CES 2012 is jam-packed with smart TVs of every size and shape, but you won't find TiVo amongst the fray: the original DVR company is holding quiet meetings in its usual private booth tucked above the show floor. We stopped by a for a visit and were treated to a demonstration of a very interesting external transcoder box that lets you stream anything on your DVR to the TiVo iPad app when you're on your home network, and download shows to watch offline or away from home. The box is just a prototype right now — it might not look like anything like this when it comes out — but TiVo says it'll work on any network fast enough to support the TiVo Premiere's new multiroom streaming feature. In practice, the prototype worked well; we streamed a show from the TiVo across the room without any hiccups.
Of course, it's easy to imagine expanding the feature set here: we pushed for details on streaming live TV as well as streaming video outside the home (like Slingbox) and were told it's all under evaluation, but nothing is locked in yet. That would be a pretty ideal package, especially combined with the quad-tuner TiVo Premiere Elite: you'd basically have access to your TV from anywhere in the world, and you'd only lose one tuner while watching live TV — leaving the other three to keep recording your shows. Yes, we're dreaming, but it's not outside the realm of the possible — we'll see if TiVo builds it all in.
We also got to play with the Premiere 2.0 software that started rolling out on Friday and found it to be leaps and bounds more responsive than before; TiVo says it's been using Adobe Air instead of (now-deprecated) Flash, and it's still working to improve performance and caching across the system with every new update. The new HD guide and info screens are also very well done, shows can be sorted by season, and search has been expanded to let you just start typing the name of a channel to quickly jump over. TiVo also says it just hired a new engineer to lead up a larger API effort to expand the number of apps on its platform, including more interactive apps that let you directly engage with what you're watching. We were also told that a new Netflix app is coming soon; it'll look a like an updated version of the app that ships on the TiVo-powered Insignia Connected TV.
We also took the opportunity to ask TiVo about what it's doing to stay relevant as every other manufacturer tries to enter the TV space and the cable companies themselves get into streaming apps — it's sort of a weird time to be building the ultimate cable box. TiVo's VP of product marketing Jim Denney told us that his goal is to offer a complete solution that bridges the gap between standard television and the new world of streaming services, and that the flood of smart TVs at CES that don't offer real TV support are just "technology for technology's sake." That seems like a smart bet in the short term, but we'll have to see how well TiVo can keep straddling the past and future as the TV industry undergoes a crisis of identity down on the show floor.