Comcast takes on TiVo with new DVR

A move by the nation’s largest cable television company could be bad news for San Jose-based TiVo Inc., which dreams of continuing its domination of the digital video recorder (DVR) market.

Comcast Corp. of Philadelphia, the cable TV company that serves most of the Bay Area, plans to start testing a TiVo-like service this summer based on the technology of TiVo rival Ucentric Systems Inc. of Maynard, Mass.

TiVo stock (Nasdaq:TIVO) fell 5 percent to $6.66 a share May 13, the first trading day after Comcast’s DVR plans went public.

TiVo, which did not return telephone calls, recently unveiled two new business lines: a TiVo-lite service to be bundled with some Toshiba DVD players, and a home networking upgrade that requires multiple TiVos and wiring for broadband Internet access in each room with a TV.

Comcast says its Ucentric service will record 60 hours of programming, compared with 20 to 40 hours for most TiVos. Along with traditional DVR abilities of pausing and rewinding live TV, the Ucentric DVR will allow cable customers to record a program on one digital cable channel while watching a different channel — an option not available to VCR or TiVo owners.

The Comcast-Ucentric system also allows automatic home networking over existing coaxial TV cables, with no need for additional broadband Internet wiring. This will allow shows recording in one room of the house to be viewed in other rooms.

“If your kids are watching TV in the living room and you want to watch a ballgame, you can send their show to their bedroom. If you’re watching the game and it’s time for dinner, you can hit pause … then resume the show from your bedroom,” says Michael Collette, CEO of Ucentric.

Comcast is test marketing the Ucentric system in Philadelphia this summer, but has no immediate plans to roll it out nationwide.

Analyst Jeff Groverman of Pacific Crest Securities, which makes a market in TiVo stock, remains bullish on TiVo because of its almost cult-like status.

“96 percent of TiVo users say they would recommend TiVo to friends or family. TiVo could have the highest satisfaction ratings of any consumer electronics product,” he says.