Watch your back, TiVo (NASDAQ:TIVO). Ma Bell is raising the bar on what a digital video recorder can do.

AT&T (NYSE:T) is upgrading its U-verse broadband television offering with a DVR service that does more than just think outside the tethered box.

U-verse Total Home DVR customers will be able to watch programs stored on the DVR throughout the home. As long as the other sets are part of the U-verse Web-delivered programming service, family members can tap into a single DVR to watch different shows simultaneously. A customer can also begin watching a prerecorded show on one set, before continuing to watch it on another set in the house. 

The U-verse solution can also record as many as four shows at the same time, where most boxes can record no more than two. Verizon (NYSE:VZ) already has its own multi-room DVR product on the market, but it offers fewer simultaneous recordings and playbacks.

Is this an immediate threat to TiVo? No. U-verse is still in the process of being rolled out in certain markets, and we don't know whether consumers will even prefer broadband television over cable and satellite options.

However, it's a fresh reminder that while TiVo may own many patents, it doesn't own the one on raising the bar.

It's great to see the television giants like DirecTV (NYSE:DTV), Cox, and Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA) turn to TiVo as a licensing partner for their DVR functionality. TiVo is also the one typically reaching out to dot-com heavies for cool features like streaming music through RealNetworks' (NASDAQ:RNWK) Rhapsody, playing YouTube clips, or going shopping with Amazon.com (NASDAQ:AMZN).

That's neat stuff, but now AT&T is letting the couple watching CSI in the living room get to the end of the show as they retire to the bedroom. It's letting a family of Broncos fans watch a replay of last night's football game, in their own room, on their own terms.

It's a pitiable reality, TiVo: You just can't patent cool.

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Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz does love his TiVo and he does own shares in TiVo. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy.