ReplayTV Back for a Replay

By Brian L. Clark

Tuning Fork

Yesterday, I watched a Frontline documentary called "The Dark Side," which covered Dick Cheney's efforts to expand executive powers after 9/11. That's not such a big deal, but the fact that I watched it online at www.pbs.com, I think, is. Here it is, weeks after originally the original airdate, and I can go to a website to see a show I missed last month. I like that kind of convenience, but as you've heard me say before, the option to aggregate those shows in one central location is something I want even more.

Well, this week, I may have seen another step toward that kind of integration when ReplayTV, which was first to market with digital recording, announced it had an Alpha version of DVR software for the PC. ReplayTV lost the initial DVR Wars to TiVo. But the company is shifting its focus to concentrate on allowing PC users to do all the same things you used to be able to with their box.

Well, this week, I may have seen another step toward that kind of integration when ReplayTV, which was first to market with digital recording, announced it had an Alpha version of DVR software for the PC. ReplayTV lost the initial DVR Wars to TiVo. But the company is shifting its focus to concentrate on allowing PC users to do all the same things you used to be able to with their box.

So last week, while TiVo was touting its new Series2 DT DVR, ReplayTV was demo-ing its PC Edition software, the company's latest foray into digital recording. ReplayTV claims the program "offers TV enthusiasts the ultimate DVR experience." Bill Loewenthal, ReplayTV's vice president and general manager gave me a walk through the software, which, at the moment, only works with Hauppauge WinTV/PVR tuner cards. "We had to look at where we were headed as a consumer brand," says Loewenthal. "And we believe TV and video will follow the path of music and photos, and migrate to the PC."

Given the emergence of sites such as YouTube, which just signed a partnership deal with NBC, and Guba.com, which recently signed a pact with Warner Brothers to distribute films via their site, it appears the company is on the right track.

The software is a lot like ReplayTV's box. It lets you discover and record shows and movies by genre, actors or director. It also allows you to record programming on one PC and watch it on another. The interface is clean and intuitive, and features a Recorded Shows screen that groups your latest recordings, and an overlap manager that allows you to record a second show even if the one your already recording runs a few minutes long. And Quickskip (a 30-second skip forward) tries to preserve one of ReplayTV's best features—the ability to de-commercial your television viewing.

Cool as ReplayTV's PC Edition is, however, it still doesn't allow me to record the Internet broadcasts I want. Loewenthal assures me that's coming, but can't offer a time frame.

Back in the day, when TiVo and ReplayTV were battling it out for DVR supremacy, I always liked ReplayTV better. Then the company's troubles began and I never bought one. But now, I'm being given a second chance. And when the folks at ReplayTV add the ability to record Internet broadcasts, I'll be among the first in line.

Folks interested in the ReplayTV replay can go to www.replaytv.com and download a free trial version. (Remember, you have to have a Hauppauge video tuner card.) If you like it, you can buy the ReplayTV PC Edition for $99. That covers the first year of service, which is $20/year thereafter.

Update: This week, the Senate Commerce Committee took up John McCain's pet project, cable a la carte, and roundly rejected it, 20 to 2. Ironically, the provision was part of a bill that allows phone companies to get into the television business. In short, the Senate gets to keep everyone—except consumers—happy. While Olympia Snow and McCain were the only two to support the amendment, Senators Ted Stevens and Trent Lott both promised a la carte pricing would come and encouraged cable providers to "get on with this." Lott even went so far as to say this was the last time he would vote against it. Kind of makes you wonder why, no?

Brian L. Clark is a reporter and consultant on all things digital, runs the The Tech Enthusiast's Network, and writes for Inc., Men's Health, and Laptop. Read more Tuning Fork here.