Copyright 2003 Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

Copyright 2003 The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio

The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio

May 6, 2003, Tuesday

Time Warner Cable is rolling out a digital video recording service that allows customers to record up to 43 hours of programming without using a VCR.

Like products offered by TiVo Inc. and ReplayTV, Time Warner's service will allow customers to control the live television they watch in new ways. For instance, viewers will be able to pause a live television program and resume it when they're ready to watch again.

Officials at Time Warner are hoping the bevy of other features will help make "DVR" as common as "VCR" in pop culture.

"Four hundred of our employees have tested it, and feedback is excellent," said Randy Hall, Time Warner Cable's vice president of engineering. "We think our customers will love it."

Time Warner will charge $ 6.95 a month for the service, which requires subscription to its digital cable product. It also requires customers to rent a set-top box for $ 5.95 a month, the same price Time Warner charges for its other boxes. Hall said the service is available now in Columbus and will be available soon in outlying areas.

Digital video recorders have been hailed as the next big thing in television viewing, mainly for the freedom they offer. They require a box that houses a computer hard drive and software that controls the system. The other necessary piece of the system is a program guide, which tells the computer what shows are on at what time.

About 1.5 million DVRs were in U.S. households at the end of 2002, said Greg Ireland, research analyst with IDC. About 1 million belong to satellite TVsystems such as DirecTV and Dish Network. An additonal 450,000 are stand-alone systems such as TiVo and ReplayTV. Cable companies are just beginning to offer the units.

Time Warner began offering the service nationally in July and has signed up 100,000 customers in 17 of its 32 cable systems. Analysts believe that cable companies hold the key to mass use of the technology since they control nearly three-fourths of the television market.

"The issue right now is people don't realize there's a better way to watch television than 'TV by appointment,' " Ireland said. "This is television on one's own terms."

Time Warner's service offers plenty of time-saving features. Using an on-screen guide, it allows a viewer to easily select a show for recording — once or every time the show is on. For instance, a viewer could program the machine to record every episode of ER during a season. Because the recorder recognizes the name of the program and not the time slot, it would skip recording if the show were pre-empted.

Because it uses two tuners, Time Warner's DVR box allows customers to record two programs at once — even if both are live. Also, it offers picture-in-picture viewing even if the television isn't equipped for it.

The system initiates a one-hour buffer every time a channel is switched. This means viewers don't have to be recording a show to pause it.

Time Warner's service differs from its competitors in a few key ways: Unlike TiVo, the cable service doesn't require the purchase of the box, which can range in price from $ 249 to $ 449. But it does require the monthly subscription price, which some satellite providers do not charge.

"Right now, DVR is satellite's competitive edge," Ireland said. "They can't offer video-on-demand, so they've been aggressive with DVR. When cable operators like Time Warner roll out integrated boxes, it's definitely a counterpunch."

Time Warner has been at the forefront of other on-demand services. In August, it introduced video-on-demand, allowing customers to buy a movie or other entertainment and control playback for 24 hours.

Hall emphasized that because DVR is in the early stages, customers might notice a few bugs. For example, there is a slight delay after switching channels. Hall said that will be solved with a software update this summer.

Enhancements that Hall said will be available within a year include the ability to transfer recordings from the DVR to a VCR, tape high-definition programming and view recorded shows on other televisions equipped with a digital box.