Ultimate TV was a partnership between DirecTV and Microsoft, who were looking to expand their WebTV platform. The DISH Player had launched a year prior with DISH network, and has also used the WebTV platform as a basis of its DVR software.
DirecTV also launched a DVR with Tivo, known as the DirecTivo which integrated two DSS satellite tuners into the Tivo system, which allowed for two channels to be recorded at the same time. Something that could not be done on the regular Tivo’s of the time, which required an external set top box to be connected.
Hardware was manufactured by RCA and Sony who had also made standalone WebTV hardware. Receivers typically came with a 40GB hard disk and twin DSS tuners
List of all recordings made, and any upcoming shows to be recorded
Another screenshot of the My Shows section, this time with recordings grouped by title name
More recordings of different episodes of the same show
At launch dual channel recording was not possible, and inital functionality c
An interactive prompt, WebTV was one of the main interactive platforms
PPV movie and events could be ordered and recorded
Separate lists can be made to store favourite channels
Searching for a specific program, you can choose from various filters
Searching by actor and a combination of categories
Someone here was clearly a fan of Friends
Searching by Day
You can filter to a specific feature that a program supports, like subtitles
Search by age rating
Filtering by the period of day
Or by decade period
Or by a search term / keyword. This was similar to what Tivo had offered
Additional Search terms
Dish Network also had their own DVR which ran using the WebTV middleware, known as the DISH Player. This was very similar to the UltimateTV but was released one year prior. Two models were released, the 7100 and 7200, both manufactured by Echostar and feature a single tuner. The 7100 has a 8GB Hard Disk, whilst the 7200 has 17.8GB.
A software update was released in December 1999 that enabled full DVR functionality. Prior to that it was only possible to live pause TV for 30 minutes. A $10 subscription fee was required, reducing to $5 if you took out a WebTV subscription also.
Images were originally captured from iwantptv.com before the site went offline
Channel 1 is the PTV (personal TV) channel, which is where the DVR is managed. You can view recorded shows which the DVR can self manage, older watched shows are deleted automatically to make space for upcoming shows.
- TV Home: The main screen where you can access the guide, personal TV and any other services offered by WebTV and DISH Network.
- Settings: Change receiver settings
- TV Listings: The main TV guide and search engine
- Web Home: Opens the WebTV browser
- Help: Gives you information on how to use the receiver
- Purchases: Pay Per View shows will appear when when purchased
- TV Sites: TV Channel related sites like Fox News, CNN, etc
- Games: Basic games that have been downloaded to the hard drive
- Notices: Displays any messages sent to the box like service announcements
Only satellite programs can be recorded, OTA terrestrial ATSC channels can not be recorded, only watched live.
Microsoft didn’t last long in the North American DVR market, and the WebTV based DVR’s would be replaced not long after. DirecTV continued their partnership with Tivo and would eventually introduce their own branded DVR’s running NDS XTV software. DISH would replace the DISH Player with their own DISH DVR models.
Part of the reason was the poor initial reception due to the poor and buggy software during the early years of WebTV DVR’s, with reports of freezing and missed recordings, along with audio and visual glitches. It would be some time before these issues were sorted out, and Microsoft wasn’t very engaging on the software side of things which made it difficult for DirecTV or DISH to push software updates.
This wouldn’t be the last we would see of Microsoft attempting to enter the set top box market, the Mediaroom middleware would launch and power the ATT U-Verse and BT Vision services, and would also demo the Microsoft TV Foundation Edition for the Comcast/Motorola DCT platform.