As Digital Home approaches its tenth anniversary in December, we'd like say happy anniversary to one of the most talked about consumer electronic devices on our website over the last decade. Happy 10th Anniversary to the Personal Video Recorder (PVR) in Canada!
The first PVR in Canada, the Bell ExpressVu Model 5100 was released on August 8th, 2001. In the orginal press release, Bell described the 5100 as a satellite receiver that had the ability to pause real-time television programs and "tapelessly" record almost 30 hours of standard definition television programming on a 40-gigabyte hard drive.
South of the border, the Digital Video Recorder (DVR), as the PVR is called in the U.S., was announced at the 1999 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas by several manufacturers including TIVO. The first units began shipping on March 31, 1999.
Since their introduction, PVRs have found their way into about one-in-four (25%) Canadian Households and about 38% of American Homes.
A decade later, the standalone PVRs offered by Bell TV and the major cable companies haven't changed much. Today's devices possess larger hard drives and can record high definition signals, however, the basic functionality remains unchanged.
PVR's: The Next Decade
The newest innovation in PVRs, introduced more recently, is the “Whole Home” or “multi-room” PVRs. First introduced in Canada by MTS in Manitoba in October of 2009, a whole home DVR is a network enabled digital set top box which connects to the television signal coming into your home and then acts as a server or central brain to the rest of the system.
In the MTS implementation, the set top box functions both as a standalone PVR and as a recording or storage device for other set top boxes in the home. Perhaps the most popular feature of whole home PVR is the ability to record or playback programs from any television in your home. For example, provided each television in your home is connected to a networked set top box, you could schedule a recording from the TV in the basement, begin watching it on your TV in the living room and then half way through, pause the show and pick up where you left off on the TV in the bedroom.
With a whole home PVR, the family fight over who gets control of the PVR never happens. If you’ve recorded a show on the PVR but now your son and daughter is watching the TV in the living room, then just go to the bedroom or basement and watch the previously recorded show on that television. Better yet, watch the big screen yourself and send the kids to watch their show in the basement!
In addition to offering a central repository for recorded programming, whole home PVR’s also provide other useful features. For example MTS’ “My PVR” feature lets subscribers add, change or delete video recordings on their PVR from any internet connected computer or select mobile device in the world. The systems also offer three or four video streams which allow the family to watch and/or record multiple programs simultaneously.
In the U.S., major satellite, cable and IPTV companies have been introducing Whole Home systems for the last several years. In Canada every IPTV provider Bell Aliant, Bell Fibe, MTS, Sasktel, and Telus Optik are now offering such systems.
Bell Satellite, the company which introduced the first PVR in Canada, and Rogers Cable, which was the first major cable company to offer an HD PVR, have yet to announce any plans to launch whole home PVR systems.
The most aggressive seller of Whole Home systems in Canada has been Telus with its Optik HD PVR system. Thanks in part to advanced technological offerings like Whole Home PVR, the number of Telus subscribers has skyrocketed in the last 15 months. The number of Western Canadians subscribing to Telus TV has more than doubled from 170,000 at the end of 2009 to 358,000 by the end March 2011.
With the Optik system, subscribers can purchase an HD PVR, where all their recordings are stored, for $250 after which they can buy up to five secondary digital boxes for $150 each the cost of a Whole Home system on four televisions would be $700. Optionally, Telus lets Xbox 360 owners use their Video game console as a digital set top box as a way of reducing costs.
In early May, hoping to stem losses to Telus TV, Shaw Cable announced its first whole home PVR system in Calgary. The company has since rolled it out to Edmonton and promises it will be available to all Shaw customers by the end of the year.
While it comes late to the party, the Shaw Gateway may be well worth the wait. More expensive and more robust than competing IPTV systems, the Gateway system, rather than sitting next to your television, is installed close to where cable comes into your home. Once it’s connected, the Gateway connects and communicates to one or more diskless set top boxes, called portals, using the cable wiring in your home. Each portal connects to your television in the same manner that existing cable set top boxes connect to your television and you'll need one for each television in your home.
The aptly named Gateway is more than just a whole home PVR. It’s actually a multi-function device that includes the processing power hardware necessary to deliver and store high definition video signals plus a phone terminal for digital phone service, a DOCSIS 3 modem for internet service and a battery backup.
The Gateway also has a significant bandwidth advantage over the Telus solution which could definitely be a factor in home with many televisions. While Telus can record 3 HD Video streams simultaneously, Shaw says the Gateway can connect up to 6 TV's and can support a total of 9 High definition (HD) video streams at one time. For example, you could watch live TV on one TV, record 5 HD shows and playback 3 additional shows all at one time. Or you can record 6 HD shows and playback 3 shows at the same time.
Discuss PVR systems from all the major Canadian broadcast distributors in Digital Home's Canadian Internet, Phone, TV and Wireless Service Provider s forums.