A Perfect Marriage?

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TiVo is a strange phenomenon. While owners adore it with cultlike affection, its loyal-fan base remains relatively small — just 800,000 subscribers in the U.S. and Britain. That's nothing compared to the millions of VCRs out there. But by saving shows digitally to a hard drive — and offering features like Season Pass, which automatically records every episode of, say, Sex and the City — TiVo puts the VCR to shame. Trouble is, customers have been skittish about the subscription fee for TiVo service. So, to gain wider appeal, TiVo is expanding its satellite-TV offerings and teaming up with the superstar of home theater, the DVD.

For openers, Toshiba this month ships the SD-H400 ($549.99), a progressive-scan DVD player with built-in 80-hour TiVo. Instead of buying two devices, you get two in one. Or you might wait for Pioneer to roll out the first DVD recorder and TiVo combination (DVR-810H, $1,199). The benefit here is that you can greatly expand your memory capacity by burning programs onto DVDs, and make your shows portable — without using VCR Plus+ codes.

Both units will be first to feature TiVo Basic, a free version. Unlike the full-blown service, TiVo Basic doesn't have such features as Season Pass or smart searching, and the program guide looks only three days ahead instead of the usual 14. For those who want a taste of the full service, you can get a 45-day trial.

In the category of satellite TV, Samsung makes its TiVo debut this month with SIR-S4120R ($499), a DirecTV receiver capable of storing 100 hours of programming — a TiVo record. Satellite customers get a cheaper price on the service through DirecTV; some premium packages even throw it in "free."

If TiVo has its way and the partnerships take off, its cult following could hit a million by the holidays. And soon enough, we may all become blissful converts.

E-mail Wilson Rothman at wilson_rothman@hotmail.com