TiVo: king of the DVR hill
Note: TiVo has rereleased its Series2 DVR with a silver and white case in place of the original black. Aside from the cosmetic change, the two units are identical.
TiVo is a victim of its own success: people use the word to refer to any digital video recorder (DVR), whether or not it's actually made by the company. While this TiVo lacks the cosmetic update (silver and white instead of black) of the newer Series2, it still is the best, most versatile standalone DVR you can buy. Its superior interface and network-friendly features far surpass competing DVRs offered by cable companies. In fact, the only real competition--not including TiVo-powered DVD recorders and satellite receivers from other manufacturers--remains ReplayTV's, which offers automatic commercial skipping, real-time program sharing between multiple units, and progressive-scan output not found on the TiVo. The catch? Like Replay, TiVo requires a monthly fee of $13 or a onetime payment of $300 above and beyond its $199 price tag. Compared to an extra $8 or so on the monthly cable bill--typical of what you'll pay your cable company for its DVR--that's still way too expensive for most people.
Editor's note: We have changed the rating in this review to reflect recent changes in our rating scale. Click here to find out more.TiVo is a big, charcoal-black box that sports the company's smiling-television logo and two LEDs on its front; the green display indicates power, and the red one lights up while the unit is recording. The 3.38-by-15-by-12-inch box (HWD) is otherwise unremarkable, lacking even a power button.
Control options are left to the device's excellent remote. Shaped like a stretched-out barbell, it has a prominent TiVo button perched on its tip for accessing the main menu. Differentiation among button shapes makes navigating the remote by feel relatively easy. A smart setup system lets the remote command your TV's power and input selection, while the volume control can affect either the television or an A/V receiver.
Upon connecting the box, we dove into the unit's guided setup, a supposedly 45-minute process that obviates the need to even open the user manual. Setup took a little longer than that for us, but in the end, we didn't have any problems.
In its default dial-up mode using a regular phone line, TiVo makes nightly calls to the server to fetch program information. There's no 800 number, so you must choose a local number from a long list. If you have broadband, however, there's a better option. One of the Series2's best features is that its USB ports can connect to a broadband Internet service via compatible USB-to-Ethernet and USB Wi-Fi adapters, eliminating the need for a phone-line connection. We tried this setup with a Fallaron NetLine PN796 (wired) and a Linksys WUSB11 (wireless) adapter connecting to a Netgear router, and it worked like a charm.
An important note on TiVo's connectivity options: although we were able to run the initial setup call over our Vonage Voice over IP phone line after considerable finagling, TiVo does not explicitly support VoIP services. Broadband connectivity worked flawlessly--and is required to make use of the TiVo's impressive home-networking features--but it's not enabled straight out of the box. That means those of you in VoIP-only households may find yourselves shuttling the TiVo to the home of a neighbor so that you can use a trusty old analog phone line to do the initial setup download. It's a silly catch-22 that TiVo could eliminate by shipping its products with built-in networking support.
Setup snafus aside, we really like this DVR's easy-to-use yet powerful interface. TiVo's designers chose real English phrases, such as "Watch live TV" and "Pick programs to record," for menu choices, instead of the cryptic icons common to so many other consumer electronics devices. Text explanations were clear and timely, and we'd bet that even Granny could figure out the basics in a matter of minutes--once she gets over the shock of seeing live television on pause.