MasterNewMedia
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Monday, September 24, 2007

Personal Video Recorder On The Web: Record Italian TV Programming With Faucet PVR

A free web-based personal video recorder (PVR) allows the scheduled recording of Italian mainstream on-air network channels which can then be easily downloaded to your iPod or iPhone. The unique service which is purely in experimental "beta" mode and has no commercial ambitions, provides a truly useful and easy-to-use in an area where rules and laws have for now left an open gap.

Myth-TV-image-promotion-rec-play.jpg
Photo credit: MythTV

Born out of the engineering and product development team of Inrete, an Italian company devoted to help and support large enterprise customers in their IT network needs, Faucet PVR is a web-based personal video recorder that can capture any time range on the all the major on-air clear broadcast channels available in Italy.

There seems to be no similar service yet in the international market as competing tools are either scheduling software front-ends for video-television recording software or web-based versions of TiVo-like personal video recording systems. All competing or similar systems I have been able to find online require a direct TV reception capability in your computer either via set-top box, tuner card or other device, while Faucet records any television program even if you are lost on an island with no reception.

In the case of Faucet PVR, the recordings are all done and reside on the Faucet servers and each user can access and download what she has selected to video record. Faucet does NOT record indiscriminately all of the on-air programming takes place but it rather provides an interface to a web-based digital video recorder that each individual can use to record his preferred television shows.

The recordings are then made available for a limited amount of time in the user account and can be easily downloaded to an iPod or any other portable media player including mobile phones and PDAs.



What is a PVR or Personal Video Recorder?

A personal video recorder or PVR is an interactive TV recording device capable of recording television programming at your own preferred times. Like the familiar video cassette recorder (VCR), a PVR records and plays back television programs and has the ability to pause, rewind, stop, or fast-forward a recorded program.

Most existing PVRs come as part of a television subscriber service such as Sky or Virgin Media in the UK, or Fastweb here in Italy and can be either hardware or proprietary (can record only their channels in a locked format) web-based units. Good PVR services also enable searching for shows by type and selecting video-on-demand (VOD) among other options.

In the US, service providers such as TiVo and ReplayTV, also sell hardware-based PVRs. Popular PVR products on the market include TiVo's DVR, SONICblue's ReplayTV, Sony's SVR-2000, and Philips' PTR. There are also a few software products that offer similar functionality (see list at end of this article).



Faucet PVR - Overview

Faucet-PVR-logo-tab.jpg

Originally announced in October of 2006 in Barcelona and then in Turin, Italy, in the month of June of this year, Faucet PVR is not even a product yet.

Still in full "alfa" and never intended to become a commercial public service, Faucet PVR was born out of the need to experiment with a new television recording facility to be added to another already existing web-based podcasting service: Vcast.

VCast is a podcasting aggregator allowing registered users to select and create their own podcast compilations by selecting and bringing together into one feed the podcast shows they are most interested in. By integrating the ability to record and splice together into one feed private and public podcast channels as well as radio and TV broadcast recordings, Faucet provides a unique platform for creating and putting together your own podcast compilations.

Vcast was born out of a business partnership between Inrete, Tex97 and Video Gruppo.



Access and Use

For any Italian citizen traveling abroad or unable to access her television set to watch a specific show, Faucet PVR is true godsend. No matter where she is, she can easily schedule the recording of her favorite Italian television show while she is swimming on the other side of the planet.

Vcast Faucet PVR allows to select among over 40 Italian television language channels that include all of the mainstream public and commercial networks as well as a good selection of minor stations.

I specify "Italian citizen", because in principle, to stay within the law, Italian television programs can only be recorded by Italian citizens owning a television set in this country and having paid an annual subscription fee ("the wildly infamous canone RAI").

In reality, if you can manage a fully Italian interface, the service is technically accessible to anyone no matter what nationality and whether or not he has paid Italian annual state television fees. The only obstacle to this being, upon first registration, the system request for your Italian social security number. But as for most other countries these can be easily generated online by simply providing a name, last name and a birthdate.

The range of possible applications and uses seems rather large with commercial and non-commercial opportunities having equal chances. Training, marketing, sales, R&D would all benefit from specific targeted uses of such a PVR.



Key Features

programma-registra-guarda-550.gif

Faucet PVR presents a simple interface in which all necessary commands and options are pulled together into one page form. Setting up a Faucet PVR television recording is within the reach of anyone with enough patience to read through the different labels available on the PVR one-screen-interface page and testing the different alternatives inside the drop down menus.

