A ReplayTV, like a Tivo, is a digital video recorder. It is like a VCR, except that rather than swapping tapes, it has built-in storage that holds up to 40 hours of video. You tell it what shows you like, and it automatically records them every week.

I’ve been living with my ReplayTV 5040 for more than a month now and it has definitely changed the way I watch TV. For starters, I’ve stopped giving much thought to when my favorite shows are on. They’re always there waiting patiently for me.

One of the features ReplayTV offers over Tivo is the automatic commercial advance. It is supposed to detect the beginning and end of commercials and automatically skip over them while playing a recorded show. In practice, this only works about half the time. However, there is a button that jumps ahead 30 seconds and another that backs up 7 seconds. This lets you manually skip over commercials pretty quickly. The upshot is that I make a point of never watching “live” TV, even if I’m there when a show I want to watch is on. I’ll watch one of my recorded shows while it is taping so I can watch it later without commercials.

It takes several seconds for the ReplayTV to change the channel, so surfing isn’t really an option anymore. Instead, it presents you with an easily-scannable on-screen program guide that shows you everything that’s on. It updates every night using my cable modem. Tivo needs a phone line to do this and, since I only own a mobile phone, that’s what made it easy for me to choose ReplayTV instead.

In general, however, the interface is sluggish. This sort of sluggishness I’ve come to expect from my PC, but I find hard to tolerate on an “appliance”. Clicking around with the remote control, the response may be instantaneous or may take several seconds to have an effect. This is complicated by the fact that I’m trying to aim my remote control either over or under my coffee table and frequently miss. Since there is no immediate feedback, I don’t know if my button press was registered and is just taking some time, or I missed and need to press it again. A nice clicking noise would go a long way here.

Does having instant access to my favorite shows make me watch more TV. After an initial frenzy, I think I’ve settled down to my pre-ReplayTV levels. I do spend a lot less time wandering around the dial and more time watching shows I like. On the whole, I’ve been very happy with it.