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Verizon Adding Widgets, Web Video To Fios TV

Two hundred and fifty-plus TV channels not enough to keep you entertained? Verizon announced two new Web-connected additions to its Fios TV service this morning.

Starting today, subscribers will be able to choose from an expanded set of free Internet widgets, accessible through any Fios receiver or digital video recorder. And in a month or so, Fios viewers with the company's $19.99/month Home Media DVR will be able to watch Web videos from three sites.

To get a better sense of how these two new services will work, I spent an hour this afternoon watching demonstrations of them at the company's D.C. offices -- for now, one of the only places Fios TV service is available in the District -- and quizzing Verizon representatives about their finer points.

The widgets build on software Verizon introduced four years ago for its own use; now, Verizon will provide approved widgets from other developers in a new Widget Bazaar. Verizon says about 40 of these are in development, but the only new ones showed off today were Twitter and Facebook applications. The former doesn't let you sign into a Twitter account so you can't easily bring up replies to your updates, while the latter allows access to more of Facebook's standard features. Note that in each case, your input is limited to the standard remote control, with no provision for a wired or wireless keyboard.

Verizon is also starting small with its Web video support, which only plays (at best) standard-definition clips from three sites: Blip.tv, Dailymotion, and Veoh. Verizon Media-Relations Vice President Eric Rabe -- who blogged about the news this morning -- said the company is talking to YouTube but doesn't think it needs to support the popular Hulu TV-video site. "We feel we've got that covered" with the Fios TV video-on-demand option, Rabe said.

Verizon has plenty of company in trying to bring the Web to TV screens. The most ambitious attempt out there may be Yahoo's TV Widgets, a family of add-on programs available on HDTVs and Blu-ray players from LG, Samsung, Sony and Vizio that present content from such sites as Netflix, Twitter and Yahoo's own Flickr on the big screen. But for all the publicity Yahoo's venture got at its introduction during January's Consumer Electronics Show, I haven't heard from too many viewers using these programs on their own HDTVs.

Correction: I haven't heard from any TV Widget watchers so far. Do you exist? If so, what do you think of Yahoo's software? And what about the Fios-viewing contingent: Have you tried its new Facebook and Twitter widgets? What other widgets would you like to see on your screen? The comments await...

By Rob Pegoraro  |  July 15, 2009; 5:50 PM ET
Categories:  TV , The Web  
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Comments

I bought a Samsung Plasma recently that has the Yahoo software. I also have FiOS. Verizon's widgets are better, as they come up instantly and you can use the FiOS remote. For Yahoo, you have to grab for the Samsung remote, wait a solid minute of so for the widgets to populate with content. At least as it is now, not much reason to use the Yahoo widgets.

Posted by: dcborn61 | July 15, 2009 5:56 PM | Report abuse

Sorry, I live in DC. Verizon has said it will take nine years for FIOS to get to my poorer neighborhood.

Oh, the fancy-pants neighborhoods of Tenleytown, Van Ness and Woodley Park? Three years.

Posted by: Bitter_Bill | July 15, 2009 6:06 PM | Report abuse

bill, do their fancypants possibly contribute to your bitterness? be honest now

Posted by: jar66su | July 16, 2009 12:08 AM | Report abuse

At least you maybe might get FIOS some day. We'll see the devil on ice skates before we get FIOS in Alexandria...

Posted by: joe_s | July 16, 2009 7:41 AM | Report abuse

The Yahoo widgets are too slow (on a wireless connection to my Samsung TV), and when they do load, the content isn't worth waiting for. The You Tube widget spends all its time loading and never actually gets there. A wired connection would be faster, but that does nothing for the lame content. I do, however, expect more in the future as app developers get involved.

Posted by: GaryJean | July 16, 2009 7:41 AM | Report abuse

What Bitter Bill is conveniently leaving out is that Fios being so delayed in DC is in large part because of the sweetheart deal history that Marion Varry set up with Comcast for decades, and the staffing of relevant DC agencies with morons incapable of coordinating with Fios.

This is Marion Barry's legacy.

And the poorer people in DC are the ones that elected Barry.

You reap what you sow.

He also neglects to mention that Fios is coming to some of the poor areas in Far SE long before they come to some tony areas like Capitol Hill.

Posted by: Hillman1 | July 16, 2009 7:44 AM | Report abuse

Tried out the new FiOS widgets last night. Also pretty lame. Twitter would only be worthwhile if you don't have a laptop nearby. Facebook takes up half the screen and you still can't read things too well. Seems like we've never come very far from WebTV.