Here, Faucet PVR key features:

  • Station set

    Faucet-PVR-TV-stations-list.gif

    Faucet PVR has a rich Italian TV stations catalog from where to choose from. The list includes in fact all major Italian broadcasters and a few additional international television stations (BBC World). Notably Faucet PVR includes also a full list of Italian radio broadcasting stations that can be also recorded with the same ease.



  • Precise scheduling

    The user can easily select the day and time-range in which she wants the recording to take place. Unlike TiVO here you are not hooking into a programming schedule but you simply input specific start and ending times for your recordings to take place.



  • Repetitive recording

    Faucet-PVR-recording-frequency.gif

    Faucet PVR allows you to set a recording to be automatically repeated every week or every other day in order not to miss periodical programs. Repeating recordings can also be easily edited and modified to correct and revise wrong timings or other inaccuracies.



  • Downloading

    Faucet-PVR-recorded-clip-200.jpg

    Faucet PVR allows you to immediately and easily download any of the completed recordings. iPod aficionados get great looking 320x240 .mp4 that they can start immediately playing back on their portable devices as much as Playstation, mobile phone and Apple TV users for whom specific optimized target video formats have been made available.



  • RSS support

    Faucet-subscribe-to-RSS.gif

    Broadcatching here is fully enabled. Broadcatching is the act of downloading TV programs to be viewed on your iPod, computer or other media player device (iPhone, Apple TV, PDA, Playstation, Wii, etc.). "Some call it the poor man's Tivo, but whatever you call it, it's becoming more and more popular." (Source: Mashby) Faucet PVR automatically generates a RSS feed with media enclosures which you can plug-in in any quality RSS reader/aggregator.



  • iTunes support

    iTunes-logo-100x100.jpg

    First and foremost among these is Apple iTunes which can read in full Faucet-generated RSS feeds and can fully display associated videos inside the iTunes player.



  • High-quality recording

    Faucet-recording-formats.gif

    Faucet PVR can digitally record your selected television programming in your preferred video format. From standard 320x240 iPod matching .mp4 to high-quality iTunes mpegs at 640x480 resolution with H264 codec compression and with a data-rate of 1,3Mbs, Faucet PVR satisfies also mobile users with a 3GP quality output and gamers with a PSP compatible format too.



  • Radio recording

    Faucet-PVR-radio-recording.gif

    Faucet PVR can also record Italian live radio stations in the exact same way that it records video programs. Available all of the main state network channels, a few commercial ones and a nice group of other (to me unknown) European radio stations.



How does it work

Faucet-main-interface-3-485.gif

Faucet PVR is extremely simple to use. All one needs to do is to select the television channel she wants to record, the starting and ending time and the format for the recording (available now: iPod, Playstation, 3GP and Apple TV).

Once a title is given and the recording button is pressed Faucet PVR does the rest by itself all automatically. At the established time it goes out and it does a custom recording, just for you, of the television programming time and station you have selected and it drops it inside your Faucet PVR account.

You as a user can easily add new automatic recordings, set repetitive recording assignments and watch or easily download shows that have already been recorded.

Best of all Faucet PVR creates a RSS feed with media enclosures that can be immediately fed to iTunes, providing a perfect bridge to a high quality media player as well as the perfect vehicle to then transfer your selected television recordings directly to your iPod or other media portable device.



Legal Issues

Faucet PVR reqires each registering user to approve the following statement:

"Per utilizzare le funzionalità di registrazione di Faucet ocorre avere diritto ad accedere ai contenuti radiotelevisivi italiani trasmessi in chiaro, in quanto già detentore di altri apparecchi radiotelevisi e di essere in regola con i pagamenti delle relative imposte.

Dichiaro di essere in regola con canoni di abbonamento RadioTV e di essere cittadino italiano
"

which translates to:

"To utilize Faucet PVR video recording functions you need to be able to access Italian unencrypted on-air broadcasting channels as an owner of a television set and to be compliant with the payment of the relative television subscription fees.

I declare to be in compliance with the payment of the Italian TV subscription fee and to be an Italian citizen."



Editor's Review

Faucet PVR is a unique breakthrough web-based personal video recorder (in alfa, experimental testing), which allows Italian citizens anywhere to schedule the recording of their favourite broadcast television programming and to watch it back at their preferred time on their favourite media player.

There is no other web-based tool out there on the web today that does the same. Other PVRs are generally software based solutions that need to be interfaced with a tuner card or other incoming digital television input.

