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Video recorder being added to TV phones

Want to watch the Today show on your phone while it downloads stuff from MTV? Next year you can.

First, music players were added to cell phones. Then TVs. Next up is the cell phone with a built-in digital video recorder.

Texas Instruments, PacketVideo and S3 are showing off a cell phone that can record incoming television shows the same way that TiVo boxes do at home. The phone has two channels, so consumers can watch a program at the same time as they record something else for later viewing.

The phone also sports a picture-within-picture option, another first for TV cell phones, according to Texas Instruments.

Portable TV and video is the latest big idea--or possible flash in the pan--to come out of the tech industry. Advocates say portable video will become a widespread phenomenon. In initial customer tests conducted by manufacturers, Texas Instruments said, consumers could watch up to three hours a day of portable video. Currently, consumers watch quick video blurbs rather than full-length TV shows or movies. Prime viewing times will likely be during a commute or lunchtime. These cell phones can also ultimately function as videoconferencing devices.

"Video camcorder capability in handsets is going to be as high as camera phone penetration. TV reception, however, is going to start with very high-end multimedia handsets," said Tina Teng, an analyst at iSuppli, in an e-mail. Adoption will also be determined by power consumption, screen size and other factors, she added.

Cell phone TVs are already available in South Korea and Japan. In the latest versions, programs and videos come directly to phones and handhelds via digital TV broadcasting services and a TV tuner. Programs do not travel over the cellular networks, which in the early days of TV cell phones often resulted in hefty phone bills.

Apple Computer next week is expected to unveil a new video iPod as well as a service that lets people download videos and movies.

Critics, though, point out that portable video may not match the success of MP3 players. For one thing, you can drive a car and listen to MP3s at the same time: That's not so easy with video. The small screens also aren't the greatest format for viewing. Notably, TV phone sales also did not accelerate much during the FIFA World Cup, a testing ground for the concept.

Still, it's a new market, and video can be surprising. Back in October 2005, NetFlix CEO Reed Hastings said it would be a long time before consumers could download TV programs. A few months later, Apple started doing just that. Some experts predicted that consumer-generated video, or sites geared toward consumer-generated video, would never get big until, whoops, YouTube became a global phenomenon.

The prototype handheld is based around the Hollywood chip produced by Texas Instruments, middleware from S3 and a digital TV package from PacketVideo.

Phones based around the technology from these companies will come out in 2007.