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The ever-increasing density of computer chips has opened up the possibility of countless technological breakthroughs – from an online catalogue of all the world’s great art to monitoring global weather patterns. Oh, and why not also create a PC-like device that will record everything on TV automatically?

At least that’s the idea behind a challenge issued in the research and development labs at the BBC, which has led to the unveiling of a prototype personal video recorder (PVR), called Promise TV, that successfully recorded and stored all the shows running for a week on all 12 channels in the UK.

With each new development in digital video recording (DVR) – DirecTV, TiVo, and the like – more intelligence has been built into software and guides, allowing for easier navigation and better software-based estimates of what a user might want to watch.

But the Promise TV device removes even that modest level of work, since it records every single program on every channel and stores it, until either it runs out of memory or a user deletes material.

Although Promise TV is still just an experiment – the BBC teams says it has “no commercial” plans for the device at this time – the innovation caused quite a stir at the OpenTech conference in London on July 23, among bloggers and some industry leaders.

“It’s compelling. It changes everything about television,” says James Chiddix, CEO of Open TV, a company that creates software used by cable and satellite DVR providers, such as Comcast and DirecTV. According to Chiddix, such an all-at-once recording device “will be built into the set top boxes in the future. The problem with the TiVo approach is you have to plan what is going to be recorded. Really the only questions [with Promise TV] are more business and legal questions than technology questions.”

The device itself is built on just a “commodity” PC, according to Dominic Ludlam, the lead developer of the Promise team. Well, not quite. It also links together several hard drives that combined can hold a massive 3.2 terabytes worth of video. Since their demo at the conference, the BBCers have had “a lot of interest” in the device, according to Ludlam.

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