In addition to making its own digital video recorders, TiVo licenses its best-in-class look and feel to other manufacturers. The latest is Humax, a Korean company that made its fortune as a contract manufacturer for better-known labels such as Samsung. Humax--no relation to computer peripheral maker Umax--has chosen to introduce its brand to the North American market with some compelling TiVo models. Chief among them is the T2500, which has a 300-hour maximum recording capacity, the largest currently available. Otherwise, it's essentially identical to the other Series2 TiVo models. That's fine because TiVo remains the best, most versatile standalone DVR you can buy. Its superior interface and network-friendly features far surpass those of competing DVRs offered by cable companies. The catch is that the T2500, like smaller-capacity TiVos, requires a monthly fee of $13 or a onetime payment of $300--above and beyond its $699 price tag. For that hefty price, you can get a TiVo-powered DVR/DVD recorder, such as Humax's own DRT800 or , and have plenty of cash left over for blank DVDs. The front face of the Humax T2500 is silver with a decorative black stripe, so it will match just about any A/V equipment. (In fact, the Humax struck us as more attractive than models from TiVo itself.) Except for two message LEDs (green for power, red to indicate recording), the design is strictly minimalist; this always-on device doesn't even have a power button. The 3.38-by-15-by-12-inch box (HWD) is otherwise identical to previous TiVo DVRs.
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.