Home > Articles > Hardware

  • Print
  • + Share This
This chapter is from the book

ReplayTV

Founded within a month of its rival, TiVo Inc., in the fall of 1997, ReplayTV Inc. considers itself the granddaddy of the video IED business.

After blowing through its seed money, ReplayTV announced its departure from the hardware side of the business in November 2000, ceding sales of the ReplayTV-based ShowStopper product to the consumer arm of Japanese electronics giant Matsushita. Later, SonicBlue, which had already acquired the Rio division of Diamond Multimedia and was aggregating technologies in the IED space, snatched up ReplayTV. For additional details, see Table 3.1.

Table 3.1 – ReplayTV Vital Statistics

Status

Wholly owned subsidiary

Parent company

SonicBlue Inc. (SBLU)2000 revenues: $536.7M

Business model

Developer of personalized television software and services

Founded

September 1997

CEO, Founder

Anthony Wood

Backers, Past and Present

Paul Allen (Vulcan Ventures), Marc Andreesen (Netscape, Loudcloud), William R. Hearst III (Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers), Time Warner, The Walt Disney Co., NBC, Liberty Media Group, Showtime Networks, Intel

Headquarters

Mountain View, California


SonicBlue suffered along with the rest of the tech business sector in 2001, laying off some 600 of its 800-plus employees.

The company surprised many observers—and even some of its partners—in the early fall of 2001 by announcing its return to manufacturing video IEDs (see "ReplayTV Rerun.").

Hardware

The existing ReplayTV/Panasonic ShowStopper product line offers two styles: with TV or without. All models are designed to work with any combination of antenna, cable, and satellite programming sources.

Table 3.2 – The Panasonic ShowStopper Product Family

Model

Hours of Storage

List Price*

Description

PV-HS1000

20

$499.95

ShowStopper Hard Disk Recorder with ReplayTV

PV-HS2000

30

$699.95

ShowStopper Hard Disk Recorder with ReplayTV

PV-HS3000

60

$799.95

ShowStopper Hard Disk Recorder with ReplayTV

PV-SS2710

30

$799.95

Panasonic PanaBlack TV/ShowStopper Hard Disk Recorder Combination


*Current as of December 2001

The standalone ReplayTV models (see Figure 3.1) are basically the same units, differing only in terms of their hard drive storage capacity.

The front panel of the ReplayTV ShowStopper, built by Panasonic, has relatively few functional elements. This is a device for which you had better not lose the remote control; without it, your only operational options will be to turn the machine on or off. In addition to the power button, the unit features status indicators to show whether the device is running or is in standby mode, whether new content is available to watch, and whether a recording session is in progress

The back panel is where the device gets down to business. Inputs are provided for an infrared emitter (the "IR Blaster"), a serial connection to a cable or satellite receiver, an RJ-11 telephone jack, and an A/C power cord. In addition, places are available to plug in an F-type coaxial cable or antenna connector, and two audiovisual inputs (consisting of right- and left-channel RCA-type audio inputs and a composite video or S-video input). Two similar A/V outputs are provided as well.

Inside the ShowStopper is where things become interesting (see Figure 3.2). The unit's hard drive could include a range of available hard disks, depending on the model. The author's, for example, shipped with a Quantum FireBall LCT 10 3.5-inch drive.

Figure 3.1 Front and rear views of the ShowStopper standalone ReplayTV from SonicBlue, built by Panasonic.

For its CPU, the ReplayTV makes use of a Philips SAA7214 chip, which contains a 32-bit MIPS PR3001 RISC CPU core, as well as all the hardware and software that are required to receive and decode MPEG2 transport streams, including descrambling and demultiplexing. The board also contains a Philips SAA7201 chip, an MPEG-2 decoder that combines audio and video decoding, as well as support for enhanced graphics and onscreen displays.

Additional audio handling is provided by a TV sound-processing IC, the Micronas 3430G chip, which is designed for processing multichannel television sound (MTS) signals conforming to the BTSC (Broadcast Television Systems Committee) standard.

