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HolidayBuyer's Guide

Moxi Mate review:

Moxi Mate

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. 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 the your 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, but 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,, Comedy Central, and (CNET Reviews is published by CBS Interactive, a unit of CBS.) 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.

Design and connectivity
The Mate itself is a straightforward black box. At 1.8 inches high by 9.8 inches wide by 7.2 inches deep, it's small, too, making it a nice option for a bedroom or smaller rooms where you might not want to plunk down a big piece of AV equipment. 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 Moxi Mate is silent. If you misplace the remote, there is a directional pad on the unit's front face so you can still navigate the menus and access a reset button should the Mate freeze up.

All of the connectivity options are concentrated on the unit's backside. It has a nice range of AV outputs: HDMI and component video (for HD output) and composite for standard-def output. Analog (red/white RCA) and digital (optical and coaxial) audio outputs are available as well. There's an eSATA expansion port for adding external storage, but not for direct recording. There are also two USB ports, but there's no mention in the manual as to their function. You also get an IR out for an IR remote transmitter and a serial port. As mentioned above, wired Ethernet is currently the only network interface available.

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 that of the TiVo remote. 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 Mate's.

If you already have the Moxi HD DVR up and running, getting the Moxi Mate working is fairly simple. In our test setup, we connected to an HDTV by HDMI, hooked up our MoCA adapter for our network connection, and plugged in the power. Once powered up, you're required to register the Mate with your account (the same process is required for the Moxi HD DVR) and in turn you receive an e-mail with a registration key. Type in the key using the Moxi remote and you're done. If both the DVR and Mate are on the same network, the Mate will see the DVR and you can start viewing.

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, 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.

The presentation of the Moxi interface is fine, but navigation isn't as intuitive as we 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 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 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 Mate's stability is good when you have a reliably fast Internet connection. As noted earlier, the device frequently locked up when we were testing with power line adapters, forcing us to reset again and again.

If you have digital cable, your DVR choices are Moxi, TiVo, or the default DVR that your cable company provides. The Moxi Mate certainly adds to the appeal of choosing a Moxi HD DVR, especially with its three tuners. The Mate offers a compelling step-up that many cable companies' default DVRs can't match. Furthermore, we're encouraged by the fact that Moxi has updated its firmware at regular intervals that include tweaks and new features.

The initial up-front $800 cost (for the Moxi DVR plus Moxi Mate bundle) is no small sum, though. 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 and Mate at that price. And if your house isn't wired with Ethernet, you'll need to add on the cost of MoCA adapters, two of which run for a little less than $200. 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.

Like many such purchasing 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 Mate and HD DVR combo is worth an audition.

What you'll pay

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