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"Recording Television Digitally"

If you have room in your already cluttered entertainment center for an additional electronic device, the next generation of video recorders is hitting the market. These new digital devices can do anything your old VCR can do, and they can do it better. Using computer compression technology and easy-to-understand controls, the devices record and play back TV shows easier than your VCR ever did. In my opinion, the biggest problem is that they don't play prerecorded videotapes. So, if you rent movies from your local video stores don't throw out the old VCR just yet.

Currently, there are two main competitors in this newly developing Personal Television market (PTV), ReplayTV and TiVo. The boxes are about the same size and shape as a standard VCR, but the slot for the video tape cassette is missing. These devices were designed to convert programs to a digital MPEG-2 format and store them on an internal hard drive much like the one in your PC. Playback quality, which is user selectable, is as good as or better than what your VCR delivers. It should be noted that although the quality is user selectable, it comes with a price. The higher the quality, the higher the required storage space. Because there is a limit to the storage space, this can be a factor in determining quality. To keep the system from filling up, both units will delete programs after a certain number of stored days.

While the Replay and TiVo machines are similar in function, the companies have very different strategies. Replay provides free access to a TV listing grid that make it easy to select materials to watch and record. TiVo charges for listings, which amounts to approximately $10 a month or $199 lifetime. TiVo also has some advanced features like the ability to vote thumbs-up or thumbs-down on programs. It tracks your votes and eventually begins suggesting programs you might enjoy.

Both devices are very easy to connect to your video source or sources. The need for a phone line to download program listings and occasional software upgrades is the only major difference between setting up standard VCR's and the PTV.

These machines are not the PC / TV convergent "Set-Top" boxes that caused an industry buzz for awhile but never have taken off. There is no direct access to the built-in PCs, and neither device includes or accepts a keyboard, mouse, floppy disk or CD-ROM drive, parallel port, or serial port. Both PTV's use 14GB Quantum hard disks for recorded content. These systems are considerably more than just digital video recorders. Because the boxes are digital, a TV show can actually be recorded and replayed as you watch it. This means that if you're interrupted during your favorite program or sports event, you can pause the action and resume watching when the time allows.

Perhaps the greatest feature is the ability of both systems to set their clocks each time they dial in for listings. Never again having to see the blinking "12:00", the purpose of which must be to remind me that I can't figure out how to set the time on my VCR, is probably worth the purchase price alone

  - by Clayton Crooks

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