At a Glance
This inexpensive TiVo records high-definition programming--even ones on scrambled channels, thanks to its two CableCard slots.
When I reviewed the TiVo Series3 HD last year, I loved it--except for its astronomical, early-adopters-only $800 price tag. The new TiVo HD has most of the Series3's features, but with a $300 price tag. I love it even more.
The biggest difference between the models is that the TiVo HD has a 160GB hard drive, to which you can record 180 hours of standard-definition programming or 20 hours of high-definition programming, versus the Series3 HD's 250GB hard drive, good for 300 hours of SD or 25 to 35 hours of HD. The TiVo HD also comes with a less-expensive remote control; it isn't backlit or capable of learning to control other components, as is the one that comes with the Series3 HD. If you want the fancy remote, you can buy it for $50 extra. (And just in case you were wondering, TiVo says it has no plans to drop the price on the Series3.)
Both models have dual tuners and two slots for CableCards, which allow them to decrypt premium cable channels such as HBO and Showtime without a cable set-top box. However, the TiVo HD also accepts multistream CableCards, which can decrypt two data streams going to the two tuners. If your cable company offers this relatively new type of CableCard, you need only one of them (saving yourself the rental fee on the second card). Our local Comcast office didn't have multistream cards yet, so the rep installed two single-stream cards. The rep had no problems setting up the box; we were up and running within 15 minutes.
TiVo says the TiVo HD uses the same architecture as the Series3, so it should operate similarly. I thought the new model scrolled menu screens a tad more quickly--last year's model often displayed menu items one a time until they filled the screen, whereas the new model showed entire screens at once--but the TiVo HD still seemed much more lethargic than a TiVo Series2 model. Of course, any performance improvement could be due to one of TiVo's frequent software updates.
As with the Series3 HD, high-definition programming looked great, and the 5.1-channel Dolby audio that the TiVo HD captured when recording HD channels sounded really nice, even though the new model lacks the Series3's THX audio- and video-quality certification. I noticed, however, that the audio on a couple of HD recordings was slightly out of sync with the video. TiVo told me it hadn't had any reports of such problems and suggested that perhaps it was a "cable company issue." I didn't have any sync problems with the Series3 HD; since that box and this one have the same architecture, I wouldn't expect this box to encounter problems either. But I'd probably peruse TiVo's support forums after the new box is introduced in August, to see if anyone else notes a similar problem.
Another issue: When I fast-forwarded through recorded or time-shifted shows, the sound often blanked out if I pressed the Pause button on the remote twice to return to playback mode (the more standard method is to press the Play button, but I'm too lazy to move my thumb all the way up there, a half inch north of the pause button). When I went to the effort of pressing Play, I had no problem with the audio. Stop being lazy, you say--but the method I use works just fine on my Series2.
The TiVo HD has all of the same ports on the back as the Series3 does, including an eSATA port that TiVo says is for "future use." Western Digital recently introduced a $200, 500GB eSATA drive designed specifically for consumer electronics devices such as DVRs. Until TiVo unlocks the port, however, you're stuck with a mere 160GB of space, unless you use the services of an upgrade outfit such as Weaknees.com; add an internal drive yourself by using one of the many TiVo upgrade utilities, such as MFSLiVe; or use an undocumented command to enable the eSATA port. TiVo says that it won't provide customer support for a hard drive that is connected to the eSATA port, but that attaching one does not void the DVR's warranty, and won't cause TiVo to terminate service.
With the exception of the syncing problem, the performance issues seem minor to me. I would have liked a faster, more responsive box, and I would have appreciated an approved expansion path via an enabled eSATA port. But given the big price cut, I'm not complaining. True, the TiVo HD's $300 price is $300 more than most cable companies' DVRs, and TiVo's $13 to $16 monthly subscription fee is a bit higher than most cable companies' box-rental charges. But if you're hooked on TiVo, the new box is still a bargain.