I’ve been a big fan of TiVo ever since it was first introduced in 1999. Since then, I—and every other TiVotee—have wished for a highdef version. Now, finally, it has arrived, and I couldn’t be happier.
With a 250GB hard drive, the THX-certified Series3 HD Digital Media Recorder (DMR) can record 25 to 35 hours of HD or up to 300 hours of standard-def material. There’s also an E-SATA port for connecting an external hard drive, but it’s not yet active; look for this capability in a future software update. The Series3 includes tuners for ATSC/NTSC (digital and analog terrestrial) and cable signals (analog and digital) with two CableCARD slots, allowing you to record two different programs simultaneously. Because this unit uses the TiVo electronic program guide (EPG), CableCARD’s incompatibility with the cable provider’s EPG is irrelevant.
To update its EPG, the Series3 must communicate with TiVo Central via dial-up phone line or the Internet by connecting the Ethernet port to your home network. This also lets you schedule recordings from anywhere with Web access, and you can play MP3s and view JPEG photo files stored on other networked computers.
The Series3 simply records the MPEG-2 digital bitstream from ATSC terrestrial and digital cable signals. The unit can scale all input resolutions to 1080i or 720p at the HDMI and component outputs, or it can pass whatever resolution comes in to those outputs.
The peanut-shaped remote is well-organized and fully illuminated, with all labels on the buttons themselves so you can see them with the backlight on. The menu system is easy to navigate. I find the little noises it makes when you select something to be annoying, but it’s easy to turn them off. The ability to select programs to record by name is truly wonderful, as is the Season Pass feature, which records all episodes (or just first-run episodes) of any TV series.
One of the best things about the user interface is how it handles fast-forward and reverse shuttling, taking human reaction time into account. For example, as you fast-forward through a commercial break, you are looking at the images flashing by to see when the program returns, at which point you hit Play. But by that time, you’ve gone past the beginning of the program segment. TiVo backs up and starts playback at a point before you hit Play to compensate for your finite reaction time, and the amount of time it backs up depends on how fast you were shuttling, because average human reaction time is fairly constant at about 200 milliseconds. I wish all DVR makers would implement this simple but ingenious little trick.
I connected the Series3 to my home network and rooftop antenna, and it found all the stations in Los Angeles with ease. The included signal-strength meter is a big help in orienting an over-the-air (OTA) antenna, though invoking it temporarily disables all recording functions.
The channel list merges all analog and digital channels. Unfortunately, there is no setting that tells the unit to list only the digital channels; I had to deselect them from the list one at a time. It seems an easy matter to update the software to include a setting to do this automatically, which I hope TiVo implements soon.
After the easy-to-follow, stepby- step onscreen set-up process, it was time to watch some HDTV. The picture looked fantastic, including The Late Show with David Letterman, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Las Vegas, and many PBS programs (though Huell Howser is still hard to take, even in HD).
OTA HDTV provides some of the best picture quality available, and it’s free (except for the commercials, which TiVo makes it easy to skip). The TiVo Series3 HD DMR is one of the best ways I know of to enjoy that content as well as digital cable. TPV