Hey New Zealanders here comes the PVR

The world’s most talked-about personal video recorder (PVR) goes on sale in November, presenting a vexed choice for New Zealanders serious about their television.

TiVo promises to transform the way viewers watch television, by allowing them to easily record and time-shift free-to-air programming. TVNZ has invested $9.8 million in a joint venture with Australia’s Seven Network to bring the service here, and hopes to sell 120,000 of the set-top units by 2011.

But it faces a substantial challenge making inroads against Sky’s popular PVR offering, MySky, which has sold 80,000 units since its launch last year. The two PVRs have similar functions, including the ability to simultaneously record two programmes while watching a third, pause live television, and record a season of a show at the press of a button.

But although TiVo viewers will get access to only the Freeview high-definition platform of free-to- air channels, MySky subscribers get access to more than 8000 hours a week of pay content, and may strike consumers as a more natural fit for the PVR’s function.

MySky is available for a one-off payment of $599, or $15 a month, on top of regular Sky subscription charges. Months out from its launch, many details about TiVo, including price, remain to be finalised. It retails for $A699 ($855) in Australia.

Sky marketing director Michael Watson said the demand for MySky, driven by consumers seeking affordable, at-home entertainment options, had surprised even the network, with waiting lists for a box until recently.

Research in the US shows TV viewing increases with a PVR; fans here attest MySky has revolutionised the way they watch television.

Auckland film production worker Alex Uganecz signed up for MySky about five months ago, attracted by the promise of movies and sport in high-definition. The device had also made arguments with his girlfriend about what to watch a thing of the past, and changed his movie-watching habits.

“Going up the road to pay money and hire a DVD isn’t quite as attractive as it used to be,” he said.

But Uganecz, whose brother had “hacked” an imported TiVo to run with his Sky subscription, said he found the TiVo to be more “user friendly”.

Watson said MySky was considering adding some of the features offered by TiVo, such as the ability to make programme suggestions based on viewer preferences, and a “WishList” that records programmes based on an actor or director preferences. But he believed MySky would be a logical choice for viewers serious enough about television to buy a PVR.

TiVo also plans to offer an internet download service. Sky suspended its download site because customers were using all their broadband capacity downloading movies, then complaining to Sky when their ISP dropped them back to dial-up speeds.

Other options include MyFreeview recorders, which use the Freeview “electronic programme guide” to organise recording of programmes available through Freeview. Current models available include a Zinwell product that sells for $799.