Faucet instead is completely self-contained, fully web-based, does not require any download or software installation to be used. The recordings take place on the Vcast servers and you as a user have nothing to worry about but finding out at what time is the television program you want to record.

Quality of the video recordings is excellent and well above my best expectations. The choice of multiple formats gives everyone something good to work with and the Apple TV high quality format is just impressive.

Considering that Faucet PVR is in alfa, experimental testing, and it is just a module within a larger web-based service, the success it has garnered so far in the Italian press are more than well deserved and nonetheless the very low profile with which Inrete likes to talk about its baby Faucet, this is truly a tool you can't avoid telling about to your friends.

Inrete, the company behind Faucet PVR, promises to surprise you again very soon with the release of a new service labeled VHS 2.0. This will act as a schedulable video screen recorder capable of capturing and recording live video internet streams and making them available to you for later use.

Tying-in television program names and show schedules would obviously make Faucet PVR a million times easier to use and more effective but, I guess you will need to wait some time before that happens.

The same is true for any PVR potential ability to skip ads during recording, a feature as much loved by users, as feared and fought by advertisers.

But if users want it their way, why don't the main television network channels allow me to opt-in for a yearly subscription to their programming and then have the freedom to do ad-skipping on my own personal, private recordings. If the price was right I'd certainly go for that.

But for now it ain't so. Stay tuned.



Short conversation with Giorgio Bernardi of Inrete

N.B.: The video clip goes bad at about 5'30". Apologies.



Other Personal Video Recorders

While there are a number of other PVR solutions in the market none seems to have the unique web-based characteristics of Faucet PVR.

Beyond-TV-promotion-graphics-485.jpg

  • Showshifter
    With this recording software you can record your favorite shows and movies with practically any TV or satellite tuner card. WebShifter is a web based and WAP enabled scheduler for analog, digital and satellite TV recording. It allows you to manage your TV recordings using a web browser on any PC or mobile device, at home and anywhere in the world. Main features: a sophisticated scheduler, an integrated and searchable EPG, a file browser for downloading and deleting recordings, password protected access and customizable colorskins. WebShifter provides the scheduling mechanism for many TV recording software packages, including ShowShifter, Virtual VCR, WinTVCap, WinTV 2000, ChrisTV, iuVCR, MyTheatre, DVBsVCR2, TechnoTrend DVB-TV, DABDig, Fly 2000 TV, GBRecord as well as support for additional recording software like Media Portal, Windows Media Center.
  • SnapStream
    PVR software capable of scheduling, recording and playback of your selected TV, satellite or cable TV programming.
  • Webvo
    Webvo is an open-source web-based PVR system. It provides easy recording of television shows without the hassle of VCRs. Utilizing a web browser interface, Webvo allows the user to connect to a recording server and manage the scheduling and recording of television programs from any computer connected to the network. Webvo began as a Software Engineering project at Seattle Pacific University in Fall of 2006. The team members were Molly Jo Bault, Tim Disney, and Daryl Siu.
  • MythTV
    MythTV is a homebrew PVR project that I've been working on in my spare time. It's been under heavy development for almost four years, and is now quite usable and featureful.
  • Online TV Recorder
    Probably what comes closest to Faucet PVR.

  • To follow everything happening about PVR you can check this site.
  • In Italian

  • Video tutorial to the use of Faucet PVR from Italian publisher Megalab.it. (In Italian)
  • Interview (text) with Faucet inventors.
  • Another interview done by Italiamac.
  • All of the Italian online reviews for Faucet PVR that have already appeared are listed in this RSS feed.
  • An excellent video review of Faucet was offered inside the August 2007 of Italy's Win Magazine. The video tutorial explains how to set up, execute and play back recordings as well as how to download them to your iPod.

    Here direct access to the video tutorial in two different resolutions:
    Low-res (320--240 - 23 MB)
    Hi-res (640--480 - 46 MB)

  • The Vcast Blog



Originally written by for Master New Media and entitled: "Personal Video Recorder On The Web: Record Italian TV Programming With Faucet PVR"

 
 
 
Readers' Comments    
2007-09-28 19:26:38

JamesBruni

Thx, Robin for alerting us to Faucet PVR. I managed to sign up (thx to the fact that I have a codice fiscale in Italy) and have been playing with it for the past few days. It really is amazing.



 
posted by Robin Good on Monday, September 24 2007, updated on Friday, February 26 2010


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