TiVo Premiere Elite Review: Double the Recording Capacity, but at a Premium Price
At a Glance
In an era when most cable and satellite TV companies will rent you a fully-functional HD digital video recorder for a few bucks a month, why spend $500 for a TiVo Premiere Elite (which also records high-def video)—plus $20 a month for the TiVo service? (Prices as of January 4, 2012.) TiVo provides four quick no-brainer reasons: tuners. It’s the only DVR with four tuners, meaning it can simultaneously record up to four high-def programs—and with 2 terabytes of storage, it also provides plenty of room for all that content (up to 300 hours’ worth of HD video, according to TiVo).
But while TiVo remains the Cadillac of the DVR category, its high price should still give pause, especially given its ongoing inability to support cable providers’ on-demand video services—along with the increased availability online of programs you might have had to record in the past.
Certainly the ability to record four shows at once can come in handy. By way of comparison, my current TiVo Elite has but two tuners (same as my generic Comcast HD cable/DVR box), and 320GB of storage (good for about 45 hours of HD recording). All TiVo Premiere models support up to 1080p video.
The four tuners and huge storage capacity are the meat-and-potatoes improvement in this latest TiVo, but the box has a couple of other refinements as well. In homes that use networks based on the MoCA standard (which uses coax cable wiring—Verizon’s FIOS router supports MoCA), people who buy multiple TiVo Premiere Elites can easily stream content between them, thereby allowing access to programs on any TiVo from any other TiVo in the home, while also effectively upping your storage capacity. (TiVo says you can access content from networked TiVos without MoCA, but it’s trickier to set up. I wasn’t able to test this capability.) You can also store recordings on a hard drive connected to the TiVo’s eSATA port, but as before, this is a one-time addition that expands your DVR volume across the internal and external hard drive; this can become a problem if you want to replace the external drive with one of a higher capacity, for example.
The TiVo interface remains a major selling point of this DVR, though. Intuitive and well-organized, it guides you not only to shows you’ve recorded, but to related content such as episode guides, upcoming episodes, or other programming involving the stars or creators. As with previous recent TiVos, the Premiere Elite supports several streaming and download media services, including Amazon, Blockbuster, Hulu Plus, Netflix, Pandora, and YouTube.
TiVo’s search engine will locate shows on all of the commercial services as well as any you’ve recorded. However, its YouTube interface isn’t great: While you can sign in to access favorites, a lot of videos you can watch on a PC don’t show up on TiVo, and the presets for accessing most popular videos bring up a lot of spammy, sleazy clips—perhaps due to copy-protection features on YouTube.
The TiVo Premiere Elite also comes with a THX optimizer tool for achieving optimal image fidelity--specifically, a video with instructions for adjusting brightness, contrast, and other settings, some of which require wearing included cardboard glasses with filters. This is an easy-to-use alternative to commercial calibration tools such as Digital Video Essentials (or the even pricier option of hiring a calibration professional). TiVo users can also schedule records and access content remotely via a TiVo iPhone or iPad app.
The TiVo Premiere Elite is not without drawbacks. For starters, it only works with over-the-air DTV, digital cable, or Verizon’s FIOS service—it doesn’t support satellite services. To use the Web-based media services, you need broadband Internet access and, preferably, a wired home network. TiVo does support Wi-Fi, but only via an optional add-on Wi-Fi adapter; an optional phone adapter lets you access the TiVo program guide and service via a phone line, but you can’t use a dial-up connection to access Web-based media.
TiVo also still lacks support for the DLNA home media server standard, meaning that it cannot stream content from DLNA-compliant computers (all recent Windows and Mac machines) or external drives on your home network, something you can do with a number of set-top boxes such as the D-Link Boxee box.
If you are using the TiVo with cable service, you must obtain and activate a multistream CableCard from your cable company. A CableCard is a credit-card sized authentication and verification device that slides into a slot on the back of the TiVo; activation usually involves a quick phone call.
Monthly charges for a CableCard typically run less than those for the digital cable box a TiVo replaces—but this brings up the biggest drawback of them all: CableCards still do not support on-demand video. This means that you can’t use a TiVo to get your cable company’s on-demand programming, which can amount to thousands of hours of content. My cable company, Comcast, makes a slew of prime-time programs as well as premium channel content available on-demand, free of charge—which is often an easier and more efficient way of getting programs I’d otherwise have to remember to record.
Lack of two-way addressability is a CableCard and Hollywood problem—it’s not TiVo’s fault. But it still makes a TiVo a lot less attractive than it would be if it could deliver all the functionality of a typical cable company set-top box, especially at its admittedly high price point.
I actually got a coax cable splitter so that I could keep my old cable box plugged in alongside my TiVo in order to access my cable provider’s on-demand video. This also added two more tuners to my home entertainment center, so I can still record four different shows simultaneously. Of course, being able to do this on one machine is a simpler and more elegant approach—and the ability to share content on multiple TiVos over a home network sounds great, if you’ve got the cash to spare for multiple TiVos. But the high price should give pause, especially at a time when there are so many other ways to access content.