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Sonicblue unveils ReplayTV recorders

The company jumps into the market for digital video recorders, unveiling four high-end boxes it will sell under the ReplayTV brand.

Sonicblue jumped into the market for digital video recorders Wednesday, unveiling four high-end boxes it will sell under the ReplayTV brand.

Sonicblue acquired the digital video recording pioneer on Aug. 2 after announcing the deal in February. Digital video recorders (DVRs) allow consumers to record TV shows onto a hard drive instead of onto videotape.

As reported earlier by CNET, the four boxes vary in price and capacity from $699 for 40 hours of recording to $1,999 for 320 hours. Unlike its competitors, Sonicblue will not charge a monthly service fee.

The new boxes include broadband access and allow consumers to send TV shows via home networking to other ReplayTV boxes. However, Sonicblue Vice President Steve Shannon said the company will allow TV networks to decide if this capability should be disabled for their particular shows.

The boxes will display digital photos and skip commercials automatically, which differs from the ability in current ReplayTV boxes to fast-forward through commercials. The boxes will begin selling in November on Sonicblue's Web site and other online retail sites.

Wednesday's move is actually a re-entry into the DVR box business for ReplayTV. In late November, ReplayTV decided to stop making its own boxes and concentrate on licensing its recording technology to set-top box makers and cable companies.

ReplayTV had found some success with that strategy, signing a five-year licensing deal in May with Motorola--its first agreement with a major cable set-top box maker.

As part of its re-entry into the box business, Santa Clara, Calif.-based Sonicblue is specifically targeting the high end of the DVR market as opposed to its previous strategy of trying to reach the masses.

Shannon called the high-end niche "the most profitable segment in the market."

"We're leaving our grandmother's DVR to our competitors...They have hit the wall that we hit about a year ago," Shannon said.

After initial hype and exaggerated shipment estimates from analysts, the expectations of the digital video recorder market and pioneers, such as TiVo and ReplayTV, have fallen to earth. Analysts have been projecting shipments in the millions of units, but companies have failed to ship even 1 million units at this point. This is despite the entry of some of the bigger names in the tech world, including Microsoft with its UltimateTV service.

During its most recent earnings call, market leader TiVo reported that 229,00 units with its software had shipped as of July 31.

"The market wasn't able to exceed wild analyst forecasts," Shannon said. "What wasn't understood is that it takes three or four years for the market to take off, and we're just at year two."