BSkyB launches interactive set-top recording box to boost market presence

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The Independent Online

The satellite broadcaster, BSkyB signalled its ambition to move further into the home entertainment system market yesterday when it launched Sky+, an interactive digital recording device, which it will begin selling in September.

Sky+ is a personal television recorder that can record one digital satellite programme while viewers watch another, pause live television and record pre-programmed TV to a hard-disk drive. The box, which is an advance on the Tivo system launched last year, will cost £300 with a further £10 per month subscription charge required to receive electronic programme guide scheduling information.

BSkyB will market the device directly to consumers initially but will soon supply high street retailers. The company said it had taken 60,000 expressions of interest since advertising Sky+ in late June.

Richard Freudenstein, BSkyB's chief operating officer, wouldn't say what sale targets are envisaged for Sky+ and disputed that Tivo, which is a partner with the satellite broadcaster, has failed to capture the consumer imagination despite selling less than 30,000 units in Britain since launch. Mr Freudenstein said: "This is a new product category and its going to take time to establish itself. We think this will be a growing market."

Pace Technology, the set-top box maker based in Shipley, West Yorkshire, will make Sky+. The device will incorporate encryption and function software from News Data Systems, a pay-TV systems producer majority owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.

It is understood that the monthly subscription fee will be split between BSkyB, Pace, NDS and Open TV, a set-top box software integrator. Launching Sky+ is the latest salvo in a battle featuring Microsoft and others to control the gateway linking pay-TV service operators and increasingly sophisticated home-based content management systems.

Sky+ is designed to accommodate future software advances. "Sky+ is a completely upgradeable product," Mr Freudenstein said. "There are dozens of other features that can be added." Analysts said the device could eventually be used to download and play video games. The new device won't replace BSkyB's free digital box offer. However, existing digital subscribers will be able to take the existing set-top box and use it for a second television set. BSkyB plans to unveil a lower price second subscription for two-TV homes next month.