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TiVo-recorded shows soon viewable on iPod, PSP

Testing starts in a couple weeks. Tech to build on TiVo's ability to transfer programs to PCs and DVDs.

TiVo is looking to pull in more customers by hooking up with two of the most popular mobile devices on the market: Apple Computer's iPod and Sony's PlayStation Portable.

The Alviso, Calif.-based company, whose box has become synonymous with the digital recording of television programs, said Monday that it will be testing a version of its TiVoToGo mobile service so that customers will be able to synchronize downloads of their programs from their TiVo Series2 boxes and transfer them to portable devices via their PC.

"I can sit in front of the PC in the morning and say I want this show, this show and this special event, and transfer over the file to a PC--happening in about real time--and you could watch it on your mobile device," said Jim Denney, director of product marketing at TiVo.

To use the new service, subscribers will need to purchase certain low-cost software to allow TiVo to transfer content from the PC to these portable devices, Denney said.

TiVo's digital video recorders, or DVRs, use hard drives to store large amounts of content. TiVo users can pause live shows and program their systems to record TV broadcasts and even skip commercials.

Tests begin in a few weeks with only a handful of TiVo subscribers, the company said. If successful, TiVo plans to roll out the service to its more than 3 million subscribers by the first quarter of 2006.

The rollout increases the number of devices with which TiVoToGo can interact. Introduced in January 2005, TiVoToGo lets subscribers transfer TV shows from their DVR to a laptop or PC over their home network. In April, TiVo added support for devices compatible with the Microsoft Portable Media Center format.

Denney said his company only worked briefly with Apple and Sony on the design aspects of the TiVo service to keep the individual integrity of its products intact.

"The service will automatically prepare and transcode the television show to one of these portable devices using industry-standard format designs," Denney said. For Apple's video iPod, that meant TiVo needed to support video compression standard H.264, also known as MPEG-4 AVC (Advanced Video Coding).

For Sony's PSP, it meant that TiVo needed to include a format version of MPEG-4, a separate video compression standard.

Representatives of Apple and Sony did not reply with requests for comment on this story.

To discourage abuse or unlawful use of this feature, TiVo's Denney said, the company will use "watermark" technologies on programs transferred to a portable device using the TiVoToGo feature that would enable tracking of the account from which a transferred program originated.

The new feature follows a partnership between Yahoo and TiVo that would allow consumers to program TiVo boxes from a Yahoo page.

While TiVo does not release how many people use its TiVoToGo service, Denney said a recent user survey showed that a large number have the capability to do so. Out of the more than 3 million total TiVo subscribers in the world, about 300,000 order their services via a broadband connection, Denney said.

TiVo could use the boost in business. The company has recently been struggling, despite adding 254,000 net subscribers for the quarter that ended July 31. However, 214,000 of those subscriptions were derived from its relationship with satellite provider DirecTV, .

Market researcher Brandimensions conducted a study last week finding that TiVo's standalone set-top box is also failing in other areas: its inability to record two shows simultaneously or play back shows in high-definition TV quality.

While 16 percent of TiVo's customers in the survey complained that TiVo costs more than the competition, 64 percent slammed the DVR pioneer for not offering standalone TiVo machines with either a dual tuner or one that is compatible with high-definition, or HD, programming. Combination TiVo-DirecTV boxes offer both, and TiVo has indicated that standalone HD, dual-tuner boxes could be coming, though many generic DVRs already offer those features.

Reuters contributed to this report.