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Monday, 9 April, 2001, 13:50 GMT 14:50 UK
What happened to Tivo?
It was supposed to be a revolution in home entertainment but, six months after Tivo - the UK's first personal video recorder - was launched, its sales have been far from awesome.

Now here's a novel concept for you to chew over - a box made to fit under your TV that is packed with electronics which record all your favourite television shows. Cost: about 400.

Bargain? Well, at first glance no, actually. After all, the box of tricks described sounds like a video and you can pick up one of those for 100 nowadays.

That, in essence, is the uphill struggle facing Tivo - the box which, it was loudly proclaimed, would change the way we watch television.

Phil EastEnders
Who shot Phil? Pause and find out later
It may still do that, but this is certainly no overnight revolution.

Tivo was launched in the UK six months ago to a fanfare of hype and gasps of expectation. It was the first brand of personal video recorder (PVR) to make it to these shores.

PVRs are like normal video recorders only much better. Instead of cassettes, they record digitally on a hard disk similar to those found in home computers. A disk can store up to 40 hours of programmes and there's no need to fast-forward or rewind.

Thanks to some clever programming, recording is simple. Everything is done using onscreen prompts. Simply browse the schedules, select the programme you want and hit the red button.

Book a season pass

You can instruct it to record a whole series by hitting the "season pass" button and ask it to suggest weekly highlights.

Del Toro
"I'd give the film Traffic a thumbs up"
By giving programmes the "thumbs up" or "thumbs down" Tivo gets to know your tastes and so, after a while, starts to record shows of its own accord that it thinks you will like.

Another feature is the ability to pause live TV. For example, you're watching EastEnders and Phil's assassin is about to be revealed when suddenly, the phone rings.

Just hit the pause button and Tivo takes over. When you return to the sofa, you can pick up where you left off while the machine finishes off recording the programme. You can even jump through adverts, cutting a three-minute break to 15 seconds.

The consensus is it's an amazing bit of kit. The problem, perhaps, is that it almost does too much. After all, it just took six paragraphs to begin explaining what Tivo does and there's much more besides.

Slow to catch on

In the United States, where Tivo was launched in 1999 alongside a rival PVR, the technology has proved slow to catch on. Latest worldwide sales for Tivo, the bulk of which have been in the US, are about 180,000.

The real danger is if they don't get this product down in price - that's fundamental

Tim Grimsditch
Tivo's chief technology officer, Jim Burton, recently conceded that marketing the idea in the US is "going to be harder than we thought". It seems to be a similar story on this side of the Atlantic.

Andrew Cresci, vice president of Tivo UK, says the fact there is no competition in the UK is a double-edged sword. While it leaves the British market open to Tivo alone, it means his company must take on the full burden of selling a completely new technology.

"We probably expected more [companies] to come into the market," Mr Cresci says, blaming the economic slump for a slowdown in new technology investment.

The price has also been a turnoff to many consumers, says Tim Grimsditch, a technology analyst at Forrester Research. On top of the 400 for the box, there is a 10 per month subscription charge.

Video cassettes
With PVRs, it should be goodbye to these
Some believe Tivo will go the same way as Phillips Laserdisc of the 1980s, never breaking out beyond the hype.

John Hardie, marketing and commercial director at the UK's ITV network, is one such critic. He likens the PVR hype to "hysteria" and is convinced they will simply be toys for "devotees" for years to come.

"People are used to new technology selling quickly"
For that prophecy not to come true, Tivo must sort out its advertising says Adrian Justins, editor of What Video. He believes the massive TV, magazine and billboard campaign that has run in the UK since late last year has been "awful".

"The problem is it's just focused on one aspect - the fact you can freeze live TV. There is so much more to PVRs but the message is not getting across," says Mr Justins.

"You meet people who have seen the ads and they still don't understand what Tivo does."

Yet Mr Cresci remains optimistic.

"In the first three years of the VCR, they only sold 130,000 units altogether. I think compared to that we've done very well."

Tim Grimsditch is also reluctant to write off the technology so early, just because it didn't shift like Sony's Playstation II.

"I don't think it's been a disappointment. People are very used to technology selling quickly," he says. "The real danger is if they don't get this product down in price. That's absolutely fundamental to making it work."

Charting its past, present and digital future
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