Posted by: dcborn61 | July 16, 2009 8:25 AM | Report abuse

Were they testing this a few weeks ago? I hit the widget button to check the weather on FIOS(the only thing I've ever used it for) and suddenly saw the FB and Twitter widgets show up, I played with the FB widget but then it disappeared. I guess it's out officially now. Here's what I saw: The I/F is horrible, they only have a full on screen keyboard, no cell phone predictive text keyboard option (which they have for Searching in the FIOS program guide BTW), it took FOREVER to enter my username and p/w on Facebook, and it was very limited functionality. All I seemed to be able to do was update my FB status to "Watching XYZ on FIOS" no freeform text entry. Not sure why I would ever use that, I'm often on the laptop on FB or web while watching TV. Needs a lot of work IMHO. Will check it out again now that it's officially out and see if they changed anything.

Posted by: dannofels | July 16, 2009 9:12 AM | Report abuse

The function that I'd really like FIOS to activate is picture-in-picture viewing (at least with their DVR settops). Their remote controls have buttons for PIP, but the function is not active. I'm not sure why PIP isn't available, because as long as one has a DVR settop, two tuners are already available. What's up with that, FIOS?

Posted by: anonymous31 | July 16, 2009 9:36 AM | Report abuse

I'm getting rid of all of my Verizon STBs. I'm using TivoHD with the FIOS CableCards. Put these widgets on Tivo and I'll check them out. Have you heard anything about Tivo-support?

Posted by: LazyTechie | July 16, 2009 10:48 AM | Report abuse

Good point anonymous31, I was able to use my tv PIP capability when I had Cox but no dice with FIOS. The PIP feature supports marital harmony....NASCAR (me), hunting shows (hubby).

Posted by: tbva | July 16, 2009 10:48 AM | Report abuse

A major road block in the evolution to a "webTV" world is the limited processing power in today's web-enabled TVs and other widget-based TV hardware platforms. First generation platforms are barely able to support basic on-demand information apps like real-time weather, news, or sports updates. As others have noted, it takes forever to launch even basic apps, interactivity is cumbersome, etc. Now imagine trying to deliver second-gen widget apps such as high-quality on-demand streaming video services....

You can't deliver a robust webTV experience without the right hardware and software in place, as operators and OEMs are quickly learning.

Posted by: Eggman1 | July 16, 2009 11:48 AM | Report abuse

Rob - any word on actual dates we might see FIOS rolled out in DC - U. St corridor in particular =)

Posted by: Colsey | July 16, 2009 11:55 AM | Report abuse

I tried out both Facebook and Twitter last night. The widgets are pretty well done actually. They aren't supposed to be full blown apps like on the web, but you can check you friends updates on fb and can read tweets abou the show you're watching on Twitter. You can also search twitter, so following #rwdc is easier than ever!

ESPN Fantasy Football and Sudoku are also available.

Posted by: Corn_Laden | July 16, 2009 4:34 PM | Report abuse

Bitter Bill and Joe_S, I can empathize with both of you. I live in Anne Arundel County, near BWI and the pain is worse. I know that the street over has FIOS but I don't and I have to settle for Comcast and a small, carrier called Broadstripe. So I have to settle for Comcast's horrible service or Broadstripe's lack of options.

This week they've been tearing up the sidewalk on my complex. I am hoping that is FiOS.

Posted by: Kruhn1 | July 16, 2009 5:21 PM | Report abuse

I'm sorry. "Historic Anacostia" is not the 'hood.

Posted by: Bitter_Bill | July 16, 2009 5:50 PM | Report abuse

Couldn't care less. Verizon equals no business from me. Thanks to poor customer service, I've dropped VZ internet, telephone and cell phone over the last few months. No chance I'd bite on FiOS.

Posted by: gbooksdc | July 16, 2009 10:47 PM | Report abuse

I haven't tried FIOS or Yahoo widgets, but the "on-demand" features of my new plasma & Blu-ray are pathetic. I can get movies from Amazon or You-Tube. Either one takes 5 steps and 5 minutes to pull up. I have a wired ethernet port & 20MB internet service, so I can say for certain that it's the TV, not the 'net.

I seriously thinking about getting a cheap PC and a wireless keyboard to hook up to the TV as an alternative. Then I'd have access to every site (including Hulu, Comedy Central, etc.) without waiting for them to strike a distribution deal with Panasonic. Hook up is easy since the TV already has the right inputs!

Posted by: dannews | July 17, 2009 12:07 PM | Report abuse

Agree with gbook, dumped ALL Vzn services and not looking back. In fact, all these new widget services are partial, experimental implementations. They're not full featured and they're not HD. 5 years from now it'll be the stuff of articles titled "Things that Didn't Work for HDTV".

Posted by: Eludium-Q36 | July 17, 2009 2:42 PM | Report abuse

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