The pre-release buzz around a new product from TiVo (Nasdaq: TIVO ) could have you thinking that this box would do your dishes, tuck your kids in at night, and bring an end to world hunger. I've got news for you if you bought all of that: It's just a better media center. Your sink will still be full of crusty plates.
The sizzle and the steak
Best Buy (NYSE: BBY ) told its employees to expect great tidings out of TiVo this week, because "TiVo is currently working on something major that will literally transform the way people watch TV." The big-box veteran will put $20 million into marketing these little boxes.
The new goodies, known as TiVo Premiere and Premiere XL, are a big upgrade over the aging Series 3 and TiVo HD set-top boxes. With up to a terabyte of storage space, a lot more memory, and a modern central processor from Broadcom (Nasdaq: BRCM ) inside, the hardware can record multiple high-definition channels simultaneously and present a redesigned wide-screen user interface with lots of eye candy.
That interface runs on the Adobe Systems (Nasdaq: ADBE ) Flash platform, which hints at the possibility of extending and personalizing the user experience. Thanks to a fresh partnership with FrameChannel, the Premiere will have more than 1,000 software widgets available at launch for useful purposes like checking your stock portfolio, running your fantasy football team and updating your Twitter status. These programs are a cinch to build on the Flash framework.
All those horses under the hood and the revamped software make the TiVo Premiere a serious contender for the all-in-one media center throne. Full-length movie streaming services like Amazon (Nasdaq: AMZN ) Video On Demand have their content available at a click of the remote, along with broadband networking connections that pull in videos from YouTube, music from Pandora and so on. It's a veritable smorgasbord of digital content cobbled together from online sources, whatever you've recorded on the DVR, and your service provider's own listings.
Who needs it?
In short, the Premiere boxes want to be the only box next to your TV. This thing pulls together content from a myriad of sources and presents it all in a unified format that should be easy to browse or search. There's even a remote with a QWERTY keyboard coming soon after the boxes hit retail shelves at Best Buy and Amazon. This is what Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT ) and Sony wanted their Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 consoles to be -- but those game consoles can't replace your cable box the way TiVo's new gadgets can.
The delayed payoff
TiVo is hoping to have this hardware replace the high-end digital cable boxes your cable provider would install, and already has regional cable provider RCN signed up for an early rollout. If a major player like Comcast (Nasdaq: CMCSA ) were to follow in RCN's little footsteps, that could be the catalyst for TiVo's golden age as smaller companies follow suit like dominoes. The platform certainly looks enticing, even if it falls somewhat short of revolutionary, and it's backed by a wealth of expertise in interface design and content categorization.
That doesn't mean you should triple-mortgage your house to buy TiVo stock today, though. If TiVo's lofty ambitions ever become reality, the cable partners will fall in line one by one and give you plenty of time to get your ducks in a row. For now, TiVo has some nifty new hardware that could become a launching pad to greater heights, but the proof-packed pudding hasn't been served yet. Best Buy's marketing muscle might be the biggest thing the TiVo premiere has going for it.