Personal video recorders (PVRs) haven't exactly set the world on fire commercially. Despite anemic sales, analysts insist that PVR technology will prevail and change the way we watch TV. Unlike a video cassette recorder (VCR), which relies on tape, PVRs record TV programs to a hard drive. That lets users more easily record and play back the shows they've captured. Moreover, it allows for time shifting-stopping a live TV show with the push of a button, then picking up where you left off at a later time because what you missed has been recorded for instant retrieval. So far, PVRs have been sold as set-top boxes. Now Scottish software company Home Media Networks is bringing PVR technology to the PC.
There is a catch, however. The 18-month-old company's ShowShifter
(www.showshifter.com) technology only works with PCs that have been equipped
with video capture cards and hardware, which lets them function as televisions.
Basic versions of the card cost about $50. For now, that limits the software's
appeal mainly to early adopters. ShowShifter can be downloaded from the website
at a cost of $29.95. (Don't even bother if you're a Mac user this is for PCs
only.) Home Media also provides a free trial version, but that freebie doesn't
contain the updates that have been incorporated into the pay model every few
weeks since it was launched in February. Colin Tinto, CEO, says the trial
software has a cost-savings purpose. It gives the company needed feedback. "TV
standards are different in every country. This lets people test it for us," he
Certainly ShowShifter is a cheaper way to get PVR functionality. TiVo, the only
PVR available in Europe (though, for the time being, only in the U.K.), sells
its box for $560 and charges a monthly $14 service fee, which allows access to
an electronic program guide (EPG). But the current version can't do all the
things a PVR can do (though they can also play back DVDs and MP3 music files).
While stopping live TV sounds cool, PVR users say the real "killer app" is being
able to tell the machine which programs you like, and never worrying again about
having to miss them: PVRs will continue to record every episode of the shows you
want ad infinitum or until its memory is filled to capacity. Right now,
ShowShifter is more like a VCR in that it has to programmed daily or weekly.
That will change in a few months, however, once it launches its own EPG.
Home Media sounds like a consumer company, but retailing the software is a
secondary function to help it fine tune the software and gain a profile. Where
it really expects to make money is selling to PC manufacturers.
Tinto hopes that in the future, "when you buy a PC it will already have
ShowShifter inside." It has struck one deal with an unnamed U.K. PC
manufacturer, and is in talks with other makers. Tinto notes that PC
manufacturers "are struggling at the moment," and realize that computers need to
be better designed so that they are more suited for home use. And what's more
homey than watching TV?