Originally created 11/05/04

Digital video recorders give viewers control



The quarterback drops back, play-fakes, goes for the throw and then freezes.

Everything is frozen, even the bloodthirsty linebackers who were coming his way only seconds before.

It's not the Twilight Zone, it's digital video recording.

Similar to the popular TiVo system, DVR, as it is called, allows people with digital cable to pause live television, grab some chips or take a bathroom break and then start watching again. It also can record dozens of hours of programming.

It's something that's being offered locally by Comcast and Knology and that has become a hot product this year for many cable companies, said Brian Dietz, a spokesman for the National Cable & Telecommunications Association.

"This is just another step in the evolution to provide consumers even more control of their television sets," Mr. Dietz said.

That control is music to the ears of cable television customers such as Lyndon Miller.

"It's really terrific," said Mr. Miller, a father of three who lives in Evans. The Knology customer said he most enjoys the quick and easy recording of television shows, and he also appreciates the option of pausing what he's watching.

"The niftiest thing is when you're watching something, and someone comes into the room and you just stop it," said Mr. Miller, who has a DVR box in his living room and one in the small apartment over his garage, where one of his daughters lives.

Knology's DVR has been available since early this year, and Comcast rolled out its service a few months ago.

"It's very popular," Knology spokesman Taylor Nipper said. "It's really one of the biggest advances in television, comparable to going from black and white to color."

Knology and Comcast customers must be digital cable subscribers to get DVR.

Those who want the service simply swap their regular digital cable boxes for DVR-equipped ones.

Mr. Miller said it's unlikely that he'll get rid of his DVR.

"Maybe I shouldn't have gotten it because now maybe I can't live without it," he said.

Knology's unit has two tuners in it, so users can watch one channel while they record another.

Comcast spokesman Bill Botham said the company will have dual-tuner boxes available within weeks.

Both companies charge $9.95 per month for the service in addition to the digital cable fees.

Special services also are available for high-definition television.

The trend in the media industry has been to offer consumers more control, so it's no surprise that cable companies have started services similar to TiVo, Mr. Dietz said.

TiVo Inc., widely considered the pioneer in digital video recording, formed in 1997 and has been gaining popularity since. The company now has 1.9 million subscribers.

TiVo is a subscription service and requires a control box in addition to a user's cable box and service. Comcast and Knology's DVR systems are integrated into the regular cable service.

"DVR is inside the cable converter, so there's not an extra piece of equipment; it's a fairly streamlined, user-friendly system," Mr. Dietz said.

Comcast's single-tuner boxes can store up to 30 hours of programming, and its dual-tuner boxes will store up to 45 hours worth, while Knology's dual tuner boxes can store up to 50 hours.

Comcast also offers a service with its digital cable called Video on Demand, which allows users to choose from a selection of programs and movies. The service is similar to pay-per-view programming, except that many of the offerings are free.

Reach Adrian Burns at (706) 823-3352 or adrian.burns@augustachronicle.com.