For more than a decade, TiVo has been one thing: a DVR. And while it’s been a really good one, an awful lot has changed about the way we find and watch TV since the first TiVo box debuted in 1999. And now the company is involved in its first non-DVR project. It’s designed the on-screen interface for two new Internet-connected LCD TVs from Insignia, one of Best Buy’s four “exclusive brands” (along with Dynex, Init, and Rocketfish).
Insignia’s TVs don’t have any DVR features, and doesn’t offer an on-screen programming guide for over-the-air or cable programming. So they’re missing the aspects of the TiVo interface most closely identified with, will, TiVo. But when Best Buy demoed one of the sets for me last week, the interface did look like it has some of TiVo’s approachable DNA. That’s a major plus: TV companies don’t tend to be very good at at coming up with user interfaces when left to their own devices.
The sets come with CinemaNow and Napster–two services owned by Best Buy–as well as Netflix, YouTube, and Pandora. They use Chumby widgets to provide access to more than 1500 applets with information on subjects such as weather. And they’re the first TVs with built-in support for Rocketboost, a Best Buy technology for sending audio to speaker systems wirelessly.
They don’t, however, include DLNA compatibility, which would let you stream content off PCs and hard drives on your network: Best Buy says that its goal with these TVs was to keep things simple, and DLNA still isn’t straightforward enough.
The 32″ TV is $499; the 42″ one is $699. Best Buy says they’re available now, and that it plans both to upgrade their software with new features over time and to introduce new connected TVs and other devices based on the software in these TVs.
The Best Buy-TiVo partnership was announced more than two years ago; I was excited at the time, then so much time passed that I’d forgotten about it. Now I’m curious what other Internet-centric products TiVo might be working on. A Roku-style TiVo box could be nifty. And TiVo might be able to do a better job than Google TV has done so far at imposing a decent interface on over-the-air and cable TV. I hope that the company is furiously working on some of this stuff, and just hasn’t announced it yet…