Time-Shift Recording

In days of old, watching Tv on a PC really pushed the limits of the PC's hardware. Nowadays that's not true but recent Tv-cards don't offer a lot more than those sold in the early days. You can now watch Tv on your PC with Digital sound and even watch digital satellite Tv too but it's not really any more exciting or useful than watching Tv on a regular Tv-set. That however is about to change..

The revolution is going to be a software one and could change the way we think about television. The new breakthrough isn't technologically startling but could make the Tv-card a very popular item indeed.

What's coming is time-shift recording.

Recording Tv isn't exciting or new, we've all been able to do it for years with our VCR's. The limitation of the VCR is that you've got to wait until the programme (show) you're recording has finished before you can rewind the tape (slowly) and watch it. But how about being able to watch a recorded programme whilst it's still being recorded.

Imagine being able to:

Watch a sports match that started 1/2 an hour ago without missing a thing.

Watch a film with all the commercials taken out.

Fast-forward through the news to the stories that interest you.

A typical VCR uses tape that is by its nature Linear. You can't jump around the contents of tape without fast-forwarding or rewinding but if that same data is recorded on a non-linear storage device such as a hard disk then you can watch Tv programmes irrespective of the order in which they were recorded.

Imagine this situation. You're going out tomorrow and wont be back until 16:00. There are 2 programmes that you want to watch (the News and a Football match) and a Documentary that your spouse wants you to record. With a conventional (linear) VCR you can record all the programmes but can't watch any of them whilst the VCR is still recording:

At best you can watch the small news programme in the gap between the Football and Documentary but this will require a fair bit of fast-forwarding and rewinding. Notice how the whole process of recording and then watching the programmes involves many wasted hours. In fact you wont know the result of the football match until 21:00!

The situation changes dramatically with a non-linear recording and playback system:

On arrival back home at 16:00 you can go straight into watching the news followed directly by the football from the beginning despite the fact that the game was still going on. You can even watch the Documentary straight afterwards with no gap in between, despite there having been a gap in the original transmission. Notice how you could have finished watching all 3 programmes by 19:30, a 2.5 hour time saving over a conventional VCR!

Finally, remember that with time-shift recording you don't have to watch your programmes in the order that you recorded them:

You can pause, rewind and fast-forward through any recorded footage at high speed to get to the bits that interest you.

Time-shift recording detaches the process of recording from the process of playback giving you a huge leap in flexibility. As long as you've programmed your PC to start recording in advance you can fear not about missing the start of something important and don't have to wait until it's finished to start watching it. This combined with an Internet based Tv Schedule could make setting the VCR a nightmare of the past.

From a technical standpoint, the challenges come in terms of the digitisation of the picture (where your Tv-card comes in) and being able to record (write) data to the hard disk whilst watching (reading) data from it. This technology is starting to sppear as consumer digital hard disk video recorders but the same hardware exisits in PC's equipped with a Tv-card and a fast hard disk.

Sadly the software isn't available as I write (November 2000) but I know at least 1 major Tv-card manufacture is openly discussing the fact that they are working on such software for their digital Tv-cards (Satellite) and intend to adapt that software to work with their existing regular Tv-card products. It may not be long before Tv-card technology progresses beyond imitating regular Tv and VCR technology, and actually overtakes it.