NBC Direct prepares for its next beta

Since last November, NBC has been developing a service separate from its Hulu venture for downloading shows after they've aired, and watching them offline. But the initial beta suffered setbacks, so now it's gearing up for a second try.

NBC is expected to launch its NBC Direct online download service sometime in the next two months, in an effort to iron out as many problems it can before launching the service publicly this summer.

In its second attempt, NBC Direct will allow users to download content using the P2P service Pando and now offers several episodes in 720p high-definition format. The service is free but has short commercial ads similar to those seen on TV. During the private beta 1, some testers reported some serious problems, such as downloading all ads and no show.

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NBC Direct allows users to download their favorite television shows for up to one week after the show airs on television. Users have up to 48 hours to finish watching a single episode before the episode's license expires and must be renewed. Designed for Microsoft Windows users, NBC Direct has a built-in filter that stops the service from playing any copyrighted video clips that may be pirated.

The service will allow viewers to watch episodes of hit shows "The Office," "30 Rock," "Late Night with Conan O'Brien" and "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno." NBC initially had planned a larger catalog of shows when beta 1 first launched, and has not announced when more shows will be made available through beta 2.

Previously, the service only offered the most recent episode of each running series at any one time, meaning that folks coming back from long vacations, or that wish to pick up on a series they've only just now seen on TV somewhere in the middle, can't download from Episode 1 and start from the beginning.

Beta testers are still complaining of startup problems that often prevent them from even being able to install the program properly. Assuming users managed to get the program installed, some users discovered they were unable to play content, even with patches and updates.

The service uses Microsoft's DRM and currently works in Windows only. NBC plans to launch Mac OS X and Linux versions of the program, but has not given a target date.

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