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Now, Store TV Shows on PC Drive

Ever wondered about using the Gigabyte storage on a personal computer to store television programming when the space on a home digital video recorder runs out?

The cable industry moved one step closer to providing such additional programming storage for its subscribers when CableLabs on March 20 certified new software from EnCentrus Systems Inc., a Montreal-based engineering company specializing in digital device software.

CableLabs approved EnCentrus’s Content Protected Digital Output technology, which will allow consumers to move copy-protected programming from digital video recorders to their computer hard drives for storage-only purposes.

Operators could use the new EnCentrus technology as early as next year, when new set-top boxes with hard drives and digital output ports hit the market, said Thomas Fehr, vice president of sales and marketing at EnCentrus.

Those digital output ports, using standard universal serial bus cables, would allow a consumer to hook their digital video recorder to their personal computer. But cable operators would not activate the port, Fehr said, until copyright-protection software was in place.

EnCentrus believes it has provided protection by developing encryption software that would prevent a customer from viewing the recorded programs on a PC, Fehr said. The consumer would only be able to store it there for later viewing on the TV, Fehr said.

For consumers who quickly fill up their digital video recorder, it’s a way for an operator to use unused storage in the home to keep video content, rather than shipping out another digital video recorder. Think of the Texas fan who wants to keep last year’s USC-Texas college football national-championship game indefinitely, but wants to free up space, short-term, on a digital video recorder.

The current version of the software would not allow operators to move television programming to other devices, such as mobile phones or portable digital video recorders.

EnCentrus plans to license the software to operators based on a per set-top fee that hasn’t been established yet.

Whether cable operators could offer a service that calls for shifting programming from a digital video recorder to a computer, even as a storage-only function, is open to question from some programmers.

“I’m not sure if it qualifies under the 'fair use’ [statute],” said Galen Jones, chief strategy officer of Court TV, perhaps ensuring another wrinkle in operator-programmer rights negotiations.