Killer HT Upgrade: the Directv iPad App
I recently sold my old car, and used that mini cash windfall to buy an iPad. Since we already use iOS apps at home, this was a nice addition to our existing devices. Yeah, my audio enthusiast credentials have been taken down a notch -- I basically had a short stack of Benjamins in my pocket and neglected to use any of that to upgrade my home theater system ... or did I?
New Reasons for Upgrading Wireless Network
Recent updates to Directv's HD receivers have added on-demand programming and web apps that access Pandora and YouTube. Up to this point, I hadn't bothered to network my Directv receiver, since it only provides a wired Ethernet connection. But, having access to demand programs, along with wiring my PS3 (which has horrible wi-fi performance), was tipping me towards upgrading my home network.
Parallel to this, I bought the iPad and saw that Directv had a tablet app available. Looked kinda cool in that I could check the program guide and schedule recordings. Then I saw that a few months ago, live TV streaming and remote control got added to the app. NOW, I'm interested!
So, I upgraded my router to a dual-band 802.11n model and added a wireless bridge to the home theater for the Directv receiver and PS3. Now, the Directv on demand menu is active, and I can now reliably connect the PS3 to the music files on my Mac.
So, What About the iPad App?
We had some discussions about the iPad as a HT device a couple of years ago, but I have seen barely any mention of the iPad on the AR boards since then. I saw Comcast's iPad demo and saw that tablets could become the elusive convergence device that techies have blathered about for more than a decade. So, how does the Directv iPad app fare?
New IPad, who wants one?
Comcast iPad Remote App: Digital Convergence Finally Arrives?
For what it does, the Directv iPad app is very very cool. It shows you the program info for the current program tuned on the receiver, and it has the full program guide that you can use to either tune to a channel, record on the DVR, or view in real time on the iPad.
One of the nicer features on the iPad is full remote control functionality over the receiver. It works and there's surprisingly little lag when using the DVR functions.
But, the real killer app here is the ability to view live TV on the tablet. While watching something on the sofa, I can use the iPad to monitor another program at the same time. Or someone else can watch TV and I can watch something else in the backyard or in bed or wherever.
While there are a lot of cool functions here, the app does have some limitations and a lot of room for improvement. For one thing, the iPad will only give you live TV streaming if the satellite receiver is hooked up to the same network. You cannot take this on the road and watch TV away from home ... yet. And not all channels are available for live tablet streaming ... yet.
It does allow you to order PPV movies, but I would expect that the functionality for off-site viewing will expand. For one thing, Directv's Nomad app for the iPhone already allows you to record programs from a DVR onto the phone.
So, this is just scratching the surface, and to that end, I suspect that Apple might be taking a few big leaps ahead with their rumored HDTV to really make the integration between the tablet and TV as seamless as possible.
Tracing back to the old arguments we used to have on this site about watching networked video on a small screen, the iPad is really the smallest device on which I would watch TV programming for any extended length of time (even watching a one-hour episode of Falling Skies on the iPad was really pushing it). But, even then I absolutely cannot imagine using an iPad as my primary video viewing device. Even with the fantastic display, it remains a complementary device to the TV, while it opens up all sorts of possibilities for watching videos on the go.
Now, it gets back to supplying the app with programming. And I think this is where the iPad apps are about reinforcing the subscriber base for the carriers. Directv is obviously doing this for a reason. And I don't doubt that Comcast, Time Warner, and Dish Network's iPad apps are just as good, and used the same purpose of retaining existing subscribers. And that trend towards reinforcing the cable/satellite subscriptions similarly applies with apps for individual channels. For example, the iPad apps from TNT and TBS will only allow full episode streaming if you have a cable/satellite account.
VERY nice! You get the impression that we're just barely scratching the surface with these new technologies. Can't wait to see how much further the innovations will take us.
By the way, I totally understand the hand-wringing when it came to deciding on either the iPad or getting a new whatsitdozit for your home theater. I was at a similar crossroads last week. One path lead to the new iPad, while the other headed straight towards the Marantz AV7005. (Actually, I guess we can throw the Apple TV device in the conversation as well, since that's what started my latest upgrade quandary.) Ultimately, I decided on the Marantz, but after reading your post I think it's safe to say that the Apple Store will be next in line to receive my hard-earned cash.
I have Cablevision service. Their Optimum App for iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, laptop, and Kindle Fire has similar features. Also, if you have subscriptions to HBO and Cinemax through DirectTV, you can access HBO and Cinemax programming while on the road (app not required). Just visit the HBO Go and Max Go sites, register, and you're in business. I suspect the other networks will eventually get on board with providing similar mobile access to cable service subscribers.
As far as "convergence" goes, we're getting closer but definitely not there yet. Techies have been pushing the whole "digital living room" bit for more than a decade, basically presuming that people actually want the PC experience in their living room. Of course, media PCs have been a bust precisely because people don't want their TV viewing to emulate a PC (with its needless complexity and bugs).
Originally Posted by BadAssJazz
I've been saying for quite a while on this board that a media convergence device needs to respect how people actually consume media -- i.e., leaning back in a sofa/chair using one hand to control everything while expending minimal brain power to figure things out. The iPad is getting close -- it's simple and anyone can use it while leaning back (instead of leaning forward like you would with a PC).
The Directv app seems more like the beginning, and it should be interesting to see what other functionality gets added as things evolve. It's far from ideal mainly because in order to gain full functionality, you still have to connect it to a wired network, and Directv satellite receivers still don't have wi-fi built in. I took the trouble to add a wireless Ethernet bridge to my HT system, but I doubt that too many other consumers will do the same thing. Most home theaters and TVs are not networked, including components with network capability. Until more components start to include wi-fi, you'll still see a lot of these network gaps in most homes. And that's a shame, because apps like the Directv iPad app add a lot of functionality, once you make all the required connections.
I'm not familiar at all with any iPad apps offered by other service providers, but since I see Comcast's Xfinity commercials all the time, it does look like their iPad app has comparable functionality as Directv's app.
Originally Posted by Glen B
I've been using HBO Go since it first went live. But, I don't use the website that often because I don't like watching TV while sitting at a computer desk (or holding a laptop for that matter). The iPad is actually a more compelling option since I prefer viewing shows on a tablet over a PC, and the HBO's iPad app has a better interface than the website.
Also, Amazon finally posted their Prime Video streaming app this week (because the iPad forbids Flash, Amazon's streaming video had been unavailable), which brings their video library to the iPad. It's pretty cool (though in a very rough state right now, for example, it lacks any search function), but I'm actually more excited about Amazon Prime getting added to the PS3. This is because even with the iPad, I can't go for long viewing stretches. I'd rather just watch it on my TV.
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