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TiVo broadens its programming

Recent announcements should help to distinguish the company from rivals while also planting it in the middle of a new trend: creating a hub for home entertainment.

LAS VEGAS--TiVo announced on Tuesday a second-generation set-top box and alliances with services companies--news that should give it a lift against competitors at the Consumer Electronics Show here.

TiVo's software and subscription service is at the heart of its digital video recorders, which can store television shows on a hard drive and pause live broadcasts. The San Jose, Calif.-based company has been facing competition from Sonicblue's ReplayTV set-top box, Microsoft's UltimateTV service for satellite networks and other developing DVR technologies.

However, the announcements at CES should help to distinguish TiVo from rivals while also planting the company in the middle of another new trend: creating a hub for home entertainment. Earlier at CES, start-up Moxi Digital announced its software platform that will enable set-top boxes to become a hub of this sort. And software giant Microsoft announced similar plans Monday.

TiVo's plans are not as ambitious because they don't include making content available throughout the home. But that's partly by design. The company's new idea involves a push toward a more comprehensive product, something analysts said TiVo--whose stock fell precipitously this year--lacked.

"We continue to focus on entertainment services, not more technology, not more individual features. This is intended to be really easy and effortless," TiVo Chief Executive Mike Ramsay said during a press conference.

The new set-top box, the TiVo Series2, which is the first set-top box to be branded TiVo, will be available in February for $399 and will come with a 60GB hard drive, enabling 60 hours of recording capacity. The Series2 will also come with two USB ports for connecting to digital cameras, MP3 players or CD players. TiVo is taking preorders on its site.

Selling the box should provide an opportunity for additional revenues. The company has been making most of its money through subscriptions to its DVR service but has recently stepped up its efforts to license its technology. TiVo recently signed up Sony as a licensee.

Ramsay said the company is calling on Solectron to be the contract manufacturer for its set-top box and Maxtor and Western Digital to make the box's hard drive.

TiVo also signed alliances with companies to enable its Series2 box to store and play digital audio and display digital images, as well as to let viewers play online games and upload video-on-demand. The new services should be available on the boxes by the 2002 holiday season, according to the company.

TiVo has aligned itself with RealNetworks and that company's RealOne Player to manage and stream audio content from the Internet. The company also signed agreements with Jellyvision to bring online games to its set-top box and Radiance Technologies to bring video-on-demand capabilities to the Series2.

Ramsay said that consumers should look at the upcoming services as new channels allowing them to access more entertainment.

"The impact of all this is that we certainly feel that we are yet again redefining what home entertainment is all about," Ramsay said.