TiVo Series3 HD DVR

There are all types of fanatics in the world; religious fanatics, sports fanatics, Windows fanatics, Apple fanatics, the list goes on and on. But one type of fanatic that I never really understood is the TiVo fanatic. You've probably have met someone who's asked, "Do you have TiVo yet?" or stated that the "TiVo has completely changed my life!"

According to Wikipedia, TiVo was started in 1997 by Jim Barton and Mike Ramsay, veterans of Silicon Graphics and Time-Warner's Full Service Network digital video system. What started out being a home network solution morphed into what we now know as a TiVo DVR, which records video by digitizing it and storing it on a hard drive. Their first device debuted in 1999 and over the years there have been various incarnations of the recorders.

In the "old days", to record a TV show required a VCR and a cassette tape. Dual tuner TiVo units let you watch one show while recording another, allow you watch a recording from the beginning with a button push (no clunky rewind) while it's still being recorded, and even better, allows viewers to pause live TV. Not a surprise that TiVo has spawned such a dedicated install base.

I Want My HDTV
Most of America gets its TV from the cable companies. Sure, DirecTV and DISH Network have a decent install base of customers, but the lion's share of TV watching is done over cable. So at CEDIA 2006, TiVo announced the TiVo Series3 High-Def DVR, the company's first set-top box specifically designed to work with cable HDTV service.

The Series3 has an impressive set of specs. It features dual HD tuner digital cable recording, an over-the-air ATSC antenna input, a 250GB hard drive that can record up to 32 hours of HD programming (300 hours of SD), HDMI and Toslink optical digital output as well as a built in Ethernet port for direct connection to broadband Internet.

Looking at the front of the TiVo Series3, I have to say it is quite slick looking. Silver and black are the dominating colors with a variety of different buttons, which in my limited experience with the unit were never needed or touched by my fingers. The coolest aspect of the front of the unit though is its OLED display, which not only displays the time, but will also display what show or shows are currently being recorded. So a quick look at the display will show you that your favorite show is being recorded without even having to turn on your TV.

When looking at the rear panel of the Series3, most of the usual suspects that you would expect are hiding there. In addition to what's mentioned above, there are two USB slots and two coax inputs; one for cable and one for an external antenna. But there are a couple of other interesting connections as well. First and foremost, are two CableCARD slots. CableCARDs allow one-way digital connection to local cable service for viewing encrypted channels. Before the advent of CableCARDs, you were at the mercy of your cable provider's set-top-box in order to receive digital service. The one downside of the CableCARD is that you won't be able to access any VOD (Video On Demand) programs from your provider, but as far as I'm concerned, that isn't a big loss. Lastly, there is an E-SATA input that allows you to connect an external hard drive (more on that later).

Having never lived the TiVo experience before now, I don't have any way of comparing the remote for the Series3 to any of the older TiVo remotes. But it is one of the few "stock" remotes that I've had in my home that I could actually live with. My usual modus operandi is to use a stock remote for a couple of days and then program its functions into my Home Theater Master MX-700 and then never use it again. But with this remote, that isn't the case.

For starters, it's mini-hourglass shape (TiVo refers to it as "peanut shaped") fits nicely in your hand and the buttons have a nice tactile feel to them. You can actually feel the "click" when pressing a button. All of the perfunctory buttons are present on the remote such as volume & channel up/down, play, pause, forward, reverse, slow etc., but being a TiVo remote there are some unique buttons present. First, you have the actual "TiVo" button, which when pressed takes you into the TiVo menu, which really separates this DVR from the other contenders out there. Also available are the "Thumbs Up/Down" buttons, which when pressed, tells the TiVo software whether you like a particular program or not. Finally, there is the "Live TV" button, which does exactly as it states, gets you to "Live TV." It can also be used to switch between the two internal tuners in the Series3 to view two separate channels at the push of a button. One button not found on the remote is a 30-second skip feature, which is very handy when watching TV for skipping between commercial breaks. But all is not lost; TiVo has a backdoor function to program this into the remote that any industrious user find and figure out how to activate with a Google search.

Finally, the remote itself is backlit, but it only lights upon pressing one of the buttons. I prefer to have a "light" button on the side of the remote to activate the lights for a couple of reasons. First, it saves battery life by not having it light up during the day, and second, when I pick up a remote in a dark room, how do I know what button to push if the remote won't light up until you push a button?

The final feature that I liked about the remote is that it can be programmed to operate the volume and mute functions of your AVR, making this remote all the more user friendly. In the end, although I prefer the customizable macros of my MX-700, I haven't relegated the TiVo remote to the dreaded drawer as of yet. It looks too cool to hide!

Setup and Install
When I first received the Series3, I ran the required cables (Ethernet rather than phone in my case, antenna, cable, HDMI, component, optical, power) to the proper place in my equipment rack. For HD hook-up, you really only need either HDMI or component, but for the purpose of my testing, I ran both sets of cables to different inputs on my AVR in order to do some comparisons between the two hook-up options. My next course of action was to wait for the CableCARD installation that was scheduled for October 31.

On the morning of the CableCARD installation, I fired up the Series3 and followed the easy to follow setup guide for the unit. I needed to set up the audio output (Dolby Digital), the video output (1080i), and then got to the CableCARD installation screen where I then paused to wait for the technician to arrive. Promptly at 11 am, Victor from Comcast arrived at my home to proceed with the install. I inquired about his experience with CableCARDs and the Series3 in general, and he said this wasn't his first CableCARD install (thankfully), but it was his first install with a Series3 (trouble brewing?). When he saw the worried expression on my face, he told me not to worry because his supervisor was on his way to my home as well to walk him through the process. About 10 minutes later, the supervisor arrived and walked Victor through the process and in about 45 minutes, the CableCARDs were installed and activated. I guess Victor was right, there was no need to worry after all.

TiVo Inc.
2160 Gold Street
P.O. Box 2160
Alviso, CA 95002-2160