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TiVo debuts slimmed-down TV service

Featured in a device from Toshiba, the TiVo Basic service will pause and record live TV programs, but will not search for programs by name.

TiVo has introduced a scaled-down version of its service that consumer-electronics makers can embed into other devices such as DVD players.

Known as TiVo Basic, the service includes the key digital video recording functions available in the company's full service, including the ability to pause live TV programs and record them onto a hard drive.

The basic service will not search for a program by name or create a Season Pass to record all episodes of a particular program, functions offered by the full service. It will display only three days of program guide information, compared with the 14 days in the full service.

Devices with TiVo Basic will be upgradeable to the full TiVo service for $12.95 a month or $299 for the life of the device--TiVo's standard service charge.

Toshiba is preparing the first device using the new service--a product that combines a DVD player and 80GB hard drive along with the TiVo basic service. It is set to ship in August with a suggested price of $549--with no additional fee for the basic service.

Sony also has licensed technology from TiVo, as has another unnamed consumer-electronics company, said Jeff Klugman, vice president of technology and licensing for TiVo. Klugman said the other consumer-electronics company will have a product on store shelves by the holidays.

When upgraded to the full TiVo service, the Toshiba device will have all the features of a standalone TiVo box and will use the recently introduced home media option, which allows photos and music to be streamed onto a television from a PC connected to a home network.

TiVo will receive payment for TiVo Basic from the consumer-electronics makers that include it in their products. It will be up to those companies to decide how to price the devices for consumers.

The purpose of the basic service, Klugman said, is to allow TiVo to be included in other types of consumer-electronics devices. Products that combine some form of video recording onto a hard drive with other features were going to happen with or without TiVo, Klugman said.

"It's in TiVo's interest to be as widely distributed as possible," he said.

Offering a basic service that does not demand a monthly fee was a requirement to get the companies to include TiVo, he said. With the new service, TiVo doesn't lose money on the basic service but stands to make more money from those who upgrade to the full service.

The basic service is focused on consumer-electronics makers that want to combine TiVo with another function, Klugman said. Among the possible future devices are machines that combine TiVo abilities with a device that can record onto blank DVDs.

The Toshiba device has been in the works for some time. Last November, the company announced it had licensed some of TiVo's technology, promising a device using the capabilities would be available by this year's holiday season. At the time, Toshiba did not say what functions it would include in such a product.

David Ray, who is looking to buy a digital video recorder this fall, said the price of the Toshiba device sounds too steep.

"For a 'slimmed-down device,' I definitely think $549 is too high," Ray said in an e-mail interview. "TiVo units aren't exactly inexpensive to begin with, and I'm confused why Toshiba would market such a device as 'slimmed down,' when it costs more than a full-featured TiVo."

Digital video recorders have struggled to gain widespread adoption, though they are popular among those who do use them. TiVo, the largest company devoted to making such devices, had about 625,000 subscribers as of Jan. 31. TiVo's main rival, ReplayTV, was sold by Sonicblue in April. "We believe that by enabling our consumer-electronics partners to provide a basic service offering with their product we can drive adoption of these next-generation integrated devices and in doing so, drive adoption of the TiVo service," Ta-Wei Chien, general manager of TiVo technology and licensing business, said in a statement.