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Nero LiquidTV | TiVo PC review

Ben Drawbaugh

For the most part, you'll be hard pressed to find someone who doesn't like the TiVo UI. The scary thing is that despite the fact that it hasn't seen a real overhaul in like... ever, it's still better than just about anything else out there. So it makes sense that TiVo would be willing to work with Nero to bring that TiVo experience to the PC -- with a few enhancements to boot. Unfortunately for Nero, the PC DVR market is a little more competitive than the stand-alone market, so it's going to take much more than just a pretty face to fetch the $99 a year for TiVo service.

Gallery: Liquid TV Review | 18 Photos

Gallery: Hands-on and unboxing: Liquid TV | 10 Photos

The good

  • Looks like a TiVo, but not exactly. Some differences are good (like the preview window); some are bad (like the settings page).
  • It'll install without any hardware so you can use it as a TiVo client.
  • It will record the live TV buffer like a real TiVo -- something Vista Media Center won't do.
  • Auto convert option in season pass is nice feature, but the only way to customize results is to edit an .xml file.
  • The remote's volume and mute buttons work as expected and can still be programmed, just like a TiVo.
  • Works without hardware, so you can take your content to go, but if it's setup to use a tuner, it won't launch without it -- Nero tells us this is supposed to work.
  • Mouse / keyboard support is good.
  • The Vista Media Center remote we have also works great, but the 'back vs. left' can get confusing.
  • Records with MPEG-2, the files have an .mpg extension (transfers are .tivo though).

The bad
  • No apparent way to start playing a recording before it finishes transferring.
  • Service doesn't qualify for a multi-TiVo discount.
  • TiVo button on remote doesn't launch Liquid TV.
  • Only works with capture cards with BDA drivers, so it didn't detect the CableCARD tuner or HDHomeRun we were using (HDHR does offer BDA drivers though).
  • Included antenna is next to useless, only able to pick up a few stations despite living within 15 miles of the towers.
  • Doesn't support QAM even though the hardware does.
  • Setup concerning media access key was not intuitive and not guided.
  • When you browse other TiVo boxes, the episode's title is not shown.
  • No grid guide option.
  • Didn't detect our display's native resolution so everything was stretched, there was also no way to override it. It also crashed a few times -- Nero assures us that the version released for sale will address the bugs we found.

The ugly
  • $99 a year subscription fee.
  • Painfully slow transfers from a TiVo, a one hour episode of Chuck took about 1:03 (1 hour, 3 minutes) to transfer from a TiVo HD and produced a 2.75GB .tivo file. A 30-minute program took 20 minutes from a Series 2.

As TiVo fans we want to like the Nero Liquid TV software and can see two possible ways people might use it. First, there's the obvious roll your own DVR route that will enable you to turn just about any PC into a DVR. The second is as a companion for a real TiVo. The problem with both solutions is the price. Of course, if it did either spectacularly well, then it'd be worth the price, but the fact is it doesn't.

The DVR functions really don't offer much more than the TiVo interface, and in fact lack most of the other features expected from a full blown media front end. Using it as a TiVo companion isn't really any easier to use than TiVoToGo (free) and because of how slow the transfers are -- just like TiVoToGo -- and the lack of automatic transfers like TiVoToGo has, it makes it almost useless as a portable TiVo. Don't get us wrong, it's not that we don't like it, it's that we wouldn't pay $99 a year to use it. The initial cost is pretty good though -- although it is a little pricey at $99 for just the software and $199 for the software, remote, IR transceiver and tuner -- and not beyond what we'd be willing to pay, sans the yearly service fee.

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