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Moxi HD DVR (three-tuner) review: Moxi HD DVR (three-tuner)

Moxi HD DVR (three-tuner)

John Falcone Senior Editorial Director, Shopping
John P. Falcone is the senior director of commerce content at CNET, where he coordinates coverage of the site's buying recommendations alongside the CNET Advice team (where he previously headed the consumer electronics reviews section). He's been a CNET editor since 2003.
Expertise Over 20 years experience in electronics and gadget reviews and analysis, and consumer shopping advice Credentials
  • Self-taught tinkerer, informal IT and gadget consultant to friends and family (with several self-built gaming PCs under his belt)
Joshua Goldman Managing Editor / Advice
Managing Editor Josh Goldman is a laptop expert and has been writing about and reviewing them since built-in Wi-Fi was an optional feature. He also covers almost anything connected to a PC, including keyboards, mice, USB-C docks and PC gaming accessories. In addition, he writes about cameras, including action cams and drones. And while he doesn't consider himself a gamer, he spends entirely too much time playing them.
John Falcone
Joshua Goldman
14 min read

Editors' note:Arris previously offered a two-tuner version of the Moxi DVR in place of the three-tuner one reviewed here. Except for the capability to record three programs simultaneously, the new one is otherwise identical.


Moxi HD DVR (three-tuner)

The Good

Three-tuner cable high-def DVR includes support for YouTube, Hulu, and Netflix via PlayOn software; built-in Flickr and Rhapsody compatibility; streams digital photos, music, and video from networked PCs and DLNA-enabled network-attached storage devices; multiroom viewing (with additional Moxi Mate hardware purchase).

The Bad

Monthly fee is replaced by high up-front cost; interface and program guide take some getting used to; does not work with cable video-on-demand; no built-in Wi-Fi; PlayOn-related video services require you to run a Windows PC simultaneously; PC-based media access slows interface and introduces some instability; does not support over-the-air antenna reception; remote control isn't particularly intuitive; multiroom viewing requires wired Ethernet connection.

The Bottom Line

If you can get past the high price of entry, the Moxi HD DVR's bevy of network and Internet-enhanced features--and its capability of recording three programs at once--make it a potentially worthwhile TiVo competitor.

With cable companies making their DVRs affordable and reasonably easy to use, it's understandable why there are few standalone HD DVRs trying to compete with them. In fact, there are really only two: TiVo and Arris' Moxi. On paper, and, for the most part, in practice, Moxi offers an excellent mix of features for TV recording and viewing and for enjoying streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and Rhapsody. It'll stream digital photos, music, and video from networked PCs and DLNA-enabled network-attached storage devices, too. And it does all of this without requiring a monthly/yearly/lifetime service charge (at least, not for the Moxi hardware). The icing on the cake--and something that we haven't seen from TiVo or any other competing DVR--is the capability of the latest Moxi to record three programs simultaneously. While we wouldn't go so far as to call it a TiVo killer, the Moxi is at least a credible high-def DVR option. If you're ready to move beyond the "free" DVR offered by your cable company, read on to see if the Moxi's benefits outweigh these caveats.

The caveats: Before you consider a Moxi
Before we delve into the details of the Moxi DVR, prospective buyers need to know the following:

No satellite TV compatibility: The Moxi is designed to receive only cable broadcasts. It will not work with DirecTV or Dish Network satellite receivers. (Both of those services offer their own competing HD DVRs instead.)

No over-the-air antenna reception: The Moxi does not have the capability to receive over-the-air broadcasts. Antenna users should consider the TiVo (monthly fee required), the Channel Master CM-7000PAL (no monthly fee), or a computer-based option (Windows Media Center PCs or a Mac with a third-party add-on such as Elgato's Eye TV) if they wish to record TV shows.

Adapter required for SDV support: If your cable company uses switched digital video (SDV), you'll need a separate SDV tuning adapter (which the cable company should provide) to access all of your channels. As described by tech blogger Dave Zatz, who needed an SDV tuner for his TiVo DVR, an SDV setup is certainly less elegant than a non-SDV configuration.

Adapter required for access to analog cable channels: If your cable company hasn't yet made the jump to a fully digital system, you'll need to invest in Moxi's Analog Tuner Accessory Kit. The $130 add-on enables the capability to record non-digital cable sources (albeit only one at a time).

No onscreen access to video-on-demand or other cable interactive features: The Moxi--like all current third-party CableCard devices, including TiVo--can't access the interactive features offered by cable providers, including video-on-demand or anything else that requires two-way interaction (such as onscreen voting or the "Start Over" feature from some cable providers). This restriction is somewhat ameliorated by the fact that you can access Netflix streaming content (see below for more info). Note that this restriction is only for ordering pay-per-view events using the onscreen menu; with some cable providers, you can call on the phone and order PPV to watch live on your Moxi, although you likely won't be able to record it. The bottom line is this: if your current cable system's VOD offerings are a must-have, then the Moxi (or TiVo) isn't an option.

