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Archive for Thursday, October 21, 2004

Companies tuning into consumers’ desires for TiVo

October 21, 2004

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Bonnie's tone was serious as she burst into the family room from the garage.

"Dad, we really, really need to get TiVo," she said, plopping down her gym bag and kicking off her shoes.

"Can you move your pile of stuff over there," I said, looking up from a magazine.

"Dad, we really should get it. We need TiVo."

"Move your stuff out of the way so we can at least walk through here."

"Dad, are you listening? We really, really need to get TiVo."

TiVo

I'll never forget the first time I saw TiVo in action. I was over at a Thanksgiving party about five years ago at Lawrence supergeek David Greenbaum's house.

Greenbaum, an early adopter of TiVo, was stopping a live Kansas University basketball game on TV and replaying plays for us, then rejoining the game in progress. He was extolling the virtues of being able to zip through television commercials and time shift.

I felt like I was watching something out of the future -- many of us at the time were still trying to figure out how to set the clocks on our VCRs.

"It's a pretty cool technology for people who enjoy watching TV," Greenbaum told me earlier this week.

Greenbaum still has one of the original TiVo set-top boxes, which works like a VCR.








He upgraded his box a couple of years ago so it now can hold some 120 hours of programming at a time.

"It just makes TV a lot more relaxing and you're not afraid you missed a show. You're not a slave to it," he said.

Recording it all

Digital video recording, sometimes called personal video recording (PVR) or time-shifting TV, has two parts, according to David Nigro, an audio video consultant at Kief's Audio/ Video.

One part is the DVR, which contains a hard drive and sits atop your TV. Alone, it can capture video, much like you would capture video on a VCR, using VCR-plus settings -- without the need for tapes.

A basic DVR box might have added features, such as the ability to capture high-definition television or burn DVDs, Nigro said.

Many DVRs sold are bundled with the TiVo or TiVo-like software and services. The difference is you pay a fee to use the service, which includes a menu of TV listings, search functions for particular movies or actors and other features.

Costs vary by what the box can do and what features you want with the service.

For example, ReplayTV (www.replaytv.com), a TiVo competitor, was selling a DVR that can record 40 hours of programs for $99 (after a rebate). You would pay $12.95 a month for the ReplayTV service, or a $299 product lifetime service fee. Its high-end model had a 320-hour capacity hard drive and cost $799 for the box ($599 after a rebate.)

If you wanted to go with a TiVo service, you could get the basic Series2 box for as low as $99, plus pay $12.95 a month or a $299 lifetime service fee. TiVo also was offering a Humax DVR with a DVD recorder for $399 (www.tivo.com).

Other companies selling DVD recorders integrated with TiVo are Toshiba, which has models ranging from $499 to $799, and Pioneer, which has the DVR-810H for $1,199 and Pioneer Elite DVR-57H for $1,800.

Nigro said a new Sony DVR is slated to come out toward the end of the year.

Sony also is expected to roll out a computer/home server system called Vaio Type X, costing about $4,700, that sports a 1 terabyte (1,000 gigabytes) hard drive that can record six channels at once for a week for 19 hours a day. That product will first be offered in Japan.

An SUV powerhouse

Currently in Lawrence, if you want TiVo or a similar service, you have to buy it in addition to your cable television, broadband or satellite TV services.

But a new offering is coming in November from Sunflower Broadband, according to Patrick Knorr, Sunflower's general manager.

By the end of next month, Knorr said, Sunflower will begin offering customers a TiVo-like TV menu service called Moxi, which is provided by Digeo. Sunflower Broadband is owned by The World Company, which publishes the Journal-World.

Moxi will power a high-end, set-top box -- a Motorola Broadband Media Center -- that will act as a DVR, as your cable TV modem and as an HD receiver.

"This is really an SUV, a powerhouse," Knorr said. "It does everything."

It will have some features not offered by TiVo, such as a scrolling ticker at the bottom of a screen. Knorr explained that users would be able to personalize the ticker by putting running sports scores, or stock market quotes or even news feeds on the ticker. Clicking on the ticker with your remote brings up more information.

"Customers with a Moxi box can control that on any channel they want," Knorr said. "It's kind of a hybrid between the Internet and TV."

The boxes also will integrate into other services, such as pay-per-view and video-on-demand.

"One of the critical things about this box is that it functions as a high-definition set-top box and records in high definition. And that really makes this box state of the art."

The Moxi boxes are targeted for people who already have or plan to buy a HDTV set, but anyone can get one, he said.

The Moxi boxes will cost $795, and the service will cost $7.95 a month.

"We already have started a waiting list for the boxes," he said.

"Right now, there is not a good low-end DVR that we can provide our customers today," Knorr said. "We hope next year there will be a very cost-reasonable box that we can provide."

Keeping tabs on Peyton

My guess was that Bonnie's busy high school senior year has been seriously cutting into her TV time.

"What makes you think we need TiVo?" I asked.

"So I could tape my TV shows when I'm gone," Bonnie said. "For example, with 'One Tree Hill' tonight, I didn't know what Peyton was talking about when she was in the confessional because I missed last week's episode."

Huh?

I asked her if she thought keeping up on "One Tree Hill" characters would really be worth about $800.

"It cost $800?" she asked, her jaw dropping.

She thought about it for a few seconds.

"Yeah, it would be worth it. So, when can we get TiVo?"

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