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Exclusive Review: MediaViper redefines the possibilities of unlicensed TV streams

Executive editors Natan Edelsburg (@twatan) and Adam Flomenbaum (@flobombin), and guest contributors, bring the inside track on the latest developments in the TV space.

Found Remote obtained a MediaViper streaming device, which has yet to be reviewed by any publication. The wifi-enabled device that connects to your TV via HDMI makes it extremely easy to access unlicensed streams of TV shows and movies in addition to a plethora of other customizable content. It “runs software that is a Media Player. It plays all sorts of content: local content such as MP4 & MP3 as well as photos, external content such as on SDCard or USB storage, content stored on a local network share, as well as streams from the internet,” according to its inventor, Michael Paine.

Found Remote is giving the MediaViper 4.5/5 remotes. You can find out more information about the MediaViper here and purchase it here for $250.

The highlights of the MediaViper:

  • It’s extremely easy to install and setup
  • It gives you access to a wide array of streaming services
  • It is very customizable
  • The remote is great and features a keyboard with amazing shortcuts
  • You can access almost any TV show, movie, or sports match that exists
  • The inventor is a genius and cares deeply about his users, software and device
  • The device automatically updates behind the scenes and is being built to withstand constant upgrades that cost money
  • There are no viruses for this software, it is safe to use the streaming aggregators

The downsides of the MediaViper (where the device lost .5 remotes):

  • As a user, with the majority of the easily accessible content being unlicensed, the future of the legality is questionable
  • The quality brand new content is watchable, but not always perfect (there are thousands of HD options too)
  • The design and user experience isn’t as perfect as an Apple TV (remember: Paine is a one man show)
  • Learning the keyboard shortcuts greatly enhances navigation, but it will take a bit of time to learn

The problems with cord-cutting that led to the creation of MediaViper.

Cord-cutting and the future of TV is often defined by buying an Apple TV or Roku and using Netflix, Hulu and Amazon to watch shows. While those experiences are often liberating for the average TV futurist, especially compared to a cable subscription, there are still limits and frustrations. Having to pay monthly fees (or find someone with a password), not knowing what’s available when, and content suddenly becoming unavailable because of syndication deals out of your control, are just some of the issues facing cord cutters.

Additionally, it’s extremely easy to avoid paying for content altogether even though the legality is often questionable. Torrenting is one popular way to download unlicensed TV and movies for free but it requires a lot of clicking and downloading actual files to your computer. Downloading the files infringes on copyright law getting those files to play on your TV isn't always easy.

Streaming, however, has never been more popular. Originally, Kim Dotcom’s Megaupload (which was live from 2005-2012) was the number one place to go to stream just about anything. Now there are numerous spinoffs and aggregators that suck in and organize the unlicensed content of TV and movies and make it watchable, in HD, at the click of a button. A big challenge, though, is that these sites are often shady looking and lead to viruses on your computer if you click the wrong thing.

This is where Michael Paine, the inventor of MediaViper comes into the picture.

Meet Michael Paine, the mechanical and electrical engineer who created MediaViper.

Michael Paine has a background in computers and electrical and mechanical engineering. He’s always loved making things perform tasks they were never intended for. In high school he sold pocket dialers (redboxes) that tricked payphones into thinking you put a quarter in them. He once took apart a cable box and figured out how to build a TV descrambler. He considers Back to the Future’s Doc Brown a “kindred spirit” for being “a crackpot inventor that changed not only the fictional world in the film.. but also changed OUR world (our culture) as well.” I originally met Paine while producing a Back to the Future video for the Shorty Awards (he owns a Delorean that we rented for the shoot).

Paine described how he invented the MediaViper:

I've been an early adopter of technology for as long as I can remember. I was using fiber internet before Fios was officially launched, I was recording and time-shifting shows before it was called DVR and TiVo. I had played around with streaming entertainment for a few years and eventually used sites such as Hulu and Netflix because the technology just wasn't there for the hobbyist.

