Digital video will learn your taste in TV - and banish the schedulers

The job of television scheduler, planning what programmes to put on to maximise audiences through the day, is virtually dead. Two technologies announced this week will allow viewers to escape the tyranny of what is on the television now, in favour of what may have been on at any time earlier in the day.

The job of television scheduler, planning what programmes to put on to maximise audiences through the day, is virtually dead. Two technologies announced this week will allow viewers to escape the tyranny of what is on the television now, in favour of what may have been on at any time earlier in the day.

Users of the systems may even become unaware of what channels they are watching - negating the efforts of the scheduler to tie people to a channel and make them watch new programmes; and, on commercial channels, the adverts.

Homechoice, whose "TV on demand" service began operating this week, will go head-to-head with the TiVo, a "digital VCR" arriving in shops this weekend. TiVo learns your preferences in TV programmes and can also pause, speed up or slow down live pictures - and then restart where you paused them, so that you do not miss a moment of the action and can watch at your own pace. "When people sit down they will always have something they want to watch," said Howard Look, the vice-president of TiVo Studios. "We are really about changing the way people think about their televisions."

Simon Hochhauser, the founder and chief executive of Homechoice - which provides a mixture of free and pay-per-view programmes over high-speed internet connections on phone lines - said: "The days of being tied to TV schedules that dictate programme times, and struggling to set the VCR or having to return rented videos in the rain to avoid fines could be over."

The two systems are radically different in approach, but similar in effect. Homechoice offers a huge range of programmes, available at any time of day. Some "channels" are free, but there is a basic subscription of £6 per month, with individual films costing between £1.99 and £3.50. Viewers can then watch any of the programmes available on any of the Homechoice channels at any time.

TiVo, by contrast, aims to capture programmes now on television. Each of the £399 boxes contains a huge computer hard disk, which breaks the television signal into digital bits and stores them. This signal can then be reassembled into a video signal and output to the television as wanted.

The TiVo's hard disk is big enough to hold between 12 and 40 hours of video - higherquality recording uses more space. But that also means that the onscreen action can be paused and then restarted while the disk is continuing to fill up with the live action. This can then be "fast-forwarded" at up to six times normal speed.

Ted Malone, TiVo's director of market development, said advertisers would have to work harder to get people's attention, but the advert was not dead. "People are more aware of brands when they zip through an ad - I once watched my wife go back and forth over the same ad 10 times."

The TiVo also has a facility, available for £10 per month (or £199 for a "lifetime" subscription), which lets viewers choose programmes from any channel they can receive and set them to be recorded. Using a "thumbs up" and "thumbs down" system of preference (between one and three thumbs to indicate strength of feeling), the system can be taught which programs to look for in the schedules - and may even record them when youare out.

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