When I hooked Digeo's Moxi HD DVR up, I told my wife it's like TiVo, and she said, "Then why don't we just use TiVo?" After several weeks testing it, I have no good answer.
If you've never heard of Moxi or Digeo, you are forgiven. Although the company has been making set-top boxes for almost a decade in one form or another, this is the first time Digeo is selling a Moxi box to consumers directly. There are rollouts of similar-looking Moxi cable boxes in smaller markets across the US—the chance is slim that you have one, but if you do, you're damn lucky, because they are a hell of a lot nicer than any of the crap Motorola or Scientific Atlanta DVRs that cable companies usually foist on their highest-paying customers.
But the question here is unfortunately not, "Is Moxi better than a cable box?" even though the answer to that question is, "You know it." The question is, why should I buy one of these instead of a TiVo? And the answer is, at the moment, you probably shouldn't.
When the news came out, some people bitched about the price, but the truth is, Moxi HD does sit somewhere between the two comparable CableCard-compatible high-def TiVo models. It's got a 500GB hard drive, bigger than the 160GB on the $300 baseline TiVo and smaller than the 1TB found in the $600 TiVo HD XL. Once you factor in service, it's pretty much exactly on par:
• Moxi HD is $800 up front, or four $200 payments, or 20 monthly payments of $40.
• TiVo HD is $300 plus $300 for three years of service up front (more if you pay a la carte)
• TiVo HD XL costs $600 plus the same service pricing, so if you pay for three years of service up front, it costs $100 more than Moxi
In the rear, they are very much the same. Both Moxi and TiVo deliver HD video over HDMI, take a CableCard tuner from any cable company, and can have expanded storage by way of a drive attached to the eSATA port. The difference lies in the interface, and in the internet-based services that each box offers at the moment, always subject to change.
Note: I realize that I have left out CableCard-compatible Windows Media Center PCs. As a fan of the Media Center platform, I didn't do this by accident. It's just that we have yet to see a cool-running quiet set-top PC marketed widely to average users for a reasonable price that can compete with TiVo or Moxi. When that product comes along, you better believe it will be in the running.
The company that builds the Moxi has been talking about their interface since the beginning of time, and even brags about an Emmy it won for it. I can see why. It's a fun interface, a refreshing change from candy-colored ca-plop ca-plop ca-plop TiVo menu that you might well be sick of by now.
The interface operates a bit like Sony's Xross Media Bar PlayStation interface, with icons running along a horizontal bar. Whenever you pause on an icon, Recorded TV, for example, you instantly see a vertically aligned list of choices, in this case, all the programs you've recorded, grouped by show and listed in alphabetical order. Point to a particular show grouping, and suddenly each episode appears to your right, and you can move over to them and select the one you want. In most cases, it's a fluid experience.
My beef on the interface is that there are things you must learn that aren't readily obvious, and are not helped by the design of the remote. The Zoom button turns out to be the most important button on the whole thing, but you wouldn't know it from being so tiny. Zoom brings you in and out of the overlaid Moxi interface, unlike the centrally positioned Moxi button, which does, well, something.
Button confusion is combined with redundant motions or inconsistent behaviors. For instance, sometimes the back button will get you out of things, but sometimes it will not, and you are required to hit OK. You can move forward (right) or back (left) along the main icon menu, but if you pause, you can no longer move right, because that takes you into a new menu, so you have to left-arrow your way out if you want to keep looking at the icons. Hitting OK when you land on an icon is a no-no as well, since that takes you to secondary options: The thing to do when you get to the icon you want is to freeze. Usually. If you're confused by all this, welcome to my first week with Moxi.
You can get over a lot of the confusion by learning the behavior, but I don't remember ever having to learn TiVo behavior, or even having to look at the TiVo remote, which I have to do a lot with Moxi. My final frustration with the interface is one that may be remedied soon. There isn't great customization. I don't know how to sort recorded shows by date, and there are too many icons in the main menu for things I couldn't give a fig about, and there's no way, at the moment, to hide them.
Note: I shot that one-handed while a cat was pounding into my arm, begging for lunch, so pardon the helter-skelter framing.
The big deal with set-top boxes these days—not just cable boxes but Blu-ray players too—is connected services. Everybody wants Netflix, Amazon On Demand, Rhapsody, Hulu, YouTube, your mom's private video stream (just making sure you're paying attention). Officially, Moxi only has Rhapsody and Flickr at the moment, but unofficially, by way of a special Windows background-server app, it has all of the above and more.
PlayOn (normally $40 but Moxi gives you a "free" product key when you buy one) lives on your Windows PC, using it to access Netflix and Amazon as well as Hulu, CBS, YouTube, ESPN and CNN, to grab video from the services and pop it up on the Moxi screen. Now, as you might imagine, some of it looks like ass, and because of the double bottleneck—internet-to-PC then PC-to-Moxi—quality suffers and there are lots of hiccups. But in theory, with the ideal all-ethernet setup, you can immediately make your Moxi do more than a TiVo can now.
PlayOn The Moxi also yanks vids and stuff from your PC or other servers on your network. Like anything else, though, there's limited file compatibility, and I'm not a fan of the interface. I could get it to see H.264 video on a network drive, but it couldn't play them. And although the manual says you can stream H.264 video from a computer that can decode them first, I couldn't find any of the media files I had on the PlayOn test PC for some reason, probably because it didn't have Windows Media Connect or other server software running. (Side Note: Don't be like me—don't rip your DVDs in H.264.)
I think even if the PlayOn service worked half as well as it had inside my head, I'd be happy, but the Moxi service in general still felt buggy, like it was still in beta, even though I am assured that it is not. In addition to the expected occasional trouble with CableCard (some as a result of my moving houses), I have experienced more mysterious problems. Even now, the system occasionally restarts spontaneously, and I can't go two days without noticing chunks of time missing from my favorite shows, like they'd been hand recorded by Richard Nixon.
Other connected perks do work nicely. Like TiVo, you can program it over the web, and that worked instantly, so much so that it was my preferred way to add shows, because I could just type in their names, and pick recording preferences afterward. I will give a special shoutout to the Ticker, which, once you figure it out, lets you browse news reports and other text feeds while watching shows. It's great, but I'm still not comfortable turning it on and off. (Apparently, more practice is needed.)
So I end as I began, with a strong interest in Moxi and the need for new TiVo competitors, but with the gnawing feeling that however much Moxi can advance, TiVo has a head start it will be able to exploit for years to come. I love that there are more entrants to this field—Moxi's "enemy" as it were is not TiVo but the total crap cableco DVRs that both are striving to replace. That said, though, you can only have one, and I think I'm going back to TiVo, old-school menus, silly sound effects and all. [Product Page]
Interface look is refreshing change from TiVo, with lots to do while watching TV PIP
PlayOn capability technically means it has the most web video options available; Ticker great for news, sports and weather
Price up front is daunting, even though it's on par with TiVo pricing when you factor in service
PlayOn server software not the easiest to work with, only runs on Windows, and internet connection can be very sluggy.
Remote button layout is confusing; important buttons are not clearly identified