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Software bugs in the Sky Plus digital recorder have become so severe that customers who complain are having their monthly subscription fee refunded.

Launched last September, the £300 rival to TiVo allows Sky Digital viewers to pause live television and record without video tapes. It is integrated into Sky's on-screen listings guide for point-and-click operation and recordings can be scheduled up to one week in advance, with approximately 20 hours of recording space on the system's hard disk.

Although it initially suffered from several minor glitches, the system has since earned a reputation for reliability, able to operate for weeks without rebooting.

But a number of bugs affecting the schedule planner have become so prevalent that by last week the system was barely capable of functioning for more than half a day.

Some recordings simply disappear from the planner. Others show up as 'failed' for no apparent reason. The system frequently freezes, even just a few hours after being rebooted, causing all remaining recordings to be missed. And when manually deleting one recording, another will sometimes be deleted as well, although it re-appears after rebooting.

Sky acknowledges that there has been a problem for over a week, but so far has been unable to establish what exactly is causing it.

"A number of Sky+ viewers have reported that some scheduled recordings have 'disappeared' from the Sky+ planner," a Sky spokesman told The Register.

"These problems appear to be linked to upgrade work to our systems on 9 May. We apologise for the inconvenience caused by this error and assure customers that we are investigating the problem as a matter of urgency to ensure that it is resolved as quickly as possible."

Some customers have demanded a refund of their £10 monthly subscription fee on the basis that Sky Plus adverts assured them they would "never miss a thing", a promise that the system is currently far from capable of honouring.

Sky confirmed that some people had been compensated: "In individual cases where customers have suffered inconvenience as a result of particularly acute problems, we have offered a credit as a one-off goodwill gesture."

Recordings which appear to be most commonly affected are those of long programmes such as soap opera omnibus editions and sporting events, programmes which start late or over-run, and back-to-back recordings of several programmes on the same channel.

The problem has come at a particularly bad time for Sky, as Sky Plus is currently being marketed to football fans in the run-up to the World Cup.

An advert, still being shown today, says: "The majority of the World Cup will take place while most of us are asleep or at work. But with Sky Plus you can shift time and schedule the games for when you want... Sky Plus. Never miss a thing."

Asked if Sky expected the current problems to be resolved in time for the World Cup, a spokesman said: "I emphasise that we are taking urgent action to address this situation and we are confident that our investigation will result in a resolution. Marketing is continuing as usual while we work to resolve this problem." ®

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