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Anyone who has had a disagreement with his video player/recorder might find a solution in the new Yes Max transmitter, which is being distributed by the Yes satellite broadcasting company to 500 households for a trial period. Yes Max is both a digital decoder and a video recorder. Viewers use the remote control that comes with the device to record television programs. The Yes Max remote control looks just like a regular remote control, with the addition of buttons for recording programs.

According to Yes's promotional broadcasts, a user of the Yes Max can plan his own broadcast schedule and avail himself of the existing inventory of programs to create a viewing experience to his personal liking, adding programs from various channels, arranging them in the order that suits him, and watching them any time he chooses. Yes will soon be announcing its distributor for the devices and when they will be available.

The program will wait

The TiVo (similar to the Yes Max but less sophisticated) has been available in the United States for a few years already, but Yitzhak Elyakim, vice-president of engineering at Yes, says that only 5 percent of the population there have purchased it. One of the reasons for the slow market penetration is that TV viewing by nature is a passive activity, and most viewers prefer to watch what someone else has decided to show them. TiVo experts abroad anticipate that since today's teens already download movies, TV programs and music from the Internet, the attitude toward the TiVo will also change in the future.

Elyakim says that according to existing data, the number of Israelis who subscribe to services such as cable and satellite TV and Internet is already relatively greater than in the U.S. The Yes Max can also be used to record a favorite program while watching another channel.

After a one-week trial with the new device, the reports were positive. It is very easy to operate (the device was designed by Dr. Leon Segal, an Israeli industrial psychologist and designer of the palm pilot). Viewers select a program from the schedule on their TV screen and mark it for recording by pressing a button on the remote control, just as they would press a button on a regular remote control to view the program. When they want to view the recorded program, viewers choose "Recorded programs" from the TV screen's menu, select the desired program and press another button to view it.

The recorded programs are of the same quality as the broadcast and lose nothing for having been recorded. The sound is either stereo or Dolby, not mono, as in videotaped programs. A program can also be recorded while being viewed, and more importantly, can be viewed while being recorded. This means that if one is out when a program begins and returns before it is over, one can start viewing the recorded portion while the Yes Max continues recording the rest.

One can also stop a real-time (not recorded) program with the Pause button - to answer the telephone, for example - and continue watching from where you left off (and in this case you can fast-forward through the commercials).

Another advantage of Yes Max is that the device saves all the space used for storing video cassettes. The current Yes Max can store up to 80 hours of recorded programs, and future versions will have a larger storage capacity on their hard drive.

The missing end

The Yes Max does have drawbacks, however, with the first one being its price - NIS 2,500 for the decoder/recorder and a NIS 15 monthly service fee, in addition to the already high monthly subscriber fee. The other problem is that you can only program it to record shows up to four days in advance. A VCR on the other hand, can be programmed to record shows up to two weeks in advance. Elyakim says that the company will soon be distributing a new decoder/recorder that can be programmed up to seven days in advance, and that more features will be added in the future.

If, for example, a viewer programs the device to record an episode of "Survivor," the device will ask if the viewer wants all subsequent episodes to be recorded too, or just the next one. If all the episodes are recorded, they will be organized by date, and the viewer can watch the series as he would on a DVD. This will solve another problem: One cannot add episodes to an existing file (like on a cassette).

We will not be able to share the series with friends, however, as it cannot be transferred to another disk.

"I assume that as this device develops, a solution will be found," Elyakim says. "But the delay is not due to a technological problem, but rather a sensitivity to the rights to and the use of the content."

Another problem stems from the way the recording is timed, which is based on the decoder's program schedule. This means that if a news broadcast is extended, or a basketball game runs into overtime, the game will be recorded as programmed and the end will be missing.

"We will ask the main channels (1, 2 and 10), to be more precise with the schedules they give us," Elyakim says. "In addition, the recording starts a few minutes before the program and continues a few minutes after, in order to catch the whole program and allow for flexibility."

To be on the safe side, order the recording of the next program, too.

Unlike the American TiVo, the Yes Max cannot be programmed to skip the commercials while recording.

"There is technology to solve this problem," Elyakim says, "but Yes is not interested in encouraging such a feature."

Even so, when viewing a recorded program one can fast-forward the commercials at three different speeds.

All in all, Elyakim says, the Yes Max is preferable to a DVD with a hard drive and a DVD burner. "A DVD with a hard drive and burner is a sophisticated video recorder," he says. "One has to enter the starting and finishing times for recording, while with the new decoder one need only select the name of the program."

Still, Yes's device cannot be used as a DVD player.

The device will be upgraded in the future (and will hopefully be cheaper too). It will be possible, for example, to arrange the recorded programs in folders, for parents or children, and only the folders' owners will have access to them.

"More advanced features will include the possibility of recording two programs at the same time, and viewers will also be able to order the device to record a program via an SMS from their cellular telephones, if they remember that they want to record a program while they are out."

Maybe in future there will also be a device that will watch all the recorded programs.