TiVo Series3 HD Digital Media Recorder Hands-On (with Video!): Two CableCards, No Waitin'

A little bird dropped a TiVo Series3 into our laps early, just in time for the official launch, right now. The Series3 HD Digital Media Recorder is going for the sky high $799.99 we reported earlier. The good news: it may be worth it. The 720p/1080i resolution digital video recorder packs in two CableCards, letting you record a couple of channels of HD digital cable or over-the-air HD programs at the same time while watching a third recording.

Here's an exclusive hands-on review with pictures and video, after the jump.

This TiVo feels just like the ones we've grown to love over the years, but now it records HD in a way that can only be called flawless. Its Dolby Digital audio isn't too shabby either, thanks to it being the first THX-certified personal video recorder in the world. It definitely sounds and looks the part. Plus, it has an HDMI port, a shiny piano-black case, a revamped remote control with backlighting, and of course that unparalleled usability of its famed TiVo interface.

Check out the back of this Series3 HD Digital Media Recorder and you'll see it's loaded with connectivity options. Of course, there is that HDMI output, optical digital audio output, and if you look over on your right, there is an E-SATA data output so you can expand that disk space ad nauseum. Too bad there's no coaxial digital audio output, something that we use quite often with some of our other home theater gear.

TiVo Series3 HD Digital Media Recorder Hands-On (with Video!): Two CableCards, No Waitin'

We also had a great experience with the Time Warner cable installer, a dude named Adam Jahnke, whom the company sent over with two CableCards. After carefully and precisely calibrating our video signal, he popped those two suckers into the TiVo and after a couple of minutes they were all registered and ready to go. Who says Time Warner is reluctant to install CableCards? Nothing doing here, and they sent one of their best guys to help us out. Thanks, Time Warner. Now take this Scientific-Atlanta 8300HD PVR piece of shite outta here and eliminate its command with extreme prejudice. KBye.

Next, I sat down to fire up this box to see what it could do. I quickly noticed how nice and quiet this TiVo is, and it has a cool-looking OLED display on the front that tells you the name of the program that’s being recorded. I plugged in the wireless G USB network adapter and the TiVo immediately recognized our network here. Not long after that, it was all ready to go and started downloading its program info. After installing the TiVo desktop on another one of our workstations, the TiVo was eager to exchange MP3s. It wasn't quite so happy about some high-rez photos I had, though, and TiVo reps say that's a feature that will be implemented later this year.

Another feature that was sorely missed is TiVo2Go, where you can rip programs from the TiVo onto a computer, a mobile device or an iPod. There's no sign of that on this latest TiVo yet, and TiVo officials say they are investigating this and working on getting it certified, but couldn't say when that would happen. But you're still able to program the TiVo via the Web, a great feature that can save your ass if you've, say, forgotten to program one of your favorite shows after you've gone to work.

What I didn't really miss were the two features that you can't get when using these first-generation CableCards: Video on Demand and the Program Guide service. That's because CableCard is currently only a one-way service, and for true two-way functionality we’ll have to wait for CableCard 2.0. But so what? If I record whatever I want to watch on TV and BitTorrent the rest, what other on-demand programs will I need, anyway? And the program guide from Time Warner? Puh-leeze.

The usability of the TiVo, even in HD, is all there. There is that exceptional TiVo interface, with its thumbs-up/thumbs down rating system, Season Pass, WishList—all that is still there and it all works very quickly, just like in a standard-definition TiVo. Some of the menus appeared a little stretched on the 16:9 screen, apparently holdovers from TiVo's 4:3 standard-definition models. But overall, very little is lost in the TiVo interface in the translation over to multiple-tuner-HD land.

I'm also digging the remote, which is now a shiny piano black color with easy-grip ribbing on the back, but still has that lovable dog-bone shape. When watching our projector in the dark home theater, it's especially useful to have those backlit keys, particularly when we're just becoming accustomed to this remote.

Another coolness is the way you can still program in that 30-second skip function using the secret combination of keys (okay, okay, hit Select - Play - Select - 3 - 0 - Select on the remote while playing back a recorded program—you won't hear that little dinging noise to confirm it, as it was in the past). It took multiple attempts, but it finally worked and now I can quickly bounce from one commercial to the next, precisely mowing down entire commercial breaks with just a few button pushes.

This latest HD version of the TiVo with its two CableCards is a huge hit. Even though it costs just a penny shy of $800. No matter, it's worth it. We simply love it. It's going to be hard to send this back to TiVo at the end of the month. If you're a TiVo fan, you will be doing back flips over this unit. It's positively excellent. Thumbs up all around.