Sonicblue revives ReplayTV, offers networked device

Couch potatoes can rejoice: Soon, you'll be able to lie around for nearly two weeks without running out of recorded programs to watch on your TV. And you'll be able to share the shows with someone in the next room--or the next continent.

SonicBlue Inc. introduced its new home-networkable ReplayTV 4000 series digital video recorders on Wednesday. The devices have ethernet ports and can hold up to 320 hours of TV programs and video clips.

Sonicblue, which recently completed its acquisition of ReplayTV Inc., says the machines include single or multiple hard drives with total capacities ranging from 40GB to 320GB. Like older models, they allow users to search program guides for their favorite shows or types of programs, record them, and play them back without commercials. The new networkable models add the ability to share programs over a home network or the Internet. You'll be able to stream programs from one ReplayTV 4000 to another on a wired network; ReplayTV says the quality might be iffy on a wireless network.

You can order the new models online now from Sonicblue; they'll also appear in high-end consumer electronics stores this November, according to the company. Prices range from US$699 for the 40-hour model, which has a 40GB drive, to $1999 for the 320-hour model, which has two 160GB drives.

Sending and Streaming

"The fact that this is a networked DVR, a broadband-connected DVR, makes it unique in the market," says Steve Shannon, vice president of marketing for Sonicblue.

"You can send shows to friends, download video from the Internet, and even stream video to your home network," he says. "If you want to view a photo slideshow, you can make one on your PC and then drag and drop it to your Replay so you can watch it from your TV set."

The ReplayTV 4000 is the first line of new products announced by Sonicblue since its acquisition of ReplayTV, which competes with Tivo in the fledgling personal digital video recorder market.

What to Watch

These products are just the tip of the iceberg, in terms of what's coming from Sonicblue, says Ken Potashner, the company's chief executive officer and chair.

Starting in the first quarter of 2002, ReplayTV 4000 owners will be able to download high-quality programming directly from the Internet.

"I think the most revolutionary feature will be the I-Channel feature," Shannon says. "But it won't be downloaded until the first quarter." The idea is to allow a range of partners to feed video on demand to ReplayTV 4000 users.

"This will be the first broadcast-quality video going over the Internet all the way to your TV," he says.

Details are scarce, but initially the I-Channel will feature niche-oriented programming, such as independent films and foreign language programs. But you'll have to be prepared to wait for those downloads: It will take anywhere from 8 to 20 hours to transmit a one-hour show over the Net--even using broadband, Shannon says.

"Depending on the size of the video, it can take the better part of a day," Shannon says. "This is not streaming. We are sending in low-priority bandwidth, which is more cost-effective."

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