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TiVo Series2 DT hands-on review

We got our chance to have a little private time with TiVo's new 80-hour dual-tuner Series2 (TCD649080) last week. There isn't a whole lot we can tell you about the unit that you didn't already know (dual analog tuners, single digital, no CableCARD, no high def, integrated Ethernet, etc.). In other words, for those expecting something to ease the pain of the absentee Series3 box, you'll probably want to look elsewhere for something to meet your needs, perhaps a Media Center PC. But if you have analog cable and were thinking about snagging a TiVo, you might want to take a second look.

As you can plainly see, this TiVo box doesn't look much different from any other TiVo box. In fact, aside from some slight aesthetic tweaks and the ever-so-slight rear port switchup, everything here is standard issue -- including the remote and 7.2 software release. So yeah, the dual tuners are pretty much the only functional difference once you get the thing booted. TiVo is pretty up front about what it can tune and how: one cable box, max. Which means if your cable company only offers digital cable (like ours), you'll only be able to use a single tuner with that single cable box. If you want to record anything else you'll have to set up an old school antenna and tune in via RF. (TiVo called to let us know this thing won't tune RF -- yick.) If you have digital and analog on the same line, you should be fine recording digital and basic cable simultaneously -- but we don't have that. Luckily we happened to be on the road while reviewing this device, which allowed us to test the two tuners with analog cable. We understand that some people can tune basic and digital simultaneously -- if so, this box still works out well for you if you, as long as you're not trying to get around scheduling conflicts on digital cable.

TiVo seemed to know this whole dual analog tuner thing might be a point of contention with their customers, who might be looking to tune two shows at once and don't have (or want) analog cable. TiVo addressed the matter at hand by justifying the design decision in their press materials. Besides stating that adding dual digital cable tuners would carry a "large cost," TiVo perceived such a system's benefits to be small. Sez they, "For digital cable subscribers, we believe that in actual use, not being able to record shows from two digital cable channels at once is less of a limitation than it might seem. Many shows on digital cable channels are repeated several times during the week, so if the user cannot record a show on a digital cable channel due to a conflict with a show on another digital cable channel, she will often have the opportunity to record a future re-airing of the show." That's about as weak an excuse not to include a functionality we can possibly think of. Expanded digital cable channel rerun schedules aren't much different from basic cable's; that argument could be used to justify why all other TiVos to date never had more than one tuner, and actually argues against any reason one might have to want a box with dual analog tuners. But hey, the box is what it is: a dual analog tuner TiVo, love it or leave it. We thought it was pretty good.

Integrated Ethernet in 2006. Welcome to the future.

Basically, so far as we could tell, everything was in its place with the Series2 DT. TiVo ToGo and all the multimedia functions were still right where they were supposed to be, the options were the same, everything felt right at home. This, of course, had to do with the fact that as we mentioned, this device is a standard software release 7.2 TiVo. There were two working differences, so far as we could tell. First: when in the on-screen program info popup, there's now a new icon (see above), which you can use to see what's up with the second tuner. Second: pressing the live TV button while watching live TV now switches between tuners instantly. Seriously that's it, that's all that separates this from a regular TiVo box. For the TiVo uninitiated, new users might not even realize that this device was special.

So what'd we think? Well, it worked exactly as advertised, and that second tuner was totally seamless. So the question isn't how good was the Series2 DT -- it's really no better than any other TiVo on the market right now, this isn't like a tossup between a Series2 and a Series3 or Media Center PC. The question you is: how much is that second tuner worth to you? After $150 rebate and service activation, is $199.99 for the 180-hour, or $99.99 for the 80-hour too much?

Well, if you didn't have dual tuners (or two TiVos), you'd never be able to record Everybody Loves Raymond reruns at the same time as getting your Judy fix.

Then again, all TiVos still excel at what they were originally invented to do: pause live TV so as to capture awkward facial positions.