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Control options are left to the device's excellent remote (again, exactly the same as the one found on other TiVo models). 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, the Humax 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 Humax'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 connectivity options: although we were able to run the initial setup call over our Vonage Voice over IP phone line after considerable finagling, the TiVo service does not explicitly support VoIP services. Broadband connectivity worked flawlessly--and is required to make use of the DVR's impressive home-networking features--but it's not enabled straight out of the box. So, those of you in VoIP-only households may find yourselves shuttling the Humax 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 Humax could eliminate by shipping this product with built-in networking support.
Setup snafus notwithstanding, 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--if she could survive the shock of seeing live television on pause.Humax's TiVo models come in two hard drive sizes: 80 hours and 300 hours. The numbers refer to the amount of recording time that each DVR offers at the lowest quality. At its highest-quality setting, the 300-hour model delivers around 100 hours of recording time.
Connect the aforementioned Ethernet or wireless USB network adapter to the Humax, 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 recording schedule from any Web connection, and share recorded video programming with other TiVo-powered DVRs within your home network.
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 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 compatible 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.
Standalone Humax/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 quite 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, we hardly noticed it.
Sharp-eyed videophiles may find the T2500'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.