HTPC, Meedio, Yahoo

Yahoo GO TV first take

YahooGO TV main screen
Regarding the fact that this release of Yahoo! Go for TV is beta. Yes, I know. But then someone needs some help regarding communication and control of expectations. I have some ideas for Yahoo here: The death of beta

Then you should note that the good folks over at the existing Meedio forum has done some tweaks and concluded that the beloved configuration tool and most of the plugins actually works with Yahoo! Go for TV. w00t!

And please also note that Patrick Barry from Yahoo! has commented with some very interesting answers at the end of this article. This is very good news. They take the feedback seriously. They listen. They communicate. My hopes for Yahoo! Go for TV just got better!

So as a little preface, here is a quote from Pablo (the brain behind Meedio) over at the Meedio forum:

As some of you know, most of the Meedio Men were doing this work part time. We’ve never had the full team dedicated to this 100%. Now, since we are all Y! employees and this is our only job, we can really put some effort into this…imagine what we can do. Also, now we have top notch graphic artists, user experience designers, product managers, QA folks, technical writers and additional engineers devoted to the cause. A lot of sharp brains are behind this product now.

Original post:
Okay, so Yahoo has started offering their version of Meedio as a free download. For all the features you need to be connected to the internet with an IP from the US. Still I was able to test all the basic functionallity. And I am not impressed.

First, some history:

A long time ago there was a very popular media center software called myHTPC. It offered a nice TV-friendly frontend for your pictures, movies, video files, music and quite a bit of online content through plugins. I used it for a long time together with BeyondTV to give me a computer that offered a complete media archive and a full DVR in my living room.

The advantages of myHTPC:
1. It was free
2. It had a limited but open interface
3. It was stable
4. It was fast
5. It had a large user base that contributed with plugins

So, myHTPC went commercial and became Meedio. A very difficult transition because one of the main advantages of myHTPC was the user community. How do you keep a user community while going from free to commercial? You spend a lot of time caring for the community, you give them a special price on the commercial product and you keep your system open and make an even better framework for plugins and additions to your software. Helped by the fact that the other free competitors was quite immature at the point of the transition they managed to keep the large and active community. Meedio has been one of the strongest and most flexible media center solutions out there for the last couple of years.

They have had some problems with their addition of a DVR solution (Meedio TV) to their core media archive (Meedio Essentials), and a lot of users have kept using Meedio as the media archive and another commercial product, BeyondTV as their DVR.

So what has been the advantages of Meedio:
1. Very flexible, open and configurable
2. A fast database as basis of the media archive
3. A very dedicated user base
4. Huge amounts of plugins to extend it
5. Relatively small footprint and modest system requirements
6. Focus on also supporting countries outside the US

Now Meedio faces another transition. From commercial to free. Should be easier than going from free to commercial, but I am not sure how smooth this transition will be.

What is important when considering a media center?
1. Stability, stability and stability
2. Ease of use, ease of use and ease of use
3. Visual design
4. Functionallity and flexibility
5. User base
6. Price

So, going from commercial to free gives the last point in the list an advantage.

The 60 minute test

Depending on how you click around this page to get to the download you might spot this disclaimer:

Please note:
Yahoo! Go for TV currently is only available inside the U.S, for Windows®-based systems

95% of the visitors will miss it because they’ll go directly to the download. I live in the small and unsignificant country of Norway and already miss point number six from my list of Meedio advantages: “Focus on also supporting countries outside the US”. Okay, I’ll not let the fact that they release for one of the worlds biggest markets in their initial version count as very negative in this little look at Yahoo! Go for TV. As mentioned, you’ll start the download without even knowing about this.

Installation was very fast and easy. It took me exactly 10 minutes to go through the wizard and tune the channels for all the three Hauppauge cards in my computer.

What I miss at this point:
- No questions about my remote
- No possibility to define several locations for music, photos and videos

For the people that has simply clicked the download link and installed the software this message will be a little disappointing when you start the application for the first time:

Error - Not valid US IP

Okay. Disconnect your network or connect through a US proxy. You’ll get a feeling of the basic functionallity.

