Cable operators, are you keeping an eye on satellite's entrée into personal video recording?

Following similar announcements from competitive DBS provider EchoStar, DirecTV Inc. is stepping up its PVR activity with the introduction of set-top boxes with TiVo functionality.

At the Satellite Business and Communications Association conference today in Las Vegas, Hughes Network Systems, maker of satellite receivers for the DirecTV service, introduced a new advanced set-top box featuring digital video recording capabilities. The new Digital Satellite Recorder with TiVo technology features a 40 GB hard disk, enough to record about 35 hours of programming. Estimates put the box's eventual retail cost at about $200.

The announcement that the new box will have a relatively small 40 GB hard disk raises questions about just how much storage capacity the new receiver actually has, though.

Earlier this year, DirecTV announced a plan to offer a subscription-video-on-demand service through a partnership with StarzEncore whereby the SVOD content would be downloaded to a receiver's hard drive during non-peak hours. Company spokespeople at the time promised that downloaded SVOD content would not overwrite programming recorded by the customer separately, leaving the option open for some dedicated disk space on the box for the SVOD content. It wasn't clear at press time if the new Hughes box included dedicated SVOD storage space in addition to the 40 GB for customer recorded programming.

The new Hughes box is the first hardware spawn of an expanded deal reached back in February between DirecTV and TiVo, the leading licensed platform in the personal video recording industry. The broadened deal between the two allows DirecTV to develop and launch new services either by itself, with TiVo, or with other third parties. In addition, DirecTV is taking greater control in its programs to acquire new customers, as well as its branding and packaging of new DVR services. How this new Hughes box will fit in with those promotional plans is still to be determined.

Satellite providers have been moving relatively fast in developing personal video capabilities for customers of their DBS service. EchoStar Communications, which is in the process of merging with DirecTV, has had success promoting and selling its DishPVR series of boxes, shipping more than 500,000 since their introduction last year.

As for TiVo itself, after struggling to right itself from a series of shifts in its early business model, the company seems to be on the right track again. The company recently doubled its revenue targets for the second quarter, expecting total revenue of about $23 million, up from estimates of $10 to $12 million. A new focus on licensing the TiVo technology is likely behind the jump in revenue estimates, as TiVo has recently signed up Sony and Toshiba to licensing deals.