Review: Series3 TiVo

We won't lie, we were a little bitter when TiVo snubbed us and didn't offer us a pre-release version of the Series3 for review, we mean even our brothers at Engadget got one to play with. It didn't take us long to forgive them, about 30 seconds right after we got ours. The Series3 is now a permanent resident at our lab, with a full review after the break.

Our very first impressions of the Series3 was WOW, what a nice STB; everything is very well made and solid. The new remote is a vast improvement, the back-light is perfect for use in dark rooms and the tactile feel is much nicer, from the feel of the buttons to the texture on the bottom, and the DVR switch allows you to control two TiVo's with one remote which means you can use the new better remote to control with your older HD DirecTiVos. TiVo fans know that there are multiple assignable addresses for TiVos to prevent them from interfering with each other in the same room, the Series3 acts exactly the same, although there are some over at that are complaining about interference from Plasmas and other sources of IR interference. We found that the Series was more responsive than the HR10-250 with our IR relay system.

The Series3 doesn't disappoint, but as we always say expectations are a big part of a review. Our expectations were set based on my last 2 years of using the HD DirecTiVo. We have never tested a Series1 or Series2 SD TiVo since they don't do HD. The reason we mention this is because we have read other impressions indicating problems with responsiveness, but we have yet to experience any. We suppose it is possible that previous SD TiVo's are more responsive, but the Series3 is by far the most responsive HD DVR we have used and a pure delight compared to the HR10-250. The channels change faster, although not real fast and the guide is faster, but the typical grid guide is not as fast as we remember it at CES. Plus this list guide grows on you after awhile. The list guide is very snappy as are the other menus, including editing the season passes and searches. It is far and away faster than the HR10-250 in every way. There is nothing worse than the Please wait, this might take a minute box on the HR10-250.

Based on others review we had very low expectations about the CableCARD install, the hardest part of the CableCARD install was getting the installer to do his part. Not sure why some are so scared of the unknowns, but after we convinced the CSR to send the installer with the CableCARDs and then convinced the installer to follow the TiVo CableCARD installer directions, everything was down hill from there and we were enjoying premium HD content, TiVo style. Just remember you are a cable companies best customer, if you are anything like us you have Internet access, phone etc. The Cable Co employees are just doing their job and they need a little help**cough**. Ok seriously tell them whatever you have to tell them to get them to do it and if that doesn't work have some cash on hand.

Guided setup was pretty easy, but the time estimate was way off, maybe this is because we used the Ethernet port instead of the phone line. The TiVo had no problem connecting to our network via DHCP and was downloading guide data in no time. You can choose to setup the TiVo with OTA, Cable and Digital Cable. If you don't have the CableCARDs like us during initial setup, you will have to re-run guided setup to add the CableCARDs. The other point that has been covered in every review is the fact that, if you only have one single stream CableCARD (The Series3 support two single stream or one Multi-stream card) then you can only use one tuner, even on OTA, despite the fact that there is no technical reason for this. The HR10-250 was the same way and we believe it is because TiVo wants the integration between the various sources as seamless as possible and having a different number of tuners for different sources would not be seamless. The seamless integration between multiple sources is one of the most unique features. I don't believe any other DVR has ever integrated this many sources and they did a great job at it. The Series3 works with NTSC, ATSC, Analog Cable and QAM (no way to manually map QAM channels). All of these channels are in the same guide so you end up with multiple channel 10s, so the TiVo notes the source next to the number, other than that there is no way to tell, well obviously the HD sources look better. It can be a little annoying that Channel 10 cbl, 10 ant, 10-1 ant and 10-2 ant all show up next to each other, which leads us to the other great feature. This is an old hat for Satellite STB, but not for cable boxes. The Series3 has 3 channel lists; All, You receive and Favorites, this lets you choose what channels you receive (think reliably with your Antenna) or you can use to permanently block out channels you know you will never watch, like SD, foreign languages or home shopping. Then of course you can setup your favorites, aka all the HD channels to make it easy to check those channels for shows when your Now Playing list is empty.

Series3 Channel List

We never get sick of the TiVo interface and they only seem to find ways to improve it, the Series3 has better graphics than the HR10-250 and a number of additional features. Including better output resolution control like our favorite; native which will just pass on the same signal it receives, Home Media options, including Yahoo web content and TiVo desktop, which lets us stream music and pictures from any PC on the network. Simply install the software and all your music and pictures show up on your TiVo. It doesn't seem to be universal yet for those Intel Mac fans and the Yahoo features seems to have a bug that requires you to sign in over and over again, but we were able to download and listen to our Podcast which was cool. The front display is also nice, which simply shows what is recording, which I am sure will settle your curiosity the next time you walk by your TiVo see the red light and think, "What's recording".

Series 3 Podcast

We are using the component outputs which work great. The picture quality is top notch and appears identical on live and replayed content. The optical output has also worked flawlessly without any drop outs and don't worry you can turn off those TiVo sounds, if you don't like them. The TiVo sounds don't work when watching Dolby Digital Content, but they do the rest of the time. Dolby Digital does work via HDMI which is nice. We haven't tried the SD outputs yet, but we are sure some will love the ability to simultaneously output SD to another TV in another room. It would be nice if you could use the second tuner independently like the Dish 622, but being able to record two OTA channels at once is worth more to us.

Overall we are very impressed with the Series3 and look forward to them adding TiVoToGo and Multi-room Viewing. We understand that it was CableLABs that wouldn't allow them to include the features, which means that no other CableCARD device will have these features either. In the mean time we will continue to check for work arounds to these problems. We can't wait for CableCARD support in Vista, which we think will help make these new features available as well as give TiVo some competition. One of the features we can't believe no one else has mentioned that's missing is Picture in Picture, the great control of the dual tuners almost makes up for the lack of PIP, almost.