The well known default Meedio start up sound will chime in and you are presented with the main menu giving you access to Movies, Music, Photos, TV, Video, Settings and a possibility to exit the application.

Compared to a basic setup of Meedio Essentials there is no doubt about the obvious fact that Yahoo wants to focus on online content. Click on the images to get a closer look at what Yahoo defines as the most important features.

Yahoo GO TV Movies Screenshot Yahoo GO TV Music Screenshot
Yahoo GO TV Photos Screenshot Yahoo GO TV Video Screenshot

To put it short: your local content is far down the list in all categories. Your DVD Player is the last choice in the Movies category. LaunchCast and Music Videos are more important than your local music archive. MyYahoo Photos, Shared Yahoo Photos and Flickr are more important than your own local photos. Featured Videos, Top Web Searches and videos from around the world are more important than videos “on my PC”…

I don’t like that kind of prioritizing. Your most important content will always be your own music, pictures and movies. Yes, we want online content in our media centers, but don’t sacrifice ease of use because you want to push your online content.

After a quick tour of the core functionallity I can conclude that the TV module still has stability issues, the music module is very fast compared to Windows Media Center Edition, the photo module is OK, the video module plays what I want nicely.

The music module did not play WMA with DRM and did not attempt to notify me in any way. The tracks was available but did simply not play. No error messages.

The TV module gave a very low quality picture after the default set up through the wizard.

I started looking for the very powerful configuration tool that I am familiar with from Meedio. But it’s not there. The most important configuration options in the application are missing as well. The theme switcher and the plug in installer that we know from Meedio.

Uh-oh. This is crap. It’s at this point I understand that this version of Yahoo! Go for TV does not deserve more of my valuable time. No possibilities for local content from multiple drives. I did not find any way to set up my remote. No flexibility regarding the theme. Actually I didn’t even find a way to change my music directory after finishing the wizard for the first time. Here is the original list of advantages from Meedio tuned to match Yahoo! Go for TV:

1. Very flexible, open and configurable
2. A fast database as basis of the media archive
3. A very dedicated user base
4. Huge amounts of plugins to extend it
5. Relatively small footprint and modest system requirements
6. Focus on supporting countries outside the US

Screenshot - Flickr module
Yes, yes, yes. I know. I did not really test the important part of Yahoo! Go for TV. The online features. I gave the Flickr module a try, but being connected through a proxy usually gives a very poor network performance, so it will not be fair to base any conclusions on my current possibilities regarding the online features of Yahoo! Go for TV.

But I’ll tell you this. As long as the basic functionallity is so limited the online content can not justify this product in any way. Yahoo has to do something serious. Fast.

This is what’s going to happen

The existing Meedio community will flee to MediaPortal. This free and open source solution will outperform Yahoo! Go for TV in all areas for the advanced user. With some plugins, the Democracy player in the background, TVTonic and some simple tweaks you get loads of online content for that solution.

For the regular user Windows Media Center Edition will give you a solid core functionallity and huge amounts of content from the net through Online Spotlight.

The Mac users will keep waiting for the next major upgrade of Front Row and the Linux community will keep having fun with MythTV.

Maybe Yahoo wants to build a walled garden of online services that will only be available on the TV screen through Yahoo! Go for TV. In that case it has to be extremely attractive services to justify the use of such a limited product. If they manage to offer such interesting content I think people will at best use Yahoo! Go for TV as a second application on their media centers that already run MCE or MediaPortal.

Or maybe not. This is what Windows Media Center gave me in the TV module after I had installed Yahoo! Go for TV on my box:

Screenshot - Tuner Not Installed

I have now uninstalled Yahoo! Go for TV and my MCE is back to normal after a reset of the box. Pablo and the people behind Meedio are really excellent guys with a true understanding of how to build a powerful and flexible media center. I still have hopes for this product so I’ll keep following the development. Now I just have to wait for Dave, Thomas, Michael or Om to test the online features…

And by the way. Here is the complete list of Meedio and Yahoo Go for TV alternatives: The media center software list

Digg this story here.

As I said, Pablo and the team are excellent guys. Reading through this thread and this thread at the old Meedio forum gives me hope!

More people with hands on here and here.