Every once in a while, something comes along that changes everything. myTVR, an outsourced video recording service, certainly falls into that category. By allowing users to record any show on free-to-air TV and then watch it as streaming video via a Web browser, iPhone or iPod touch, or Nokia smartphone, myTVR is pioneering a significant new model for watching TV.
The service – which is currently only available to Melbourne residents – is quite easy to use: log in via the Web site, click on ‘TV Guide’, then scroll through an electronic program guide (EPG) listing every show, on every network, for the next week (Foxtel channels are not included). This includes not only the standard channels but new channels like ABC2, ABC3, 7TWO, and Go!. Click on a show, click Record, and the show is added to your own list of shows to be recorded.
That’s it. Once the show has aired, you can log into the myTVR Web portal and watch it as a streaming video download. The video streams to the desktop like any other Web video, with a bar allowing skipping through the content and an option to watch the video full-screen.
The service also works on Nokia smartphones, the iPhone, and iPod touch. A specially-formatted Web site lets users peruse the EPG and add shows to be recorded no matter where you happen to be at the time. Videos can also be watched on the iPhone directly through the Web site, without needing to install any extra applications.
myTVR provides a fixed amount of recording space for a modest monthly fee. The ‘Silver’ service provides three hours’ worth of recordings for $5.85 per month, while the $7.85 Gold service provides space for 12 hours’ worth of recordings (note that this is not a limit on how much you can record in a month, but how much you can have ready for watching at any time; delete any shows you haven’t watched, and the space is freed up to record something else). A free trial, available now to anybody, provides 30 minutes of storage space for three months.
Performance. To test out myTVR, we signed up for the free trial service using Safari on our test iPhone 3GS. We instructed the service to record ‘Whacked Out Sports’, a random program that was about to air. Once the show had finished, it showed up in the ‘Recordings’ menu and was instantly available for watching.
The video began streaming to the iPhone within about 20 seconds of tapping the Play icon. Running over an Optus 3G mobile service with just 3 bars’ strength, video was quite watchable. Occasional jitter mirrored the effect when interference causes digital TV signals to drop out, but on the whole the results was acceptable at 3 bars’ signal strength.
When we switched to a local WiFi connection running over our fixed cable internet service, there were no hiccups whatsoever and the full-screen video played on the iPod quickly and smoothly.
To test the service under better conditions, we instructed it to record an episode of ‘Just Shoot Me’ that aired at 4:00 am. After waking up in the morning, the video was available for watching and we began streaming it over a cable Internet connection.
Quality over that connection was significantly better, with a clear picture that began streaming within seconds and played without a hiccup for the length of the episode. An option on the control bar allowed the video to play full-screen, and worked without a hitch.
Watching the same video over the iPhone, this time in a better Optus coverage area with 4 and 5 bars’ signal strength, produced a clear, sharp picture with very good quality and no hiccupping – in short, the identical experience to watching it over WiFi.
We were able to skip through the show using the video slider, and could watch the video repeatedly without any issues. Skipping through the video online was quite quick, but took about 10 seconds of rebuffering on the iPhone, which also offers a 30-second rewind button. There were no advertisements apart from those shown on the TV broadast. On the whole, the experience was simple and hugely effective.
The death of TiVo? Both for its ease of use and its quite reasonable pricing, myTVR is potentially a massively disruptive service that will bring personal video recorder (PVR) capabilities to many people who cannot justify the $500-plus cost of a dedicated PVR device such as TiVo or other boxes.
Sure, it doesn’t have as much capacity as a set-top box hard drive, but it is a brilliant model for people who are mainly concerned with catching up on their favourite shows, watching them once, and forgetting about them. Many people have little interest in the myriad other options a box such as TiVo or its many competitors provide – and at current prices, one could get nearly seven and a half years’ worth of myTVR service before equalling the price of a set-top box solution.
That’s not to say myTVR is without its limitations. As mentioned, videos expire after 14 days, and you cannot save them as on a dedicated PVR. There is no built-in ad-skipping feature as in some PVRs, although the slider does allow users to manually scan through videos when the ads come on. Video quality is really quite good but certainly falls short of the HD that has become common on many hardware devices.
Furthermore, there are none of the advanced EPG features you can get on some PVRs, such as the ability to automatically record every episode of a favourite show, or to add a buffer before and after the show to ensure you don’t miss a few minutes due to inevitable programming changes. These would be welcome additions to a future upgrade to the services.
However, this is not necessarily a major problem: Our 30-minute recording of ‘Just Shoot Me’ included about two minutes of music video before it and went for about two minutes after the show finished, so we were able to watch the entire show without a problem.
One important note about myTVR’s services: everything you watch will count against your fixed or mobile broadband quota. The exact amount of content recorded may vary, but perusing our ISP’s usage meters suggested that downloading our 30-minute test recording consumed around 85MB of fixed-broadband data, whether it was watched full-screen on our iMac or on the iPhone. Streaming the show via the Optus 3G network also consumed around 85MB of data, confirming that the service is streaming the same file in all situations.
If myTVR could work out quota-free arrangements with some local ISPs (as the ABC, for example, has done with iiNet and Internode) it would be an absolute killer app for users – especially those who have connected a computer to their TV and could use myTVR to watch TV in its native environment. Consumption of around 170MB may make the service difficult for heavy use via iPhones when users have contracts with limited data allowances, but by doing most of your viewing over WiFi or fixed services, these challenges can be managed.
Australian Macworld buying advice. If your broadband quota can support it, myTVR is an excellent service that will obviate the need for many people to buy dedicated PVR devices. Built-in iPhone support is a game-changer because it sidesteps the need to transcode, import and sync video through iTunes. myTVR is easy to manage, performs as promised, and is a cost-effective alternative to conventional solutions for watching TV.