TiVo HD: We give Seven's latest toy a play... and a stop, rewind, record and fast forward.

First look at TiVo HD

The Australian TiVo HD unit was unveiled today at the Seven Media Group's headquarters. It's a product that promises a lot — and it intends to deliver.

Sporting a 160GB hard drive, the TiVo unit can handle 60 hours of standard definition (SD) or around 20 hours of high definition (HD) content. This may seem a little small for some, but the unit has an eSATA connection for additional storage space if required. TiVo has announced plans to release an external hard drive accessory next year; it is not yet known if users will be able to use third-party hard drives. The unit's rear features component and HDMI connections for SD and HD television sets respectively. An Ethernet connection is also included, and is used for connecting the TiVo to a broadband internet connection. Wireless connectivity is also offered, although the wireless adapter will be sold separately.

The product itself, at its core, is a personal video recorder. There are a few things that set it apart from regular PVRs and place it directly in competition with Foxtel's own iQ2 service.

The electronic program guide for the service will be delivered via broadband internet — which the end user must purchase themselves, quashing rumours that wireless broadband access from Unwired would be included. This guide will have a full seven days worth of data for all channels, provided by HWW. It will be updated daily so that the latest programming info is included, accommodating any last-minute scheduling changes (which are usually implemented in the morning of each day).

A novel feature of the TiVo's EPG is its integration with the rest of the TiVo service. From the main TiVo Control menu, users can select a Find Programs option which allows users to search for actors, directors, show titles, keywords, as well as genre-specific options like sport or comedy. Once you've found the show you're looking for, you can set it to record as either a single file or a 'Season Pass' where all episodes of that show are saved for later viewing.

The TiVo unit also has a recommendation system built in — and you don't even need to record shows to take advantage of it. While you're watching any show, you can use two buttons on the remote — labelled with a 'thumbs up' or a 'thumbs down' — to rate the show you're watching. If you really like CSI, expect the TiVo box to recommend you get NCIS or Law and Order — and it can automatically record them for you as well, without your input.

These features will all be included with the box at launch, but some additional built-in features will be disabled in the initial units. Home networking — the ability to transfer photos, videos and music between a PC and the TiVo — will be turned off, as well as other features like Internet video streaming and an online movie download service.

The box is set to be released on July 29 and will retail for $699 with no additional subscription fees. It will only be available in Harvey Norman and Domayne, thanks to an exclusive deal between Seven and the Harvey Norman Group.

Whether it meets expectations is yet to be seen, but initial hands-on experiences seem to show that the little black box has the potential to seriously shake the Australian television scene.

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Campbell Simpson

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