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Digital Video Recorders: Take Control of TV

Time Shifting: Delayed Live

Time shifting goes by different names depending on the manufacturer, but the possibilities it offers are the same. Most computer TV tuner cards also offer this function. What PCs and DVRs have in common is the hard disk, which is essential to the time shifting function, simply because the programs you're watching have to be recorded continuously. However, some devices compatible with DVD-RAM recording are also capable of time shifting with these media. Here are the three possible functions.

The time shifting function lets you watch a program slightly behind its actual broadcast time. With pause mode, you don't have to lose the thread of the story when your telephone rings; you can pause a TV program you're watching and then pick it up where you left off, just as if you were watching a VHS cassette or a DVD.

When you hit the pause button, the image freezes, but the recorder records the rest of the program. Then, when you press pause again, playback of the recording starts again where you paused, while the recorder continues storing the rest of the program. Basically, you're watching with a time lag; if you press the fast forward button, the playback speeds up until you reach the end of what has been recorded, and then you're watching in real time again. That means you can easily skip over commercial breaks and return to the "live" broadcast.

Aside from the pause function, time shifting lets you take a more active role with your TV set. Digital recorders automatically and continuously record what you're watching, which is called Instant Replay mode. This lets you navigate through the program with the rewind and fast forward buttons, as with a DVD video. This means that during a football game, for example, you can do your own replays and then go back to the live action with a slight time delay. As with the pause function, you just hit fast forward to get back to the program in real time.

Finally, the hard disk lets you play a program while it's recording, even one you've programmed. For example, say you're not at home and you've programmed a recording of your favorite sitcom. You come home earlier than you expected. With the old VCRs, you had to wait until the end of the recording to start watching your program. With DVRs, that's no longer a problem: you can start playing back at any point while recording continues. You'll then be in time shifting mode, which gives you the same possibilities such as fast forwarding past commercials, for example.