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Monday May 4, 2009 8:13 pm

Exclusive: Upcoming Verizon FiOS TV features

Verizon FiOS upcoming features

As most of you know, we are big fans of here at Gear Live. The actual Internet and television services are stellar, and it’s pretty hard to find fault with things, especially since downtime is almost nonexistent.  Sure, we’ve had our issues, but those are all fixed, and at this point it is pretty much smooth sailing.

Today we were inviting to a media briefing at the main hub in Everett, WA, to get a look at some of the current and upcoming features of the Verizon FiOS TV service. We were able to sit down with Eric Rabe, Senior VP of Media Relations for Verizon to get the full scoop. Of course, being who we are, we had to make sure we got questions answered about FiOS Internet and phone services as well, just to be thorough. We will just go through these in no particular order - some of this you already know, while other parts are definitely new:

HD Content: FiOS TV is completely uncompressed through Verizon. They get the signal, and pass it straight through to the subscribers box the way they received it from one of two providers (depending on where you are located.) Every market has a minimum of 100 dedicated HD channels. The caveat here (and it’s a small one) is that the cable box does not have a mode that simply passes through the content to your receiver or television the way it comes in. This means you have to set the FiOS TV cable box to display either 1080i or 720p, and it will either up-convert or down-convert depending on what you choose. I let them know it would be nice to have boxes that just passed through the resolution without any conversion taking place. Of course, if you have a TiVo Series3 or TiVo HD with a FiOS CableCARD, you don’t have this issue.

I also asked about 1080p content, since satellite is currently offering HD content in 1080p. Unfortunately, their answer is that they are a couple of software revisions away from being able to offer that, so no timeline there.

Searches: Searches that you perform on your cable box actually take place on the network. This includes searching the guide, browsing On Demand titles, etc. Since the network is so fast and efficient, and since the boxes need to be kept inexpensive, anything that can be performed on the network, is. So when you are browsing On Demand content and see all those images of movie posters, those are all loaded in real-time. Same with searching for content in the guide. I thought it just searched a local database on the box, similar to the way TiVo does it, but nope.

Guide: We got a pretty thorough walkthrough of the guide, but I didn’t see anything new. In fact, I noticed what I’ve noticed all along—FiOS is all about the high definition experience, and yet the guide is full-screen, non-HD. I asked them to address that, and the good news is that they are currently working on a widescreen guide, which will be pushed out in a future update.

Widgets: This is where things started getting interesting. We got a look at the current widgets that you can pull up on the screen, which include things like local traffic, weather, sports scores, news, etc.  Since the widgets just pull content from the Internet using RSS or XML, these can be virtually anything. They can also use their own internal info to power these widgets, like they do with the What’s Hot widget. This one shows you the top five shows that are being watched in your local area right at that moment, and updates itself every five minutes.

So I asked what widgets might we see in the future, and was pleasantly surprised. The one we are most excited about is the Twitter widget, and it isn’t what you think. Rather than just reading the tweets of your friends, like you can do with any other Twitter client on the planet, this one actually ties in to the show you are watching. So if you are watching Monday Night Football and you pull up the Twitter widget, you would see the conversation that is happening on Twitter surrounding that game. Or, if you are watching Jon and Kate Plus 8 and you pull up the widget, you’ll likely see nothing, since that show is horrible.

There is also a Facebook widget coming, which will allow you to see your Facebook news feed, responses to your items, and the like. There are also a couple of fantasy sports widgets in beta, for fantasy football through ESPN, as well as fantasy baseball.

Again, all these widgets can be brought up with the touch of a button on your remote, but you must be using the FiOS set-top box to take advantage of them.

Home Media Manager: In it’s current form, the Home Media Manager allows you to enjoy music and photos stored on your networked Windows PC right on your television, via the FiOS set-top box. The next revision of the Home Media Manager will support videos as well, and searching in the FiOS guide will bring up results found on television, video on demand, and your computer. Kinda hot right there. Also, I asked about Mac compatibility in the next version, and they said yes.

FiOS TV Central: FiOS TV Central is the web portal that Verizon provides FiOS TV customer that allows them to manage their DVRs, schedule programs to record remotely, and browse content that’s available on the network. Someone asked if the ability to view and playback the content stored on one of your DVRs might be something doable in the future through FiOS TV Central. It would also act like Sling.com does for Slingbox owners. To my surprise, they said they were working on this and need to get all the necessary agreement in place.

FiOS Internet Speeds: I asked about the current FiOS Internet speeds, which have remained the same for the past 11 months. I mentioned that CableVision had recently launched a 101 Mbps service, and wondered if Verizon would have an answer to that. Their answer was that there is no practical use yet for 100 megabits, but that the service could easily handle it. Of course, if that is the case, why not offer it then as an option? They did also make note that their current top tier of 50/20 isn’t that popular, with the current sweet spot being their 20/5 offering.

So there you have it, that’s the latest new on all things FiOS. If you made it this far, and still have questions, leave them in the comments and we will see if we can’t get those answered for you.

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