NEW ORLEANS (04/26/2000) - New couch-and-mouse toys are in the works for the 27 million Americans who simultaneously watch TV and surf the Web.
Three firms are announcing programs for "telewebbers" at the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference here this week. The software lets you record, rewind, pause, and "time-shift" live television programming when viewed through a PC.
It's called digital video recording software.
The firms InterVideo Inc., Mediamatics Inc., and Ravisent Technologies Inc. are working with PC and TV-tuner-card makers to bundle their software with computer systems available this fall. They compete with ReplayTV and TiVo, both popular so-called digital VCRs that work exclusively with stand-alone televisions.
TiVo and ReplayTV are both priced around $400. The software equivalent marketed by the trio of newcomers, which will be bundled with new PCs, is expected to cost consumers a mere $20. A TV tuner, which allows a computer to receive television or cable programming, is also required. TV tuner cards vary in price starting at around $75.
"TiVo and ReplayTV are just single-purpose computers with huge hard disks," says Pier L. Del Frate, vice president of the Mediamatics PC software product line. "Computers already have got most of the hardware. We get you started with the software."
Mediamatics publishes the program DVD Express, which plays DVD movies on Compaq, IBM, Hewlett-Packard, and Toshiba desktop and notebook computers. The company expects to bundle its eDV Matics software with TV capture cards shipping with new PC systems.
Blurring and Bundling
The industry estimates 8 million PCs will ship with a TV capture card this year, says Jim Taylor, product manager for Ravisent's DVR, PC division.
"The market is very young with huge potential," Taylor says. As the line between PCs and TVs continues to blur, people will demand this type of control over TV programming, he adds.
This week, Ravisent introduces CineMaster Digital Video Recorder, which the company is licensing to PC and TV tuner-card manufacturers. InterVideo says its as-yet-unnamed digital video recording software will be available this fall to vendors who will repackage it and sell it under their own label.
Each company will add electronic program guides to its software, along with personal viewing agents that can recommend TV programs based on your TV viewing habits.
It's no doubt that beefy system requirements have played a role in preventing these applications from gaining popularity among average PC users. System requirements differ among software manufacturers, but most require at least a 600 MHz-class system with 128MB of RAM. Hard disk recommendations vary, but most adhere to a ratio of needing one gigabyte of storage for every hour of MP2 video. For high-quality video, Mediamatics recommends 3.4GB for every hour of video stored.