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ReplayTV to re-enter DVR box business

The company, which stopped making digital video recorders last fall, will take another shot at the hardware business with souped-up boxes, sources say.

ReplayTV, which stopped making digital video recorders last fall, will announce Wednesday that it is taking another shot at the hardware business with souped-up boxes, sources say.

The new boxes will include the capacity to store up to 320 hours of TV shows and electronically send the programming to other ReplayTV set-top boxes--a potentially controversial feature.

Digital video recorders are similar to VCRs but record to a hard drive instead of to videotape.

ReplayTV, which was acquired by Santa Clara, Calif.-based Sonicblue on Aug. 2, plans to re-enter the hardware business with four new DVRs, according to sources familiar with the company's plans.

The boxes will complement ReplayTV's business of licensing its digital video recording software. The company signed a licensing deal in May with Motorola, its first agreement with a major cable set-top box maker.

ReplayTV is trying to target the mass market through its agreement with Motorola and is aiming to attract affluent consumers with its own new boxes, sources say. ReplayTV's boxes will range from $699 for 40 hours of recording to $1,999 for 320 hours. The boxes will carry ReplayTV's name and be part of its 4000 series.

Consumers will be able to electronically send TV shows to others with ReplayTV boxes, sources say, though the company plans to use software that limits the number of times a program can be played or sent.

Other companies that have tried to electronically distribute TV programming have crumbled under legal problems.

Still, ReplayTV's new strategy could jump-start the company's business and put it back on the playing field with rivals TiVo and Microsoft. Before it was acquired by Sonicblue, ReplayTV was unable to sustain itself through its strategy of selling boxes and service to individual consumers--despite analyst expectations of a large audience.

In late November, the company announced that it would stop making its own boxes and concentrate on licensing its recording technology to set-top box makers and cable companies.

Currently, Panasonic is the only DVR manufacturer that uses ReplayTV's software. Panasonic's three models range from $499 for 20 hours of recording to $799 for 60 hours.

ReplayTV's new boxes will be released before the holiday-shopping season, sources say. The boxes will include connectors for digital TV sets and Ethernet for broadband access. The units will also feature a dial-up modem.

Information about ReplayTV's set-top boxes first appeared on Variety.com, which learned details of the boxes from an e-mail survey sent to ReplayTV customers. When asked about the article, Sonicblue representatives told CNET News.com that the Variety story contained factual errors but declined to comment further.

Sources say the company will demonstrate the new boxes at the CEDIA Expo, an electronics trade show in Indianapolis, Ind., from Sept. 5 to 9.