Moxi HD DVR (three-tuner) review: Moxi HD DVR (three-tuner)

Online scheduling: Make recording changes on the fly from any Web browser via moxi.com. Changes are made in real time, so you can adjust for any potential conflicts. (This feature is also available on TiVo, and it's finding its way to some cable-provided boxes as well.)

SuperTicker: Moxi pulls weather, sports, business, entertainment, and current event news from the Web and flashes them across the bottom of the screen. It's just like your favorite news channel, but you can flip it on and off while watching any live or recorded show.

Media Link (DLNA media streaming): The Moxi doubles as a media streamer. Run a DLNA-compliant media server on a networked PC (such as Windows Media Player, TVersity, and TwonkyMedia), and you can access photos (JPEGs), audio files (MP3, WMA, and AAC), and video (MPEG1/2/4, H.264, and WMV) on your TV through the Moxi. It works fine, though the Moxi interface was a bit slower when accessing a networked computer than it was navigating the built-in electronic program guide.

Rhapsody: Moxi can access Rhapsody's online music subscription service. Rhapsody requires its own monthly fee, but the service is also accessible through other venues, including PCs, the Logitech Squeezebox, the Sonos Digital Music System, and many smartphones.

Finetune: Moxi has a free online radio app that streams genre-specific tunes directly to the box.

Flickr: You can use the Moxi to access online Flickr photo albums.

MoxiNet: Use a rudimentary onscreen Web browser to view text sites on the Internet. In addition to the default (news, sports, weather, entertainment), you can set 10 customized bookmarks via your moxi.com account.

PlayOn access to Hulu, YouTube, Netflix, and other online video providers: Unlike TiVo (and many other network-connected TV and home video products), Moxi does not have built-in access to Netflix (with paid subscription) and YouTube programming. However, users can still access these online programming resources by running MediaMall's PlayOn software on a networked Windows PC, which Moxi then accesses as a proxy server. (The Windows-only software normally costs $40 for the first year and $20 each year thereafter, or a flat fee of $80; Moxi issues a free download key to its customers for one year of service.) The catch is that you'll be required to keep your PC running to access it. However, it does allow you to access Hulu video streaming as well--a major plus that's not available on rivals, including TiVo. PlayOn also has Amazon Video On Demand, as well as video from CNN, CBS, ESPN, PBS.org, Comedy Central, and NHL.com. Just be aware that the interface, especially for Netflix, isn't nearly as smooth or intuitive as it is for devices that natively support those streaming services, and the video quality isn't necessarily as good either.

Expandable storage: The Moxi's eSATA port supports add-on hard drives with capacities up to a whopping 6TB, or a thousand hours of HD video. The catch: not all off-the-shelf eSATA drives are supported; it needs to be one of LaCie's 4big Quadra drives.

Multiroom DVR access: As mentioned earlier in this review, Arris makes a companion piece for its DVRs called a Moxi Mate. Connect one or more Moxi Mates to other TVs in the house--and provide them with an Ethernet connection--and you can access recorded programming and live TV from the main Moxi unit. A three-tuner Moxi DVR means one viewer can watch live TV in the living room, while up to two Mates in other rooms can watch and control live TV or watch recorded programs. The main limitation is that if tuners are busy recording, you'll have to cancel the recordings in order to change stations. A Mate also has access to all the same Web and network services as the DVR.

The Moxi Mate, however, is not as flexible as a full-on cable box or the sort of multiroom DVR system available on Fios (which uses the home's existing cable wiring to stream recorded programs from the main DVR to auxiliary cable boxes throughout the house). The Moxi Mate's advantage is that you're paying a one-time fee for the device, not the monthly charge you'd pay for an extra cable box. It's up to you to determine if that up-front cost is ultimately a savings versus the monthly box rental from your cable company. Also, streaming live HD programming requires a lot of bandwidth and requires a wired Ethernet or MoCa adapter Internet connection.

Design and connectivity
The Moxi itself is a straightforward black box. At 3 inches high by 17 inches wide by 10.75 inches deep, it's a bit larger than some cable boxes or DVD players, but it will fit into any standard equipment rack. Home theater purists will appreciate that the glowing Moxi logo on the unit's front can be turned off, giving the unit a completely stealthy appearance. Unlike some loud DVRs, the hard-drive sound of the Moxi was largely undetectable. If you misplace the remote, there is a directional pad on the unit's front face so you can still navigate the menus.

Except for a single USB port on the unit's front face, all of the connectivity options are concentrated on the unit's back. It has the full range of AV outputs: HDMI and component video (for HD output), plus S-video and composite. Analog (red/white RCA) and digital (optical and coaxial) audio outputs are available as well. In addition to the aforementioned eSATA expansion port, there's also a rear-mounted USB jack. (Neither USB port is used for anything at the current time.) Ethernet is currently the only network interface available. There's only one CableCard slot, but it takes multituner "M-cards."

Moxi remote control
The Moxi remote wasn't as intuitive as we would've liked.

