Sony adds broadband to digital video recorder

It doesn't run Napster, but the upcoming NDR-XR1 does have an Internet-based programme guide, an 80GB hard disk and a DVD burner. And it can be programmed from a mobile phone

Sony is to release a digital video recorder (DVR) with a hard drive and DVD recorder, as well as a broadband Internet connection and Web browser, the company has announced. The NDR-XR1, set to launch in Japan on 12 April, goes a step beyond current cutting-edge DVR products. Some current and announced products, including devices from Toshiba and Panasonic, include a hard drive and DVD recorder, but Sony's is the first to add a broadband connection -- used for programme guide information and to access Web pages. The combination of a hard drive with a DVD burner is also a relatively new feature -- and a controversial one, given the entertainment industry's fears about digital piracy. As consumers become more familiar with digital video recorders, shipment numbers and interest from consumer-electronics makers are rising, according to a recent report from research firm In-Stat/MDR. DVRs record television programmes, store them on a hard drive for quick access and can temporarily pause live broadcasts. The devices have been very popular among their owners, receiving an 83 percent satisfaction rating, according to In-Stat/MDR, but they haven't amassed the following that many predicted. However, shipments are expected to rise significantly as manufacturers add DVR features to more common appliances such as DVD players. Worldwide shipments of DVRs reached 1.5 million in 2002, and should increase to more than 11 million in 2005, according to In-Stat/MDR. Satellite set-top boxes are expected to be the main driver behind the growth. Sony's NDR-XR1 is the latest new configuration to try and stoke consumer interest. It includes an 80GB hard disk, the ability to record in DVD-R/RW format, a DV link for importing footage from video cameras, a Memory Stick reader for importing still images, and playback of DVD-R/RW, DVD video and various CD formats. Through the always-on broadband connection, the device can connect to an Internet-based programme guide, which allows for automated programming of the device. With a subscription to the programme guide service, users can programme the DVR via a PC or Internet-connected mobile phone. Users can view Web pages in a picture-in-picture display while they watch television. The first DVRs, including the popular TiVo service, appealed to consumers on the basis of their automatic programme guides and the ability to pause live television, but could only record on the built-in hard drive. A few newer devices such as the NDR-XR1 and the Panasonic DMR-HS2 record to a hard disk, but allow users to archive programmes on DVDs, which can be played back on a PC or another DVD player. No one configuration of the various DVR features has so far become standard, partly because the devices still lack the basic simplicity and convenience of videotape recorders. Sony's catch-all approach with the NDR-XR1 has one disadvantage -- the device will cost 145,000 yen, or about £770. Michael Ramsay, chief executive of DVR maker TiVo, said on Thursday that current devices are too expensive to become a mass-market hit. "The biggest swing factor right now is price," Ramsay told Reuters. "When we get the price down it will make a big difference to the volume [of sales]." CNET's Richard Shim contributed to this report.

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