If you've been saving up your nickels to get a $800 TiVo Series3, you just got yourself a $500 bonus prize. Today TiVo releases the TiVo HD, a scaled-back version of the original Series3 that lists for just $299. We got our hands on one, and managed the even more complicated task of convincing Cablevision to install two CableCARDs. Now that it's up and running, I can't think of a single reason to ever plug in that Scientific Atlanta Explorer 8300HD again. (Oh yeah, the TiVo's a loaner.) The great news: To reach the low-low-price of $300, TiVo only cuts the corners we'd cut ourselves. It is functionally a Series 3, minus the fluff.
Big Brother, Meet Little Brother
Although the TiVo HD is built on the Series3 platform, it's not exactly an update. Here's the breakdown:
• The original Series3 can record 300 hours of standard-def video and 32 hours of HD on a 250GB internal; the TiVo HD can record 180 hours of SD and just 20 hours of HD on a 160GB drive.
• It's not THX certified, but it's got the coaxial cable and antenna inputs, plus all the requisite outputs: HDMI, component, S-Video and composite. It also has an optical audio out.
• As you can see in the gallery, it has a dual CableCARD slot so you can record two shows at once (and watch a third, too). One of the slots even supports M-Card, for multistreaming, so you wouldn't need two separate cards. I am not entirely sure if you can use it to go hog wild and record three shows at once—it may not surprise you that Cablevision never mentioned it as an option when I ordered the CableCARDs.
• Instead of the original Series3's glowing OLED display, TiVo HD has an array of multicolored status-indicator LEDs. That's the extent of the glowing, too—unlike the pricier Series3, this one has a standard TiVo remote, happily unchanged these 10 long years.
• TiVo HD has an eSATA port on the back, same as its big brother, so expansion will be easy. It also has hardware support for AVC (H.264) and VC-1, though there still isn't any software implementation of this talent. We're waiting!
• As I just sort of alluded, nothing is different on the software side of things. Any rumors suggesting that TiVoToGo is available in the TiVo HD are incorrect at this point, though we'd love to see someone wave a magic wand and make that happen. The few screenshots I included in the gallery are intended to show you the similarities: it's all there, even though you're paying less than half the price.
Though I had been suffereing at the hands of the loathed Explorer 8300HD for some time, I dreaded calling Cablevision and asking for CableCARDs. Fortunately, they knew what I was up to, and—after a couple of visits—were able to make it work. The trouble was not technical. The cards worked just fine. The trouble was that Cablevision installers are not allowed to be in your house when you go through the 20-minute setup, which they claim takes between 4 and 24 hours. In truth, the most time-consuming part of the process is waiting for the CableCARDs to take hold once they are installed. That took hours, but required the cable guy. Can I just say that I hate when people who don't know squat make up dumb rules? Well, I just said it.
The rest of the setup was super easy. TiVo provided the $60 Wi-Fi USB dongle, though you can use others, or just connect via Ethernet. I always love setting TiVo remotes to control the TV; it's a simple thing that any remote in the world can do, but I rarely do it with my cable remotes. Having that reassuring wizard is just a better incentive.
Once all of that was working, I was back in TiVo Country. I could search for shows without growing a beard in the process, jumping to Swivel Search to do stream-of-consciousness browsing. I ended up jumping from The Daily Show to a TiVoCast channel of content from The Onion. Everything we've discussed in the recent past is there: Amazon Unbox downloads, One True Media video and photo sharing, Yahoo! and Fandango. But most of all, it's a $300 way to unlock the HD cable subscription I pay a ridiculous amount of money for but can't navigate using standard cable boxes.