The TiVo Premiere does so, so much right. It's the TiVo you know, reimagined for an information and media-hungry populace—one that's evolved since the original Series 1 hit eleven years ago. But some accountant dickhead castrated it.
Don't get me wrong. The TiVo Premiere, $300 on March 28th, is a great product in terms of getting the job done. But for what's essentially an entertainment machine, it doesn't seem to be having much fun.
(For background and a list of features on the TiVo Premiere, read our hands-on. For the purposes of our review, we're going to skim over some of that stuff.)
It's Slow and Often Ugly
Nothing about the Premiere is smooth.
Despite the fact that it's lacking any of the animated flare you'll find in contemporary media platforms like a PS3 of Xbox 360, TiVo's basic menu pages rarely manage to pull up images and text at the same time. Navigating through the box is like browsing the web on a slow connection.
And sure, that makes a bit of sense: The box is downloading some content dynamically from the internet. But these little delays happen with pretty much everything and anything on the screen. No element, whether it's stored locally not, is immune.
Every time you go from watching Live TV to the TiVo Central menu, the audio of the program you're watching cuts out for a few seconds. Even Comcast and DirecTV DVRs I've used could pull off this stunt without flinching.
Accessing Netflix, YouTube or Blockbuster still feels like I'm leaving my TiVo to do it. From TiVo Central, entering each of these services takes anywhere from 3 to 8 seconds, and the screen flashes to black in the interim. And not just the first time. mind you. Reloading Netflix doesn't mean it will be cached and pop right up. In fact, almost nothing gets cached on this machine as far as I could tell.
(It doesn't help that the skins of each web-based service appear to have been designed by completely different people who have vastly different views on organization and aesthetics. The Blockbuster menu looks straight from a TiVo Series 2.)
In the interest of fairness, TiVo will probably iron out some of these performance issues through inevitable software updates, but let's just come out and say it: TiVo cut major corners on the hardware, and it shows. Remember how your old TiVo took a really long time to process your programming update when you manually connected to the service? And then the download took forever to process? That's still true. (Which is one reason why it took me over an hour to get the Premiere up and running.)
And in further evidence on TiVo's stinginess? There's no integrated Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. Come on. These components fit on a single chip with a minuscule footprint and near non-existent pricepoint.
TiVo invested just enough in the silicon to get by. Unfortunately, getting by isn't why you'd want to spend money on a TiVo.
But...You Still Might Love It
If you're willing to look beyond some of the UI blemishes and hardware sins, the TiVo Premiere becomes a brilliant machine.
It's a lot like Boxee without messing with Windows Media extenders...with a touch of IMDB mixed in. Namely, you can search all sorts of data across many services to find basically anything you could want to watch. We best summed this up in our original impressions post:
Imagine if TiVo and IMDB made a baby. That's exactly what you get.
Swivel Search, which allowed you to search for programs by criteria like actor and keyword, has been built in to the very core of Series 4, and it's got internet access.
So say you're watching 30 Rock and you decide, that Jack Donaghy is an interesting guy. I want to see more of his work! A few clicks takes you to Alec Baldwin. A few more? You can access pretty much anything Alec Baldwin's been in-but not just within your cable subscription.
You'll see Netflix streaming options. Amazon Video on Demand. Blockbuster on Demand. YouTube clips, even. Or you can find an Alec Baldwin movie that will be in the theaters in several months. Then? You can program your TiVo, right then, to record that movie whenever it's finally on cable. [Ed: That's the promise anyway, I tried a few actors with movies coming out and couldn't successfully preschedule anything.]
IMDB-like surfing, coupled with robust episode guides, are so handy that you'll tolerate sluggishness. TiVo may not have been the first to incorporate this top-down view on our many sources of media, but integrated so successfully with their awesome base DVR, you won't care who thought of what first.
But...You Still Might Prefer the Competition
If you're sold at this point—and I don't completely blame you—keep a few points in mind. The Premiere (even the pricier XL version) supports a max of one multi-stream CableCARD, and On Demand content, possibly free with your DVR now, simply isn't supported by the Premiere.
And while you can technically stream PC and Mac-based media (Quicktime, WMVs, DivX, Xvid, MPEG2/4) from your home network, this isn't the Premiere's strong suit. TiVo hasn't improved their support for local network streaming (at all, I believe) with the Series 4, instead focusing on connecting your TV to the general goodies on the internet as easily as possible. So a Windows Media Extender might be the way you want to go (read: an Xbox 360), or check out our favorite HD streamer, the Asus O!Play. Google's upcoming Android-based box sounds pretty interesting, too.
It's not fast and it's completely devoid of eye candy. Corners were cut, and there's no excuse for those moments when basic elements of a UI don't match.
But the Premiere is still the best turnkey set top DVR I've ever used—TiVo has me there. As a self-contained package that combines your cable subscription with goodies on the internet, it's very intuitive, natural and, ultimately, successful. Indeed, it's a peanut-wielded TiVo through and through.
If you have a massive stack of torrented media, everything else you watch is streamed from the web or you love your HTPC? Well, no TiVo will change that.
Personally? I can't wait until the DirecTV TiVo comes out (specific model still unconfirmed) as the Premiere is still a definite step up from what most of our cable/sat providers offer. And I'm too damned lazy to set up anything more complicated.
It makes the internet feel like a TiVo
Many smart, little updates
320GB, or 45 hours HD recording
Somewhat bland, mismatching UI
Penny-pinching design: No Wi-Fi or Bluetooth