ReplayTV is a Digital Video Recorder (DVR) that is available in the USA. ReplayTV can record and play back TV shows from a hard drive, connect to other ReplayTV units on a home LAN or across the Internet, and can display JPEG photos that have been uploaded to it from a PC.
The ReplayTV brand has been through a lot of change in its five-year history. In 1998, Netscape co-founder Marc Andreessen invested an undisclosed sum into the nascent company Replay Networks. The first ReplayTV device went on sale in November 1999. Unlike its main competitor TiVo, ReplayTV was designed to work without a paid subscription: revenue would come from advertising on the ReplayTV's interface. This was dot-com boom time, so an IPO was planned in 2000 despite the fact that the company had yet to realize significant revenue. That IPO would never come to pass.
On the hardware side, Replay Networks originally made all of their own hardware. To cut distribution costs, the company sold its first-party hardware through on-line channels such as amazon.com. Panasonic's ShowStopper unit was the first licensee of ReplayTV software. Facing ramped-up pressure from TiVo and Microsoft's ill-fated UltimateTV, Replay Networks announced in November 2000 that it would cease its first-party hardware development and pursue more licensing agreements.
On February 1, 2001, Sonicblue (formerly S3) announced its intentions to purchase Replay Networks for $123 million in stock. Not long after completing the acquisition, Sonicblue found itself in a host of legal and financial trouble. TiVo had acquired a U.S. patent for recording TV to a hard drive. The ReplayTV 4000 series included an Ethernet port for the first time on any DVR, allowing people to trade shows over the Internet; the entertainment industry threatened a lawsuit. The Commercial Advance feature, designed to detect and skip commercials during playback, attracted customer praise and the ire of the TV industry. To match TiVo's retail pricing, ReplayTV found it necessary to institute a lifetime or month-to-month subscription option. (ReplayTV units with lifetime activation had previously been priced at $250 higher than TiVo units; while the TCO was the same, retail outlets were selling fewer high-priced ReplayTVs this way.)
Sonicblue, cash-poor from its legal and financial battles with ReplayTV and its other home entertainment divisions, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on March 21, 2003. It sold the ReplayTV division to high-end audio component maker Denon & Marantz later in 2003. While existing ReplayTV units retain all their features, the D&M ReplayTV 5500 series was the first to omit Commercial Advance and Internet Show Sharing. (ReplayTV 5500 can still share shows on a LAN, but not on the Internet.) Users of this new model must manually press the QuickSkip button to jump 30 seconds forward at a time. Some 5500 series units include three years of activation, after which time the price rises to a paltry $0.99 per month.
I bought a ReplayTV 5040 in February 2003, and have been happy with it in the 10 months that I have owned it. It is clearly designed with a network in mind. The Java application DVArchive lets me download raw MPEG-2 copies of episodes on a regular basis, backing up the ReplayTV's 40 GB hard drive to my desktop's 120 GB drive. (There are hacks that allow for one or two large drives to be placed into the ReplayTV itself, but I have not tried them.) Using the web application MyReplayTV, I can request that a show be recorded even when I'm not at home. Commercial Advance works about 80% of the time on both taped and live TV. It's really cool to be watching a football game on 20 minutes' tape delay, and suddenly fast-forward past the commercials aired during a time out. The commercials are still recorded and preserved when using DVArchive, in the rare case where some of the program itself is skipped.
Another cool feature, which I as a bachelor have yet to fully enjoy, is the communication that is possible between multiple ReplayTVs on a home LAN. You can stream a show from another ReplayTV or even request that a show be recorded on another ReplayTV. A computer with DVArchive can also behave like a ReplayTV in this regard. The only requirement is that all units must be on the same subnet, since UPnP is used for auto-discovery of other ReplayTV units.
To enable the JPEG viewing option, you must partition your hard drive into two segments during the initial set-up process. Future repartitioning will destroy all data on the drive. I chose to allocate 1 GB of my 40 GB drive to photos, but I have not really used it much. The only interesting feature about the photo option is that I can use a folder of JPEGs as a screen saver, but that has not compelled me to move many photos out to the ReplayTV.
Without using a special code, there is no way to prioritize shows you have decided to record. Until you enter the code or learn how ReplayTV's priorities work, you may be shocked as I did to learn that a 10-year-old Seinfeld episode recorded instead of a new Saturday Night Live. This is the biggest problem that I've encountered with ReplayTV so far, once all the OS patches from Replay were downloaded and installed.
A full comparison between major DVRs is beyond the scope of this write-up. Please see PVR Compare (http://www.pvrcompare.com/) for a full list of features. Enjoy your TV!