TiVo launching new set-top box

3:00 PM PST 03/02/2010 by Paul Bond, AP

$300 Premiere to feature music, films as well as TV

With new set-top boxes that include the first major overhaul of its iconic user interface, TiVo is pushing Internet videos, music, feature films and other content to the forefront, right alongside traditional TV fare.

Its new product line, dubbed TiVo Premiere, also marks the first set-top boxes to be built on an Adobe Flash platform, allowing for easy development of third-party applications.

TiVo Premiere also includes a button that "scans" through 30 seconds in about one second, once considered controversial because Hollywood executives feared it would make ad-skipping even more commonplace than it already is among DVR users.

Unveiled Tuesday at a party in New York, the $300 Premiere can store 400 hours of standard-definition programming and 45 hours of HD. A Premiere XL box at $500 can store 1,350 hours of standard definition and 150 hours of HD programming.

TiVo CEO Tom Rogers has been saying for more than a year that TiVo's intention is to move beyond mere DVR status -- ironic, since it pioneered the technology a decade ago -- and the new boxes signal a commitment to that initiative.

Whether the fancy new boxes stop TiVo from bleeding subscribers, though, remains to be seen. In its most recently reported quarter, TiVo had 2.7 million subscribers, down from 3.5 million a year earlier. And Zacks Investment Research initiated coverage of TiVo stock with an "underperform" rating on Tuesday.

But Internet-connected HD television is all the rage, and TiVo expects to benefit by making it easy for consumers to sort through the massive amount of digital content available to them.

Premiere does this by making YouTube videos and on-demand movies from Netflix, Amazon.com and Blockbuster as easy to locate at TV shows. The user-interface also features way more imagery -- movie posters, TV show logos, etc. -- than TiVo users are accustomed to.

New searching mechanisms allow users to browse by "collections," like Oscar-winning movies or Emmy-winning TV shows, for example.

TiVo has also struck new relationships with Pandora, allowing users to create personalized Internet radio stations, and FrameChannel, an Internet service for displaying personal photos and choosing among 1,000 channels of customized content, like stock quotes, traffic, weather and sports.

Premiere has its competitors -- Apple TV, other DVRs and other new devices designed primarily for using the Internet to deliver movies to TV screens -- but TiVo maintains that no other product is as versatile and simple to use.

"TiVo Premiere is your new cable box, it's your movie box, it's your Web box and music box," Rogers said. "We've taken millions of pieces of content and organized it for you in a way that makes so much sense you'll wonder how you ever lived without it."

Premiere works only with cable, not satellite TV.

Leichtman Research Group says that in the U.S., 24% of all households have a TV connected to the Internet, either by way of a video game console, Blu-ray player or via the TV set itself.
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