No built-in Wi-Fi option: In order to function--to do everything from update the program guide to access a variety of Web-based media--the Moxi needs a connection to your home network. Unfortunately, you'll need a wired Ethernet connection; there's no Wi-Fi option built-in, nor is there any available Wi-Fi dongle (as with TiVo and older Xbox 360 models). If you don't have a free Ethernet port near your TV, you'll need to invest in an alternative--a set of power-line-to-Ethernet adapters, a set of MoCa adapters, or an Ethernet-to-wireless bridge. This is an increasingly annoying omission in networked home video products, especially when small companies like Roku manage to incorporate dual-band 802.11n Wi-Fi into set-top boxes that cost less than $80. Also, if you intend to buy Arris' Moxi Mate media extender you'll need a wired connection or MoCa adapters; wireless and power-line adapters don't provide enough throughput.

Key online media features require a networked Windows PC to be up and running: The Moxi Mate can be used to access a wide variety of online programming from Netflix (with subscription), YouTube, and Hulu. However, in order to access these services, you need to be running the PlayOn software on a Windows PC within your home, which acts as a server with which the Moxi interfaces. Switch the PC off or shut down the PlayOn software, and you lose access to those online media sources. It's also worth mentioning that when you're streaming content using the PlayOn software, it tends to slow down the PC considerably.

Buying a Moxi HD DVR means betting on the product's--and the company's--viability: If you lease a DVR from your cable company, you can swap it in for a replacement unit at any time (if either an upgrade becomes available, or if the unit malfunctions). And--in the unlikely event that your local cable company goes out of business--you'd only be losing out on a month's worth of expenses. Conversely, buying a Moxi (as with TiVo, and any other service-dependent product) means betting that the company will stay in business--or at least continue offering the product and service--until you've recouped your investment.

If any of those are deal-killers, then you'll want to look elsewhere for a home TV-viewing solution.

The Moxi DVR is available in a three-tuner version with 500GB of internal storage. The number of tuners determines the number of live shows you can record simultaneously. Arris also offers an accessory called the Moxi Mate ($300), which enables multiroom viewing--the capability to stream already-recorded shows and live TV from the household's main Moxi DVR to other rooms in the house (so you could, for instance, start watching a movie or TV show in the living room, then finish it in the bedroom). Currently, Arris offers a couple of different bundle options: $800 for a three-tuner DVR plus one Moxi Mate, or $1,000 for the three-tuner Moxi plus two Moxi Mates.

Though those prices are high, unlike TiVo, Moxi charges no baseline monthly or annual fees. (You still, of course, need to pay your monthly bills to third-party content providers--your cable company, Rhapsody, Netflix, and so forth--but that's true of any DVR or set-top box that accesses those pay services.)

At its core, the Moxi is a multituner HD DVR that offers a good array of Internet media options. Its basic features are as follows:

Multituner HD recording: Once equipped with a multistream CableCard supplied by your cable company, the Moxi can record any of the digital channels (standard or high-definition) offered by your cable company. As mentioned above, this three-tuner model can simultaneously record up to three programs as well as play back previously recorded programs while recording.

The Moxi's 500GB hard disk can store any combination of 75 hours of HD programming or 300 hours of standard-definition programming. By comparison, the $299 TiVo Premiere records up to 45 hours of HD programming, while the $499 THX-certified Premiere XL has space for up to 150 hours. (Both the Moxi and TiVo units are expandable with external eSATA hard drives.)

Recording three programs simultaneously
The three-tuner Moxi HD DVR is capable of recording three programs simultaneously. If you go for a fourth you'll be asked to stop something else.

Pause and rewind live TV: Since the Moxi HD DVR is always buffering live TV, you can pause and rewind anything you're watching.

30-second skip: The 30-second skip function--convenient for blasting through commercial breaks on recorded programs--is a default option on the Moxi. (You can change it to 3-, 5-, or 15-minute skips in the setup menu if you prefer.) TiVo offers a similar 30-second fast-scan and a remote hack for a full 30-second skip, but you won't find the feature on many--if any--cable company DVRs. There's also a 5-second jumpback button, so you can correct any overshoots with a couple of key presses.

HD EPG: All digital cable and satellite boxes and DVRs offer an onscreen EPG (electronic programming guide), but Moxi's is distinct from most you've probably seen. It's oriented vertically (channels on the left, which break out to current and upcoming programs on the right). It takes some getting used to (you can toggle to the more familiar programming grid by hitting a button on the remote), and some users just don't seem to want to make the jump. Plus, if you frequently have guests using your TV, it's not a setup that's easily explained. That said, we liked the fact that it's rendered in high-def, and that it uses all of the real estate available on a 16:9 widescreen display.

In addition to those highlights, all of the standard features you'd expect on a modern DVR are present--series recording, conflict resolution, genre filters, and programming search.

Beyond those, Moxi's got a decent array of Internet and online features that you won't find on many of the default DVRs offered by your local cable provider.

