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TiVo-like capability comes to the desktop

Nov 19, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Personal video recorders aren’t just for the living room anymore. Recording and watching your favorite television shows can now be conducted in an unlikely venue-at the computer.
SnapStream Media, which offers PVR software for PCs, recently formed a partnership with Decisionmark to incorporate its electronic programming guide into SnapStream’s Personal Video Station software, which allows computer users to record TV programs and watch them on the Internet, a pocket PC, a PDA or a laptop.
Decisionmark’s TitanTV.com is a program guide that works much like EPGs on the TV, with show listings and information. The program guide has been a “missing piece” of the SnapStream software until now, said Samir Saxena, business development manager for SnapStream Media in Houston.
To use the SnapStream software, the PC requires a TV tuner card to record TV shows. Users can record as many shows as there is space on the hard drive to store them, Mr. Saxena said.
The software is fully networked, so you can record a show at home and watch it on your work computer, provided the home computer is logged onto the Internet at the time. “You can log on and watch last night’s `Sports Center’ from a desktop at work,” he said. Prior to the partnership with Decisionmark, users would need to manually enter shows to record, specifying the time, date and channel. With the TitanTV EPG, users can access the guide and hit a button to schedule the recording. TitanTV was incorporated into SnapStream in November.
SnapStream’s software was first introduced in January, and the Web site (Snapstream.com) has recorded more than 100,000 downloads of a freeware version of the software since then. The software is available for purchase from the Web site for $49.99 and will also be sold at Amazon.com and Buy.com later this year.
Mr. Saxena said SnapStream is not a competitor to PVRs such as TiVo or ReplayTV because Snapstream targets PC users. Steve Shannon, VP of marketing at Santa Clara, Calif.-based Sonicblue, which owns ReplayTV, saw a demonstration of SnapStream at the Windows XP launch. “It’s a PC-based experience vs. ReplayTV, which is more of a set-top box, living room-oriented product.”
SnapStream is currently developing a hardware device that will connect the PC to the TV and allow shows recorded on the computer to be watched on the TV. Such a device will be imperative for the long-term viability of this product, said Phil Leigh, analyst with Raymond James in Tampa, Fla. “You’ll have to be able to see this on a big screen in a relaxing environment [to be successful],” he said.
While the shows SnapStream records may be viewable on the TV in the future, the technology will still originate from the PC. “In our view of the world, the computer will be the brain of the home entertainment system,” Mr. Saxena said.
To date, the product has appealed primarily to early adopters and college students, he said. The college dorm is the perfect place for a product like this, Mr. Leigh said. “They like to watch TV, and they need computers and are beginning to use computers as a TV,” he said.
The notion of saving TV content on the PC and porting it to other devices is impressive, but like TiVo and ReplayTV, has yet to catch fire with consumers, said T.S. Kelly, director and principal analyst with Nielsen//NetRatings in New York. He expects the technology may find a niche with “specialized content for business training, education, news clips and other short-length material such as movie trailers, music videos and personal recordings.”
MGI Software in Toronto offers a product similar to SnapStream. Its MGI-TV software is bundled with PCs sold in Japan and the United Kingdom. It allows PC users to record TV shows while it simultaneously encodes and decodes, which means a user can watch the recording at any time after recording has started.
The company has sold more than 100,000 units in Japan since it was introduced more than two years ago and has sold nearly 10,000 units in the United Kingdom since it launched there about seven months ago.
“I think in the end we are very complementary to TiVo,” said Maarten Heilbron, product manager for MGI-TV. He expects users will rely on the MGI-TV software to search, store and edit but will still prefer to watch the shows on the television.