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Promise TV includes an electronic programming guide, to help users sift through all the massive amounts of content. It works by automatically erasing the first day’s content on the eighth day, and so on.

Beyond a few details, though, the Promise team is keeping mum, until the product is officially unveiled in August on their website (see Notebook). According to Ludlam, they will also be releasing the design information to the open source community for further development and “uptake amongst as many individuals as possible.”

What the Promise researchers are attempting to create – an all-you-can-watch buffet of prerecorded TV content – has been tried before. In 2003, Time Warner Cable ran limited trials of Mystro TV, a project to offer consumers TiVo-like functionality on almost every show on television, with the distinction that fast-forwarding and other functions would be done at the server level, not on individual device hard drives. Not surprisingly, copyright holders for the shows that Mystro TV was planning to offer objected to the service, and they were able to get the project scuttled.

So would a Promise TV-like project run afoul of U.S. copyright laws? Probably not.

“If you merely offer a device that records TV and lets you watch it later, that’s protected by the law,” says Jason Schultz, a staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “It falls squarely under the Sony Betamax ruling.”

Still, some other industry observers (and bloggers) aren’t as excited about the Promise box.

“Consumers are going to have to dig deep into all this [program] material and sift through it,” says Todd Chanko, an analyst with technology research firm Jupiter Research. “It would make a consumer’s life more difficult.” 

Ludlam responds that such a device would actually make consumers’ lives easier, though, since not having to select shows in advance “means that TV programs need never be missed.”

Then again, Ludlam probably hasn’t experienced the literally hundreds of channels available in the United States – not all of them as must-see TV as, for instance, classic episodes of Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

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