LUS Fiber has begun a limited beta test of its new set top box software—Microsoft Mediaroom. Even in its current state mediaroom is a much better piece of software. There's been a lot of complaints about the old vendor-supplied software; while it does provide basic digital video recorder (DVR) functionality it did so in ways that were, at best, clunky. A more serious problem was that it was pretty dead-ended; there was little chance that it would be or even could be upgraded to provide for more digitally-enabled advances that integrate phone features and apps and widgets that access internet content.
The new software is most emphatically not clunky; the new complaint will be, of course, that the slick finish and transparencies are naught but "eye candy"—but it is beautiful eye candy. More seriously the navigation interface is much easier to use and some user interface gurus have clearly been consulted. Nothing is more than about two clicks away. With Microsoft as the producer it goes without saying that integration into the world of digital convergence is a major theme. Implementations of mediaroom at other carriers have included many new features along this line including caller ID displayed on the TV and various forms of weather and sports widgets. We're not likely to see those until the basic DVR and Video On Demand functions have been fully implemented. But this area represents a potential major opportunity for local designers and programmers—Microsoft has a developer framework.
I've been lucky enough to be included in the beta test—possibly because I've complained to LUS about the software. The installer came by late last week and put it in and I've been feeling it out since then. He brought it already installed on a new box that looks just like the old box; apparently mediaroom wants a chipset newer than the one I had.
I like it. So much so that my antique pair of TiVos may be in danger of retirement from their role as my main interface to video—I haven't used a provider's interface (Comcast, Cox, or LUS) in more than a decade so that would be a major step for me. LUS' version of mediaroom not feature-complete at this moment. In particular, the Video On Demand is pretty much unpopulated; the shell is there but the content is not.
Expect to see a few posts about the new software and its implications—more than you've seen about the old package. Mediaroom one has far more potential. I'll write a bit on the interface in another post sometime soon with others to follow. My first interest has never been the cable video side of the network. I appreciate having it, and appreciate that income from it will help pay for the community system. But both my wife and I spend far more time on our laptops than watching TV and I'm pretty well convinced that is the path we'll all be taking. Mediaroom can open a lot of doors between different screens and bring some of the participatory elements of the net to the TV in much the way that the iPhone brought elements of the net to the cell phone. It'll be an interesting ride with both its upsides and downsides. By bringing Mediaroom onboard LUS assures that Lafayette will be in a position to ride that wave.