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The small screen gets even smaller

TiVo unveils a feature that allows users to transfer recorded TV programs onto iPods or Sony PlayStation Portables.

Associated Press
Published November 22, 2005

SAN JOSE, Calif. - TiVo Inc. is expanding its video recording service so users will be able to transfer recorded television shows onto Apple Computer Inc.'s iPods or Sony Corp.'s PlayStation Portable - the latest move aimed at putting TV in people's hands for viewing anywhere.

The enhanced TiVoToGo feature announced Monday will also add more copy-protection measures to discourage possible copyright abuse that would anger Hollywood.

At the same time, studios and networks are making more of their programming available online, potentially undercutting TiVo's ability to let users accumulate digital libraries of their favorite shows. For instance, ABC hits such as Desperate Housewives and Lost can be downloaded from Apple Computer Inc.'s iTunes Music Stores, and America Online plans to make a catalog of Time Warner Inc. shows available.

TiVo officials said shows recorded via TiVoToGo will have digital watermarks.

The extra encoding will follow the copied program wherever it goes, giving TiVo the ability to trace the origin of a transferred program that might get posted freely on the Internet.

With its introduction in January of TiVoToGo, the digital video recording pioneer gave its broadband Series2 subscribers the ability to transfer recorded shows to Windows-based PCs and laptops, as well as portable media players.

But the service was available only to devices compatible with Microsoft Corp.'s Portable Media Center platform, such as Creative Technology Ltd.'s Zen.

Now, by adding support for the MPEG-4 video format, TiVo hopes to capitalize on the popularity of iPods and PSPs, which are among today's hottest handheld gadgets with video capabilities.

"There's a lot of flexibility now in the devices we support, and this puts choices in the consumer's hands," said Jim Denney, TiVo's vice president of product marketing.

Some tech-savvy owners of the new video-playing iPod or PSP have already figured out on their own how to synch TiVo shows with the portable players, but the process involves video format conversions that many consumers would rather not tackle.

TiVo will now do the conversions in the background.

The new service feature was available Monday to current TiVo subscribers as a beta test and will be available to the general public in the first quarter of next year.

Consumers would need certain video encoding software on their computers, provided by TiVo or purchased elsewhere for about $15 to $30 in stores.

Crucial to TiVo's success, analysts said, will be how easy it is to transfer shows to portable devices.

The enhanced TiVoToGo also will allow users for the first time to set their TiVos to automatically load new recordings of their favorite programs to portable gadgets via their PC. The recordings would be transferred overnight, similar to how shows are downloaded to TiVo boxes overnight for those who request automatic recording of certain programs.

Don't expect instant gratification: The transfer process from a TiVo Series2 set-top box to a PC - a necessary step before syncing to a portable - occurs roughly in real-time. An hourlong show will take an hour to transfer to the PC, then roughly 10 more minutes to synch to a portable device.

Rob Enderle, a principal analyst with the Enderle Group in San Jose, Calif., said the new features could make the portable devices more attractive to content-hungry consumers.

"With these devices, content is king," Enderle said. "The more content you can get on them, the more valuable they are."

--Information from the Los Angeles Times was used in this report.

[Last modified November 22, 2005, 02:15:27]

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