In its ongoing bid to be a central conduit of media, TiVo Inc. plans to broaden its digital video recording service later this year so users of its set-top boxes can download videos from the Internet and watch them from their television sets.
The new feature, one of several announcements TiVo made Tuesday, comes as homemade clips and Hollywood movies are all becoming more popular on the Web and an increasing number of tech giants are tackling the barriers to deliver video from a computer to the comforts of a living room.
"Broadband video is growing rapidly on the Web, but the television will continue to be the key way viewers want to watch video," said TiVo's chief executive Tom Rogers. "Our overall goal is to provide as many types of content in as many formats to be displayable on the television through TiVo."
TiVo's new broadband offering, however, will work only with downloaded videos that are not copy-protected, such as most user-generated clips and many video podcasts. Feature films and videos purchased from online stores like Movielink or Apple Computer Inc.'s iTunes will not be supported, though company officials said they are seeking to offer such protected content in the future.
The service feature will be implemented by the end of this year through an upgrade to the TiVo Desktop software, which some subscribers already use to view photos from the Web and listen to Internet radio. TiVo said it will take downloaded videos that have been placed into a computer's TiVo folder and automatically convert them into an MPEG-2 video format so the videos can be viewed on TVs and searchable via TiVo boxes. The video formats that will be supported are QuickTime, Windows Media Video and MPEG-4.
The software will cost $24.95 for new users and will be a free upgrade for existing users.
TiVo also will introduce another new feature that lets subscribers share their homemade movies with friends or family by setting up a personal "channel" to send their videos to the TiVo boxes of those who have agreed to be on that private network.
Instead of using the Web only or sending copies on DVD, TiVo users will be able to essentially distribute their own videos directly to others' TiVo boxes through the company's partnership with online video-sharing provider One True Media.
It does not have to be limited to family circles. The videophiles of a school sports team or a local soccer league, for instance, would also be able to broadcast their work via TiVo, said Jim Denney, TiVo's vice president of product marketing.
The way it will work: From One True Media's Web site, a TiVo user would invite other TiVo owners via a one-time e-mail to subscribe to their private video channel. The videos would then show up under a new "Homemade Movies" category in the "TiVoCast" section in which TiVo distributes media from other Web-content partners, such as the National Basketball Association and The New York Times.
In other deals announced Tuesday, most notably one with CBS Interactive, TiVo is expanding its offerings of broadband programming through TiVoCast. The unit of CBS Corp. also recently reached a wide-ranging deal with the online video sharing service YouTube -- now owned by Google Inc. -- to distribute selected video clips from CBS's network. CBS said its offerings on TiVoCast will include original programming from CBS.com, CBSNews.com and CBS SportsLine.
TiVo introduced the TiVoCast feature earlier this year to Series 2 set-top box owners and will soon add it to its latest Series 3 boxes.
It was among TiVo's first moves to try to marry the television to programming found on the Internet.
Other gadgets that link computers with TVs already exist but have failed to gain much consumer traction.
Well-known, deep-pocketed companies, however, are stepping up their interest.
Comcast Corp., the nation's largest cable provider, last week said it was planning to soon launch a Web site in which some uploaded videos could end up being shown on Comcast's video-on-demand cable television service.
Meanwhile, Microsoft Corp. said it has partnered with Hollywood studios to soon deliver downloadable movies through its Xbox 360 game console. Sony Corp. also says movie downloads are in its pipeline for PlayStation 3 users.
And early next year, Apple said it will debut a compact set-top box, dubbed iTV, that will allow consumers to wirelessly send movies purchased online -- as well as other digital content stored on a computer -- to a television set.
Alviso-based TiVo is a pioneer in digital video recording, a technology that lets users record programming on a hard drive, skip commercials, or be able to pause, rewind or do instant replays of live TV.
Also on Tuesday, the company unveiled a deal with International Creative Management, a leading Hollywood talent agency, so more celebrities will be able to recommend shows they like and allow TiVo users to automatically download those programs to their set-top boxes.
Rogers said all the expanded service features along with TiVo's new "unified" way of searching for all of the TV- and Web-based content from one place will further help TiVo stand out from rival DVR providers.
"We could be the one-stop choice for television viewing in this expanding world of broadband choices," Rogers said.