My fridge, my TV

'Stocking the fridge" is an expression a friend of mine uses. But it's not a refrigerator he's talking about. It's not milk and butter he's chilling.

It's TV shows he programs on his TIVO personal video recorder (PVR).

Sunday nights, I take the TV section from the Sunday paper and check out what's on for the week. Then I "stock" (input) the upcoming shows I want to watch into my PVR, ReplayTV.

These hi-tech boxes with a large computer disk inside are changing the way we watch television. They work with satellite or cable TV.

But so far, this new technology hasn't been widely adapted. Only techies have the stamina to install it. This will change shortly. New televisions are coming (Panasonic, Sony, and Philips) with the PVRs built right in as an added feature, rather than as a separate box (with all the hassles that go with wiring and programming it to one's satellite or cable box).

My ReplayTV box is made by Panasonic. (Philips and Sony make the TIVO version.) It can store up to 30 hours of programming and deletes the oldest shows first unless instructed to save them. It automatically tells me when I've created a scheduling conflict by trying to record two overlapping shows.

I watch the shows I want, when I want, not on the networks' schedule. If a recorded show isn't what I expected, I can just delete it like a file on a computer. And I have a skip button that advances the digital image 30 seconds, so I never have to watch a commercial.

Because it is a digital recording, not a videotape, I can pause and then continue (or playback) a show I'm watching as it's being broadcast. So, if I want to visit my real refrigerator, I can stop a show, get something to eat, and pick up where I left off.

The leader in PVRs is TIVO. You've probably seen its commercials on TV (I've seen some, but remember, I skip most commercials). TIVO will combine the features of PVRs in a single set-top box for DirectTV satellite receivers (built by Sony and Philips).

This month, the Redmond, Wash., software giant Microsoft will ship a product called Ultimate TV. It too will have a single box containing both a PVR and a satellite TV box (RCA and Sony make the hardware).

For most of us, accessing the onscreen TV menu up to a week out and deciding what to watch, with all the PVR features included, is more than enough to change the way we watch TV. Once you start, you'll never go back to the old way - like color TV and black and white.

ReplayTV has an added feature that offers access to the PVR via the Internet. I can log on from anywhere and see a copy of my TV menu. I can make changes remotely (every night at 2 a.m. changes are downloaded to my PVR via a 56k modem).

The fridge is always full.

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(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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