On July 24, TiVo announced the latest (and perhaps most significant) addition to their line of time-shifting TV receivers. The TiVo HD ($299 MSRP) is one of the first set-top boxes to take advantage of new FCC rules, effective 7/1/07, that allow cable TV subscribers to purchase and install third-party cable TV receivers - breaking the stranglehold that Scientific Atlanta and Motorola have held on STBs for years.
TiVo’s HD product, which I’ve been testing here for the past couple of weeks, goes far beyond any previous TiVo system (of which I have three running in my house!). For starters, it has two independent DVRs, just like its more expensive brother, the $799 Series 3. And it comes equipped with two CableCARD slots to drive those DVRs, which means you can record two shows simultaneously while watching a third program.
In addition to 64-QAM and 256-QAM reception, the TiVo HD also receives ATSC (terrestrial) DTV signals, along with conventional analog (NTSC) programming. Switching between cable and terrestrial signals is as easy as simply changing channels.
The well-known TiVo electronic program guide and GUI are retained, but there are a few new twists. TiVo’s Swivel Search is a powerful search engine that can locate and deliver both broadcast and Web-based video and audio content to your TV. The new Amazon-TiVo Unbox partnership lets you rent or buy SD-resolution movies, downloading them from Amazon’s server to your TiVo for viewing.
The internal hard drives have enough capacity to record 180 hours of standard definition TV or 20 hours of HDTV, feeding signals through component YPbPr or HDMI jacks at 480i/p, 720p, or 1080i resolution. (Sorry, no 1080p output available!)
The rear panel I/Os include dedicated RF inputs for terrestrial and cable signals, a pair of USB ports (here’s where you hook up a wireless LAN adapter) and an E-SATA jack for a possible external hard drive, although this jack is labeled "for future use only" in the product literature.
For broadband content, both the AVC (MPEG4) and VC-1 (Windows Media) codecs are supported for SD and HD content. The player also supports JPEG file formats for viewing still images.
As with all Series 2 and 3 TiVo products, you can access the STB through an Internet connection to schedule and record programs. Unlike Slingbox, however, you can’t stream those programs over the Internet for viewing at a remote location. TiVo limits viewing of content stored on one receiver to only one other Series 3 or HD receiver in your home.
Additional Internet support (also found on Series 2 receivers) is included for watching movie previews and buying tickets through Fandango.com, as well as local weather and traffic reports from Yahoo.com. You can also listen to Web radio stations through Live365. A partnership with OneTrueMedia lets viewers share home movies on other TiVo receivers through the same broadband connection.
My TiVo HD set up quite quickly and painlessly, except for a glitch with the second CableCARD I tried to install (apparently defective). The receiver recognized the first card immediately and I was watching cable channels within minutes after setting up the channel pairing over the phone with a Comcast customer service rep.
There was no need to scan for channels, either - TiVo figured out which terrestrial DTV channels I should be able to receive, based on my zip code, and loaded them into memory. There were only a few questionable inclusions of New York City DTV stations, which are 65 miles northeast of here, and those were easily deleted from memory.
I’ll have a more detailed review of the TiVo HD on my Web site (www.hdtvexpert.com) shortly. With its $299 MSRP, it looks like TiVo did their homework with this product - and then some…