The Good Can record two HD programs simultaneously while playing back a third, previously recorded one; huge 1TB storage capacity; expandable storage; accepts cable TV and over-the-air signals; 30-second commercial skip; excellent easy-to-use interface and remote; impressive Internet and home-networking features, including video content from Netflix, Amazon, and CinemaNow, Rhapsody subscription music service, online and cell phone scheduling, photo and music streaming; TiVo To Go transfers recordings to PCs and portable devices; able to download and view most standard digital video file formats from networked PCs (with premium Desktop Plus PC software).
The Bad Requires subscription fee in addition to cable bill; sluggish transitions between menu screens; does not work with video-on-demand services; requires extra tuner box for cable systems with switched digital video services; must program 30-second skip; no picture-in-picture; TiVo To Go requires long, slow transfer and transcoding times; some premium features (Netflix, Amazon, Rhapsody, Desktop Plus, Wi-Fi adapter, expandable storage) require additional one-time expenses or subscription fees.
The Bottom Line The TiVo HD XL charges a hefty premium for its spacious recording capacity and THX certification, but most users will be content sticking to the all-but-identical standard TiVo HD DVR.
TiVo HD XL
Editor's Note: Since this review was written, TiVo has added support for enhanced TiVo Mobile features, downloadable/streaming video from Netflix (with subscription) and Jaman and CinemaNow (pay-per-view), and the ability to order pizza from Domino's.
When TiVo discontinued its high-end cable-ready high-def DVR, the TiVo Series3, it was really just making room for a new product in the line: the TiVo HD XL. The new TiVo is a near twin to the existing TiVo HD, but for three changes: it's got a much larger 1TB hard drive (enough capacity for 150 hours of HD programming); it's THX-certified; and it includes the premium TiVo backlit remote. The package costs $600--about the price that the TiVo Series3 was going for, and twice that of the "standard" TiVo HD. As with any TiVo, of course, you'll also need to budget money for a subscription fee: $13 a month, $129 a year, or $399 for the lifetime of the box. True, you can do a DIY upgrade on the standard TiVo HD by adding the improved remote ($50) and a 500GB expansion hard drive ($150), but that will cost nearly as much and still leave you with less recording capacity--and a lot of extra wires. That said, the original TiVo HD is still going to be the better buy for most viewers, while the XL model is more appropriate for die-hard TiVo fans or those who like to load up their box with lots of HD TV shows, movies, and digital downloads.
The bigger question is whether you want a TiVo at all, when you can get a "free" high-def DVR from your cable company. And the answer comes down to whether you find TiVo's superior design and laundry list of extras worth the additional cash--and whether you can live with some of the compromises. Among the TiVo features that go beyond recording TV shows: YouTube videos, renting and buying Amazon Unbox videos, Rhapsody music, online scheduling, copying recorded programs to PCs or portable devices (TiVo To Go), access to video and audio podcasts...the list goes on and on (see the features section below for details). Whether or not those features--and the TiVo's corresponding dearth of access to your cable system's video-on-demand functions--are worth the price of TiVo's hardware and subscription is a question that only you can answer. If you're reasonably happy with your existing HD DVR and don't have a burning desire for more Internet-delivered content on your TV, you can safely skip either TiVo HD model. But, if you're frustrated by the uninspired design and confusing navigation of your cable company's DVR and you appreciate the additional entertainment alternatives offered by online media options, the TiVo HD XL is worth your consideration.