TiVo Brings TV to iPods

The portable video market got a boost Monday as TiVo Inc. announced plans to let subscribers to its digital video recording service transfer TV programs to Apple iPods and Sony PSPs (PlayStation Portables). The move will significantly expand the pool of video content available for those devices.

TiVo’s plan is an extension of the TiVoToGo service the Alviso, California, company introduced early this year. The service lets subscribers transfer downloaded programs to their PCs and to a small number of Windows Portable Media Center devices. Adding support for the more popular iPod and PSP players notably expands TiVoToGo’s potential reach.

Wary of running afoul of copyright law, TiVo plans to digitally "watermark" programs downloaded for portable transfer so that they can later be traced back to the originating account. Still, TiVo’s offering is likely to be a closely watched test case: it marks one of the first commercial services to let consumers transfer TV content to a portable device without paying for that specific content.

Apple Computer Inc. recently struck a deal with ABC Inc. and ABC’s parent company, The Walt Disney Co., to sell episodes of a small number of TV shows, including hits "Lost" and "Desperate Housewives," through Apple’s iTunes store for US$1.99 each. TiVo’s decision to add iPod support is partially a defensive move, aimed at preventing its customers from turning to other vendors for their portable video content. After pioneering the DVR (digital video recorder) market, TiVo has been struggling to hold on to its subscribers in a fiercely competitive market filled with technology and content vendors that have successfully mimicked TiVo’s services.

TiVo plans to begin testing its iPod and PSP service in the next few weeks, with an eye toward making the feature available to all its subscribers early next year.

While TiVoToGo is currently free for subscribers, the company said customers who wish to use iPods and PSPs will need to buy additional software to enable the content transfer. TiVo didn’t disclose a price for that software, but the company said it will be "low-cost." TiVo’s monthly subscription cost is $12.95; customers also need to purchase a DVR box.

By Stacy Cowley, IDG News Service

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