Byline: Mark Basch, The Times-Union
In the last few years, the TiVo digital recorder has changed the way millions of Americans watch television. Instead of watching shows when the TV stations decide to broadcast them, TiVo users could choose for themselves when a show begins and ends.
Now, thousands of cable television subscribers in the Jacksonville area who don't have TiVo will be getting the same opportunity to change the way they watch TV.
Comcast Corp., the cable television company that serves most of the Jacksonville area, will be introducing digital video recorders, or DVRs, to its local customers next month. It's not free -- it will cost an additional $9.95 a month on top of the fee you already pay for digital cable service -- but analysts say it quickly becomes a must-have product for television viewers who try it out.
"It's a great product," said Mike Paxton, senior analyst with In-Stat/MDR, a technology research firm.
"Once people try it and get used to it, it becomes a very important way they interact with television," he said.
To a novice, it may seem no different than a video cassette recorder. But the DVR offers many more options, including the ability to pause and resume live programs or even have an instant replay. And you can begin watching a program anytime after it starts and watch it all the way through. Even as you're watching a recording of a show in progress, the DVR continues to record the rest of the program. The programs are recorded digitally on a hard drive, just like on a personal computer.
"It really changes the whole in-home entertainment experience," said Bill Watson, vice president of operations for Comcast in Jacksonville.
You must subscribe to a digital cable package to get the Comcast DVR. The DVR replaces the current converter box you use to receive programming. Comcast will provide the DVR free, but you will have to visit a Comcast office and swap it with your digital converter. The company says customers should have no trouble hooking it up.
Comcast says about a third of its 250,000 area customers have digital packages.
Comcast's introduction of the DVRs comes at an interesting time in the industry. TiVo has been the dominant brand in the market since the company was formed in 1999 and the word TiVo is synonymous with DVRs in some circles. But as cable companies begin offering DVRs to their customers and satellite TV companies continue to provide them, TiVo could be losing its grip on the market despite a big jump in DVR use.
Paxton said the number of U.S. DVR subscribers has nearly doubled in the past year from 2 million to 3.9 million, but most of the growth has come from satellite TV.
"They don't have another time-shifting option like video on demand," he said.
Comcast began this year offering video on demand to its Jacksonville-area customers. Digital customers can choose from a number of movies and other programs and watch them at a time of their choosing. But the satellite companies have been pushing DVRs as the best method for so-called time-shifting of television viewing.
"We think it's the answer to video on demand," said Mark Lumpkin, spokesman for EchoStar Communications Corp., which owns the Dish Network.
Dish Network has been offering DVRs to its customers since 1999 and DirecTV offers a TiVo box to its customers. But TiVo Inc.'s stock, which had already been dropping because of competition in the industry, fell sharply earlier this month on concerns that DirecTV may cut back on its relationship to TiVo. About half of TiVo's 1.6 million subscribers are DirecTV customers.
Although TiVo provides a converter box for DirecTV, consumers can still buy TiVo boxes separately that can be used with any satellite, cable or antenna system. The boxes must also be connected to a telephone line so that they can download program schedules from TiVo, and then you can use the schedule to pick out programs to record. …