Is “Pause” the Next HDTV Feature?

EE Times has reported that Magnum Semiconductor has a design for a chip that will let viewers pause live TV on their televisions without the need for a separate digital video recorder. (And here’s a tip of my cap to my friends at “Display Daily” for pointing out the EE Times story.) The basic idea is that the television controller circuitry will include enough solid state memory to store up to an hour of programming. This would allow you to press the Pause button on your television so that you can answer the phone, get a snack, or whatever, and then resume watching your show. (It’s not clear whether you would be able to fast-forward through the commercials or not.)

For those who get their television programming off the air from local broadcasts, this has the potential to be the greatest advance since split screen television. Flash memory is now inexpensive enough that such a feature could be added to an HDTV without boosting the cost too much. And manufacturers are struggling to find effective ways to differentiate their products, since other performance features are so similar at this point.

The pause feature is limited, however, and those who have experienced TiVo or other digital video recording may find it disappointing. Many digital cable or satellite packages already include a full-featured video recording function, which may limit the size of the market that is interested in this feature. Still, consumers favor products with more features over those with fewer — look at how many buy HDTVs with tuners when they never connect them to an antenna and so don’t need them — so it may be that the Pause key will make it on buying checklists in the near future.