and network of Xbox 360 extenders
  • Recurring Annual Costs: Comcast=$100 for 1 cable card; TiVo=$150 for subscription; replaces $200 annual cost for 2 WMC cablecards
  • DRM Support: TiVo has access to all of our subscribed TV channels, plus Comcast's On Demand programs; WMC did not have access to On Demand
  • Streaming Services: TiVo integrates the popular streaming services into the same user interface & search; WMC only had access to TV channels and we were using the Smart Apps on our TV to access the streaming services, each with their own UI. With TiVo, we can search for a movie or series, and it will let us select which service to use to watch the program.
  • Personal videos/photos/music: TiVo includes Plex, which accesses all of our personal media; WMC provided this integrated into WMC
  • Commercial Skipping: TiVo has semi-automatic commercial skipping with a single button press for popular prime time programs; with an add-in WMC had fully automatic commercial skipping
  • 1.x Playback with Audio: TiVo has QuickMode which provides playback at 1.3x speed with adjusted audio; WMC had a similar function; with TiVo, this is set once while playing a program and the setting is retained after skipping over commercials; with WMC the 1.x speed had to re-enabled after each skip forward/backward command
  • UHDTV Support: TiVo has 4K video support for streaming services; unclear about future support for 4K cable TV; WMC support for 4K is uncertain
  • Whole home DVR: TiVo offers access to common tuners, recorded programs, and recording rules across all boxes (and mobile devices), similar to WMC
  • Mobile device support: TiVo provides a mobile app and web interface similar to what we had with Remote Potato, except that TiVo's mobile app has better support for viewing liveTV (away from home!)
  • Program guide: TiVo uses the same Rovi program guide as WMC and offers a program guide grid (which SD's DVR will not) and has an integrated search across the TV program guide, Comcast's On Demand and the streaming services
  • Recording rules: TiVo provides comparable recording rules to WMC with single program and series recording. For single program recording, it remembers adding a longer buffer at the end of recordings for overtime games; with WMC that had to be set manually for each recording.
  • Offline viewing: For travelling, using kmttg, we can transfer recorded programs from our TiVo to other devices (including Windows tablets/laptops) for offline viewing. The TiVo mobile app supports downloading of recorded programs to those devices. And with Plex, we can also support downloading to our Windows devices. With WMC, we were using a combination of .wtv file copies, Remote Potato and Plex.
  • Hardware comparison: The Bolt+ is significantly smaller and simpler than the WMC PC it replaced; the TiVo Mini boxes are also much smaller and simpler than the Xbox 360s. And the Mini's also support networking using MOCA over a home's cable system.
  • Universal IR remote support: The TiVo remotes support both RF (for non-line-of-sight) and IR (for line-of-sight); and we are able to use universal IR remotes to control our TiVo Bolt+ and Mini boxes. WMC supported only IR with universal IR remote support.
  • Undelete support: The Bolt+ has a huge disk; when programs are deleted they are still on the disk and not overwritten immediately; TiVo provides a "recover" command to undelete deleted programs, and since we are only using 1-3% of the storage space most of the time, it's likely undelete could work for programs recorded over the past several months. With WMC, once deleted a program is gone.
  • Reliability: The Bolt+ and Mini boxes have been stable and reliable since we installed them. With WMC, we'd periodically have issues with the WMC software or hardware, requiring some additional handholding. Family feedback has been extremely positive to have the TiVo and not the additional complexity of using a PC or Xbox 360s.

After spending several weeks getting our TiVo environment configured, the only major item we miss from WMC is the fully automatic commercial skipping. With our TiVo boxes, we must hit a button to initiate the program skip - and this is only supported for the prime time series on the most popular channels. However, we've found this isn't a showstopper.

Because of the high Comcast cablecard cost, the annual subscription costs will only go up $50 - which seems worthwhile to get a fully supported product that provides all of the additional functionality that wasn't available or integrated together.

