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

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.


Using the PlayOn software (running on a networked PC), you can access Netflix, YouTube and Hulu on your TV through the Moxi.

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, but Moxi issues a free download key to its customers.) 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 (in beta), as well as video from CNN, CBS, and ESPN. 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. (Editors' note: CNET is a subsidiary of CBS.)

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.


Purchase the optional Moxi Mate hardware, and you can access the main Moxi from multiple rooms in the house.

Multiroom DVR access:: In August 2009, Moxi unveiled the Moxi Mate, a $300 multiroom extender. 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 (after a February 2010 firmware upgrade) live TV from the main Moxi unit. But there are some important caveats. As Moxi's PR rep told us in an e-mail:

"Each live stream requires access to one of the Moxi HD DVR's tuners. For recorded TV, the number of streams is not technically limited but bandwidth constraints dictate that no more than three simultaneous streams are advisable (including both the master and the Mate--e.g. 2 Mates + 1 DVR or 3 Mates all getting a recorded stream)."

In other words, you could buy 15 Moxi Mates for your large mansion, but only 3 of them could access the main Moxi at any single given time. It also means that if a dual-tuner Moxi was recording two live streams and someone using a Moxi Mate wanted to change the channel, a conflict message would appear on the screen, allowing the user to end the recording and start channel surfing. Moxi suggests that users should make sure their home network has up to 20Mbps of free bandwidth for each Moxi Mate to stream HD video at optimal levels.

What it comes down to is a Moxi Mate 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 home). But the Moxi Mate solution should allow you to, say, start watching a movie in the living room and finish in the bedroom. The advantage is that you're paying a one-time fee for the Moxi Mate, not the monthly charge you'd pay for an extra cable box. It's up to you to determine if that up-front cost of the Moxi Mate is ultimately a savings versus the monthly box rental from your cable company. (Note: We did not have a Moxi Mate on hand, so we couldn't do any hands-on testing.)

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 backside. 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."


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 than 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 using the TiVo remote. We eventually threw in the towel and opted to use a Logitech Harmony remote instead--and found the Moxi easier to control as a result.

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 CableCard tuner that slides into the rear of the Moxi, and will then work with the home office to get the DVR up and running. In our case, it 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 my signature and leave. The message was clear: Time Warner (my local 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.

Similarly, you the user are left to handle the home network setup, as well as any third-party add-ons (PlayOn, Rhapsody, and external storage, and so forth). We found it to be fairly 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, 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. Unlike TiVo Series 3, the interface is in high-def and uses the entire space of the wide screen.

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--"off screen," 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 TiVo Series 3 (which is notably poky at this point), but it's still not quite as zippy as, say, an iPhone interface. There often seems to be a 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's stability is good--until you start using the PlayOn feature. At least twice when using PlayOn, the channel guide and main menu became inaccessible, and we had to do 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. However, TiVo is expected to announce a new DVR in March 2010, so we'd recommend anyone interested in Moxi at least wait to see what TiVo has up its sleeve.

Moxi's reduced but still significant up-front $500 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 5 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 its primary mission of recording TV shows well. 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.

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    Moxi HD DVR (two-tuner)

    Part Number: MR-1500T3
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    • Type remote control
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