Editors' Note: Arris now offers a three-tuner version of the Moxi DVR in place of the two-tuner one reviewed here. Except for the ability to record three programs simultaneously, the new one is otherwise identical.
If the name "Moxi" sounds familiar, it's because the product has been circling the consumer electronics space for the better part of the last decade. After making a big splash at the 2002 Consumer Electronics Show, the Moxi DVR product line went through several iterations and passed through a variety of owners (Rearden Steel, Digeo, and now Arris). After several years of being available only through specific regional cable providers, a CableCard version of the Moxi DVR was finally released in late 2008. We've had the chance to spend several months living with the product, even as it's received several key firmware updates, feature expansions, and price cuts. While we wouldn't go so far as to call it a TiVo killer, the Moxi is, at least, a credible high-def DVR option. If you're not happy with the "free" DVR offered by your cable company, read on to see if the Moxi's benefits outweigh its caveats.
The caveats: Before you consider Moxi
Before we delve into the details of the Moxi DVR, prospective buyers need to know the following:
No satellite TV compatibility: The Moxi is designed to receive only cable broadcasts. It will not work with DirecTV and Dish Network satellite receivers. (Both of those services offer their own competing HD DVRs instead.)
No over-the-air antenna reception: The Moxi does not have the capability to receive over-the-air broadcasts. Antenna users should consider the TiVo (monthly fee required), DTVPal DVR, Echostar TR-50 (no monthly fee), or a computer-based option (Windows Media Center PCs or a Mac with a third-party add-on such as Elgato's Eye TV) if they wish to record TV shows.
Adapter required for SDV support: If your cable company uses switched digital video (SDV), you'll need a separate SDV tuning adapter (which the cable company should provide) to access all of your channels. As described by tech blogger Dave Zatz (who needed an SDV tuner for his TiVo DVR), an SDV setup is certainly less elegant than a non-SDV configuration.
Adapter required for access to analog cable channels: If your cable company hasn't yet made the jump to a fully digital system, you'll need to invest in Moxi's Analog Tuner Accessory Kit. The $130 add-on enables the capability to record non-digital cable sources (albeit only one at a time).
No onscreen access to video-on-demand or other cable interactive features: The Moxi--like all current third-party CableCard devices, including TiVo--can't access the interactive features offered by cable providers, including video-on-demand or anything else that requires two-way interaction (such as onscreen voting or the "Start Over" feature from some cable providers). This restriction is somewhat ameliorated by the fact that you can access Netflix streaming content (see below for more info). Note that this restriction is only for ordering pay-per-view events using the onscreen menu; with some cable providers, you can call on the phone and order PPV to watch live on your Moxi, although you likely won't be able to record it. The bottom line is this: if your current cable system's VOD offerings are a must-have, then the Moxi (or TiVo) isn't an option.
No built-in Wi-Fi option: In order to function--to do everything from update the program guide to access a variety of Web-based media--the Moxi needs a connection to your home network. Unfortunately, you'll need a wired Ethernet connection; there's no Wi-Fi option built-in, nor is there any available Wi-Fi dongle (as with TiVo and Xbox 360). If you don't have a free Ethernet port near your TV, you'll need to invest in an alternative--a set of powerline-to-Ethernet adapters, a set of MoCa adapters, or an Ethernet-to-wireless bridge.
Key online media features require a nearby Windows PC to be up and running: The Moxi can be used to access a wide variety of online programming from Netflix (with subscription), YouTube, and Hulu. However, in order to access these services, you need to be running the PlayOn software on a Windows PC within your home, which acts as a server with which the Moxi interfaces. Switch the PC off, and you lose access to those online media sources. It's also worth mentioning that when you're streaming content using the PlayOn software, it tends to slow down the PC considerably.
Buying a Moxi means betting on the product's--and the company's--viability: If you lease a DVR from your cable company, you can swap it in for a replacement unit at any time (if either an upgrade becomes available, or if the unit malfunctions). And--in the unlikely event that your local cable company goes out of business--you'd be losing out on only a month's worth of expenses. Conversely, buying a Moxi (as with TiVo, and any other service-dependent product) means betting that the company will stay in business until you've recouped your investment.
If any of those are deal-killers, then you'll want to look elsewhere for a DVR solution.
The Moxi DVR is available in two configurations: a two-tuner version ($500) and a three-tuner version. The number of tuners determines the number of live shows you can record simultaneously. Arris also offers an accessory called the Moxi Mate ($300), which enables multiroom viewing--the capability to stream already-recorded shows from the household's main Moxi DVR to other rooms in the house (so you could, for instance, start watching a movie or TV show in the living room, then finish it in the bedroom). Currently, the three-tuner version is available only bundled with the Moxi Mate accessory: $800 for the three-tuner plus one Moxi Mate, or $1,000 for the three-tuner Moxi plus two Moxi Mates.
Though the prices may sound high, it's important to note that they're lower after Moxi received a price cut in November 2009. More significantly, unlike TiVo, Moxi charges no baseline monthly or annual fees. (You still, of course, need to pay your monthly bills to third-party content providers--your cable company, Rhapsody, Netflix, and so forth--but that's true of any DVR or set-top box that accesses those pay services.)
At its core, the Moxi is a multituner HD DVR that offers a good array of Internet media options. Its basic features are as follows:
Multituner HD recording: Once equipped with a multistream CableCard supplied by your cable company, the Moxi can record any of the digital channels (standard or high-definition) offered by your cable company. As mentioned above, the two-tuner model can record two programs simultaneously, while the three-tuner model adds a third channel to the mix. Both can simultaneously play back a third previously recorded program while recording as well.
The Moxi packs a 500GB hard disk that can store any combination of 75 hours of HD programming or 300 hours of standard-definition programming. That's less than the TiVo HD XL can handle, but more than the tight confines of TiVo HD (only 20 HD hours).
Pause and rewind live TV: Moxi is always buffering live TV, so you can pause and rewind anything you're watching.
30-second skip: While it requires a manual hack on the TiVo, the 30-second skip function--convenient for blasting through commercial breaks on recorded programs--is a default option on the Moxi. (You can change it to 3-, 5-, or 15-minute skips in the setup menu if you prefer.) This feature isn't found on many--if any--cable company DVRs. There's also a 5-second jump-back button, so you can correct any overshoots with a couple of key presses.
HD EPG: All digital cable and satellite boxes and DVRs offer an onscreen electronic programming guide (EPG), but Moxi's is distinct from most you've probably seen. It's oriented vertically (channels on the left, which break out to current and upcoming programs on the right). It takes some getting used to (you can toggle to the more familiar programming grid by hitting a button on the remote), and some users just don't seem to want to make the jump. That said, we liked that it's rendered in high-def, and that it uses all of the real estate available on a 16:9 wide-screen display. That's a refreshing change from TiVo, whose low-res, standard-def Series 3 interface is showing its age.
In addition to those highlights, all of the standard features you'd expect on a modern DVR are present--series recording, conflict resolution, genre filters, and programming search.
Beyond those TV recording standards, Moxi has a decent array of Internet and online features that you won't find on many of the default DVRs offered by your local cable provider.
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.
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, AAC), and video (MPEG1/2/4, H.264, and WMV) on your TV through the Moxi. We ran Windows Media Center and were able to watch some downloaded Xvid videos and listen to some MP3 music playlists. It worked fine, though the Moxi interface was a bit slower when accessing a networked computer than it was navigating the built-in electronic program guide.