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by adam mathes
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Tivo Week - Part Whatever - Television Trapped

Television is essentially trapped on Tivo. Although there is the “analog hole” - you can plug your Tivo into a VCR and record onto videotapes - there is no digital video extraction of the files stored on Tivo. The quality of digital extraction would be much, much better, especially if you are recording from a high quality source like DirecTV.

There are valid reasons to want to get material off of your Tivo. There is a limited amount of space on a Tivo, and if you want to save your favorite episodes of a series to watch months later without rendering your Tivo useless as a recording device, you have to delete things off of it regularly. Besides the video quality issue, videotapes are rather inconvenient, which is one of the primary reasons Tivo has been so successful, so although that is an option, it’s not ideal.

For example, if you are going on a trip, and want to copy a few hours of television to your laptop to watch on the plane ride, digital extraction would allow you to copy some files from your netwoked Tivo to your laptop. Or, with the digital files, you could burn a high quality DVD library of your favorite shows. These are legitimate, fair uses of television shows. Courts deemed it legal to “extract” television onto videotapes despite the objections of the media conglomerates.

The reason that Tivo cripples its devices and digital extraction is not offered is supposedly because of a fear of internet piracy of shows. That is, if digital extraction was a feature on Tivo or other PVR machines, people would simply copy all the good stuff to their computers, and then run a file-sharing application. The television industry is in fear of this, the same way the music industry was terrifed of digital distribution of MP3 files. Although, again, if they learned anything from the music industry, they should realize it’s far better to figure out ways to give consumers what they want and find a way to make money off of it, rather than try and futilely stop them with technological barriers or legal bludgeoning.

There may very well be a market for people who would pay to download television shows. As I already discussed previously on Tivo week, there is clearly a market for people who want to buy television series on DVD. It would be smarter for companies to explore this market now while it’s young and developing, rather than waiting for years like the record companies did.

Paradoxically, Tivo’s lack of digital extraction actually encourages internet piracy of shows. Since it requires a lot of time, knowledge, and hacking to get good quality television shows in digital format right now, it’s easier to just download them from DAP or Kazaa or whatever file-sharing application is currently popular. And shows that you download will of course have the advertisements excised, something that a consumer probably wouldn’t take the time to do if they could extract their own shows from a PVR.

Tivo is a networked device already. It should play nicely on my network. And it could, but not unless I hack it, which I don’t really want to do right now. Until the digital video extraction issue is resolved, though, Tivo will always be a needlessly crippled device that assumes its consumers are somehow too irresponsible to handle digital media. All that poor television, trapped.

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