– TiVo fans and fanatics rejoice!
That's because it's basically the "TiVo Series 3 light" that has been rumored since the arrival of the Series 3.
Understandably, a few Series 3 (S3) features have been left out to make the TiVo HD more affordable.
Even so, most users won't miss them. This is the high-def TiVo you've been waiting for.
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Late in 2006, TiVo released its Series 3 HD. Although the S3 was innovative and groundbreaking, its price was a little high.
TiVo will still offer the Series 3 HD to users willing to pay for its larger hard drive, OLED front-panel display, and THX certification for use with home theater systems.
More frugal shoppers should check out the new TiVo HD. It retains most of the functionality of the fancy S3, but with a much more palatable $300 price.
Like the S3, the TiVo HD uses built-in tuners to record over-the-air ATSC HDTV, unscrambled QAM (quadrature amplitude modulation) cable feeds and premium channels, with the help of two CableCARD tuners.
The CableCARD concept is similar to that of SIM cards on cell phones: You can rent the CableCARDs from your cable provider and insert them into whatever video-capable consumer electronics device you own.
The CableCARD (like the SIM card) identifies you as a paying customer, so you'll get the level of service you paid for.
In theory you could pop your CableCARD into flat-screen TVs, TiVos, other DVRs, and Windows Vista MCE PCs to access your standard and premium programming quickly.
You'll need to get the CableCARDs from your local cable company or FiOS TV provider. Renting one is usually cheaper than renting an entire DVR; the cost is generally $4 to $10 per month for two CableCARDs compared with $10 to $20 for a HD-capable DVR.
But you'll still have to pay $8.31 to $19.99 per month for the TiVo service.
The TiVo HD is the same size as the S3. Clad in a glossy black and brushed-metal exterior, its box-shaped chassis is designed to fit into the average TV cabinet or home theater setup.
It's about the size of a larger DVD, Blu-ray or HD-DVD player, and the connections are in the back where you'd expect them.
The new unit retains the component-video, HDMI, S-Video, and composite-video outputs of the S3, as well as the thus-far disabled eSATA port for future hard drive expansion.
It comes with a 160 GB hard drive, good for about 180 hours of standard-definition TV recorded at "Basic" quality and 20 hours of HD content.
This is less capacity than the S3, which has a 250 GB hard drive that can store 300 hours of SDTV and 30 hours of HDTV.
Dual USB ports support the TiVo's Wireless G network adapter, but this DVR is not enabled for external hard drives.
(Not yet, anyway. Given that the TiVo community is an enthusiastic and technically savvy one, I'm sure that user-friendly hacks for the eSATA and USB ports are in the works. )
The TiVo HD did give up a few of the bells and whistles that the S3 model boasted.
For example, it lacks the S3's THX certification, but that's a high-end feature designed for the hard-core videophile who needs to make sure his/her home theatre looks and sounds perfect.
One feature you may miss is having a backlit programmable remote (handy for navigating in a darkened room and controlling other home theater components).
The TiVo HD comes with a non-backlit but otherwise excellent remote that looks just like the Series 2 remotes of the past eight years. The Series 3 HD's backlit remote, the TiVo Glo, is available separately for $49.
As mentioned before, the TiVo HD has less space for recording programs: 180 hours of SD TV shows isn't bad, but you'll find yourself deleting those HD videos sooner, because there's space for only 20 hours of them.
Last but not least is the removal of the front OLED display and navigation buttons. The navigation buttons are a nice feature, especially if you lose remotes. Ultimately, though, the buttons and OLED display aren't all that necessary.
Anyone familiar with a recent Series 2 or S3 TiVo will find most of the same navigation and viewing features here.
Amazon Unbox now lets you order and download TV shows and movies directly to your TiVo (you once had to do the ordering from your PC, an unwelcome additional step).
TiVo's Swivel Search function lets you find programs using tags (like searching a blog) or even with a "If you like this" feature, which uses TiVo 's suggestion engine to find new stuff to record. Swivel Search even searches online content on Amazon Unbox.
KidZone creates a kid-friendly environment so that you can shield your children from more adult programming while letting them search for something to watch.
Recording in Glorious HD
Picture quality depends, of course, on your cable service, but using Verizon's FiOS TV, I was able to set the TiVo up and get it running quickly.
Video quality ranged from very good to excellent with HD content. SD content, predictably, was less compelling, but that's the case with cable-company DVRs, too (a Motorola QIP 6416, in my case).
The TiVo HD works as a QAM tuner, too, for unscrambled channels, should you decide you don't need CableCARDs from your cable provider (and your provider supports QAM).
In addition, it can receive over-the-air HD content for free as long as you use an antenna. All modes are "dual tuner," so you can record two programs at once or record one program while watching another live.
One of the TiVo's two CableCARD slots, classified as "multistream," will support future dual-tuner cards. Both of the TiVo slots are only CableCARD 1.0 compliant at the moment, so pay-per-view and video on demand are not yet supported.
If you've used a Series 2 or Series 3 TiVo before, you'll be able to pick up the TiVo HD's peanut-shaped remote and go to town.
(But like the Series 3 HD, the TiVo HD lacks the Series 2's TiVo-to-Go service, which lets you download programs to your notebook or desktop, because of mandates from CableLabs, the cable-company consortium.)
The familiar TiVo interface does everything its users have come to expect: schedule, search, and suggest programming to record and play back.
Most of the user interface has been optimized for HD sets, too, so there are fewer of the "jaggies" seen on previous TiVos.
