RealTime IT News

SONICblue Airs First Broadband Digital Video Recorder

Wednesday marked ReplayTV's re-entry into the hardware market as the company, operating under new owner SONICblue, introduced a new line of DVR devices equipped with home networking capabilities.

Just being able to pause TV, as was the case with ReplayTV's first DVR three years ago, wasn't enough. ReplayTV 4000, the new hotshot on the block in the company's line, features broadband connectivity that lets users store roughly 320 hours of TV, as well as share video clips in or out of the house and play back programs without the commercials -- a big plus that VCRs couldn't address.

Selling the boxes under the ReplayTV brand, Santa Clara, Calif.-based SONICblue is billing it as "the world's first home video server," and it can also store photos and home movies. The ReplayTV 4000 line connects to a cable modem or DSL for speedy digital media delivery over broadband.

Ken Potashner, chief executive officer and chairman for SONICblue, said he envisioned a scenario, which is essentially a dream for video/TV buffs where users "can now create their own video library, collecting their favorite movies and programs without commercial interruption, along with family videos and photos that can be easily retrieved for viewing at anytime."

Potashner also vowed to bring additional networking products to consumers soon.

DVRs with networking capability (i.e., surf the Net at your leisure) may seem to be a form of utopia, and at least one research firm feels that a stand-alone DVR device may be off the mark.

Yankee Group said less than 350,000 DVR units have sold over the last one and a half years. A resolution to this, the Boston-based research firms said, may be to incorporate a hard drive and digital video recorder (DVR) software into electronic devices, particularly satellite receivers and cable set-top boxes, which would result in about 880,000 such devices being sold by the end of 2001. SONICblue's strategy vis-`-vis ReplayTV may not fit that description, but they would seem to be a step in the right direction. After all, ReplayTV 4000, as proposed by SONICblue, charges no monthly service fees. You just shell out for the box and it's yours. The trick to selling such a high-end device then, is in its value proposition, as Yankee Group analyst Adi Kishore noted:

"Is it an electronic device that you buy at retail, or a service that is paid for every month? What exactly does it do, and how does it work?" said Kishore. "Add to that the high price point for the device, and you have the issues that are confusing consumers and limiting the penetration of DVRs. With the integration of the technology into consumer electronics and set-top devices, the DVR becomes an incremental feature or service. That greatly increases the value proposition for the consumer, and coupled with greater understanding of the service through word of mouth and advertising, it will help drive the adoption of DVRs over the next few years."

Perhaps there is something to SONICblue's strategy after all, which is good because the devices cost more than your typical 5-disc-changer DVD player. Slated to ship in November, SONICblue's new ReplayTV series is available in four models: ReplayTV 4040 with up to 40 hours of storage for $699; ReplayTV 4080 with up to 80 hours of storage for $999; ReplayTV 4160 with up to 160 hours of storage for $1,499; and the ReplayTV 4320 with up to 320 hours of storage for $1,999.

ReplayTV was acquired by SONICblue in August for about $123 million, as part of SONICblue's plan to extricate itself from the graphics chip market to become a full-time digital media delivery provider.