Online scheduling: Make recording changes on the fly from any Web browser via moxi.com. Changes are made in real time, so you can adjust for any potential conflicts. (This feature is also available on TiVo, and it's finding its way to some cable-provided boxes as well.)

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, and 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 your moxi.com 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 for the first year and $20 each year thereafter, or a flat fee of $80; 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, PBS.org, Comedy Central, and NHL.com. 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.

Expandable storage: The Moxi's eSATA port supports add-on hard drives with capacities up to a whopping 6TB, or a thousand hours of HD video. The catch: not all off-the-shelf eSATA drives are supported; it needs to be one of LaCie's 4big Quadra drives.

Multiroom DVR access: As mentioned earlier in this review, Arris makes a companion piece for its DVRs called a Moxi Mate. Connect one or more Moxi Mates to other TVs in the house--and provide them with an Ethernet connection--and you can access recorded programming and live TV from the main Moxi unit. A three-tuner Moxi DVR means one viewer can watch live TV in the living room, while up to two Mates in other rooms can watch and control live TV or watch recorded programs. The main limitation is that if tuners are busy recording, you'll have to cancel the recordings in order to change stations. A Mate also has access to all the same Web and network services as the DVR.

The Moxi Mate, however, is not as flexible as a full-on cable box or the sort of multiroom DVR system available on Fios (which uses the home's existing cable wiring to stream recorded programs from the main DVR to auxiliary cable boxes throughout the house). The Moxi Mate's advantage is that you're paying a one-time fee for the device, not the monthly charge you'd pay for an extra cable box. It's up to you to determine if that up-front cost is ultimately a savings versus the monthly box rental from your cable company. Also, streaming live HD programming requires a lot of bandwidth and requires a wired Ethernet or MoCa adapter Internet connection.

Design and connectivity
The Moxi itself is a straightforward black box. At 3 inches high by 17 inches wide by 10.75 inches deep, it's a bit larger than some cable boxes or DVD players, but it will fit into any standard equipment rack. 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 hard-drive sound of the Moxi was largely undetectable. If you misplace the remote, there is a directional pad on the unit's front face so you can still navigate the menus.

Except for a single USB port on the unit's front face, all of the connectivity options are concentrated on the unit's back. It has the full range of AV outputs: HDMI and component video (for HD output), plus S-video and composite. Analog (red/white RCA) and digital (optical and coaxial) audio outputs are available as well. In addition to the aforementioned eSATA expansion port, there's also a rear-mounted USB jack. (Neither USB port is used for anything at the current time.) Ethernet is currently the only network interface available. There's only one CableCard slot, but it takes multituner "M-cards."

Moxi remote control
The Moxi remote wasn't as intuitive as we would've liked.

The Moxi remote is something of a disappointment. On the surface, it's not terribly different from 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 the experience of using the TiVo remote was. 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's.

In order to get your Moxi up and running, you'll need a visit from the cable guy (or gal). The installer will provide and set up a multistream CableCard tuner, also called an M-Card, that slides into the rear of the Moxi, and will then work with your provider's home office to get the DVR up and running. Cable companies seem to make CableCards a hassle to have installed, but they are required by the FCC to make them available. However, don't expect your cable company's sales and tech support to know any specifics on the cards it uses; it took us multiple calls just to verify that our provider's cards were in fact M-Cards. In our case, the install took about an hour; things were made somewhat difficult because the cable installer was unfamiliar with the box. (He had installed TiVo DVRs before, but this was his first Moxi.) Once we finally got a picture, he was quick to get our signature and leave. The message was clear: our cable provider was happy to set this thing up and guarantee service, but it didn't have any real interest in providing tech support for a third-party box--especially one that doesn't offer its revenue-enhancing video-on-demand programming.

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, via 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, so you never have to miss what you're watching.

The presentation of the Moxi interface is fine, but navigation isn't as intuitive as one 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--"offscreen," 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 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, but could be better. Occasionally we would turn on our TV to find the picture frozen, but audio still playing. Rewinding a bit would sometimes be enough to fix the problem, but other times it required a hard reboot (by cycling the power).

If you have digital cable, your DVR choices are Moxi, TiVo, or the default DVR that your cable company provides. If you're looking at Moxi (or TiVo), it's because you're not happy with the cable company model. So that pretty much makes your DVR consideration a two-horse race between Moxi and TiVo.

Moxi's significant up-front $599 cost gives us pause (no pun intended). 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 at that price. 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.

On the flip side, Moxi is certainly a credible HD DVR that performs well at its primary mission of recording TV shows--up to three at a time, no less. The multiroom viewing options available via Moxi Mate offer a compelling step up that many cable companies' default DVRs can't match. Furthermore, we're encouraged that Moxi has updated its firmware at regular intervals, adding tweaks and new features.

Like many such purchase 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 is worth an audition.


Moxi HD DVR (three-tuner)

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 8Performance 6