MPEG-2 encoding is performed with a Sony CXD1922. Along with its power-saving features, the Sony chip boasts an advanced "adaptive motion estimation algorithm." Developed by Sony, the software algorithm is supposed to handle the recording and transmission of fast-moving images while allowing minimal image degradation and offering more efficient video compression.

Figure 3.2 A close-up of the interior of a ReplayTV ShowStopper standalone unit.

The ability to upgrade the ReplayTV's software remotely after the consumer purchases it relies in large part on a field programmable gate array (FPGA), the Xilinx Spartan-II XC2S40.

Memory needs are addressed in a variety of ways from multiple 60-nanosecond 16Mb extended data out (EDO) DRAM chips to Hyundai PC100 SDRAM chips.

Other notable components include the Philips 3139 Series TV tuner and a Sipex SP208CT high-speed RS-232 transceiver chip.

TIP

The ReplayTV circuit board bears the name of the IED's proprietary operating system, Sutter, and to give credit where credit is due, the board has etched into its margin the words Special thanks to followed by a few dozen sets of initials.

The "Hidden" Menu

Want to tweak your ReplayTV hardware? Here's a shortcut to a hidden systems menu:

  1. Turn on the ReplayTV and tune to a live show.

  2. While watching live TV, press 243.

  3. Before the channel changes, press Replay Zone.

A systems menu appears, allowing you to toggle on and off an onscreen clock or CPU utilization meter (see Figure 3.3).

Figure 3.3 This secret systems menu gives you access to various lesser-known features and information about your ReplayTV device.

Some of the information items contained in the hidden system menu, such as CPU utilization, are clearly geared more toward the engineers who created the machine than the consumers who buy them. However, some potential goodies for users are included as well.

Live buffering—tucking away video into system memory so that ReplayTV can accommodate your next request to rewind or deliver an instant replay—is a process that constantly takes place while ReplayTV is operating. Some users feel that the process causes high CPU utilization, occasionally making the machine unresponsive to remote control key presses. If your system starts responding sluggishly, you might want to check your CPU utilization.

TIP

One of the few ways to temporarily suspend live buffering is to press Stop while watching a recorded show. This leaves the unit in an "untuned" state, and puts live buffering on hold.

You can also force a service connection, partition the hard drive, or clear channel guide information.

Another feature of the hidden systems screen is a text input area that appears at the bottom of the display, known as the Claw Foot Portal, or CFP field. Highlight the area and press Select to be presented with a keyboard. The following codes can be entered into the field:

  • Enable Disk Spindown to toggle disk spindown when the power is turned off.

  • Disable Disk Spindown to turn off Enable Disk Spindown.

  • Julie to display the message Spencer loves Julie.

  • Modesto Girl to turn the red dots in the program guide into hearts. Enter the code again to change them back. (The hearts appear automatically on Valentine's Day.)

  • Sportsguard On to enable a global time-padding feature that extends all sports recordings. (Entering Sportsguard Off disables this feature.)

  • Tic Tac Toe to display a tic-tac-toe game accessed by pressing 111 and then Replay Zone.

ReplayTV Rerun

Late in the third quarter of 2001, ReplayTV announced that it planned to take another run at the manufacturing side of the hardware business.

Almost one year after the company relinquished making video IED boxes, enlisting Panasonic as its manufacturing partner, the company revealed plans to introduce a high-end series called the ReplayTV 4000. The four-model family will feature a variety of enhanced software features, and substantially increased hard-drive recording capabilities.

The new models are summarized in Table 3.3.

Table 3.3 – The ReplayTV 4000 Family

Model

Recording Time

List Price*

ReplayTV 4040

40 hours

$699

ReplayTV 4080

80 hours

$999

ReplayTV 4160

160 hours

$1,499

ReplayTV 4320

320 hours

$1,999


**Current as of December 2001

In addition to higher recording times—and correspondingly higher prices—the new models contain numerous added software features, including these:

  • AutoSkip: The ability to set the device to automatically omit television commercials as it records shows. This capability, along with video sharing noted in the third bullet, prompted an immediate lawsuit from the movie studios and television networks. As of the time this book went to press, the content creators had failed to stop SonicBlue's rollout plans for the new 4000 series IEDs.

  • Room-to-room video sharing: A new Ethernet port will allow users with two ReplayTV 4000 systems to watch recorded programs stored on either unit.

  • Video sharing over the Internet: In a move that is sure to raise the ire of programmers, users will be able to transmit recorded shows via the Internet, for playback by other ReplayTV 4000 owners.

  • Digital photo slideshows: Supports the ability to copy digital photos from your PC to your ReplayTV 4000 and display them on your TV screen in a slideshow format.

  • Screensaver: Taking a cue from competitor UltimateTV, ReplayTV will add a screen saver to avoid TV screen burn-in. Users will also be able to create custom screensavers with their own digital photos.

  • Progressive output: 480P progressive output will be added to support high-definition–ready televisions (HDTV). The company says its progressive scanning benefits include improved color purity and detail, as well as reduced color noise and artifacts related to standard National Television Standards Committee (NTSC) displays.

Additional new features will include support for broadband Internet connections, a "show organizer" feature to sort custom channels into categories, a digital audio output port, new front panel control buttons, and a backlit remote control.

Software Highlights

Like the other video IEDs, ReplayTV requires a software operating system to make all of its hardware function properly and give you control over it. In the case of ReplayTV, this operating system is called Sutter. Although ReplayTV does not publicly discuss details of Sutter, amateur forensics experts who have dissected the product say it uses XML extensively, and might be based on VxWorks, the embedded real-time operating system that was developed by Wind River Systems. (ReplayTV has publicly acknowledged that the new 4000 Series is based on VxWorks).

NOTE

Extensible Markup Language (XML) is a follow-on to the HTML standard for creating Web pages. Whereas HTML relies on a limited number of standardized "tags" or styles to exist within documents, XML is unlimited in this regard, allowing much richer and more versatile construction of Web pages, or in the case of ReplayTV, onscreen displays.

Others speculate that Sutter is based on the Scenix architecture, which is used in the Sony PlayStation. Regardless of its origins, ReplayTV proponents claim the Sutter OS is far more efficient than UltimateTV's OS, based on Microsoft's Windows CE, or Linux, which TiVo uses. Greater OS efficiency allows ReplayTV to reduce processor and memory size.

TIP

As ReplayTV makes its nightly phone call to check in with the company, it scans for updates to its operating system. In this fashion, your ReplayTV unit could be running a different software version today than it was yesterday.

If you're interested in checking out which software version your ReplayTV is running, here's a shortcut:

  1. Press 411 on your remote control.

  2. Press the ReplayTV Zone button.

A diagnostic menu appears, as shown in Figure 3.4.

Figure 3.4 The ReplayTV diagnostics screen provides a snapshot of your IED's software and hardware parameters.

As you can see, this screen lists the latest software revision downloaded to your IED, and statistics detailing the most recent modem connection.

The User Interface

A more efficient OS is not ReplayTV's major triumph, however. The company's real strength has been in the area of user interface.

ReplayTV's interface is arguably not as user friendly and intuitive as TiVo's, but the company has succeeded in creating some altogether new ways of watching television that are both innovative and habit forming.

Particularly impressive are ReplayTV's custom channel features, where the search and record functions common to all video IEDs are elegantly harnessed as a tool for creating the equivalent of an on-the-fly cable channel.

Creating Theme Channels

Let your imagination run wild and conjure up your own personal dream channel, suiting your unique tastes. What would it be? The Submarine Channel? The Hurling Channel? Needlepoint? Swimsuit competitions? Or use the title, actor, director or show description search categories to create your custom channel—such as the Sopranos Channel, the Annette Funicello Channel, the Martin Scorsese Channel, the Scrabble Channel. The possibilities are endless, and admittedly, a little frightening.

Following are the steps for creating and accessing your own ReplayTV theme channels.

  1. Press Menu on the remote control.

  2. Choose Find Shows.

  3. Use the arrow and select keys, as shown in Figure 3.5, to spell out a keyword or phrase to use as the search term (sopranos, funicello, submarines, loch ness monster, and so on).

  4. Figure 3.5 The hunt-and-peck system for entering search terms will make you wish that ReplayTV supported a wireless keyboard.

    When finished, choose Done.

  5. Choose the categories, such as actor or director, to be searched. When finished, choose Done.

  6. ReplayTV immediately begins searching through the next seven days of programming to find matches for your search term. This can take several minutes, but if you're impatient, you can proceed immediately to the next step. (If you choose to move on immediately, you won't get a chance to preview what your search has netted, but it will not affect the outcome and operation of your new custom channel.)

  7. Choose Create the Keyword Theme Channel from the results that your search has generated (see Figure 3.6.).

Figure 3.6 The ReplayTV gives several categories to search, allowing you to narrow the results to just the shows you want.

Although the channel creation features are powerful, they are also powerfully prone to bring back a certain amount of chaff with the wheat. For instance, you might love Robert Deniro, but even a die-hard fan would probably admit that Deniro has appeared in a few stinkers that he (and Deniro) would just as soon forget about. ReplayTV offers no easy way to omit specific instances within the search, such as a movie or program that fits within the search terms but that you simply don't want to record. In addition, it's quite likely you'll end up rerecording many an unwanted movie—say, Deniro's performance in the live-action version of The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle—every single time it comes on any channel. Perhaps in the future, Replay will consider including a feature similar to TiVo's, which prevents the same show from being recorded twice in a month (technically, a 28-day period). An even better solution might be to employ TiVo-like "thumbs up/thumbs down" buttons to banish a particular program for life.

Deleting Unsubscribed to Channels

Few things are more annoying than thinking you have a really choice show recorded, only to find that you've missed it. You're in for a lot of this kind of disappointment, especially from your theme-based ReplayTV channels, unless you take the time to delete all the broadcast stations that you don't actually receive, but that are listed in your programming guide anyway.

Stand-alone video IEDs such as ReplayTV can't distinguish between the channels that you get and those you don't, so they might routinely record empty screens and label them as shows unless you get rid of the extra channels.

Conversely, ReplayTV and TiVo can't necessarily identify which Pay Per View channels you receive, or list the content of those channels, forcing users with certain cable systems to add pay channels manually. Note that integrated set-top boxes with video IED capabilities, such as the DirecTV combo units with TiVo or UltimateTV built in, do not suffer from these crises of channel identity. Tighter coupling between the hardware and the programming source means never having to delete the listing of a channel that doesn't appear on your system.

NOTE

Note that keeping your actual channel lineup consistent with what your video IED thinks is your lineup is a problem that requires ongoing maintenance. If (and when) Replay adds a channel during its nightly call, the new listing shows up as a "Channel You Receive" item by default. It is up to you to periodically go into the Setup menu and remove these channels if you don't actually get them.

By contrast, it has been noted that TiVo lists new stations as "Not Received," and then notifies you with a screen message indicating that "A lineup change has occurred."

This manual channel deletion can be a tedious and time-consuming process, especially if you are a satellite or digital cable TV subscriber, with potentially hundreds of broadcast channels to which you might not subscribe. Unfortunately, a shortcut is not available. Currently, each channel must be deleted individually using the following process:

  1. Press the Menu button and select Setup.

  2. Select Add or Remove Channels.

  3. When the TV program listings appear, as shown in Figure 3.7, navigate to each channel you don't get or don't want, and press the Select button. You can also press Select again if you want to restore a channel.

  4. Figure 3.7 Adding and deleting channels that appear on your ReplayTV's electronic programming guide can be a chore.

  5. When you are finished, press Exit.

Creating Show-Based Replay Channels

Often, you want to record all airings of one particular program, rather than all programs that share a common theme. Using the ReplayTV interface, you can also create "show-based" Replay channels directly from the channel guide.

NOTE

When your ReplayTV's hard drive starts to fill up—and it will before you know it—the IED will start to get more selective about what it records. In the event of a conflict, show-based channels get priority over theme-based channels.

To record all airings of a specific program:

  1. Highlight the show you want in the channel guide.

  2. Press Select to display the pop-up menu, and then choose Find All Episodes (see Figure 3.8). The ReplayTV will perform a search for matching programs.

  3. After ReplayTV compiles a list of all of the selected program's air dates and times, it lists them for you on the screen. If you like what you see, select Create the Show Name Theme Channel (where Show Name is the title of the program).

Like theme-based channels, show-based channels are also subject to recording every episode that comes along. Users can fine-tune the settings by choosing a particular number of episodes to keep, or selecting which days of the week to record. How do you prevent recordings of a particular episode that you've already seen? Unlike TiVo, which is capable of recording only "first-run" shows and omitting repeats, ReplayTV is more single-minded in its pursuit of the most recent episode, regardless of whether it's actually the most recent or a hold-over from last season.

Figure 3.8 From the program guide, selecting a show results in a pop-up menu that offers you a variety of viewing options.

However, where there's a will, there's a way, and some determined users have figured out a workaround. If you're absolutely resolved not to record that upcoming repeat of your favorite show, you can try this procedure:

  1. Select the show-based channel, and then select Find All Episodes.

  2. Highlight the first listing and disable recording. (This affects all episodes.)

  3. Turn on recording for just the first episode in the list (assuming this is an episode that you really don't want to record).

  4. Select the next listing and set that episode to record using Record All Episodes.

  5. Turn off recording for the first episode. That should result in disabling record for that episode only.

TIP

If you just want to continuously record the most recent episode of a show, highlight the show in the channel guide and press Record twice. This is a great feature, for instance, for recording the nightly news, but it can be tricky when used with shows that might be airing new episodes on one channel, while older programs from the series are being run in syndication on other channels, and so on.

Watching Custom Channels

To start watching your custom channels, just press the Replay Guide and select a program from the categories you have created (see Figure 3.9).

Figure 3.9 The Replay Guide screen not only lists the shows it has recorded for you, but tells you how much storage space has been allotted to each Theme channel.

Remember that your device will be constantly looking for new shows to record that fit your theme, and it will be periodically erasing older shows to make room for the new ones. If it happens to record something you really want to hang on to for a while, be sure to use the Preserve option to make the show immune to auto-deletion.

Programming ReplayTV from the Road

Other software features of the ReplayTV that stand out from the competition include the MyReplayTV.com Web service. The major features include these:

  • Check and manage the contents of your IED's hard drive via the Replay Guide tab on the Web site (see Figure 3.10).

  • Figure 3.10 The MyReplayTV.com service allows you to not only set up recordings from the road, but also to manage your recorded shows and delete those you no longer want.

  • Search for programs to record, and set up new Theme- and Show-based ReplayTV Channels using the Find Shows tab. (You can see the tab in Figure 3.10.)

  • Check TV listings using the online Channel Guide.

  • Set up a manual recording session (see Figure 3.11).

To activate these online features, go to http://www.myreplaytv.com using your PC's Web browser and register with your product "key" (a 21-digit number obtained using the procedure referenced in the Tip that follows). Now you can log on from any location around the world, and have access to most of the same capabilities you would have if you were sitting in front of your ShowStopper at home.

Figure 3.11 To make sure that you get the end of a program that might have a variable ending time, such as a sports event, you can program the recording using MyReplayTV.com's Manual Record function.

TIP

If you want to sign on to the MyReplayTV service and need to locate your product key, follow these steps:

  1. Press Menu on your unit's remote control.

  2. Select Setup, and then select Register.

  3. Jot down the 21-digit "key," as shown in Figure 3.12.

Figure 3.12 The Register ReplayTV screen where you can find the product key.

Needless to say, the concept is great. How many times have you been away from home—at work or on vacation or a business trip—only to suddenly think of an upcoming show you want to record and have no way to do so? With this service, all you need is Web access. It does have one major drawback that the company says it's working to address: As of this writing, record commands issued via the MyReplayTV Web site are only retrieved by your IED unit once a day. For all intents and purposes, you need to log on and set your IED to record 24 hours in advance of the program's air time. This severely limits the utility of MyReplayTV's Web-enabled remote recording capability. As of late summer 2001, the company was planning to increase the frequency of the system to twice daily communication between the consumer's IED unit and the MyReplayTV server.

You might find yourself competing with your ReplayTV more frequently to use the phone line, but at least you will be more likely to have your last-minute recording commands fulfilled.

TIP

As of this writing, the MyReplayTV.com Web remote control features are not supported on the Panasonic TV/ShowStopper Hard Disk Recorder Combination. Panasonic officials say the combo unit uses an earlier software revision than the standalone ReplayTV boxes do.

Other features currently unique to the standalone units include the following:

  • The ability to view the contents of Pay Per View channels from the program guide.

  • Translucent program guide screens that allow you to view live television behind the programming grid.

  • Scrolling titles, which display show titles that are too long to fit within the program guide grid.

  • Manual recording, which allows you to manually enter times and channels for a recording session, regardless of what the programming guide lists for that time period.

It appears unlikely that the combo units will ever be upgraded to a version of the operating system that supports the myreplaytv.com features. Even if SonicBlue decides to allocate some developers to port additional versions of the ReplayTV OS to run on the combo devices, it will probably always be at least one software revision behind the standalone versions of the ReplayTV system.

An Evolving Platform

If you find that certain functions in ReplayTV would be useful but aren't yet present, be patient. As services like ReplayTV collect more information about problems and suggestions their customers have, they periodically issue downloadable OS updates that fix bugs and sometimes offer new features. Some additional features not found on the original ReplayTV units that were added in the Fall 2000 revision of the ReplayTV software include these:

  • Cosmetic changes to the user interface, the most obvious of which is a full-screen Main Menu.

  • Integrated onscreen setup for controlling your cable box or satellite receiver through the ReplayTV remote control.

  • Manual Record, which according to the company, "is great for recording shows that do not fit into normal programming blocks, like delayed sports events, music videos, and 24-hour news streams." You can also use Manual Record to record specific segments of shows, such as the first 15 minutes of the news.

  • A Show Extender feature that lets you add extra record time at the beginning or end of a scheduled recording. This is handy for when you suspect that a program will run over, or, as ReplayTV puts it, "if the broadcaster's schedule does not match perfectly with the Channel Guide."

  • This is a diplomatic way of saying that if you rely on recording from the channel guide information only, you might frequently get programming you didn't bargain for.

  • Adjustable Recording Days allow you to specify which days to record when you set your IED to capture all episodes of a particular program. This could come in handy if, for example, you only wanted to record a daily show on Tuesdays and Thursdays, perhaps to coincide with a particular segment that doesn't air every day.

  • "Pause Screens" that displayed "tips, trivia, and special promotions" after a show had been paused for 20 seconds.

  • ReplayTV issued a press release in September 2000 announcing that Coca Cola had signed on to advertise in the spots, but the sponsored pause displays were soon abandoned and have ceased to appear.

Dumb ReplayTV Trick (Easter Eggs)

In real life, Easter eggs are objects that are made to be hidden, and once discovered, to delight the finder. In the world of software, Easter eggs refer to secret features, messages, or graphics that programmers frequently embed in their software. Often, an Easter egg consists of a list of development team members, but occasionally it contains a more elaborate or amusing surprise.

Here's how to find an Easter egg on your ReplayTV:

  1. Activate the hidden systems menu (refer to Figure 3.1) by pressing 243 and then pressing the Replay Zone button while watching live TV.

  2. Scroll down to the input box placed below the 10th item on the menu, and press Select. An onscreen keyboard appears.

  3. Enter Me Like Cookies by selecting the letters and space keys using the onscreen keyboard. Then press Select on the remote. A "funny" remark will appear.

  4. By repeatedly pressing the Select button, you are treated to more than 30 messages. Some are humorous, and some are just odd.

  • + Share This
  • 🔖 Save To Your Account