TiVo HD

It's been a long time coming, and we're still waiting for more.

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TiVo HD
  • TiVo HD
  • TiVo HD
  • TiVo HD

Pros

  • Easy to use, great picture quality, remote scheduling, intelligent scheduling, no monthly fees

Cons

  • Small hard drive, ugly remote, many features still yet to be enabled

Bottom Line

After all the hype and wait, the TiVo HD isn't the ground-breaking product it was touted as. It's got some nifty new features which we'd love to see widely accepted though and it's a worthwhile investment if you want a comprehensive electronic TV program guide.

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The TiVo has been around for over 10 years in various forms and iterations, but it's only landed on Australian shores relatively recently. Its mediocre technical specifications are bolstered by its interactive features, resulting in a device that's very easy to use and full of potential — if only it was a little more powerful.

For a new product, the TiVo HD sure is an ugly, outdated package. It's big — far bigger than it needs to be, judging by the hollow sound the casing makes when tapped — and adorned in a not-particularly-nice silver and black colour scheme. The display on the front of the unit is unimpressive as well, only displaying a modicum of information. The most useful feature? The 'format' button that allows scaling to resolutions from 576i up to 720p and 1080i.

We were also disappointed with the unit's remote. Pre-production models featured chrome edging for the front of the remote — tying in well with the chrome front of the unit itself — but this is nonexistent in retail units. The buttons are also quite small and aren't backlit. Why, TiVo, why?

The TiVo HD is an HDD-based digital television recorder with dual high-definition tuners. It has a notably sub-par 160 gigabytes of hard drive space — products like Panasonic's DMR-BW500 have 500 gigabytes, and 1 terabyte hard drives are commercially available for less than $150. We've revealed before that the Tivo has been hamstrung for the Australian market in terms of features as well as functionality, with social networking, video-on-demand and other home-entertainment capabilities inaccessible for now.

There is light on the horizon, though. All these features are expected to be rolled out early next year, with the addition of the TiVo2Go cross-format copying feature — allowing you to transcode your recorded television shows into iPod, PSP or generic video formats.

The TiVo HD box will be able to be expanded with the release of 500GB and 1TB external storage drives next year. These use an eSATA port on the rear of the unit, but the box currently doesn't accept an external drive — despite our best efforts. There are also a host of other connectors you'd expect to find on a PVR, with an antenna, Ethernet and USB ports, HDMI, component and composite audio and video, S-Video and optical digital audio.

The system's user interface is its saving grace. It's prettier, more feature-packed and more streamlined than the interfaces of most other PVRs, beating Beyonwiz's DP-P1 and DP-S1 to become our new favourite. The electronic program guide segment of the interface is very easy to navigate and manages to cram plenty of program and channel info into a simple hideaway menu. We also liked the ability to search for other shows while still watching live television — useful if you're programming your favourites during an ad break.

Recording is a pleasant process. A manual recording mode as well as a preset one allows for plenty of options to be altered, including timer padding — so you don't miss the end of a show — and various other features. TiVo's remote recording service, accessed through a Web interface, is also pleasantly user-friendly. There are plenty of options for varying lengths and padding of recordings — essentially the same experience as setting the recording first-hand on your TiVo.

The show also has TiVo's "thumbs" system, which allows users to rate recorded and live television on a scale. You're able to assign ratings of three thumbs up (yes, three) and three thumbs down, and anything in between. This feature will record additional shows for you based on your positive and negative preferences — but this relies on spare hard drive space being available, which might not always be easy given the TiVo HD's paltry storage space.

If there are enough programs on Australian television's small number of channels to keep you entertained — and you have enough free time to watch them all — the features of the TiVo HD might be just what you're looking for. The box itself has gimped specifications but if you can look past that the user experience is fantastic.

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