I became frustrated with the ever changing landscape of shows - you know, abrupt sudden changes to what is available. Like being in the middle of season three (of ten) when all of a sudden without warning the first five seasons are dropped and I am forced to jump to season six. I became increasingly aware of how much I was paying for premium content" on a monthly basis while only being home a few hours a night (of course I don't watch content every night for all my available free time). If you divide the amount you pay a month by the number of hours actually watched you will see the cost per hour is really incredible. Who cares if you have 300 channels if a large portion of them goes unwatched or you are not home much of the time? So we all DVR and skip commercials and then binge watch here and there to catch up right?

So If you decide to go the DVD box set route you buy shows for say $60-$100 a show and then when you are done watching what do you do with the DVDs? I have over 800 DVDs that I never watch since MediaViper. Even online library services such as Prime or what the fruit company offers, what happens when they deny you access to your purchased content... you can't get to it anymore. Ever try switching accounts on those platforms? They suggest to you "purchase it again under the new account"... WHAT?!

So instead of dealing with virus infections on a computer or watching on a laptop screen or having another system to ensure is not infected to enjoy content I decided there must be a better way.... and there is!

MediaViper is a media center for everyone. It can play local content, it can play internet streams, there's karaoke...it has something for everyone. There is no virus for it, you don't have to do content updates as it does them automatically every few hours.

The development took about a decade but the first unit I built took me around six hours because there was a lot of customization that happens. I had to pull all the pieces of technology together and create whatever wasn't available. It kind of began as the proverbial "Stone Soup" media center.

How he built the MediaViper:

At first I was given a used Apple TV (first generation) and I wanted to see if I could do anything useful with it. So I wiped its software and loaded a customized lightweight Linux build. This worked well but I felt it could be faster. From there I decided that I needed a more stable supply for hardware than the used market and contacted with an OEM manufacturer in China.

We've been through four generations together:

  • Beginning with dual core processors (the Classic)
  • Transitioning to ultra-portable "sticks" (MiniTV)
  • Then 2 iterations of quad-core devices. (Gen3 and Gen4) - With Gen4 we introduced The Rattler, which is a wireless 6-axis gyroscopic controller with integrated QWERTY keyboard. It doesn't need line of sight, it has a rechargeable battery and I've personally gone for up to a month on a single charge. When it needed to be recharged, I plugged it into MediaVIper and shortly after it was ready for use again. You can even use it while it is recharging.

Overview of the content available on the MediaViper:

Paine explained to Found Remote that, “MediaVIper pulls in streams from all over the internet and presents it in a cohesive organized way that is also able to be searched.” He added that, “everything I have wanted to watch has been available. House Of Cards is GREAT, The Walking Dead and Big Bang Theory are other favorites - lately, I've been getting into some old stuff from the 90's, an AI show called Humans, a hacking show called Scorpion and I enjoyed Sense8.”

Paine show me how to setup my MediaViper to feature the best “aggregators,” as he described them, under my “Favourites” section. He stressed that it is up to the user to determine what's legal. Here's a summary on some of the aggregators.

  • 1Channel - there is little out there about this platform, except for stories in 2013 about how large it is and how it was hacked. I was instantly able to access Deadpool and Zoolander 2 (both recently hit theaters). The quality wasn’t perfect but good enough to watch.
  • SportsDevil - allows you to access different sporting events around the world. There is similarly very little information about this platform. It’s not just a streaming website but is open source software that needs to be installed. In 2014, TorrentFreak explained that there are “dozens, perhaps hundreds of sites” like SportsDevil, which was targeted back then.
  • Icecast - an open source software like SportsDevil, is the top music app. On their website they describe the difference between them and Spotify, as an example. “Spotify and co. do not really “stream” in the classic meaning of the term. Actually what they in most cases do is provide the client with the individual songs and the client takes care of all the other things, like play/pause and playing the tracks in the desired order. It’s basically just simple file serving, which webservers like nginx or Apache do.” Icecast is more of a radio experience whose legality is unclear.
  • Her Place - is like the Bravo of the unlicensed streaming web. It let’s you browse movies based on specific actresses (to see films they’ve been in).
  • Others include - One242415, Valhalla, The New Pirate Bay and KickinRadio.

