DVRs on the Rise

New York's Cablevision Systems Corporation is the latest cable provider to announce that it will begin offering set-top boxes with recording capability. The company plans to offer digital video recorders (DVRs) based on the TiVo, Inc. model, with a high-capacity hard-disk drive used to record dozens of hours of TV programming. Cablevision should begin offering its DVRs in spring 2004.

In making the announcement, Cablevision follows Time Warner Cable, which began offering subscribers its own DVR-enabled set-top box earlier this year. Comcast is another cable company that recently announced it would enter the DVR race. Satellite services EchoStar and DirecTV have long offered similar devices to their subscribers.

DVRs let users record and pause live broadcasts and skip commercials. The market for the devices is hot and getting hotter. Initially reluctant to adopt the technology, Cablevision and its competitors now see that providing the boxes for subscribers creates desirable additions to their revenue streams "We were selling every box we could get," Time Warner Cable Chairman Glenn Britt told reporters.

The impending merger of News Corporation and DirecTV could boost the DVR market, according to a December 9 report by Reuters. At a UBS Securities investors' conference in New York, Motorola executive Daniel Maloney stated that News Corp. chief Rupert Murdoch "could help speed the adoption of digital video recorders," by getting "very aggressive" and forcing the "industry to step up." Murdoch could up the ante by offering DVRs at very low prices, or by including them with every DirecTV subscription, Maloney observed.

Apple computer owners curious about DVRs on the cheap might be interested in the "EyeTV" device from El Gato. Available at Apple computer stores, the $200 box needs only a coax feed and a USB hookup to an Apple computer to perform TiVo-like functions, according to an in-depth piece by Apple expert and Internet guru Jeff Porten on the "Tidbits" website. EyeTV recordings aren't DVD quality, he reports, but are "perfectly serviceable" QuickTime movie files saved at 650MB per hour in "standard quality" mode and 1300MB/hour in high quality mode. Porten suggests using an external hard drive for large files, and mentions that EyeTV provides some useful editing tools.