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THE INSIDE TRACK | THE HOT CORNER

A consumer's guide to the best and worst of sports media and merchandise. Ground rules: If it can be read, played, heard, observed, worn, viewed, dialed or downloaded, it's in play here.

July 29, 1999|LARRY STEWART

What: TiVo

Imagine being able to record every "Monday Night Football" game, or any other regularly scheduled series, with one click of a remote-control button. Imagine being able to stop or pause a game or show at any time to take a phone call or whatever, then fast-forward through commercials to get caught up. Imagine being able to stop the live picture and then go backward or forward frame by frame for a closer look. Imagine never having to search for a blank videotape when you want to record a game, or anything else, and not having to worry about setting the start and stop times. One click does the trick.

These are just some of the features of possibly the most revolutionary technological advancement to hit television since the VCR. It's a digital set-top box called TiVo, and its makers say it will change the way you watch television. Everything is recorded on a hard disk, which has either a 14- or 30-hour capacity.

We were amazed when we got a personal demonstration recently during the Television Critics Assn. meeting at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Pasadena from Stacy Jolna, vice president of programming and network relations for TiVo, a new company based in Sunnyvale, Calif. Jolna knows something about new things. He helped pioneer CNN in 1981 and more recently was involved in the development of WebTV.

TiVo merged with consumer electronics giant Phillips earlier this year and early investors included DirecTV and Showtime. More investors came aboard this week, among them CBS, Disney, Cox Communications, Discovery and TV Guide. The product became available, though limited, last March 31 and will be in most electronic stores later this year. More information can be obtained by calling (877) FOR-TIVO or by visiting the Web site http://www.tivo.com.

The downside, besides being another gadget to have to deal with, is that the receiver box is pricey. And there is a fee for the service. A receiver with 14-hour capacity goes for $499, and a 30-hour model is $999. The service costs $9.95 a month, $99 a year or $199 lifetime.

The service does provide viewers with complete program listings and information. One feature allows viewers to rate programs with thumbs-up/thumbs-down buttons. This enables the unit to learn your likes and dislikes and it will record desirable programs for you or alert you to them.

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