Responding to a surge of customers who record TV programs and watch later, Time Warner Cable is finally offering North Carolina customers a digital recorder that works with multiple TV sets throughout the house.
Time Warner's Whole House DVR is an answer to Total Home DVR, a similar feature offered by AT&T's U-verse since 2008.
But some Time Warner customers may balk at the price and hidden trade-offs.
The use of DVRs, or digital video recorders, has doubled in the past year among Time Warner Cable customers, said spokesman Keith Poston. Many in the industry regard video-on-demand features as a major selling point for a cable television service.
Time Warner, the state's dominant cable provider, says that as many as half its customers have DVRs at home with their cable TV service, depending on the market.
The company has 2.1 million customers in Carolinas, including 460,000 customers in the Triangle.
As viewer expectations have become more sophisticated, Time Warner's standard DVR has remained much like an old-fashioned videotape recorder: The technology works only with only one TV set, so customers who want to record and watch from multiple rooms have had to pay extra for each additional DVR.
The Whole House DVR service introduced yesteday remedies the problem. It links multiple TV sets to one digital recorder. As a result, customers can program recordings and watch the shows from any TV set in the house.
Financially, however, Whole House DVR is not a bargain until a customer connects three or more televisions.
For example, standard DVR service costs $11.95 per month for one recorder and $31.08 a month for two recorders.
Whole House DVR is almost the same: $30.34 for two recorders.
With two recorders, the standard DVR can store 70 hours of high-definition programming. The Whole House DVR stores 75 hours.
So far, it's a draw.
With a third TV, however, the math begins to look different. The standard DVR costs $50.21 a month, whereas Whole House DVR costs $40.69 a month. The savings: almost $10 a month.
But here's the caveat: With that many DVRs, you're likely to be doing a whole lot of recording, so storage space becomes an important consideration.
With three DVRs, the standard DVR technology stores 105 hours of high-definition programming. The Whole House DVR stores 75 hours, regardless of how many TV sets and DVRs are connected on the network, which means you're not buying any more storage time as you expand the service in your home.
Spokesman Poston notes that "the whole selling point for consumers" of Whole House DVR is not just storage space but "the ability to watch programs you record in any room."
AT&T does not charge separately for its Total Home DVR service. The service comes included with U-verse programming packages. Capacity to record and watch from additional televisions costs $7 a month per receiver.