Moxi HD DVR Review

In our world the only thing that stays the same is our desire to discover the next great thing. The cycle starts with new product announcements, which builds to anticipation, and eventually to disappointment once we realize the latest gadget isn't everything we hoped. This is more true in the DVR world than any other category we cover because although DVRs have been around for about 10 years now, it seems little has changed since. This is especially true when it comes to 3rd party DVRs which have been few and far between. In fact we are hard pressed to think of even a hand-full of DVRs that made a single dent in the market. TiVo is the most notable, but far from perfect and ReplayTV was great, but didn't last. Both LG and Sony had an HD DVR out there at one point, but you don't remember them for a reason. It's just a really hard sell to convince people to spend cash up front when their provider will give 'em a box for free. So it should come as no surprise that we couldn't wait to try out the Moxi HD DVR from Diego. We thought, finally a real competitor to TiVo, and now with a real HD interface for our HDTV.

Your cable company's DVR doesn't compare
Before you dig in we wanted to make sure all of this was taken in context. What we mean is that we've tried plenty of DVRs from cable and satellite companies and they don't hold a candle to the Moxi. Just to name a few key points that sets the Moxi apart is the nice size hard drive and a great looking widescreen HD user interface. The fact is that Digeo pays attention to details that your cable or satellite DVR supplier has never considered. So going forward keep in mind that we're really comparing the Moxi to the other 3rd party DVR options like TiVo and Windows Media Center.

Things are different
One of the our favorite sayings we learned in college is "don't confuse easy to learn with easy to use." While this was told to us as we tried to master VI, it holds true for gadgets too. In fact we are the rare breed that is actually excited whenever we are faced with a new interface. Rather than thinking a new UI is consuming and daunting, we embrace it as not only a challenge, but also with excitement because we might be learning to use something truly better. One thing is for sure, the Moxi UI is much different and unlike anything we've used before. Some things make sense like listing the channels in the guide the same way they work if you hit channel up and down, but other things like the "Moxi" button navigation continue to baffle us.

The fact is that even after a month of use we still get lost and frustrated with the menu navigation. The real problem is that the "Moxi" button changes function depending on the context and doesn't serve as a "home" key. On top of this there really isn't an "exit" button that just takes you out of the menus. If you hit the Moxi button once, it takes you to the guide, again takes you to the mini guide, a third time, back to the guide. So how do you get rid of the guide? You don't, you have to go to the mini guide and wait 5 seconds for it to time out. But this isn't as annoying as getting lost in menus and exiting out accidentally. Let's say you hit the Recorded TV button -- which has a diamond logo on it btw -- then you hit right twice, now you're at "Find & Record." If you hit that while you were watching a recorded show you're stuck until you hit Moxi, Moxi and wait 5 seconds. The other thing we haven't been able to get used to is the use of the "back" and "next" buttons. It seems to us they just add confusion and the right and left buttons could be used instead in most cases -- we did like how we could use them to skip large chucks of a show during playback, like when skipping most of a 3 hour football game to get to the end. But the annoyances don't end there, little things that would have be so simple to implement are overlooked. Like when resolving a recording conflict, instead of the menu asking if you want to record Heroes or Monday Night Football, it asks if you want to record A or B. Doesn't seem like it is too much to ask to have the menu display the actual show names.

Too many clicks
The whole point of a DVR is to allow us to enjoy television the way we want, and a big part of that is staying out of the way. Using the Moxi really makes you shake your head and wonder if additional steps were intentionally added. The best example -- besides the exit alternative we mentioned earlier -- is when you want to record a show. You're watching live TV and decide to do something else, but you want to watch the rest of this show later, so you hit record and are faced with a menu of options. Hitting record again will record the show, but there's no reason you shouldn't be able to record a show with the press of a single button -- that is of course if there was actually a way to set recording preferences. There should be a way to say every time I hit record, get the entire series and keep 5 until I watch 'em. Instead you have to choose it at the time of recording and then later go back and edit it with the rest of your preferences. We know plenty of other DVRs do it this way too, but that doesn't make it ok.

Recorded TV
By far one of the most annoying things about the Moxi DVR is the fact that there are no recorded TV display options. No sort by name or date, with or without groups, nothing. This is a huge oversight and for people who record as much TV as we do, it can be very daunting to navigate 200 shows without any of these options. To top it off, the list doesn't make great use of the limited screen real estate and requires an extra click to see the show details. There just has to be a better way.

One size does not fit all
The cross based interface is very common these days and can be found in all kinds of devices. While we think it makes perfect sense for some things, it doesn't make sense everywhere. What Moxi has done is take a one size fits all approach and apply this menu to everything. Now you might argue that this makes for a consistent interface, but it really doesn't as sometimes going left takes you back and other times it doesn't. It appears that this cross bar is a central part of the Moxi design and it was applied everywhere intentionally, whether it makes sense or not -- with the exception of the search interface. The best non-obvious example of where it doesn't work -- the most obvious is the guide -- is with the list of recorded TV. Because of the cross bar there really isn't any place to put thumbnails of the video, and you end up with wasted space on all four corners. To make matters worse, the main menu is cluttered with items. There are 18 items on our main menu, of which we find about 5 useful (Guide, Recorded TV, Settings, Find & Record). There is no way to add or remove these or even reorder them. As with the rest of the Moxi UI, there just aren't any ways to customize anything, which unfortunately is a big theme in set-top-boxes in general.

