TiVo Inc. pioneered digital video recording as a new way of watching television — when you want it. Now it could be TV where you want it, too.
The long-awaited service feature called TiVoToGo, set to launch Monday, will give users their first taste of TiVo untethered.
No longer confined to TiVo digital video recorders in the living room or bedroom, subscribers will be able to transfer their recorded shows to PCs or laptops and take them on the road — as long as the shows are not specially tagged with copy restrictions. That's also the case for pay-per-view or on-demand movies, and some premium paid programming.
Users also will be able to copy shows onto a DVD — soon after but not immediately at the service launch, company officials said.
The mobile feature is a key step in TiVo's long-term vision of giving consumers more freedom with how and where they enjoy their favorite TV. TiVo plans to extend TiVoToGo so it will work on other portable media gadgets, as well.
The company, based in the south San Francisco Bay community of Alviso, eventually hopes to expand its service so video can be accessed anywhere via the Internet.
"It lays the foundation of moving content out of the living room," TiVo spokeswoman Kathryn Kelly said.
For now, the feature sets TiVo apart from its growing list of competitors, such as cable operators that are introducing digital video recording features into their set-top-boxes.
"Right now, TiVo is trying to build a culture of letting consumers move their content around the home and beyond, and as long as they're doing it within the copyright concerns, it's a good idea," said Vamsi Sistla, analyst with market researcher ABI Research.
Digital video recorders let viewers record TV shows onto hard disks, fast-forward through commercials and pause live broadcasts. TiVo subscribers account for about a third of the estimated 6.5 million of the nation's households that have DVRs.
TiVoToGo will be an automatic, free service upgrade for subscribers who own standalone Series2 TiVo DVRs. It will not work for subscribers owning DirecTV-TiVo satellite boxes. Also, the technology will work only with computers based on Microsoft Corp.'s Windows XP or 2000 operating systems, although a version for Macintosh computers is planned, TiVo officials said.
The recorded shows are transferred to PCs or laptops via a home computer network. Users would have to download free desktop software from the TiVo Web site onto the computers. A media access code and password is assigned to each user's account, essentially restricting the transferring and playback of shows to household members with the same access code.
TiVo officials have tried to strike a balance between what they consider consumers' rights and Hollywood's copyright concerns. They say the video files being transferred are encrypted and need the corresponding media access code for playback.
If users try to e-mail the files to others or send the files over the Internet, their accounts could be revoked, Kelly said.
"We're trying to send a clear message that TiVoToGo is for personal use only," said Jim Denney, director of product marketing at TiVo. "And we're putting appropriate safeguards in place to keep people from rampantly sharing the content."
By May Wong