“There are literally 100s of free add-ons available to load right from within Media Viper,” Paine told Found Remote. MediaViper is loaded with a selection that meets a wide range of content - sometimes they change and get better and other times they get replaced - it's a little bit organic in its evolution,” he added.

The lack of information available on the web about each of these aggregators felt a bit spooky. On one hand, it could be that they’re just not that popular compared to the licensed streaming options available. On the other hand, they might be an evolution of the endless streaming options that are available sans paying on the web.

On the legality of the unlicensed film and TV content that the MediaViper makes easy to stream:

Paine has not shied away from questions about the legality of what he is doing. “It is important to understand MediaViper has NOT A SINGLE BIT OF CONTENT nor does it store it,” he told Found Remote.

He further explained.

I am sure many people have used websites or torrents to watch content before it was released or even catch up on their old favorites. Some of you have subscribed to streaming services that create new original content and they sometimes present it online with commercials or popup ads. Those streams are then often put back on the internet with the commercials removed. If you use a website or Torrent to download content then you are making a digital copy - You ARE breaking copyright law! Which is why MediaViper DOESN'T do either of those things.

On his website, he includes a section called “legality,” where features a detailed article from March 2015 written by a then law student from Boston College, Monica Rodriguez. She concludes that, “the answer to legality of watching streamed, unlicensed television content is that it remains legal, although likely not for long.”

To further understand the legality Found Remote interviewed David Greenbaum, a partner in Day Pitney's Intellectual Property department.

After considering the nature of the product, it appears that users of the MediaViper device would be infringing the copyrights of the authors of the unlicensed media viewed on the device. Streaming devices like this one are essentially small computers. While they may not be making permanent and/or accessible copies of the movies or TV shows streamed, these devices, seemingly including the Media Viper, must make temporary copies of the files received from the internet in the computer’s RAM in order to be viewed by the end-user. It is during this necessary—albeit temporary—copying step wherein the infringement occurs.

Regarding the Boston College article Greenbaum explained the following:

The article cited is merely clouding the issue. Courts have routinely found infringement in temporary copying cases in the field of software for decades, starting with MAI Systems Corp. v. Peak Computer, Inc. in 1993. Additionally, the producers of the product are likely actively inducing copyright infringement by providing the means for infringement to the copyright infringing end user. In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court in MGM Studios, Inc. v. Grokster Ltd., found that inducement of this type can result in liability for contributory infringement.

Paine also stressed that, “I’m not a lawyer so I can't give legal advice, however there has been much discussion on legality of streaming content lately… it's important to know what the law currently states. It's up to the user/owner to be sure they are following the laws.”

The future of the product:

Paine told Found Remote his plans for the future of the product:

  • I want to create some more customizations and offer some personalized mechanisms for feature changes.
  • When you buy a product and a new product comes out you typically have to sell or trade or eat that products costs and buy the new one - with MediaViper I hope to soon have an automated upgrade system where owners can get all the newest features downloaded to their product - you may have seen this update model on some popular electric vehicles on the US car market.
  • In the meantime all models have a one year warranty and we replace them for free when they break. If they aren't broken but you want to get the newest features, we offer free upgrades to your existing product.

Final thoughts:

Paine is definitely an inventor the TV world should be paying attention to. His dedication to his product is impressive and his unveiling of the internet streaming world highlights the biggest pain points that consumers shouldn’t have to face as they cut the cord. While I’m personally a bit hesitant to use this device because of the legal uncertainty as a consumer, I’ll be hoping for Paine’s success as he takes on a market that’s in desperate need of disruption.

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Natan Edelsburg

I help run the Shorty Awards (http://shortyawards.com) and Muck Rack (http://muckrack.com). I also watch a lot of TV and write about it occasionally. http://linkd.in/nedelsburg

All by Natan