The info screens and the famous timeline on the bottom of the screen are sharp and easy to read.
Less-used features such as the online sections of the menu have a few fuzzy-interface issues, but those for the most part are unlikely to annoy you.
Users of older, standard-definition TiVos and some DVRs may find the TiVo HD a bit slower, particularly when the system is updating its two-week programming guide.
This is a consequence of having to draw much more information for an HD screen. But common searches require fewer clicks on the remote than with the sometimes clunky interfaces seen on cable-company DVRs.
Like all previous TiVo models, the TiVo HD endeavors to learn your likes and dislikes if you use the thumbs-up/down keys while viewing, and it occasionally will record programs on its own that it thinks you will like. (Anything you record manually automatically gets a thumbs-up.)
With today's 1,000-plus channels of programming, this can be a boon, whether you like quilting, certain types of sports (but not others), or informational programming. Of course, programs you actually choose to download get priority.
An Internet-Enabled DVR
As on other TiVo models, the cooling fan and hard drive on the TiVo HD are quiet. You'll hardly notice their operation from up close, and you certainly won't hear them from your couch unless you have bionic ears.
You shouldn't have any trouble finding a way to connect to the Internet so that the TiVo can update its program guide and access online content such as podcasts and downloadable movies.
I plugged the TiVo HD into my home network via its Ethernet port. I was also able to get online using a HomePlug powerline network and TiVo's 802.11 b/g USB wireless adapter.
If you're not a broadband Internet subscriber, the TiVo HD includes an analog modem for downloading program guide updates, but not online features.
Broadband Internet users can get all sorts of content piped to their TiVo HDs, including home movies from online provider One True media, and listen to Internet radio on Live365.
Like some cable providers, TiVo has partnered with Fandango to let you search for and buy movie tickets online from the comfort of your couch.
This stuff is all gravy on top of the TiVo DVR functions, but it does give you a living-room interface to online entertainment. Look for TiVo to add new online features as time goes by.
The TiVo HD instantly worked with my SlingBox Pro test unit, proving yet again that the SlingBox is the peanut butter to the TiVo's chocolate.
Placeshifting is quick and painless. The SlingBox Pro downconverted the TiVo's HD component-video output for transmission across my home network at very good quality.
Using it, I was also able to watch recorded content sent wirelessly to my laptop in the bedroom while my wife watched something else on the bedroom TV.
Placeshifting to my laptop on a 3G cell network and to my Windows Mobile T-Mobile MDA smartphone on the road was just as easy.
You can use certain Verizon Wireless cell phones to access TiVo Mobile, which lets you search programs and schedule recordings. It's for those situations when you hear about new programs while talking to friends at work or reading the paper on the train.
You can set up your TiVo to record remotely, and the program will be waiting for you when you walk through the door. TiVo Mobile costs $1.99 a month and works only with Verizon Wireless.
Yahoo! users will also be able to get Yahoo! online content on their TiVo HD, such as online photos, weather, and traffic info. Compared with the FiOS cable box, however, that's not too special.
With Yahoo!, it takes at least three clicks on the remote to bring up weather and traffic on the TiVo; they're only one click away on a FiOS cable box.
What's more interesting is that you can use tv.yahoo.com to search and schedule programs on your TiVo.
Just register your TiVo HD with tv.yahoo.com or www.tivo.com, and you'll be able to program it from work, school, or wherever you have a Web browser and an Internet connection.
If anything will stymie new TiVo purchases, it will be the ease with which the cable companies get subscribers to use their private-branded DVRs.
A cable company's techs can set up a HD DVR for you and replace it quickly if it breaks, and the service may be cheaper than TiVo in the long run, thanks to the difference in monthly fees. And the TiVo still can't access your cable company's video on demand and PPV programming.
Also, a person who gets used to working with a cable-company DVR may not want to spend time learning a new menu system, especially if the first one is easier to use and offers more features.
All in all, however, the TiVo HD lives up to the promise of finally getting HD programming on a TiVo at a reasonable cost. It does core search, record, and playback functions better than anyone else in the DVR business.
I think $300 is the sweet spot that will push current TiVo subscribers into the HD fold and lure new users away from the plain-vanilla boxes offered by most cable companies.
BOTTOM LINE: Combining the best of the legendary simple-to-use TiVo interface with dual CableCARD readers and an affordable price (finally!), the new TiVo HD delivers the promise that the TiVo Series 3 HD made.
PROS: The best HD-capable TiVo ever. Dual HD tuners. Still easy to use. Online scheduling via Web site or cell phone.
CONS: Menu operation is a little slow at times. No TiVo to Go. No satellite support. Cable TV DVRs can be cheaper in the long run. Great for fans, may be too late for novices. Cell-phone scheduling is only on Verizon Wireless.
COMPANY: TiVo Inc
Price: $299.99 List
Video Outputs: S-Video, Composite, Component, HDMI
Audio Outputs: Optical (Toslink)
Storage Capacity: 160 GB
Height: 3.4 inches
Width: 16.5 inches
Depth: 12.6 inches
Weight: 12 lb
Supported EDTV and HDTV Resolutions (HD Ready): 480p, 720p, 1080i, 480i
Built-in TV Tuner: NTSC, ATSC, CableCard
Networking Options: Ethernet
Ports: External SATA (eSATA), USB 2.0 (both currently disabled)
EDITOR RATING: Four and half out of five stars
Copyright © 2007 Ziff Davis Media Inc. All Rights Reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Ziff Davis Media Inc. is prohibited.