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Moxi Mate review: Moxi Mate

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Moxi Mate
6.7

Moxi Mate

Pricing Not Available

The Good

Extends HD content from Moxi HD 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.

The Bad

Requires a Moxi HD DVR, plus a wired Ethernet or MoCA adapter Internet connection for most streaming functions; can't schedule DVR recordings; PlayOn-related video services require you to run a Windows PC simultaneously; PC-based media access slows interface; remote control isn't particularly intuitive; interface and program guide take some getting used to.

The Bottom Line

For those wanting to get more from a single cable TV connection, the Moxi Mate is worth considering as an add-on to a Moxi DVR, but you'll need a fat wallet and more than a little patience.

One of the advantages to Arris' Moxi HD DVRs is the availability of the Moxi Mate. Connect one or more of these little black boxes 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. You also get access to a number of Web services, such as Rhapsody, Netflix, and Amazon on Demand.

However, the Moxi Mate 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.

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

Requires a Moxi HD DVR:Full use of the the Moxi Mate is possible only with one or more of the company's two- and three-tuner HD DVRs. Without one, you basically have an overpriced media extender.

No built-in Wi-Fi option: Yes, it's true; like the TiVo and Moxi DVRs, the Moxi Mate does not offer built-in Wi-Fi. It's 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 $130.

Requires a wired Ethernet Internet connection or MoCA adapters for the DVR and Mate for full functionality: In order for the Mate to talk to your DVR they must both be connected to the Internet. As mentioned above, Wi-Fi is not an option, so you need to go wired. Throughout the Mate's user guide and online FAQ, Arris claims you can use direct broadband Ethernet connections, power line adapters, or MoCA adapters. Power line adapters use your electrical wiring for transmission, whereas MoCA adapters use your coaxial cabling. However, power line adapters did not provide us with enough bandwidth to do much more than update the electronic program guide (this was confirmed by Arris tech support). We've never had problems using a power line adapter for other HD-streaming devices, but the Mate immediately choked when accessing the Moxi DVR, which caused it to lock up and force a reset. Thus, you'll need to get a wired connection to one or both devices or use MoCA adapters. We tested with sets from Actiontec and D-Link and they worked flawlessly. Plus, if you have Verizon Fios as your Internet provider, its Actiontec modem/routers have MoCA baked in so you have the option to use fewer adapters. The adapters are not cheap: they currently run between $170 and $200 a pair (so, if you need them in your setup, you'll have to add them into your total cost).

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, to access these services, you need to be running the PlayOn software on a Windows PC that acts as a home 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 and Moxi Mate bundle means betting on the products'--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 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.

Features
The Moxi Mate ($300) enables multiroom viewing--the capability to stream already-recorded shows 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) as well as view live TV. Currently, Arris offers a couple 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 the prices may sound high, it's important to note that with a DVR and two Mates you can essentially watch live TV in three places with only one cable connection. More significantly, unlike with 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 Mate is a network media extender that offers a good array of Internet content options. Its basic features are as follows:

Access to live TV and recordings: Once equipped with a multistream CableCard supplied by your cable company, a Moxi HD DVR can record any of the digital channels (standard or high-definition) offered by your cable company. Slide the Mate into your lineup and you can access and control any of the available tuners as well as view any recorded programming on the DVR. On a two-tuner Moxi DVR (now discontinued), that means--for instance--that one viewer can watch live TV in the living room, while a second viewer using the Mate in a bedroom can watch a second live TV channel. A three-tuner Moxi adds even more flexibility.

Pause and rewind live TV: Since the Moxi HD DVR is always buffering live TV you can pause and rewind anything you're watching. The same can be done with the Mate.

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. But there's a catch with the Mate: since it is streaming content from the DVR there is a delay with everything you do.

HD EPG: All digital cable and satellite boxes and DVRs offer an onscreen 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 the Mate is destined for a guest room, 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 wide-screen display. Also, it's the same whether you're on the DVR or a Mate, so you have to adjust to only the one layout.

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 is important because one thing you can't do through the Mate is schedule a recording on the DVR. You either have to go online or head back to the DVR to record something.

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, 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 the 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, but 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. (CNET Reviews is published by CBS Interactive, a unit of CBS.) 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.

Design and connectivity
The Mate itself is a straightforward black box. At 1.8 inches high by 9.8 inches wide by 7.2 inches deep, it's small, too, making it a nice option for a bedroom or smaller rooms where you might not want to plunk down a big piece of AV equipment. 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 Moxi Mate is silent. If you misplace the remote, there is a directional pad on the unit's front face so you can still navigate the menus and access a reset button should the Mate freeze up.

All of the connectivity options are concentrated on the unit's backside. It has a nice range of AV outputs: HDMI and component video (for HD output) and composite for standard-def output. Analog (red/white RCA) and digital (optical and coaxial) audio outputs are available as well. There's an eSATA expansion port for adding external storage, but not for direct recording. There are also two USB ports, but there's no mention in the manual as to their function. You also get an IR out for an IR remote transmitter and a serial port. As mentioned above, wired Ethernet is currently the only network interface available.

The Moxi remote is something of a disappointment. On the surface, it's not terribly different than 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 that of the TiVo remote. 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 Mate's.

Setup
If you already have the Moxi HD DVR up and running, getting the Moxi Mate working is fairly simple. In our test setup, we connected to an HDTV by HDMI, hooked up our MoCA adapter for our network connection, and plugged in the power. Once powered up, you're required to register the Mate with your moxi.com account (the same process is required for the Moxi HD DVR) and in turn you receive an e-mail with a registration key. Type in the key using the Moxi remote and you're done. If both the DVR and Mate are on the same network, the Mate will see the DVR and you can start viewing.

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, 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.

The presentation of the Moxi interface is fine, but navigation isn't as intuitive as we 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--"off screen," 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 a 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 when you have a reliably fast Internet connection. As noted earlier, the device frequently locked up when we were testing with power line adapters, forcing us to reset again and again.

Conclusion
If you have digital cable, your DVR choices are Moxi, TiVo, or the default DVR that your cable company provides. The Moxi Mate certainly adds to the appeal of choosing a Moxi HD DVR, especially with its three tuners. The Mate offers a compelling step-up that many cable companies' default DVRs can't match. Furthermore, we're encouraged by the fact that Moxi has updated its firmware at regular intervals that include tweaks and new features.

The initial up-front $800 cost (for the Moxi DVR plus Moxi Mate bundle) is no small sum, though. 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 and Mate at that price. And if your house isn't wired with Ethernet, you'll need to add on the cost of MoCA adapters, two of which run for a little less than $200. 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.

Like many such purchasing 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 Mate and HD DVR combo is worth an audition.

Moxi Mate
6.7

Moxi Mate

Pricing Not Available

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 7Performance 6