While the personal video recorder (PVR) genie may work magic in the long term, the short term is fraught with wires and remote controls, computer interfaces and menus, and all the other new stuff viewers must master just to get a picture on their TV tube.
Will consumers put up with so much hassle to get what many perceive as just the next pricey TV-top toy? After all, lots of us who live with blinking digital clocks on our VCRs gave up on becoming technological wizards long ago. Herewith is one reviewer's snapshot of what lies ahead for those who let the genie out of the bottle:
Simple. That's the word you hear a lot from the PVR people.
"It's no harder than your [videocassette recorder] VCR," they say, a clue that the gap between the technology optimists - those who think it's great and are willing to learn new tricks - and the pessimists who don't, may be widening.
I tried both Tivo and ReplayTV, the two current brands of PVR. The guide map alone took up a square yard of floor space. No fewer than seven cables were involved, and at least three optional setups. I called in the pros.
Four and a half hours, two television installers (who'd just come from media mogul Barry Diller's installation), and a software download later, my hardware was ready. Mastering all the screen interfaces that pop up with seemingly infinite options is an ongoing process.
The most disappointing detail? I'd finally combined all my remotes (TV, VCR, cable, etc.) onto a single universal remote. But instead of a single all-purpose remote, the Tivo system requires at least six. And even on ReplayTV's single remote, the options can be more complicated than those on a desktop computer.
The bottom line? Technology optimists aside, PVRs are going to have to get a whole lot more user-friendly before we'll see one in every house.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society