Perhaps spurred on by the Moxi HD DVR, TiVo has finally given its interface a high-def makeover, and the new look makes its debut in a pair of new HD DVRs: the TiVo Premiere ($300) and the TiVo Premiere XL ($500). These new models will replace the TiVo HD DVR and TiVo HD XL DVR. We have not performed a hands-on review of the TiVo Premiere, but here is an overview of its features. This two-tuner HD DVR has a 320GB hard drive (twice the size of the basic TiVo HD DVR), for up to 45 hours of HD recording, and it supports both digital cable and over-the-antenna HDTV reception. It has built-in ATSC tuners for over-the-air content, and it supports a multi-stream CableCARD to view premium HD cable channels. The dual-tuner design allows you to record two shows simultaneously or watch one show while you record another. This HD DVR is compatible with Verizon FiOS service but not satellite TV or AT&T U-Verse services.
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In addition to providing the DVR service we've come to know and love, the TiVo Premiere also offers a ton of Web- and network-friendly features. TiVo is touting access to the "world's largest on-demand video store," and indeed the box provides easy, direct access to VOD platforms from Netflix, Amazon, and Blockbuster. Other Web services include YouTube, Picasa, Rhapsody, Music Choice, and Live365. You can stream music and photos from a PC or Mac to the TiVo box, and you can transfer recorded content from the TiVo box to a laptop, iPod, iPhone, PSP, or other mobile device. You can also schedule recordings remotely via a Web browser or mobile device. As with previous TiVo models, the TiVo Premiere allows for multiroom viewing with other TiVo HD DVRs on your network.
According to TiVo, the new Premiere model is 30 percent faster than the TiVo HD DVR; it's also slimmer and Energy Star-compliant. The box supports 480i, 480p, 720p, 1080i, and 1080p resolutions. Back-panel connections include HDMI, component video, composite video, optical digital audio (no coaxial), and stereo analog audio outputs, as well as the CableCARD slot and two RF inputs for antenna and cable signals. A phone jack is no longer included, but an Ethernet port is available for connecting to your home network; this product does not offer built-in wireless network connectivity. The back panel does include two USB ports, to which you can attach a Wi-Fi adapter for wireless connection to your home network. A rear-panel eSATA port allows you to attach an external hard drive for additional storage.
From the photos I've seen of the new HD interface, it retains the vertically oriented menu along the left side and has similar navigation as the classic TiVo interface, but it makes better use of the wider 16:9 screen by adding cover art, show information, more search levels, and other colorful graphics to the top and right of the basic menu. You can view live TV in a window while you browse the menus, and the video-on-demand pages appear to be well laid out to improve the search and navigation experience. Recording options still include the ability to set a Season Pass with first-run-only recordings, overlap protection, and overtime scheduler for live recordings. You get a 14-day program guide and a 30-minute buffer.
The higher-end TiVo Premiere XL has a 1TB hard drive that supports up to 150 hours of HD recording, adds THX certification, and comes with the backlit, programmable TiVo Glo remote that features a slide-out QWERTY keyboard for easier searches.
Read about the high points and the low points of the TiVo Premiere on Page 2.
• TiVo now offers an attractive high-def interface with more show information and colorful graphics.
• The CableCARD slot allows you to tune in premium HD channels, but it also has over-the-air tuners for free HDTV reception.
• You can add an external hard drive to increase storage capacity.
• The TiVo box provides direct access to a lot of Web services, including Netflix, Amazon, and Blockbuster VOD. It supports music/photo streaming from a Mac and a PC.
• You can stream recorded content to other TiVo HD DVRs on your network and transfer it to portable devices.
• This HD DVR is not compatible with satellite TV service.
• The TiVo service requires a monthly fee, in addition to the upfront cost of the box.
• CableCARD is not compatible with your provider's interactive services, like video-on-demand. More so, cable providers don't always make it easy to request and set up CableCARDs.
• The TiVo Premiere does not have built-in wireless network connectivity.
• The box lacks RS-232 or IR ports for easier integration into an advanced control system.
The TiVo Premiere HD DVR is simply loaded with features. TiVo has tweaked its interface to better suit HDTVs while still retaining those elements that have long made it the de facto choice in DVR technology. The box also has a larger hard drive than the company's previous entry-level HD DVR, and it has even more Web services. All of these combine to make this a compelling entry in the DVR category. That being said, a lot of those Web services are now offered directly in TVs and Blu-ray players, so it really comes back to the DVR experience. Is TiVo worth the upfront cost of the box and the monthly/yearly service fees? Keep in mind that the Moxi HD DVR offers a lot of the same features with no service charge--but the company's implementation is arguably not as slick or as time-tested. If you're a digital cable subscriber who's less than impressed by the quality of your provider's HD DVR offering, it's definitely worth your time to sit down and crunch numbers to compare the cost of your current service versus the cost of TiVo. Over the long term, you may not have to pay that much more for a much better DVR experience.