Editors' note:Arris previously offered a two-tuner version of the Moxi DVR in place of the three-tuner one reviewed here. Except for the capability to record three programs simultaneously, the new one is otherwise identical.
With cable companies making their DVRs affordable and reasonably easy to use, it's understandable why there are few standalone HD DVRs trying to compete with them. In fact, there are really only two: TiVo and Arris' Moxi. On paper, and, for the most part, in practice, Moxi offers an excellent mix of features for TV recording and viewing and for enjoying streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and Rhapsody. It'll stream digital photos, music, and video from networked PCs and DLNA-enabled network-attached storage devices, too. And it does all of this without requiring a monthly/yearly/lifetime service charge (at least, not for the Moxi hardware). The icing on the cake--and something that we haven't seen from TiVo or any other competing DVR--is the capability of the latest Moxi to record three programs simultaneously. 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 ready to move beyond the "free" DVR offered by your cable company, read on to see if the Moxi's benefits outweigh these caveats.
The caveats: Before you consider a 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 or 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), the Channel Master CM-7000PAL (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 older Xbox 360 models). If you don't have a free Ethernet port near your TV, you'll need to invest in an alternative--a set of power-line-to-Ethernet adapters, a set of MoCa adapters, or an Ethernet-to-wireless bridge. This is an increasingly annoying omission in networked home video products, especially when small companies like Roku manage to incorporate dual-band 802.11n Wi-Fi into set-top boxes that cost less than $80. Also, if you intend to buy Arris' Moxi Mate media extender you'll need a wired connection or MoCa adapters; wireless and power-line adapters don't provide enough throughput.
Key online media features require a networked Windows PC to be up and running: The Moxi Mate 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 or shut down the PlayOn software, 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 HD DVR 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 only be losing out on 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--or at least continue offering the product and service--until you've recouped your investment.
If any of those are deal-killers, then you'll want to look elsewhere for a home TV-viewing solution.
The Moxi DVR is available in a three-tuner version with 500GB of internal storage. 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 and live TV 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, Arris offers a couple of different bundle options: $800 for a three-tuner DVR plus one Moxi Mate, or $1,000 for the three-tuner Moxi plus two Moxi Mates.
Though those prices are high, 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, this three-tuner model can simultaneously record up to three programs as well as play back previously recorded programs while recording.
The Moxi's 500GB hard disk can store any combination of 75 hours of HD programming or 300 hours of standard-definition programming. By comparison, the $299 TiVo Premiere records up to 45 hours of HD programming, while the $499 THX-certified Premiere XL has space for up to 150 hours. (Both the Moxi and TiVo units are expandable with external eSATA hard drives.)
Pause and rewind live TV: Since the Moxi HD DVR is always buffering live TV, you can pause and rewind anything you're watching.
30-second skip: 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.) TiVo offers a similar 30-second fast-scan and a remote hack for a full 30-second skip, but you won't find the feature on many--if any--cable company DVRs. There's also a 5-second jumpback 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 EPG (electronic programming guide), 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. Plus, if you frequently have guests using your TV, it's not a setup that's easily explained. That said, we liked the fact that it's rendered in high-def, and that it uses all of the real estate available on a 16:9 widescreen display.
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, Moxi's got 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. (This feature is also available on TiVo, and it's finding its way to some cable-provided boxes as well.)