The DreamDVR - a cross platform wireless DVR solution for everyone.

Watch everything everywhere. Stick to the ecosystem you love. No extra box under the TV. No need for another subscription. Use your existing remote. Much more flexibility. Sounds good? read on.

In the future all content including live tv will be delivered over the internet and everything will be available on demand. All audio and video signals in our homes will be transferred wirelessly. But we’re not quite there yet and it won’t happen within the next two or three years.

In the meantime we have to accept that not all programming will be available on demand and online. A lot of great content has to be accessed through antenna, cable or satellite. So what’s the solution? - I’m glad you asked. I’ve been thinking about this for a while and I dreamed up a product that realistically could make watching live and recorded tv a much more enjoyable experience:

The hardware

A wireless DVR that's not connected directly to your TV but instead connects to your standard antenna cable and your router and streams wirelessly to an app on your TV or other devices (Think of it as a more capable EyeTV Netstream). I call my dreamed up product the DreamDVR. Now imagine this small networked DVR recording all your favourite shows, documentaries and a few movies directly to your NAS or USB HDD, not crippled by encryption like your regular DVR and not limited by the capacity of an internal drive.

The recordings would be recorded in (converted on the fly to) high quality .mp4 H.264 with the first audio track being stereo aac and the second being AC3 (Dolby Digital) or DTS passthrough. This effective and open format plays fluently on almost every device I’ve come across including the format stupid PS3, smart TVs, Google TV and Apple TV. Which means that you can download recordings to your iPad or play it on devices that might not get a DreamDVR app anytime soon. The recordings would of course also be shared via the DLNA protocol. With a wireless DVR your future smart tv only needs a power cord - no extra cables or boxes or harddrives.

The software

Everybody loves apps. Netflix, Hulu, Vudu - you name it. They are available on almost every device and let you pick up where you left off. However, Netflix does not have the latest content, Hulu doesn’t have that many different networks, and it is simply too expensive to buy every new episode of your favourite TV shows on Vudu (or iTunes). A DreamDVR app for SmartTVs, Roku, Apple TV, Xbox, tablets and smartphones would make this product extremely interesting to a lot of consumers. They wouldn’t have to wait for someone like Apple to “fix TV” and not have to leave their beloved ecosystem.

Having a DreamDVR app on your tablet and pc would be particularly useful because editing recordings with a standard remote on your regular DVR is not a great experience. The DreamDVR app would only be a client and the actual editing would of course happen inside the DreamDVR. Automatic commercial skipping would also be great, but I see a lot of political issues here.

A tablet or smartphone is ideal for browsing the tv guide and selecting which programs to record. The TV guide would fetch metadata and cover art for most TV shows and movies (much like the Google TV unified interface) to give you that “on demand feel”. You just tap the cover art of a tv show and the DreamDVR will show information about the program and ask if you want to record it and how long to keep old episodes. When a recording is done the metadata and cover art is embedded into the recorded file. This makes it easier to manage your recordings and makes browsing your recordings on a device without the DreamDVR app much nicer. Being able to set the DVR while away from home is of course a must have feature.

Add to this that you would not have to switch input on your TV to switch between Netflix and Live TV. This would give live tv a more integrated feel and solve the battle for input 1.

As far as I can see, this device could also be forward compatible without having to add more expensive hardware:

Let’s say you get a 100/100 Mbit fiber connection. The DreamDVR is already connected to your router and online, so there’s nothing in the hardware preventing you from recording straight to the cloud, although editing recordings may cause a little lag. IPTV also wouldn’t make your DreamDVR obsolete as IPTV doesn’t mean that everything is now on demand and availability everywhere.

I think Elgato currently is in the best position to make this product as the company already makes TV streaming products and apps, but anyone could actually make it. This product doesn’t require anyone to do the impossible and convince the cable companies or networks to use a new business model. The biggest challenge in making this thing truly awesome is getting a DreamDVR App on the Apple TV and the Xbox/PS3. Google TV already has an app store and Roku and Smart TV manufacturers rarely says no to new apps. Making the software and hardware just requires some funds and some hard working smart people. I guess there would have to be two versions of the DreamDVR - one for cable and antenna (a hybrid) and one for satellite. I imagine it would look something like the EyeTV Netstream with 2-4 tuners. It would only need 4 inputs: power, antenna, USB and ethernet. No extra remote needed - exclusively controlled via apps or IP.

I hope you like my idea for a DreamDVR. If I made a few typos then bear with me, but feel free to point them out so I can correct them. English is not my native language.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this theoretical product. I’m hoping this post will spark a discussion about the best way to watch live and recorded everywhere and not be about iOS vs. Android or how to modify your PC to do everything. The idea behind this product is that you could stay in whatever ecosystem you prefer.

I tried to anticipate a few good questions that some of you might have:

What’s wrong with a regular DVR?
Everything. It’s too expensive, too big, too ugly, puts your recordings in an encrypted jail, takes up a separate input just for live tv. A lot of DVRs won’t even let you watch your recordings on other devices and some only lets you watch on very few or only inside your home. Having PVR functionality built into the TV doesn’t solve the problem.

Why is Boxee TV not the solution?
First of all you need a $ 15 subscription just to be able to record tv. Secondly, uploading HDTV in high quality requires very high upload speeds. Thirdly, you need to buy a boxee tv for every room. Fourthly, it only works in the US and only with terrestrial tv. Finally, we love our Apple TV, Xbox and Roku devices.

What’s wrong with EyeTV on a Mac mini?
Short version: The computer - too expensive hardware and too much hassle. The software is also missing some of the cool features and the ease of use of the DreamDVR.

Long version: I have been using EyeTV on my macs for 5 years now and I must admit can’t live without the flexibility it gives me: I can create smart guides that automatically records stuff that meets certain criteria; I can stream all channels and recordings to my iPhone and iPad; I can watch my recordings in brilliant HD quality on my iPad and Apple TV 3 with beautiful cover art, metadata, and Dolby Digital surround.
However, i’m getting so tired of all the hassle. EyeTV will not let me record directly to mp4, so every time finish editing out the commercials I have to convert the original file using HandBrake, which takes hours, and I can’t just use the built in coverter in EyeTV because it won’t let me keep the original surround audio track and because it is too unforgiving if there’s a small flaw in the original recording. Also, the Apple TV compression setting in EyeTV is not quite good enough for my taste. I prefer not being able to distinguish between the compressed file and the original. After my HandBrake script is done I have to use iDentify2 to add metadata to my recordings before adding them to iTunes. Then there’s all the other stuff such a software glitches, higher power consumption, some fan noise, and all the other stuff that makes a PC more complicated and less sexy to use. It’s just too much hassle.

What about the EyeTV Netstream?
The Netstream is not a networked DVR it’s just a networked tuner. It still needs a computer to be able to record regularly and thus have the same problems mentioned above. Sure you can record on your iPad, but storage will definitely be an issue. What you need is not just a networked tuner, but a networked DVR - with better apps.