We had to buy replacement hardware for our WMC PC and Xbox 360s. And we wish we could have reused our current WMC hardware, the PC is pretty old and the Xbox 360s have been discontinued by Microsoft - so we would eventually have to replace that hardware anyway, no matter what WMC replacement we picked. And because we plan to use this configuration for at least 3 years (and likely much longer, like we did with WMC), we were comfortable with the unavoidable upfront hardware costs - and at least we aren't paying monthly hardware fees for renting more Comcast boxes.

We've had a surprisingly long run with WMC - and the functionality in our WMC environment is still "best in class", compared to the alternatives. For us, it was time to make the switch - and our experience with TiVo (at least so far) has been very positive. And the switchover was also pretty quick.

I'll monitor TGB for a few more days before leaving the WMC community, in case anyone has any questions about the above review or making the move from WMC to TiVo.
bob_p
 
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Post#2 » Fri Oct 07, 2016 1:32 pm

Thank you bob for your detailed information and for your membership here. On-wards and upwards.
You presumably know about the Select-Play-Select tweaks? I had a couple setup, 30 sec skip and 4xFF

Code: Select all
Quick clear play bar    Select-Play-Select-Pause-Select
Clock                   Select-Play-Select-9-Select
30 sec skip             Select-Play-Select-3-0-Select
Information             Select-Play-Select-Replay-Select
4xFF                    Select-Play-Select-8-8-Select
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Post#3 » Sat Oct 08, 2016 5:10 pm

I assume the WMC features for commercial skip and transfer to a device only worked with non-copy-protected content, but on the TiVO those features still work. Is that correct?
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rmeden
 
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Post#4 » Sat Oct 08, 2016 6:48 pm

https://support.tivo.com/articles/Features_Use/SkipMode

So the difference is this: the WMC "features" for commercial skip depend on third party software--either ShowAnalyzer or comskip--to "watch" the show (basically, play the show back to themselves) and, algorithmically, determine when there's a break between show and commercial, and between commercial and show. The third party software logs these marked times in a commercial skip file, which yet another third party software--Dvrms Toolbox--uses to control what the viewer sees as WMC shows the program.

ShowAnalyzer and comskip are not part of the Playready DRM universe, and as such are not authorized to play copy protected shows--even if only to themselves. Only WMC can play copy protected content, thanks to Playready. So ShowAnalyzer and comskip are unable to produce the commercial marker file that DTB would read to skip commercials.

Compare that to Tivo, which uses live TV viewers manually to mark commercial content. Tivo makes those markers available to the Tivo boxes, and Bob's your uncle.

Nothing stops WMC from doing the same thing, other than the fact that WMC is a free as-is system and Tivo is a for-profit commercial business. I guess someone could create the exact same type of system for WMC, where we could crowdsource marking commercials for the world and make the generic DTB commercial marker file available for anyone to use on any given show. But how long would that last? How many of us would continue making our labor available to the group when it's human nature for most people to freeload?

The advantage to such a system is, it would work with copy protected programming.
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Post#5 » Sat Oct 08, 2016 8:04 pm

For the lucky ones who have a cable provider that only marks the premium/movie channels copy-once, comskip/ShowAnalyzer can mark commercials on every channel that will probably have commercials, which I think is a big plus. Most of the channels I watch aren't covered by Tivo's SkipMode, but it looks like they're slowly adding more.
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Post#6 » Sat Oct 08, 2016 11:46 pm

For TiVo shows that have a skip icon, when commercials start you still have to grab the remote and press a button to jump to the next segment.They had to make it work in this way to avoid litigation.

TBH for any show if you have your 30 second skip remote button setup correctly with [Select-Play-Select-3-0-Select] you cleanly skip 30 seconds and pressing it six times gets you past the commercials. Being an RF remote helps a lot too.

Bit of a pain but the cleanest and quickest way to get past them.
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Post#7 » Sun Oct 09, 2016 2:39 am

Very thorough review, thanks for the info!
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Post#8 » Mon Oct 10, 2016 3:26 am

The automatic commercial skipping with WMC, using either Comskip or ShowAnalyzer with the DTB add-in (to perform the automatic skipping while playing), works for any non-copy-protected program, without requiring any additional remote control button presses. However, we've found the automatic commercial detection is not always accurate (which is why we used the DTB add-in, instead of using a tool to automatically cut out the commercials). Getting these tools configured with WMC requires installing several 3rd party tools, requiring some configuration.

