updated 1/2/2004 11:49:31 AM ET 2004-01-02T16:49:31

People who gleefully treated themselves or others to a shiny new ReplayTV digital video recorder this Christmas may not be as happy anymore.

DVRs are the latest alternative to VCRs, and an untold number of customers recently took advantage of ReplayTV's dramatic price drop to $149 for its lowest-end 40-hour model, thinking the deal included three years of service, which is needed for the devices to work.

Now, some are furious, after their service was disconnected and they were told they must pay additional fees to reactivate it.

"It's almost like buying a car and having the car later stop working, saying you can't drive it anymore unless you give us more money," said Eric Maur, 26, of Kaneohe, Hawaii.

Officials with Santa Clara, Calif.-based ReplayTV could not be reached for comment late Wednesday. But in a statement about the consumer complaints, the company said it is assessing the situation "to find the best possible solution."

DVRs, pioneered by TiVo and ReplayTV, allow users to automatically record television programming onto a hard disk instead of videotape. Users can also pause live TV, watch instant replays or skip commercials.

Maur was among those whose eyes popped on Dec. 17 when several retailers, including Amazon.com and Circuit City, began advertising the reduced price, saying it included three years of free service. That's how it was labeled on the product itself, inside and outside, Maur said.

Before the price change, the 40-hour ReplayTV models cost $499 including the three years of service. The required service handles the television programming information that's needed to make the recording features work.

Angry postings started to emerge on Web sites on Dec. 22 after ReplayTV announced that the new $149 price did not include the service subscription. Instead, customers would have to pay a $12.95 a month or a one-time payment of $299 for the service.

ReplayTV responded to the outrage the next day, posting on its Web site an apology for the confusion but told customers they should resolve the matter with their retailer, or return the product.

But frustrations only mounted this week as new customers like Maur found their ReplayTV service cut off, making their new DVRs useless.

Copyright 2003 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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