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TiVo Recorder Rates 2nd Behind Only Refrigerator

Alex L. Goldfayn, a Buffalo Grove-based writer

October 4, 2003

As he walked around his company's new 350,000-square-foot home wearing clogs ("they're really comfortable") and a signature Abt vest, 40-year-old Mike Abt is like a kid in a candy store.

"It's a lot of fun," Abt said, smiling. "I get to do some of the buying" for the store.

He takes a quick turn into a nondescript room, one of many adjoining the large warehouse at the family-owned consumer electronics retailer, Abt Electronics and Appliances.

"You have to see this," he said. "It's really cool. Like Vegas."

Inside, the Abt security room is like a Las Vegas-style casino security system. Seven monitors each display 16 digital video feeds at between four and eight frames per second (normal video displays at about 30 frames per second). The video is captured and stored on a computer hard drive.

There is another monitor connected to a joysticklike apparatus, which lets Abt security director Michael Lopes rotate around the parking lot and zoom in and out as he pleases.

"We have eyes all over the place," Lopes said of the 112 security cameras.

In his office, which he shares with younger brother Jon, Mike Abt discussed his company's commitment to top brands, customer satisfaction--and TiVo.

"Even if they buy a $20,000 home entertainment system," he said, "they'll enjoy it much more if they have TiVo. We've always pushed TiVo more than anything."

The digital video recorder sells for between $250 and $350, making it a low-revenue and low-profit item for the retailer. And it requires a lengthy sales explanation to educate consumers about its functions.

"You have to sell them one by one, because people don't get it at first. But it's so cool. You have to sell a TiVo to make customers happy. If they have TiVo, and it's working, they love it."

About 70 Abt salespeople own TiVos, so they sell its value from personal experience. Mike Abt speaks from his experience as well.

Although his wife, Jennie, uses the device to capture popular shows like "Sex in the City" and "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy," Abt prefers more educational programming.

"I'll search for accounting shows," he said, and the recorder automatically captures them on its hard drive for viewing.

Another entertainment device Abt and his family enjoy at home is the Escient FireBall Digital Music Manager (about $2,000). The stand-alone stereo system component stores up to 600 albums on its 40 gigabyte hard drive.

It includes a CD player and burner, allowing music transfers from any CD onto the hard drive. And the FireBall can be networked, enabling Abt to copy MP3 files onto the device from his computer.

The system is wired to his receiver and is controlled by programmable remote control on any television.

"It's great," Abt said. "I can access that music from any room in the house."

And though the electronics retailer has about $7,000 in entertainment electronics in his home--a far cry from some of his customers, with systems priced well into the six figures--he stands by his favorite.

"TiVo is the world's greatest invention. It's by far the most important thing in the house, other than the fridge."

Copyright © 2003, Chicago Tribune

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