The venerable hard disk drive will be at the center of a television revolution if a Silicon Valley startup has its way.
Two former executives at Silicon Graphics, Mike Ramsay and Jim Barton, have formed Tivo, a startup company that they hope will transform the TV viewing experience.
The company has developed what amounts to an intuitive video recorder that scans the channels for programs its owner might like, then records them in an easy to use format. Tivo, which has allied with drive maker Quantum, made public today details of its underlying technologies for its distributed TV viewing management system.
Company officials said with a Tivo receiver and headend connected via modem in a closed loop, the Tivo service picks up a user's viewing preferences and patterns as the user pushes channel up and down keys on the remote control.
This instructs the Tivo service to make intelligent recording choices, "ordering" the Tivo receiver to grab preferred shows and automatically store them on the disk drive. The setup would enable a form of video on demand without requiring cable or satellite service providers to do costly infrastructure upgrades. It also would spare consumers the ordeal of learning how to program the VCR.
"In essence, we are moving the million dollar video servers required at a headend into individual homes at less than $500 per receiver," said Mike Ramsay, Tivo chief executive.
The Tivo receiver runs the Linux operating system on an IBM 403GCX PowerPC. The Quantum drive used in the system can store up to 20 hours of TV programming. Other components of the system include real time MPEG2 codec chips; 8Mbytes of memory; a tuner; a modem and RF, composite analog and S-video interfaces.
Several other companies have tried in this market and failed. Analysts believe for Tivo to succeed, it may have to enlist some powerful partners among the TV manufacturers, broadcasters, cable companies and advertisers.
Tivo eventually expects to get so many subscribers that advertising revenue will bear much of the service's cost. The company plans to roll out its first service by mid 1999.
Another Silicon Valley startup, Replay Networks, also plans to launch its service and ship its receiver early next year. Sony said earlier this month that it is working with Quantum rival Western Digital on similar technology.
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