Today we are launching the Pro edition of the TVersity Media Server and we bring you support for Premium Web Content (including full TV episodes) from names like Hulu, BBC iPlayer, Joost, CBS, NBC, The WB, TV.com, ESPN, NFL, Comedy Central, South Park, Marvel, The Discovery Channel, National Geographic Channel, and more.
This is the culmination of an almost 5 year effort, to bridge the world of Internet Video with the TV.
Back in 2005 when we launched our very first version, videos on the web were still thumbnail size moving images. Yet we felt that Internet Video is just about going to explode, so we gave you the very first media server that could stream Windows Media Video and Audio (on-demand and live with time shifting built in) to your TV (via UPnP A/V Digital Media Adapters - DMAs).
Still in 2005, our second release gave birth to the idea of the Personal Entertainment Guide (PEG). We wanted to let you, the user, determine which channels you can watch and we wanted to make it as easy as possible (over the years the method for adding online content to your PEG has evolved from copy and paste to drag and drop and to 1-click subscription buttons and hopefully soon to a browser toolbar).
So you see, right from the very beginning we realized that the Net is changing the rules of the game for television and that one of its many impacts is the fact that you the end-user is becoming the programmer. No longer can an aggregator put together a line-up of channels (in the form of an EPG) that can satisfy all viewers, but rather each user will need to be able to customize their program guide.
Shortly after that, YouTube was launched and video on the web changed forever. Our prediction came true even sooner than we expected. Naturally we were the first to allow YouTube to be played on the big screen (without hooking up your computer to your TV, that is) and our users loved it.
When the Xbox 360 and then the PS3 added support for DLNA, our user base exploded over night. Suddenly there were these mainstream, high quality yet affordable, devices that were connected to the TV and to the home network. These devices were able to connect to TVersity and play videos (up to HD quality) streamed from your computer to the living room. Of-course with TVersity you could also play Internet media, and you did not need to concern yourself with the heavy lifting associated with the conversion of videos from one format to another, we did it for you on the fly whenever you wanted to play something.
As time passed, we kept adding support for new devices, and so the Sony PSP, iPhone, and DIRECTV Set-Top-Boxes played a role in our rapid growth as well. We also kept adding support for new media formats and streaming protocols so that you could play almost anything you wanted.
But there was one thing we did not support. Prime time TV content found its way to the web in early 2008 and TVersity did not support that content. Today, one year later, we are changing all this by launching yet another game changing feature.
The improvement in computer processing power and specifically multi-core processors, made it possible to get online video delivered to the living room in a totally different way. The Pro edition of TVersity (released today), is utilizing a web browser that renders its content off-screen, this content is encoded in real time (along with captured audio) in a format that is most appropriate for your target device and the result of that encoding is delivered to the living room for instant viewing.
How is that different from what we were doing so far? To date, TVersity was connecting to streaming servers on the web, fetching the video from them and converting that video as necessary. While this approach is more straightforward, it also requires custom integration with each source of content. Moreover it does not maintain the investment made by the content owner in their video player in terms of ad insertion, tracking & measurement, user authentication and authorization, and other unique player logic.
The Pro edition of TVersity is utilizing both methods, the direct connection to video servers is used primarily for user generated content. While the off-screen browser is utilized with premium web content. This allows us to offer the best of both worlds and to enable a superior online video experience in the living room.
While adding this new functionality we remained true to our philosophy of user generated program guides. We did not want to create a dedicated set of menus with all the different shows and episodes, for each of the websites we support. There are simply too many sites for that approach to be useful. Had we done it the result would have been overwhelming to the user and things would get worse as we added more sites. How can you be expected to navigate TV menus with thousands, tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of items?
Instead we let you subscribe to content of choice from any one of these sites. Simply point your browser to a page with a video player featuring your video of choice, drag and drop the icon to the left of the address bar to the TVersity GUI and a dialog box will pop up with the video address pre-populated, leaving it up to you to choose the title, tags, and so on.
Want to subscribe to an entire show and have TVersity update your subscription automatically? You can do it, as always, by subscribing to RSS feeds (as long as the site offers video related feeds). Let’s take Hulu for example, each show has several RSS feeds (one for all videos, one for full episodes, one for clips, etc.), you can drag and drop these RSS icons to TVersity and add that show to your personal program guide. You can do the same for RSS feeds from many other sites, in fact we included some example feeds in our content guides (look for the Guide tab in the GUI) so that you can easily get started with creating your PEG.
How about searching for content? Some sites offer an RSS feed for their search results. TVersity supported these RSS feeds with YouTube and Google for a while now and the Pro edition supports them for Hulu as well. Simply drag and drop that RSS icon to the TVersity GUI.
Adding content to TVersity is easy, but it is not easy enough. What if you want to manage your content on the website itself (YouTube has a channel per user, Hulu has a queue and so on). You should not need to manage that content twice. The Pro edition allows you to subscribe to your Hulu queue (and we always allowed subscription to your YouTube channel and Flickr photos). This way when you add something to your queue on Hulu, TVersity picks it up the next time it refreshes the library (every midnight by default).
Last but no least, you can add to your PEG any content from Google, YouTube, Flickr, BBC iPlayer and Hulu from within the TVersity GUI without opening a web browser. Simply click the big plus icon and in the dialog box that opens choose the website, and then the type of content you wish to add (you will see things like By User, By Search Query, By tag, etc.) We created these content subscription wizards within the GUI for some of the most prominent video sites because we believe in a fully personalized experience and in true empowerment of the end-users to legally access media on their terms.
There are however, as is usually the case with a new technology or feature, a few caveats. The Pro edition requires a faster processor for doing its video encoding via an off-screen browser and it requires (for now) a sound card and a sound driver with support for Stereo Mix (on Vista Stereo mix must be manually enabled). While we will be working to relieve some of these in future releases, we expect that many (if not most) of you have these requirements satisfied already.
Finally, while we spent the last few months thoroughly testing this new functionality, and did every effort to make it rock solid, we still consider it beta (it has seen very little use in the real world). We need your feedback to make it even better so please drop us a note by commenting to this post, posting to the support forums, to our Facebook wall, or on Twitter.