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ReplayTV 5504 DVR Print E-mail
Sunday, 01 August 2004
ImageReplayTV is working hard to gain ground in the booming DVR (digital video recorder) market. Over the past few years, TiVo has obtained a dominant marketing position, while ReplayTV has had to fight off lawsuits brought by some who feared ReplayTV’s powerful DVR technology. ReplayTV has since put that lawsuit behind them and has been bought by D&M Holdings. D&M Holdings is one of the biggest players in AV, owning several top audio/video companies, including Denon, Marantz and Macintosh and Rio. Now D&M Holdings has Escient as well and, with DirecTV threatening all sorts of ugly moves with TiVo, ReplayTV is quickly becoming the DVR choice of discriminating TV viewers.

ReplayTV launched its 5500 DVR series in October 2003. The series is comprised of 40, 80, 160 and 320-hour versions, the 5504, 5508, 5516 and 5532, respectively. The DVRs range in price from $149 to $799, and service can be purchased separately for $12.95 per month or a single lifetime fee of $299.

For those of you not familiar with DVRs, think of a VCR that uses a hard drive rather than tapes. A major benefit of this technology is that the DVR can play back and record at the same time. This means if you get home for your 8:00 PM show at 8:05, you can hit play and watch from the beginning as the DVR continues to record the show. Another cool feature shared by most DVRs is the ability to pause and replay live TV, even in slow motion. The ReplayTV 5500 series has all of the standard DVR features and some newer advanced features. The 5500 series features progressive scan outputs, networking, digital photo viewing and some cool navigation and organization features.
The ReplayTV unit is a stand-alone unit, designed to be inserted between your satellite or cable box and your television. I installed the ReplayTV 5504 in my bedroom with a Hughes DirecTV satellite box and Sony Wega television. I used S-video, analog audio and an IR-blaster to connect the Replay unit to the satellite box. The ReplayTV unit is capable of accepting digital audio and controlling satellite boxes via a serial connection if the boxes are so equipped – mine unfortunately was not.

After spending a couple of minutes connecting the cables, I began the set-up process. The process is guided by an easy-to-follow onscreen menu. The only problem I had was with connecting the Replay to my Ethernet network router. The router would not recognize the Replay unit unless the Replay was plugged into port number one. Once I got the router to recognize the Replay, the rest of the set-up went smoothly. I spent between five and 10 minutes setting up the unit and then went out for dinner while the Replay downloaded my local programming information. It was done and waiting for me to spend some time programming up the unit when I returned.

I found the Replay TV menus to be very simple to figure out. Going back and forth between my TiVo and the Replay, I found myself preferring the TiVo, but I am not sure if it is because of my familiarity with the TiVo or because of the interface design. Watching TV was fairly simple. The Replay unit has its own onscreen programming guide that is customizable and searchable. After using the unit for a few days, I found the menus a breeze to use and was quickly able to locate shows among the 500-plus channels on my satellite system. I found that the video and audio quality coming out of the Replay unit were equal to the incoming signal, which was a problem in early versions of the Replay units, according to AVR publisher Jerry Del Colliano. I was not surprised to find that the signal was not at all degraded, as the Replay designers pride themselves on providing the best possible audio and video in a DVR unit. I wanted to test this a bit further and went to the home of a friend who also has a Replay unit. His satellite box has a digital audio output and his TV has a progressive scan input, which let me check out these features. The progressive scan output was noticeably sharper than the interlaced output, but was not up to the quality of a first class line doubler, such as the Faroudja components.

Back at home, I recorded some shows on the Replay. When recording a TV series, you have the option of recording one episode, all episodes or only all first-run episodes. Once all of your shows are recorded, you can label them with a category which will come in handy on the high capacity models that can store hundreds of hours. With that much storage capacity, it becomes necessary to be able to organize your programs or you will spend a frustrating amount of time looking for them.

During playback of recorded programs, the Replay has navigation features that will let you jump ahead 30 seconds at a time or even move backwards or forwards to a commercial break. Another interesting feature is Jump Anywhere, which lets you tell the unit how many minutes you want to move. If you have multiple Replay TV 5500 series units, you can network them, which allows you to begin a program in one room and finish in the other. The units are smart enough to communicate and delegate recording requests. If you ask the bedroom unit to record a certain program and it is out of room or had another program to record at that time, it will check the network to see if there is another unit available to do the recording.

The Downside
The biggest drawback of the Replay unit is for DirecTV customers. DirecTV has a relationship with TiVo that has produced combination satellite/TiVo unit in one box that can record two channels simultaneously. The ReplayTV units need a separate chassis and can only record one channel. I am always suspicious of IR blasters. If you are going to use the Replay in a system that requires a satellite or cable box, try to get a box with a serial control port to increase reliability.

The ReplayTV Series 5500 is a serious contender in the DVR world, offering high recording capacity and excellent audio/video quality. While it took a little while to get used to the interface after getting accustomed to TiVo first, it provided easy access to the shows I recorded and let me navigate through them with ease. While I would still recommend a TiVo unit for DirecTV subscribers for the above described reasons, I would not hesitate to recommend the ReplayTV 5500 series for the 80-plus percent of the market who have cable or Dish Network. The latest Replay units continue to offer excellent video quality, adding navigation features that allow easy management of your recorded shows. The 5500 Series is a significant advancement beyond the prior generation Replay units.

In a recent survey in an Audio Video Revolution contest where 16,600 AV enthusiasts entered to win a prize, only three percent of readers said they currently have a DVR. My question to them is, how can you live without it? The Replay system is an amazingly cool way for you to take an often mindless media like TV in the United States and make it work for you in ways that save you time, increase your enjoyment and even have the chance to open you up to new programming that you never knew was out there. Every TV deserves a DVR. I suggest you consider a Replay at the top of your list.

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