SonicBlue owns digital video recording

All your DVRs are belong to us

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SonicBlue has been granted a multi-claim patent that covers almost every aspect of digitally recording TV programmes on a hard drive, in particular using a channel guide to manage what the machine records.

The patent, number 6,324,338, was filed by ReplayTV back in the summer of 1998. Since then ReplayTV was bought by SonicBlue - the deal was signed last March and completed in August. SonicBlue is now claiming the intellectual property for its own.

The patent describes a "video data recordable having integrated channel guides allowing a user to control recording and storage of television signals into personal channels for later playback and viewing". It covers pretty much anything you can do with a digital video recorder (DVR), including filing recorded programming into channels, providing previews, storing recordings on a random-access system, and making selections according to programme type and information culled from viewing habits. In short, the works.

The patent gives SonicBlue a sound basis to license its intellectual property to consumer electronics companies keen to move quickly into the DVR market. SonicBlue reckons that in five to seven years DVRs will be as commonplace as VCRs are today, though we'd hazard a guess that by then re-recordable DVDs will be competing for the same consumers.

Even so - and SonicBlue's battle with the US TV networks over its latest machine's ability to zap ads notwithstanding - we can see other companies wanting to get into the DVR business. Sony has already licensed TiVo's technology, but holding the basic intellectual property will allow SonicBlue to profit from such deals even if it's not directly involved.

Of course, what makes the DVR better than the VCR, from a practical standpoint, is the channel guide mechanism, says ReplayTV founder and now SonicBlue CTO Andrew Wolfe. True, but while SonicBlue's patent covers such as system in use in conjunction with a DVR, it isn't sufficiently broad to stop anyone building such a mechanism into a DVD or cassette-based recorder.

Still, it's one in the eye for ReplayTV's arch-rival, TiVo. ®

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