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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

For Rock Stars, A Satellite TV to Go

MTKen Schaffer showing off his invention, TV2Me, in the Starlite Diner at Mayakovskaya.
In 1982, inventor Ken Schaffer was fooling around with a satellite dish in New York City and stumbled upon some Soviet broadcast signals.

Two years later he had refined his satellite terminal and sold it to Russia-watchers at Columbia University's Harriman Institute, which became one of the only places in the United States where Soviet television programs could be watched live.

More than 20 years later, the enterprising Schaffer is back in the business of satellite signals with an invention he's hoping will make a splash with people jonesing for their favorite television programs.

The product is called TV2Me, and it allows customers to watch their favorite television programs from anywhere in the world where they have high-speed Internet access.

Here's how it works: For a one-time price of between $4,750 and $6,500, the buyer receives a personal video server, about the size of a home computer, which is then hooked up to video and stereo equipment and a broadband Internet connection at, for example, the customer's permanent residence.

"You can just stash it away in your closet if you like," Schaffer said.

TV2Me can be ordered via the Internet at www.spaceshift.net, and along with the personal video service, the customer receives viewing software that can be run on any computer, anywhere in the world. With a high-speed Internet connection, he can get access to all of the channels he pays for at home and watch them on his PC or output them to any large-screen television set.

"A New Yorker visiting Prague can watch his favorite 'Seinfeld' reruns or select from the more than 200 channels offered by his cable company," Schaffer said. "Or a Russian businessman can watch 66 channels of Moscow cable live from his midtown Manhattan hotel room."

A test run for a Moscow Times reporter using Wi-Fi access at the Starlite Diner at Mayakovskaya brought in a crystal-clear episode of ESPN's "Sportscenter" beamed in from a New York-based server.

K2B Inc., the company that Schaffer heads, is planning an aggressive rollout for TV2Me in the coming weeks and months, targeting "businessmen, rock stars, government agencies, diplomats and sports fans."

Schaffer said that only around two-dozen TV2Me units have been sold so far, but they're operating successfully on four continents and the clients include a few professional tennis players and rock star Sting.

Computer industry expert Robert Cringely said he was amazed at the quality of the reception when he gave TV2Me a test run, but that the product's current price is extremely prohibitive.

"It costs too much," Cringely said. "Right now only rock stars can afford it. He needs to get the price down. If he can get it down to $300, he'll sell millions."

Cringely noted that this is a typical protocol in the computer industry, where the initial products are downscaled until they can be mass-produced cheaply and made accessible to typical consumers.

"He's already done the hard work, but right now the product is basically cased in a Dell computer," Cringely said. "He needs to integrate the software into a couple of custom chips and make it part of a $300 device. But that's probably two years away."

The Internet publication Engadget.com, which covers innovations in consumer electronics, also noted the high cost of Schaffer's invention and said it is not demonstrably different from already existing products, such as Sony's LocationFree, which also allows users to stream TV shows to anywhere in the world over the Internet.

Cringely, however, said LocationFree is "better suited to people who want to use it around the house, not around the world." TV2Me is peerless in product quality, Cringely said.

"There is not much out there that competes with it," Cringely said. "He's accomplished something that's very difficult to do. I was amazed that it was possible."

Schaffer's biography is as intriguing as his product.

The eccentric New Yorker's resume includes inventing the wireless guitar and microphone, awards for his deftness at typing Morse code, and promoting the careers of rock stars Jimi Hendrix and Alice Cooper.

During a trip to Moscow in 1987, he met legendary rocker Boris Grebenshikov, frontman for the rock band Aquarium, and later brought him over to the United States to record an English-language album.

It was around that time that Schaffer began his love affair with Russia, which he said he has visited more than 100 times since 1985.

In 1990, Schaffer founded BelCom Inc. and provided satellite communications networks for Western companies operating in the Soviet Union, including General Motors, Chevron, Mobil, Texaco and BP. Comstat acquired BelCom in 1996.

Schaffer said he has software developers for TV2Me based in Moscow, St. Petersburg and Krasnodar providing ongoing enhancements, and he has even batted around the idea of searching for Russian financing.

"I thought about moving the future operations to Russia," said Schaffer, whose ex-wife is the Russian actress Alla Kliouka, who played the one-legged Svetlana on the hit HBO show "The Sopranos."

"But as of the moment, there are no Russian investors. Consider, for the moment, the idea ... an embryonic invention."

Schaffer considers himself an inventor, not a CEO. He said he would like grow TV2Me and eventually sell it to a larger company as an addition to its existing product line. He has, after all, other things to invent.

"A songwriter doesn't to write the same song over and over," said Schaffer, who speaks so fast that he often trips over his words. "It's the same with me. I want to always move on."