Inner Couch Potato

Letting Your Inner Couch Potato Go Out to Play

Cory Lum for The New York Times

Sydney Sheppard, vacationing in Hawaii with her parents, did not want to leave her favorite TV shows back in Los Angeles. So she brought along her Creative Zen player.

January 15, 2006
Spending
Letting Your Inner Couch Potato Go Out to Play

By ANNE EISENBERG

LIKE most other teenagers, Sydney Sheppard, 14, watches a fair amount of television when she’s home. But Sydney, who lives in Porter Ranch, Calif., also watches her favorite shows while riding in the car, strolling at the mall or relaxing on the beach while on vacation in Honolulu.

This highly mobile world of television-watching is possible because Sydney, an eighth grader, owns a pocket-size portable video player, and it is packed with many treasures, including episodes of "Gilmore Girls" and "The O.C." that have been recorded from a television set. Sydney’s uncle, John Messerly, a software engineer who lives in Honolulu, bought her the media player, made by Creative Zen, for about $300.

For Sydney, the media player is indeed a frequent companion. "I put it in my purse; it’s really small, a little bigger than a camera," she said. "None of my friends have it yet. They think it’s cool."

Sydney may soon have more company, however. Partly because of the popularity of Apple’s new video iPod, introduced in October, the sight of people staring at "Lost" or other shows on tiny screens as they ride the bus may become as commonplace as that of people talking on cellphones.

Already, the iTunes Music Store sells a handful of television shows from ABC, NBC, the SciFi Channel and the USA Network, including "Lost," "Law & Order," "The Office" and "Saturday Night Live." Most of the shows, which have already been broadcast on television, cost $1.99 an episode.

But rather than just buying the prepackaged versions, many people are transferring shows on their own from a video source, and then enjoying them not only on iPods but also on high-end cellphones, DVD players, personal digital assistants and other outlets. To do this, they digitally record the show by using a TiVo or similar device. Then the show typically travels over a home network to a desktop computer, where software converts the file and sends it to the gadget of choice.

A growing number of software programs make this transfer possible, primarily TiVoToGo, a free service for TiVo subscribers. Right now, TiVoToGo works to transfer TV shows to personal computers, DVD’s, and media players like the one owned by Sydney Sheppard that support Microsoft’s mobile video format. During the first quarter this year, though, TiVo is expected to offer TiVoToGo software that works with video iPods and Sony PlayStation Portables, expanding the number of people who can have portable versions of shows.

Dave Zatz, a network engineer who lives in the Washington area, has used TiVoToGo software to switch television shows to a variety of devices: "I started on laptops, then PDA’s, DVD’s and phones," he said. "I try them," he said of his different electronic targets. "I play with them. I go on to the next gadget."

To watch television shows away from home, he prefers his Dell Axim personal digital assistant, because of the picture quality, the long battery life and the many additional functions that the device offers; it costs about $300. Riding the Red Line on the Metro in Washington, for example, he has used his Axim to watch "Mind of Mencia," recorded from the Comedy Central cable channel. Such entertainment makes a big difference to him during a commute in a crowded train with no place to sit, or to open a newspaper or magazine. "That’s dead time," he said, "especially if you have to stand."

Mr. Messerly, the software engineer in Honolulu, watches some television shows on the DVD player mounted in his Toyota Land Cruiser.

"I’ve made about 100 DVD’s using TiVoToGo," he said, some of them recordings of Russian-language cartoons that are favorites of his children. "My wife is ethnic Russian, and the children speak Russian," he said. "So while we’re waiting for my wife to finish shopping, I put on the cartoons and the children are happy in the car."

Andrew Bacik, a software developer and engineer who lives in Charlotte, N.C., watches television shows he has transferred to his smart phone, an Audiovox SMT 5600, while he is at the gym, spending his self-mandated 40 minutes on the elliptical trainer. Mr. Bacik paid about $100 for the phone. "The quality on the LCD screen is really good," he said. "People say, ‘How can you watch on that small screen?’ Then I show them and they see how watchable it is."

Mr. Bacik has four TiVo’s, connected on a home network that includes a PC, so that he, his wife, and their four children, ages 7 to 11, can choose their favorite shows. The TiVo’s were acquired gradually, Mr. Bacik said; the family’s first one held only 40 hours of programs, and it was soon full of Mr. Bacik’s favorite choice: science fiction. "I had to keep taking off the science fiction," he said, "so I could record the shows my wife and I both liked."

To ease the capacity shortage, Mr. Bacik acquired his own 140-hour TiVo, a bonus from TiVo when he prepaid a year’s subscription, and a third machine, a TiVo-equipped Toshiba RX-TS20, which included a DVD burner. "My wife likes some daytime stuff and prime-time shows, so for that I got the Toshiba," he said. The children also have a TiVo. Three of the TiVo subscriptions are about $7 a month each; he paid $300 for a lifetime membership on the first machine.

It takes time for the computer to copy to its hard drive each of the shows to be watched later on a portable device. To get the job done, Mr. Bacik usually plans a batch at a time, once or twice a week, picking eight or so shows that have already been recorded on a TiVo. "It takes the computer roughly an hour to copy a one-hour TV show," he said.

He also burns DVD’s that combine a variety of shows like "Lilo and Stitch" and "Totally Spies." "For two hours, you can put on four different half-hour shows," he said, so that each child can watch a favorite program, for example, during a car trip.

IT isn’t solely TiVoToGo that permits transfer of television shows to other media, said Barb Bowman, a product development manager at Comcast High Speed Internet, who writes a technology column for the Microsoft Web site.

Ms. Bowman records television programs on a Gateway 901 computer with a Microsoft Windows XP Media Center 2005 operating system. The machine costs about $2,000. Then she transfers shows she likes to other players – for example, the past two seasons of "Battlestar Galactica" to her video iPod – using the program Video Vault. "Basically I plug my video iPod into the computer with an Apple USB connector," she said, "and it automatically converts the shows into the proper format for video iPods." Her video iPod cost about $400; the software was about $40.

Ms. Bowman has other software, too, that she uses for conversions to portable video. "There are all kinds of programs and hardware," she said, "because everyone wants to take TV with them."

Copyright 2006The New York Times Company Home Privacy Policy Search Corrections XML Help Contact Us Work for Us Site Map Back to Top

Advertisements

4 Responses to “Inner Couch Potato”

  1. Unknown Says:

    Hi,Do you need advertising displays, digital signages, mp4 advertisement players, SD card players and advertisement LCD displays? Please go Here:www.amberdigital.com.hk(Amberdigital).we have explored and developed the international market with professionalism. We have built a widespread marketing network, and set up a capable management team dedicated to provide beyond-expectation services to our customers.
    amberdigital Contact Us
    website:www.amberdigital.com.hk
    alibaba:amberdigital.en.alibaba.com[gjjjcbefdehfhb]

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: