ReplayTV Series 5500 Digital Video Recorder Reviewed

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For more than twenty-five years, the VCR has reigned supreme. It was certainly king of the hill! More than 94 percent of all U.S. households still have at least one VCR in their home.

While VCRs have become a commodity item, there are many people who want better picture quality, longer record times, and machines that anyone can program without being a rocket scientist. They also do not want to deal with videotape. If you've ever lost a tape in a VCR, you know what I mean.

Additional Resources

• Learn more about ReplayTV on this resource page

Hard disc recorders may well be the next generation of home video recording. Using computer technology, another use for a computer-type hard drive has been found to record TV signals digitally. These delightful machines also go under the monikers of digital video recorder (DVR) or PVR (personal video recorder). While TiVo's name has become synonymous with hard disc recording, ReplayTV was there at the beginning also, and continues to produce outstanding (perhaps superior) video storage devices.

Unique Features
DVRs have a slightly different mindset than VCRs, allowing you to pause live television broadcast, which is one of its slickest features. Let's say that you are watching one of your favorite programs and the phone rings. You could easily miss a lot of your favorite show. With RePlayTV, just press the Pause button on the remote. After you finish your conversation, press the Pause button again and the live broadcast continues from the point that you left it. You haven't missed your favorite show! You can even fast forward (at different speeds) through the commercials! It's so easy to use, it's almost mindless. Further, if you missed that phenomenal touchdown, there is a seven-second replay feature.

The RePlayTV Series 5500 Digital Video Recorder is available in three variants -- all identical except for the size of the hard drive: Model 5504 (40GB), Model 5508 (80GB), and Model 5516 (160GB). Model 5504 has the capacity to hold 30 hours of programming with video quality on par with the best VCRs (240+ lines of resolution). Of course, you can improve the image quality of recorded programs at a sacrifice of recording time. If you want the best quality recordings at S-VHS quality (400 lines of resolution) or component video (480p) levels, it will reduce your recording time to approximately ten hours. Unlike previous year's or competitor's models, there is no additional month charge with the Series 5500 for the first three years of operation. After that, there is supposed to be a nominal service charge of 99 cents per month.

The Series 5500 also provides an extensive on-screen electronic program guide (EPG), which has a grid-like appearance. It displays all receivable programming, including both cable and satellite channels, blending them seamlessly. The EPG is updated every night (at around 2 or 3am). Every program that your system is capable of receiving (in numerical channel order) is listed on the EPG, which holds 14 days worth of programming information (11days ahead and three days back) with complete descriptions of shows.

The EPG also allows you to easily record programs. If you see a program that you want to record, just press the Record button once on the remote, and it will record that show. A visual red dot is placed within the program box. If you press the Record button twice (making two red dots visible), it will record the program each week on the specified day and time. If shows run over because of a sporting event, you can also adjust the ending time so that nothing is missed.

While there are also specialized RePlayTV theme channels that search for specific types of programming (e.g. sci-fi), you can also make up your own theme channels. Once set, the guide then searches for every program with that theme and records it. You can also go manually to the Find Shows portion under Menu.

The Series 5500 features two sets of A/V inputs and one AN output, one S-Video input (to be used for your satellite receiver) and output, and one component video output (progressive scan 480p). One of the A/V/S-Video outputs is designed primarily for sending recorded images to your VCR. On the back of the 5500, there's also an RF antenna input and output to TV, telephone jack, IR blaster port, and a serial port. For complete control of your satellite system, however, this model features a serial control port so that you can easily attach it to your satellite receiver's low-speed data serial port using the supplied VGA-type cable. If your satellite (or cable) box does not have a serial port, you can always use one of the supplied signal blasters that toggle the device on and off and change channels. A second blaster is included for your VCR. Other outputs include a digital optical output, USB, and Ethernet (10/100BaseT) for connection to a broadband home network.

Read much more on Page 2

HTR Product Rating for ReplayTV Series 5500 Digital Video Recorder

Criteria Rating

Performance

3

Value

2.5

Overall

3

Disagree with our product rating? Email us and tell us why you think this product should receive a higher rating.


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Installation/Setup/Ease of Use
During the initial setup, the first thing that you tell the system is your zip code and area code. It then looks for local numbers to call ReplayTV Central. Once called, it asks you how you receive your programming --antenna, cable, or satellite (specifically DirecTV or EchoStar). You can even combine satellite and cable, and mesh your local cable company and satellite programming together seamlessly. It has the channel lineups of every cable company across the U.S. Initial setup was relatively quick, taking approximately 20 minutes. Once RePlayTV has downloaded all initial programming content to your DVR, you're set. Simply follow the directions on the screen by pressing the Play button on the remote. For this review, I used both cable (Cablevision) and DirecTV programming using a RCA set-top box.

Also during setup, you can tell the system how many hours of shows you want to keep in memory. You can also select the recording quality at that time. If you're watching a program, you can decide to record a program on the spot by simply pressing the Record button on the remote. You can add minutes before and after a specific recording so you don't miss any part of your program, because sometimes
shows start early or run late.

With the addition of the Ethernet connection for your home network, you can now connect additional Series 5500 models together. Each Series 5500 model must have its own unique name on the network (e.g. Living Room, Bedroom, etc.). This allows you to watch programs recorded on other RePlayTV models, and delete or record programs on those units. Once set up, it was easy to use and manage all of my recordings. If your home network includes your PC, you can transfer digital photos from it to your RePlayTV to create your own slideshows. The Series 5500 comes with a 40-button universal remote that will also control your television and satellite/cable box. The keys are logically laid out with a centrally mounted cursor ring, allowing you to easily navigate the extensive EPG. While the remote was easy to use, it was unfortunately not illuminated.

Final Take - Overall, the RePlayTV 5500 Digital Video Recorder is a terrific product. The on-screen guide is very thorough and helpful. The universal remote actually works in cutting down remote clutter. You can pause live TV, and never miss your favorite shows! While earlier generations produced a lot of heat, the Series 5500 with a built-in fan/cooling system does the trick and you don't have to worry about ventilation problems.

A digital video recorder is a very slick recording medium without the hassles of videotape or copyright issues of recordable DVD. The Series 5500 was very easy to use. While some might say you can't share recorded material, I say that's simply not true. It was very easy to set up a home network that includes multiple Series 5500s. It's also very easy to port recorded programs to an attached VCR. This RePlayTV includes the previous monthly service charge into the initial price of the unit. So, whatever you pay for your Series 5500 covers any monthly service charge for the first three years of operation.

Additional Resources

• Read reviews of other digital cable and satellite systems at HomeTheaterReview.com
• Learn more about ReplayTV on this resource page

ReplayTV 5500 Series Digital Video Recorder
3 models: 40GB, 80GB, 160GB
Tape-free recording
Pause and Instant Replay of live TV
Progressive Scan
On-Screen Program Guide
UHF/Infrared Universal Remote
Optical Dolby Digital output
2 A/V inputs/outputs
S-Video input/output
Component Video output
Ethernet port 10/100Mbps
USB port
Custom universal remote
Cable/Satellite Mouse
3"H x 14W x 16 7/8"D
Weight: 9 lbs.
MSRP:
$499 (Model 5504)
$599 (Model 5508)
$849 (Model 5516)


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