Essay: The Next Frontier of the DVR

Sections: Movies, TV

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(This column ran in the January/February issue of Tell magazine) 

Let us pause for a moment to extoll the virtues of the DVR and video on demand.

On most cable and satellite systems these days, you can both record any program you want and, even if you don’t have a DVR, thousands of TV episodes and movies and are always available on demand.

And that’s just in the living room.

Right now, I can watch a movie or TV show, on my iPhone or iPad, through Netflix, HBO Go and Amazon Instant Video (I’m not a Hulu subscriber but that’s available too.) I can also stream shows from ABC and NBC’s apps; when I missed a Modern Family episode a few weeks ago -thanks to my household’s weekly Wednesday-at-9 three-way DVR conflict- I was able to open the app and watch it instantly. There’s also the entirety of everything on YouTube, as well as iTunes.

I can also watch live sports via the Watch ESPN app- I’ve made a habit of watching Monday Night Football this way each week. In addition to that, Verizon has a new app allowing live streaming of dozens of channels for FiOS subscribers, provided I’m on my home Wi-Fi network at the time. Other providers have introduced similar applications.

That same Verizon app has another function- I can schedule or delete shows on my DVR from my smartphone, even if I’m not at home or even in the same state. You’re in the car driving home and realize you forgot to tape the 6 p.m. SportsCenter, to watch highlights of a no-hitter that afternoon? Now you can hit record right from your car (after pulling over, of course.)

But there’s one thing I can’t do: I can’t watch shows from my DVR on the iPad, iPhone or PC. Yet, for some reason, I really get the feeling like that’s the next frontier. A sort of universal Slingbox, making the contents of one’s home DVR available on their own mobile devices, as many as thousands of miles away.

I think that would be awesome and I think, eventually, it will be a reality for just about everyone who has cable and a computer or tablet.

There are hurdles, of course. The bandwidth this would take up is probably a nightmare. The programming rights would likely take years to litigate and might even require another labor dispute in Hollywood. The cost of both will probably make cable bills rise- but then again, what doesn’t?

Things sort of like this have been attempted and more are to come. Cablevision- in a bit of innovation and being ahead of the curve that they’ve never though to apply to their ownership of the New York Knicks- introduced a Cloud DVR, on a regional basis, in early 2011. Boxee announced a cable-independent Cloud DVR more recently.

There’s the Slingbox, of course, which is available for tablets, although it of course requires the use of a separate box. There’s Aereo, a startup backed by longtime media mogul Barry Diller, which offers streaming of network content to mobile devices. But that service remains at early stages, is already facing significant lawsuits, and doesn’t even include cable channels.

It might be a long way in the future, but I do feel like DVR Everywhere is the next frontier. After all, it doesn’t sound much more outlandish today than DVRs themselves did two decades ago.

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