The semi-automatic commercial skipping with TiVo is only for prime-time programs on the most popular channels (which are likely all not copy protected). And because there is a person marking the start and stop of each commercial block, we've found the commercial detection has been 100% accurate, not requiring the manual intervention we periodically have to do with WMC.

Skipping forward/backward is pretty easy using remote control buttons - and you can click the same button several times quickly to move forward several minutes at a time. Though, unlike WMC or when TiVo does a commercial skip, using the skip forward button does a high speed fast forward quickly skimming over the skipped period, so that if there was something you wanted to see (such as a movie trailer), you can skip backward to see it.

The commercial skipping and the Quick Mode (1.3x playback with audio) are both useful features - similar to what we had with WMC, and missing from Comcast's X1 DVR.

The only minor inconvenience is having to press the "Skip" button when it's time to skip over a commercial, which means I now have to click the remote once every 5 to 10 minutes during a program. So far, that hasn't been a huge problem. Plus, since the commercial marking has been 100% accurate, I haven't had to try to recover when WMC skipped actual program, which would require multiple button clicks to disable the commercial skip and get back to the portion of the program that had been mistakenly skipped.

When SiliconDust announced their Kickstarter campaign, especially with the independent 3rd party video review demonstrating the features of SD's DVR (spring 2015), I was part of the group of WMC users who were hopeful SD was on a path to develop a WMC replacement (which was mentioned in the video review SD put on their Kickstarter page). But based on our experience with TiVo's Bolt family, coupled with the design decisions by the SD team and the long delay (1 year) in getting their first release out, it's not clear SD will ever be able to compete with TiVo.

One last point - a major advantage of WMC has been the lack of annual subscription fees - it's basically been free (after the hardware has been purchased).

If we can get a usable replacement, that provides a superset of the WMC functionality - and has active support and will continue to see new development, that's worth something. TiVo'S annual subscription fee comes out to less than $.50 per day - we're willing to pay that. And, we would have been willing to pay SD, if they were developing a WMC replacement.
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Post#9 » Mon Oct 10, 2016 3:33 am

bob_p wrote:The semi-automatic commercial skipping with TiVo is only for prime-time programs on the most popular channels (which are likely all not copy protected).


Copy protection is irrelevant with respect to Tivo's mechanism.

And consider: even if a channel is not supposed to be DRM protected, some cable providers screw up and stick the DRM onto it anyway. With WMC, that means no commercial skip. With Tivo, it doesn't matter--if the live viewing team has marked the commercials, then that's it.

It's not the skipping during playback that's the issue. It's watching the program in the first place to create the commercial markers that's the issue. Automatic systems such as ShowAnalyzer can't watch DRM protected content. Tivo switched that up and put humans in charge of watching the content and creating the markers.

Me, I don't think that system will last very long. I would not use that as a strong driver for a Tivo purchase decision. It's strictly a nice-to-have, but know that it will disappear sooner rather than later.
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Post#10 » Mon Oct 10, 2016 12:42 pm

Sonic Blue had automatic commercial skipping in their ReplayTV DVRs before we started using WMC. And that product worked! The company didn't produce a subsequent product and went out of business.

When we initially shifted to WMC, we didn't have commercial skipping. And while we missed that feature, the other benefits of WMC made the switch worthwhile. After a few years, 3rd party developers later added commercial skipping.

Since then, the TiVo Bolt is the first commercial product that provides anything close to the commercial skipping with the ReplayTV or WMC. And with WMC no longer being developed, even if TiVo discontinues the commercial skipping feature, it's not like we'll have any alternatives... Using the TiVo remote to manually skip over commercials using skip forward (which has to be done for non-prime time/popular programs) isn't that bad, just not as convenient.
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Post#11 » Mon Oct 10, 2016 12:49 pm

With Remote Potato, it's theoretically possible to watch live TV outside of the home (OOH) with WMC, though I had problems getting that to work reliably.

With TiVo, the Android/iPhone app supports OOH viewing of live TV - something that Comcast doesn't support with their X1 app (for most channels).

