TiVo 160 Media Device review: TiVo 160 Media Device

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The Good Friendly and easy to use. Excellent picture quality. Powerful and intelligent recording options. Remote scheduling. No monthly fees.

The Bad Small hard drive. No cable recording. Many features locked down.

The Bottom Line Despite missing some key features, the TiVo HD is a worthwhile investment if you don't want to pay for cable, and it poses no ongoing EPG fees.

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8.1 Overall

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Editor's Note: The TiVo Media Device was launched as the TiVo HD in July 2007. It has been replaced by the TiVo 320 and received a pricing cut.

We waited 10 years for this thing. It better be worth it…

We're not going to mince words here: the TiVo HD is one of the ugliest set-top boxes we've ever seen. It's big, it's silver and black, and the front-mounted LEDs tell you almost nothing. It looks less like a luxury AV component and more like a network storage box.

The "display" isn't much help either — usually all you'll get is a small green LED — but there is a "Format" button on the fascia that lets you change the output on the device from 576i all the way up to 1080i with the resolution listed in orange.

For one reason or other, the remote gets a lot of people excited, but we can't see why. The "peanut", as it's nicknamed, is certainly friendly, but some of the buttons are on the small side and it's not backlit.

Like it sounds, the TiVo HD DVR is a dual-HD tuner recorder, and it comes with a relatively paltry 160GB of storage. We've spoken before about how the TiVo's been hobbled for the Australian market, and at present there's still very little functionality: networking, Video-on-Demand, and — until very recently — even remote recording were all MIA.

But the feature that looms largest on the "missing" list is the ability to record cable. Speaking to TiVo representatives at the launch, we were told that the box is "designed to appeal to the 70 per cent of people who've chosen not to use Pay TV". Game on, Foxtel!

Another feature which is slated for release next year is the much-lauded TiVoToGo service which lets you rip recorded shows onto portable devices such as iPods, PCs and PSPs. IPTV and movie downloads are also on the cards — eventually. Expect to pay about the same as the US for this feature — about AU$20 to AU$30.

Like the exterior of the unit, the user interface is fairly ugly, but it's straightforward, and most users will find it intuitive. The electronic program guide itself, on the other hand, is very easy on the eye and allows you to keep watching the currently running program while surfing for shows to watch or record. You can also search by favourite actor, director or genre if you like.

But where the TiVo demonstrates its dominance over the upstart iQ2 is in its attention to detail. For example, there are a wealth of options offered when you record any show, such as the ability to extend the recording time to offset missing the end of a program.

Of course, the box also features the famous "thumbs up, thumbs down" system which lets you rate programs and in turn gives the TiVo some ammunition with which to record similar programs you might like. Unfortunately, our box was a little reticent and never actually taped anything extra for us… We don't necessarily like this feature anyway due to the small size of the hard drive, but you can turn it off if you like.

While we're on the subject of storage, TiVo representatives tell us that there's 500GB and 1TB TiVo-branded drives "coming soon" which will let you upgrade your recording capacity. Unfortunately, it appears that you can't simply add an external drive with an eSATA port. Despite following the various tips found on a Web search (holding down Pause on start-up, and then pressing "62") we were unable to get the TiVo to recognise a Western Digital external drive.

In addition to the eSATA port, you also get a bunch of other connectors which include two USB ports (for attaching accessories like the optional Wi-Fi adapter), an antenna (of the F-connector type seen on cable boxes — oh, the irony!), a component connection, a single HDMI, S-Video, AV and an optical digital connector.

At present, you can only buy TiVo at Harvey Norman and Domayne as they have an exclusive three-month contract, but we have seen it available on wishlist.com.au as well.

It took us a while to warm to the TiVo HD, but we're developing some kind of affection we don't quite understand for this unit. It's easy to use, recordings are virtually identical to the broadcasts, and everything's just so damn cheerful!

The interface is easy to use, but we wish that there was a dedicated Now Playing button to instantly access your recordings. Navigating around is straightforward, and the on-screen EPG is one of the better ones. We've heard problems with freezing and other general weirdness but we didn't experience any problems.

While Director and Favourite Star searches can be useful, it can be a little frustrating if it can't find the person you're looking for. Especially if the person has a hard to spell name.  

Of course, in some ways it will never be like the unit available overseas with no cable recording ability, and with so many other features not activated till next year. In fact, the box has been locked down fairly tightly, and not even the 30-second skip hack works. We also tried using the TiVo desktop application (essentially TiVoToGo) to no avail.

As Foxtel has had remote record for about 12 months, we were interested to see how it worked on TiVo. Setting up was unfortunately a convoluted process, and the feature only appeared to be activated on the day we wrote this review. Once you finally get it to work, though, TiVo's remote online scheduling is a good deal more powerful than Foxtel's. Not only can you specify whether you want a Season Pass or a single record, but you can also specify whether you want the recording to run overtime — useful for prime time programs. We were also puzzled to find quality settings as well, as nowhere in the main menus of the TiVo itself can you actually change this.

Despite the poorly worded and slightly unnerving response — "Your record request has been successfully sent to your TiVo! It would take an hour for it to reach your box!" — we were able to record programs running at the same time.

Having spent some time with the TiVo box, we can see how people can get addicted to it. It's a lot friendlier than the iQ2 and the fact that you can get it working out of the box without ongoing fees is a real boon. Of course, you also miss out on the extra channels of Foxtel HD+ but if you're just looking for a free-to-air recorder this is a very good option.

Though there's some features missing, we think that the Australian iteration doesn't suffer too much from what it lacks. It's a solid PVR, and it certainly ups the ante on PVRs like Topfield and Beyonwiz which rely on users to pay a fee every month for the EPG.

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