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Microsoft's UltimateTV on pause

The software giant's new TV service is available, but consumers will have to wait to use it because the hardware hasn't hit retail shelves yet.

Microsoft's ultimate plans are temporarily on hold.

Microsoft's UltimateTV service is ready, but consumers will have to wait to use it because the hardware hasn't hit retail shelves yet.

In early January, Microsoft announced that its UltimateTV service was available and that Thomson Multimedia was already manufacturing RCA receivers that would come out in February.

But according to Thomson, that announcement was premature. The receivers are not expected to hit retail stores until March, a Thomson representative said Wednesday. The first receiver will be the $399 RCA DirecTV DWD490RE.

The receiver will come with a built-in hard drive and two digital tuners, which will allow viewers to watch a program on one channel while recording a different show on another. It will also integrate digital video recording, interactive television, Internet access and DirecTV's satellite service.

UltimateTV will cost $9.95 per month, which will allow subscribers to record up to 35 hours of programming and surf the Internet for three hours. For $5 more, subscribers can use their own Internet service providers for unlimited access. America Online, however, is not compatible with UltimateTV.

Access to DirecTV's satellite channels will be sold separately.

According to Thomson, UltimateTV's numerous features have made it more difficult to manufacture the receiver.

"All of these elements have to work together, so forecasting its availability is not that simple," said James Harper, a Thomson spokesman.

Mary Joyce Scafidi, an IDC analyst, said the delay wasn't a shock.

"It doesn't surprise me, because many interactive TV devices have been delayed," she said. "That single box will have content from three different companies."