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Making TV jump through hoops

New technology lets you dictate when and where you watch your favorite shows.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / January 27, 2006


Brrrinng!!! My alarm blares Sunday at 8 a.m., just in time to watch "Meet the Press." I glance up at the TV and notice the red light of my TiVo box is on - Tim Russert's news program is recording. I drift back to sleep, knowing I can watch it later.

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But I end up oversleeping and then stay out until late that night. How will I fit the show into my schedule? Those ubiquitous ads for the Apple iPod Video, telling me I can now download my favorite television shows commercial-free, got me thinking: Can I really watch what I want, when I want, where I want? Are the days of rushing home from work for "Must-See TV" a thing of the past? Or remembering to set my VCR so I don't miss "CSI"? Or even having to plant myself on the couch for an hour straight? I'm about to find out. Over the next seven days, I'm going to try viewing TV on my own timetable, not the networks'.

"TV on demand" is a hot new buzzword. Between iTunes, digital video recorders like TiVo, cellphones and PDAs that play movies, and countless streaming options over the Internet, it's becoming a reality, wresting the power of TV programming from network executives, putting it squarely in viewers' hands.

Consuming TV shows in this way takes a bit of effort, as it turns out. And, by Day 7, the experience gives me pause as to whether it's truly a good idea. Nonetheless, I'm clearly at the forefront of a major trend in media consumption.

"Time shifting is the big thing at the moment," says Mark Glaser, who runs the PBS MediaShift online blog. "It's being able to watch what you want, when you want it, beyond just what we have now, but having complete demand to watch any show possible."

Turning my cellphone into a television

On my first day, I search the Internet and discover that I can load my TiVo files onto my Windows-based mobile phone. I buy the software (Pocket-DVD Studio, $39.95) and dive in. First, I move the TiVo recording onto my desktop with Tivo's own program, called "TiVoToGo." It runs in real time - meaning an hour show takes that long to copy. So I get ready for bed and answer a few e-mails.

Now I'm ready to put it on my cellphone, which is also a PDA - an iPaq from HP - with a 1 GB memory card. I open my new software and let it run (also in real time - more e-mails get answered). It shrinks the file so that it doesn't fill up my device's memory the way the iTunes videos do. Once this is done, I can plop the file onto my cellphone faster than I can say Tim Russert. Presto! Ready to watch anytime I want the next day. I drop into bed.

It's fair to say that for now, given the time and money (for software and large memory card), only the determined TV-time-shifter is going to put up with these logistics. However, as content providers scramble to keep up with the highly mobile expectations of the next generation, other options are springing up.