The Moxi remote is something of a disappointment. On the surface, it's not terribly different from the TiVo remote--keypad at the bottom, video transport controls in the center, and directional navigation keys at the top. But using it never became as intuitive and natural for us as the experience of using the TiVo remote was. For example, the main "Moxi" button for entering the top-level menu system is small and buried in the middle of the keys. It can also be programmed only to power on and off your TV and control volume and mute. There's no way to change inputs or adjust aspect ratio, though you can dig into the setting menus to do the latter. In the end, we think it would be easier to switch to a Logitech Harmony universal remote instead of using the Moxi's.

Setup
In order to get your Moxi up and running, you'll need a visit from the cable guy (or gal). The installer will provide and set up a multistream CableCard tuner, also called an M-Card, that slides into the rear of the Moxi, and will then work with your provider's home office to get the DVR up and running. Cable companies seem to make CableCards a hassle to have installed, but they are required by the FCC to make them available. However, don't expect your cable company's sales and tech support to know any specifics on the cards it uses; it took us multiple calls just to verify that our provider's cards were in fact M-Cards. In our case, the install took about an hour; things were made somewhat difficult because the cable installer was unfamiliar with the box. (He had installed TiVo DVRs before, but this was his first Moxi.) Once we finally got a picture, he was quick to get our signature and leave. The message was clear: our cable provider was happy to set this thing up and guarantee service, but it didn't have any real interest in providing tech support for a third-party box--especially one that doesn't offer its revenue-enhancing video-on-demand programming.

If you want to use any of the third-party add-ons (PlayOn, Rhapsody, and external storage, and so forth), you're responsible for setting those up as well. We found it to be pretty straightforward, but non-techies may need to scrutinize the manual or contact Moxi's tech support (which is available via phone during West Coast business hours Monday through Friday, via live chat, and via a Web form on Moxi's site).

Interface and performance
Moxi's default EPG is a split-screen design, similar to the "Live Guide" version of the TiVo interface: channels on the left-hand side, broken out to show the hour by hour. It works well enough (Moxi touts the fact that its interface has won an Emmy), but Moxi has acknowledged the complaints of change-challenged viewers and offered a more conventional horizontal grid guide (accessible by double-clicking the remote's diamond button). Either version of the guide keeps the present video you're watching available in the upper right corner, so you never have to miss what you're watching.

The presentation of the Moxi interface is fine, but navigation isn't as intuitive as one would like. First, many options require two button presses when they only should require one. Secondly, when navigating between the horizontal icons on the main menu (channel guide, recorded TV, search, etc.), you need to know to "hover" on the option you want before the options subscreen pops up. Third, those options all retain the split-screen navigation of the channel guide, but you need to know that you must move the cursor left or right--"offscreen," as it were--to move to the subsequent or previous options. Again, it all works well enough, but it takes a bit of getting used to.

Speed of navigation is a mixed bag: it's faster than that of the TiVo Premiere (which is notably poky), but it's still not quite as zippy as, say, an iPhone interface. There often seems to be half a second of delay when you move vertically or horizontally on the screen, or when you choose an option. Those speeds take a notable hit when using the MediaLink option to access PC-based or PlayOn digital media. For instance, navigating the same PlayOn server through the Xbox 360 resulted in a faster experience.

The Moxi Mate's stability is good, but could be better. Occasionally we would turn on our TV to find the picture frozen, but audio still playing. Rewinding a bit would sometimes be enough to fix the problem, but other times it required a hard reboot (by cycling the power).

Conclusion
If you have digital cable, your DVR choices are Moxi, TiVo, or the default DVR that your cable company provides. If you're looking at Moxi (or TiVo), it's because you're not happy with the cable company model. So that pretty much makes your DVR consideration a two-horse race between Moxi and TiVo.

Moxi's significant up-front $599 cost gives us pause (no pun intended). Even without TiVo-style monthly/yearly/lifetime service fees, that's a lot of money--we'd want at least five years of use out of the DVR at that price. The online add-ons are cool, but the PlayOn-powered ones (Netflix, Hulu, YouTube) require you to run a PC; and the same PlayOn and streaming features are largely available to anyone who owns a game console.

On the flip side, Moxi is certainly a credible HD DVR that performs well at its primary mission of recording TV shows--up to three at a time, no less. The multiroom viewing options available via Moxi Mate offer a compelling step up that many cable companies' default DVRs can't match. Furthermore, we're encouraged that Moxi has updated its firmware at regular intervals, adding tweaks and new features.

Like many such purchase decisions, it's going to come down to personal preferences and priorities. If you're looking for a multiroom-capable DVR that's reasonably Web-savvy--and you're cognizant of the caveats we've outlined above--the Moxi is worth an audition.

What you'll pay

Pricing is currently unavailable.

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Where to Buy

Moxi HD DVR (three-tuner)

Part Number: MR-1500T3

MSRP: $599.00

See manufacturer website for availability.

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  • Type Remote control
About The Author

John P. Falcone is the executive editor of CNET Reviews, where he coordinates a group of more than 20 editors and writers based in New York and San Francisco as they cover the latest and greatest products in consumer technology. He's been a CNET editor since 2003.

About The Author

Joshua Goldman is a senior editor for CNET Reviews, covering cameras, camcorders, and related accessories. He has been writing about and reviewing consumer technology and software since 2000.