The video spoiler window
We are sure there are people out there who wouldn't think about owning a set-top-box that didn't have a video window and that's probably why just about every provider's DVR has one, but we're not them. Personally, when we're watching TV we want the video to be full screen and when we're not, we want the entire screen to be dedicated to the menus. In a perfect world the Moxi would have the ability to do both, but with the limited number of configuration options, it's no surprise that the video window is forced on us. At the most it is somewhat useful, but at worst it is the spoiler window. We suppose part of the reason we don't like it is because we don't really watch live TV, so really the only thing it can do for us is to ruin a show that we want to watch later. Don't worry though, there is a work around. All you have to do is record a show you aren't interested in watching and then play it back while you're navigating the menus -- real nice huh?

Where's the innovation?
You'll probably be as surprised as we were to learn that Digeo has been around since 1999 -- this is the company's first consumer DVR though. The ten year history combined with all the hype we've heard over the past few years has built up some pretty high expectations that something really special was in the works. Unfortunately aside from pretty menus, there really isn't anything to call home about here. We could go on and on listing ways DVRs should be improved, again, but instead we'll say what's new Moxi? What have you done? There is the ticker which is pretty useful, and the tight integration with that is welcomed, but that alone isn't going to be enough. But what's worse is that the Moxi doesn't even really compare to the TiVo's features. Although we think TiVo's implementation of multi-room is a complete joke, at least there is something. Sure the Moxi-mate should be coming, but rumor has it that it'll be a playback-only device without the ability to watch live TV. There also isn't any TiVo-To-Go like functionality. The UPnP support sounds really cool until you realize that you can only stream content to the Moxi and even then, the codec support is pretty laughable. To us the most obvious innovation that almost no DVRs have is more than two tuners. A multi-stream CableCARD can authorize six simultaneous streams and most hard disks today can easily write 120Mbps, so why not offer more tuners? There are other features that seem like a no brainer too, like Slingbox, Netflix, Pandora, etc. PlayOn kind of fills the gaps for some of these, and the free license is a nice touch, but there are no guarantees that it'll continue to work since its Hulu and Netflix features aren't sanctioned and could be cut off any day.

What we do like
We added this section after re-reading the rest the review a few times. We realized that we got so caught up in all of our frustrations, that we completely forgot to mention all the things we liked about the Moxi HD DVR. For starters setup was a breeze, in fact we had no problems getting the M-Card going with Verizon FiOS. The picture quality is right on par with what we expect and we appreciate things like the resolution pass through setting that allows us to pass on the scaling tasks to our TV. The hardware looks as great as the HD user interface and the glowing Moxi logo on the front is a nice touch -- can be turned off too if you like. Not only do you not have to know some secret code to turn on 30 second skip, but it's configurable so you can skip 5 minutes if you prefer. The online scheduling with is the best we've seen and even has real time conflict resolution. The ticker is great for quick weather updates. The remote has a nice feel to it and is back-lit. The dual live buffers are huge and can be recorded if you decide to record the show. The payment options are a very attractive way to pay when faced with a $800 price point. To top it all off the unit is rock solid. In all of our testing it never missed a single recording or rebooted unexpectedly.

Reading this it isn't hard to see how disappointed we are in the Moxi HD DVR, especially since we really wanted to like it; we had such high expectations. With so many negative initial impressions, we were happy when Digeo reached out to us to address our concerns. It was very encouraging to hear that Digeo was already aware of some of our pain points and is working on solutions, but we're afraid we don't believe it'll be enough. Ultimately we think the essence of the Moxi isn't in line with our tastes. What we mean is that even if this box had six tuners, and true multi-room, there is no way we see Digeo going away from the cross bar based UI and the spoiler window. No DVR is perfect and if the Moxi did everything we wanted and still had these glaring UI quirks we could totally see us looking past them. But the fact is the Moxi really only beats TiVo in the UI and website management categories, with TiVo killing it with features and price. Windows Media Center offers a much, much better UI, but using a PC for a DVR is well beyond the capabilities of most consumers -- not to mention the price. So unless you totally hate TiVo, we can't really recommend you go with a Moxi instead. That being said, if you are down to choosing between your provider's DVR and a Moxi, there is no contest, Moxi all the way.

A response from Digeo.
"We designed the Moxi guide for simplicity and intuitiveness - you can never get lost in the two-axis navigation. For example, a key item that Ben missed is that you can exit automatically from any Moxi menu screen in one click by pressing the "Zoom" button, which 'zooms' you into the viewing window in the top right corner and immediately back to live TV or playback of recorded programming. As for Ben's reference to the channel guide layout, while the nearly half-million cable customers using Moxi tell us they really like it, we have heard customer feedback from some asking for an old-fashioned grid-style layout too - so look for us to add that option shortly. More to that point, we are working on several more innovations of the type Ben mentions in terms of multi-room, Internet content integration, etc., so stay tuned. We
believe Moxi is the world's best DVR, and we're not letting up on the updates and improvements.

- Ryan Ogle, Senior Manager Retail Business, Digeo"