The much-bruited PC-TV convergence might be entering U.S. homes by the back door - specifically, a hard disk digital video recorder (DVR) with Internet access, interactive TV functions and an electronic programming guide (EPG) for satellite TV that will ship this fall from co-developers DirecTV, Microsoft's WebTV and RCA-parent Thomson Multimedia.
The DVR and the Ultimate TV subscription service that enables it made their debut at a New York news conference last week, where the partners said that besides having entertainment functions, the set-top and service will offer advertisers the opportunity to deliver supplemental information and sell products to DirecTV satellite viewers.
Thomson will sell the DS4290RE set-top box under its RCA brand. The console incorporates a hard disk for digital recording from its two DirecTV satellite tuners, enabling subscribers to watch or record two programs simultaneously, or view one while time-shifting another. The recorder can store 30 hours of programming without compressing the data, the partners said. Instead, the DVR records the full resolution of the original MPEG video and audio bitstream broadcast by DirecTV, whose compression ratios vary according to program content. This compares with other hard disk DVRs such as those from Replay Networks and TiVo, which require the user to select among different compression ratios in a tradeoff of resolution for capacity.
In addition to subscribing to a DirecTV programming package, DS4290RE owners will need a separate subscription to the Ultimate TV service. Besides the 14-day advance EPG, Ultimate TV will bundle basic WebTV features, including e-mail, Web browsing and the ability to participate in interactive TV game shows in real time such as Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune.
To attract sponsors to Ultimate TV, the service will enable subscribers to request and record supplemental information from advertisers, the co-developers said. For example, a viewer could use the modem connection to request additional information on an advertised subject and DirecTV would beam the informercial by satellite for storage on the hard disk--along with links to the sponsor's Web site. The partners said they also envision shipping the DS4290RE with infomercials pre-recorded on the drive, with opportunities to purchase the featured items through the service.
The DS4290RE will be upgradable by modem, satellite and smart-card as new functions or services emerge, the partners said. The set-top already has two USB ports for connecting a printer, other peripherals or for upgrading the internal 56k modem to high-speed DSL phone service.