But, while we are travelling, it would be useful to watch live TV on the large screen TV in a hotel room - which is easier to do from a Windows laptop/tablet (with an HDMI port).

AmiDuOS is an Android emulator running on Windows. Using their "Jellybean" (version 1.x) emulator, you can install the TiVo android app and run it on Windows and stream recorded and live TV through Windows.
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Post#12 » Mon Oct 10, 2016 4:49 pm

bob_p wrote:With Remote Potato, it's theoretically possible to watch live TV outside of the home (OOH) with WMC, though I had problems getting that to work reliably.

With TiVo, the Android/iPhone app supports OOH viewing of live TV - something that Comcast doesn't support with their X1 app (for most channels).

But, while we are travelling, it would be useful to watch live TV on the large screen TV in a hotel room - which is easier to do from a Windows laptop/tablet (with an HDMI port).

AmiDuOS is an Android emulator running on Windows. Using their "Jellybean" (version 1.x) emulator, you can install the TiVo android app and run it on Windows and stream recorded and live TV through Windows.


If you want to bring WMC with you the best option is EMBY. It transcodes perfectly and can be played on many devices. It uses serverwmc to access your WMC guide and tuners as well as your recorded shows. I bring a firetv stick with me when I travel for work or go on vacations. I can bring my entire collection with me and you can change the bitrate based on what type of connection you have. Blows the doors off of remote potato.
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Post#13 » Mon Oct 10, 2016 5:05 pm

bob_p wrote:Sonic Blue had automatic commercial skipping in their ReplayTV DVRs before we started using WMC. And that product worked! The company didn't produce a subsequent product and went out of business.


I think lawsuits triggered by commercial skip and their show sharing feature drove them out of business, not the fact they didn't produce newer products. I was surprised when Tivo implemented it.
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Post#14 » Mon Oct 10, 2016 5:11 pm

^ I believe it's because you still have to grab the remote and press a button to skip using the commercial skip feature. It's not automated.
No different from grabbing the remote and manually using 30sec skip, or FFWD, pressing buttons a few more times.
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Post#15 » Mon Oct 10, 2016 5:33 pm

rmeden wrote:
bob_p wrote:Sonic Blue had automatic commercial skipping in their ReplayTV DVRs before we started using WMC. And that product worked! The company didn't produce a subsequent product and went out of business.


I think lawsuits triggered by commercial skip and their show sharing feature drove them out of business, not the fact they didn't produce newer products. I was surprised when Tivo implemented it.


My guess is, it was the show sharing that scared the living crap out of the content owners and triggered all the hullabaloo.

And now look at the world they live in. Not only can I make my own personal Netflix (even using borrowed content!), I can stream it to the entire world with the click of a mouse. Or I can simply grab onto something like Showbox, and stream whatever they're offering from their safe haven in Russia or wherever.

I hope the greedy content owners all have or get ulcers.
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Post#16 » Mon Oct 10, 2016 11:12 pm

Comcast's On Demand service forces you to watch some streamed programs in real-time, disabling the skip functions, so you have to watch the commercials.

It's interesting TiVo has two ways to skip forward through a program. Using the SKIP button to skip over a marked commercial, the playback makes an immediate jump to the resumption of the program after the commercial block. But, if you use the 30-second skip forward button, the skip is more gradual, displaying a sequence of still frames from the 30 seconds that are being skipped, providing the opportunity for you to skip backward and watch what you've skipped over.

If TiVo does get pressure about the commercial skipping, they might be able to alleviate some of the pressure if they at least showed some clips from the skipped commercials.
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Post#17 » Tue Oct 11, 2016 12:59 am

Bob I mentioned further up that there is a SPS code to make the 30 second skip an instant action. It worked way better for me to use when manually skipping commercials.
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Post#18 » Tue Oct 11, 2016 10:00 am

bob_p wrote:Comcast's On Demand service forces you to watch some streamed programs in real-time, disabling the skip functions, so you have to watch the commercials.


I believe that's the case for every operator.

And that's why I dismiss the argument for cableco equipment that says, "Oh yeah, well, I an get on-demand programming from my cableco using their equipment, so I dumped WMC and Tivo".
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