TiVo DVR Series2 review:

TiVo DVR Series2

The Series2 comes in three hard-drive sizes: 40 hours, 80 hours, and 140 hours. The numbers refer to the amount of recording time that each TiVo offers at the lowest quality. At its highest-quality setting, this 40-hour drive delivers a little more than 13 hours of recording time.

Around back of the box, you'll find an A/V input with S-Video, a pair of A/V outputs with one S-Video jack, an RF coaxial input and output, jacks for the IR and serial cable-box controllers, two USB ports, and a phone jack. A second S-Video output, built-in Ethernet port, and a digital-audio output would have been nice, but all in all, the jack pack is pretty complete. The cooling fan, meanwhile, is all but silent.

The remaining Series2 features are familiar to DVR fans. You can pause whatever you're watching for up to 30 minutes. When you return, you can fast-forward to skip commercials. While viewing live TV, you're able to rewind in order to catch something that you missed, or you can watch the action in slow motion. Pressing the Record button saves the program to the hard drive.

TiVo controls satellite and cable boxes using an IR blaster or, for newer boxes, a serial cable (both of which are included). The TiVo service delivers a complete program guide for all cable and satellite providers, as well as for local stations. You can search the guide for upcoming shows by title, subject, actor, director, time, and channel. The box will record upcoming shows that match the search criteria, and TiVo's Season Pass feature arranges to record all showings of your favorite series.

Connect the aforementioned Ethernet or wireless USB network adapter to your TiVo, and you'll be able to use the device's Home Media Option. That feature allows you to access digital photos and music stored on your PC or Mac, update your TiVo's recording schedule from any Web connection, and share recorded video programming with other TiVos within your home network.

If these features sound too great for a product that costs less than $200, that's because they are. Standalone TiVo DVRs require a $13 monthly subscription or a onetime $300 fee in addition to the purchase price of the unit. If that's too rich for your blood, check out Toshiba's TiVo-powered DVD player/DVR combo, the SD-H400, which makes the Season Pass and Home Media Option features a voluntary upgrade while including basic recording features right out of the box.

The TiVo experience is generally satisfying. After the initial setup, recording our favorite TV shows--either in single episodes or weekly batches--quickly became second nature, thanks to the completely intuitive interface. Hard-core channel surfers may be bothered by the brief delay when switching channels (the TiVo box has to pass the channel-changing commands on to the cable or satellite box), but after a while it's hardly noticeable.

Sharp-eyed videophiles may find the Series2's picture quality to be soft, even in the highest-quality recording mode. But given the generally lackluster picture quality of even the best standard-definition cable and satellite services (compared to DVD, for instance), this is a quibble more than a knock. If you're a satellite subscriber, however, you'll want an integrated satellite/DVR device such as the Dish Network DVR 510 or the Philips DSR708, which offer identical picture quality to standard satellite tuners. Cable-company DVRs enjoy the same picture-quality advantage. In our tests, for example, Time Warner Cable's DVR, the Scientific-Atlanta Explorer 8000, did produce a slightly sharper image than TiVo's best-quality output.

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