Copyright 2002 Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

Copyright 2002 Austin American-Statesman

Austin American-Statesman…10/22/2002

From LexisNexis

Time Warner Cable has begun to offer another service for Austin-area customers: digital video program recording that takes place inside the cable set-top control box.

The $9.95 option is Time Warner's latest offering — joining increased channel choices, program guide and video-on-demand — to entice customers to switch to its digital cable service. It also offers the cable company another potential revenue stream.

The cable company says it has about 300,000 cable customers in the Austin area, compared with about 290,000 two years ago. It says a "healthy percentage" of that total are digital customers, but it declines to divulge the number.

As with other digital video recorders, Time Warner's new set-top box, made by Scientific-Atlanta Inc., uses a computer hard-disk drive to record up to 40 hours of programming or 80 gigabytes of information. Users can fast-forward through programs, rewind or pause.

The new service also gives customers almost all the capabilities of conventional digital video recorders, such as the TiVo device, plus some extras. It lets cable subscribers record up to two programs at once and also gives subscribers the ability to watch two programs at once with a "picture-in-picture" feature.

"You get to watch TV the way you want to watch it," said Roger Heaney, the cable company's director of public affairs.

Unlike some digital video recorders, the new box won't let users automatically skip past commercials when playing back recorded programs. Viewers who want to skip commercials must fast-forward through them.

Time Warner's new option allows the company to better compete with services offered by satellite television providers using the TiVo digital recorders. TiVo says its recorder boxes cost $299 or $349 and can be rented for $12.95 a month.

Time Warner said 300 new cable customers chose the new service between Saturday and Monday morning. The company has 2,000 of the new boxes in stock in Austin and has another 3,000 on order. The company will order more as needed.

The lowest rate for basic digital cable from Time Warner is $47.02 a month, plus a $5.95 monthly rental charge for the set-top box. Premium channels, such as HBO, cost extra.

That means the lowest a customer could pay for the new digital recorder service would be $62.92 a month, plus tax.

The new service is available to digital cable customers across most of its Austin service area, except Fredericksburg, which has a different digital system.

Digital cable customers who want the new service can exchange their current set-top boxes and remote control for a new unit at a Time Warner service center. Once customers plug in the new box, it will configure itself within a few minutes. Customers who want a cable technician to install the new box must pay a $30.57 fee.