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New TiVo Series 4 DVRs offer better TV, web integration

Consumer Reports News: March 05, 2010 02:53 PM

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TiVo Series 4 DVR
Photo: TiVo

The newest Series 4 digital video recorders (DVRs) from TiVo boast new designs, a beefed up yet simpler interface, and updated features, especially their seamless integration of traditional TV programming with Internet-based content, including streaming movie services.

The big challenge, of course, is whether this will be enough to lure cable-company subscribers away from the convenience of monthly cable-box DVR rentals and billing, which require no upfront cost.

The two new Series 4 models are TiVo Premiere priced at $300, and a step-up model, the THX-certified $500 TiVo Premiere XL, which sports a larger hard drive. The Premiere’s 320GB hard drive can hold 45 hours of HD shows, the company says, while the XL’s 1TB (terabyte) hard drive can store up to 150 hours of HD programming. Both will be available in April, though pre-orders are now being accepted. In addition to purchasing the boxes, you’ll need to subscribe to the TiVo service—which ranges in cost from $13 a month to a $400 lifetime subscription— and a cable subscription if you won’t be using an antenna.

Perhaps the greatest appeal of Series 4 models will be the easy way TiVo manages to combine traditional TV programming with web-based content, so that search on a popular movie, for example, could offer you the choice of finding out when it's playing on cable, seeing a director’s commentary on YouTube, or instantly streaming the movie from Amazon Video on Demand, Blockbuster On Demand or Netflix, which are all supported by the DVR. The new interface also allows new types of search categories, such as Academy Award-winning movies or Emmy-winning TV shows.

Another compelling feature is the ability to transfer recorded shows to a portable device, such as a notebook PC using the free TiVo Desktop download, then to an iPhone or iPod using the optional ($25) Desktop Plus software for a PC. (Mac users need to get similar software from Roxio.)

In addition to streaming movies, TiVo Premiere also offers additional widget-based content provided by FrameChannel, a content aggregator that provides access to news, sports updates, Twitter, Facebook and Picasa photos. Tivo is also adding Pandora Internet radio to its new, and older, receivers. Other new features include an onscreen meter that shows the available disc space left for recording, plus the ability to continue watching a show in a window while accessing the menu system.

Key Series 4 specs:

Premiere

  • $300
  • Support for HD digital cable, Verizion FiOS and over-the-air antenna
  • HDMI, component video, composite video, optical audio and analog outputs supporting 480i, 480p, 720p, 1080i, 1080p resolutions
  • CableCARD slot, Ethernet connections, and USB 2.0 ports
  • E-SATA support for external storage
  • The ability to add a TiVo wireless (n/g) network adapter ($60) 320 GB hard drive

Premiere XL

Has all the above, plus:

  • $500
  • 1TB hard drive
  • Backlit, programmable remote
  • THX certification and THX Optimizer a video calibration tool for fine-tuning picture-quality settings. A pair of THX Optimizer blue glasses, for adjusting color and tint, are also included.

On paper, we think these new TiVo boxes represent a clear step forward from earlier models, though we haven't tested one yet. What do you think? Are these new features enough to make you consider either upgrading an older TiVo box, or switching from a current cable-company box? Or does having to pay an upfront fee for a box, plus an additional subscription, make this a less appealing option? Let us know.

—James K. Willcox

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