Is there a PVR in Your Future?
Are Personal Video Recorders about to put the venerable VCR out to
PVRs are the VCR for the new millennium, using a hard disk
drive to record TV programming instead of a videocassette, and offering more TV
viewing flexibility than a VCR.
PVRs are hot, especially in the United States where
theyve been available for a few years now. In Canada, however, there has
only been one honest to goodness standalone PVR available to the mainstream
consumer market so far, and it isnt really a standalone.
Bell ExpressVus model 5100 satellite receiver/PVR,
introduced to the Canadian market in August 2001, has given some Canadians a
taste of the digital recording world. Otherwise, Canadians interested in having
a PVR have had to rely on some PC-based solutions such as ATIs
All-In-Wonder Radeon 8500 video card
family, which includes a software-based PVR with its hardware, and a
Sony Vaio that has PVR technology bundled in
its cornucopia of goodies.
But now, with the fall 2002 buying season upon us, other
mainstream manufacturers are finally introducing to the Canadian marketplace
their own PVRs, primed and ready for consumers dont have ExpressVu
or who dont want to update their satellite receivers.
And its some of the biggies who are jumping on the
bandwagon, too. Thomson Multimedia, makers of the RCA and RCA Scenium brands,
is the most prominent, and when they jump onto a bandwagon you know its
picking up momentum.
Thomson is introducing the RCA Scenium DRS7000N DVD digital media
recorder. With a suggested retail price of $999.99 CDN, it combines a PVR with
a progressive scan DVD player, allowing people to move from VHS to DVD without
losing the ability to record their favourite TV shows. The RCA unit also
includes Gemstars GUIDEPLUS Gold, an on screen programming guide that,
unlike the TiVO and Replay PVRs in the US, dont force you to
subscribe to a separate programming service to use the thing.
According to Greg Skinner, RCAs Market Development Manager
for Audio and DVD, The extra fees (attached to the US PVR services) tend
to scare people off, so our system gives consumers the break theyve been
asking for. As Skinner is quick to point out, people pay enough already
their for satellite and/or cable programming, so its hard to justify
nickel and diming them to death through additional fees.
It isnt a big deal for RCA anyway, because theyve been
offering the GUIDEPLUS feature on some of their TVs for years.
Skinner views RCAs unit as Media Centre Box
thats more than just a PVR and DVD player. It also offers MP3 disc
playback, and you can download tracks directly from the disc player onto the
PVRs hard drive for archiving. You can also store up to 10,000 JPEG
photo images on the hard drive so you can do slide shows for unsuspecting
guests - though of course the more hard drive space you use up for such things
the less there is available for recording TV programs.
And LG, who are poised to make a splash in the Canadian
marketplace, are also poised to sweeten their inventory with a DVD/PVR
available this fall, according to their PR blurb. LGs model
DH2010NC also offers a 40GB Hard drive for TV recording/playback, a single tray
DVD player that also handles CD, VCD, SVCD, CD-R, CD-RW and MP3 files.
So is this a product whose time has come or is it just another
gadget looking for a market?
According to Alessandra Saccal, Communications Manager for
Bell ExpressVu, a PVR is far more than
just a glorified VCR. Its a sophisticated system that puts the
viewer in the driver seat. Thats because the PVR is more flexible
than a traditional VCR. If the phone rings during a that climatic scene
in a movie, if the baby is crying during your favorite drama or if you miss
that highlight goal you can go back and watch it again and again, says
Saccal . The PVR automatically digitally records on a hard disk drive
whatever you happen to be watching, so you can rewind and watch sections of a
show, movie or sport as many times as you want! If that doesnt change the
way you watch TV I dont know what will!
Bell ExpressVus experience with the PVR has been extremely
positive. Sales are up, undoubtedly at least in part because they lowered the
receiver/PVRs price and, according to survey data they have, 96% of
customers are very or somewhat satisfied with their PVR experience.
People love the capability to pause live TV as well as being able to
digitally record for 30 hours, Saccal says, adding Customers still
record a lot of TV, particularly movies dramas, learning or discovery shows,
sitcoms and documentaries.
Potential PVR purchasers are also lured in by the promise of
digital quality (read DVD) recording, though PVR quality, as with
everything else, falls back on the old adage garbage in, garbage
out. This means that if the original broadcasters signal is
substandard, so will your PVRs recording quality - and theres
nothing you can do about it short of complaining to the broadcaster.
PVRs are here to stay, one wonders what people are supposed
to do with their existing libraries of VHS tapes once the old VCR has packed it
in and the PVR is all thats left.
RCAs Skinner hints at a possible solution, however; his
company is exploring the possibility of adding DVD recording technology to
their product line, whether as part of a PVR/DVD-R package or a standalone
unit. Panasonic and others already make standalone DVD recorders and they offer
an excellent way to archive your old tapes.
As long as you burn them to disc while your VCR still
Jim Bray's technology columns are distributed by the TechnoFILE and Mochila Syndicates. Copyright Jim Bray.
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