More than 12 months ago, TiVo finally launched in Australia, and while we were impressed with it we bemoaned the fact that a lot of features active in the US version were missing from the local product. For a limited time, distributor HybridTV has fixed all of that.
Let's just start off with the cosmetics: the TiVo is still one of the ugliest set-top boxes we've ever seen. It's big, it's silver and black, and the front-mounted LEDs tell you almost nothing. It looks less like a luxury AV component and more like a network storage box.
The "display" isn't much help either — usually all you'll get is a small green LED — but there is a "Format" button on the fascia that lets you change the output on the device from 576i all the way up to 1080i with the resolution listed in orange.
But it's the remote that gets a lot of people excited. The "peanut", as it's nicknamed, is certainly friendly, yet some of the buttons are on the small side, and it's not backlit.
In the year plus change since the TiVo was launched, HybridTV has shifted the device from a "DVR" — which is a dying category, it says — to a "media device". Hence the name change. The TiVo 320 Media Device is a dual-HD tuner recorder, and it now comes with double the amount of storage at 320GB.
At launch, the TiVo was hobbled for the Australian market, and a whole wealth of functionality has been opened up, including the new on-demand service called CASPA due to go live on 1 December 2009. CASPA incorporates the Blockbuster movie downloads from before and adds TV and other on-demand footage. Music videos and associated materials are available from a partnership with Bandit FM, and next year users will be able to download MP3s (or more likely WMAs).
Previously available as a separate download, the TiVo Home Networking package will be included in the box from launch until January 2010. This software allows users to transfer their recordings to a PC, portable device or second TiVo, and enables media streaming from a DLNA compatible device.
One feature that still looms largest on the "missing" list is the ability to record cable — something which the overseas version can do but sadly the Aussie version never will. HybridTV says that the box is "designed to appeal to the 70 per cent of people who've chosen not to use Pay TV". Game on, Foxtel!
Like the exterior of the unit, the user interface is fairly ugly, but it's straightforward, and most users will find it intuitive. The electronic program guide itself, on the other hand, is very easy on the eye and allows you to keep watching the currently running program while surfing for shows to watch or record. You can also search by favourite actor, director or genre if you like.
But where the TiVo demonstrates its dominance over the upstart iQ2 is in its attention to detail. For example, there are a wealth of options offered when you record any show, such as the ability to extend the recording time to offset missing the end of a program.
Of course, the box also features the famous "thumbs up, thumbs down" system which lets you rate programs and in turn gives the TiVo some ammunition with which to record similar programs you might like. Unfortunately, our box was a little reticent and in the short time we had it for testing it never actually taped anything extra for us... You may or may not appreciate this feature as it could fill up your hard drive quickly, but you can turn it off if you like.
While we're on the subject of storage, Western Digital offers the 1TB My DVR Expander which lets you upgrade your recording capacity. Unfortunately, it's currently the only drive that will work, so you can't simply add any old external drive with an eSATA port.
In addition to the eSATA port, you also get a bunch of other connectors, which include two USB ports (for attaching accessories like the optional Wi-Fi adapter), an antenna (of the F-connector type seen on cable boxes — oh, the irony!), a component connection, a single HDMI, S-Video, AV and an optical digital connector.
It took us a while to warm to the TiVo, but we developed some kind of affection we don't quite understand for this unit. It's easy to use, recordings are virtually identical to the broadcasts, and everything's just so damn cheerful!
The interface is easy to use, but we wish that there was a dedicated Now Playing button to instantly access your recordings. Navigating around is straightforward, and the on-screen EPG is one of the better ones. We've heard problems with freezing and other general weirdness but we didn't experience these ourselves.
While Director and Favourite Star searches are useful, it can be a little frustrating if the TiVo can't find the person you're looking for. Especially if the person has a hard to spell name.
While we haven't tried using external scheduling on the 320, we did use it on the original TiVo HD. As this was a new feature, at the time we found it to be a convoluted process. Once we finally got it to work, though, TiVo's remote online scheduling is a good deal more powerful than Foxtel's. Not only can you specify whether you want a Season Pass or a single record, but you can also specify whether you want the recording to run overtime — useful for prime time programs. We were also puzzled to find quality settings as well, as nowhere in the main menus of the TiVo itself can you actually change this.
Despite the poorly worded and slightly unnerving response we received back then — "Your record request has been successfully sent to your TiVo! It would take an hour for it to reach your box!" — we were able to record programs almost instantaneously.
The TiVo now offers a larger hard drive for the same price, and if you get in quick you can also score the networking package for free as well. The TiVo is a lot friendlier than the iQ2, and the fact that you can get it working out of the box without ongoing fees is a real boon. Of course, you also miss out on the extra channels of Foxtel HD+ but if you're just looking for a Freeview recorder this is a very good option.
The TiVo 320 Media Device is a solid PVR and IPTV solution. It has once-again upped the ante on PVRs like Topfield and Beyonwiz, especially as you don't have to pay ongoing fees to access features such as remote recording.