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TiVo Series 3

January 12th, 2007 · No Comments · Gadgets, Reviews, TV

So the Nosuch household got a TiVo Series 3 a while back, pretty much when they first came out. For those not in the know, the Series 3 is TiVo’s HD offering, priced at an extravagant $800. After having it for several months, I feel I can answer the question “is it worth it?”. Or at least I can for me.

Short version: Not really.

Now for the long version.

There were a couple of reasons I wanted the Series 3. The biggest was the CableCARD interface. The weakest link for our Series 2 was our cable box, which would like to turn itself off randomly two or three times a month. Since the Series 2 depends on the cable box, this means you lose programming. The CableCARD interface means all digital and electronic tuning, which means better quality recording (no analog to digital conversion of the video stream) and more reliable recording (in theory.) As an added bonus, you can have two CableCARDs installed, and thus record two shows at the same time, which means less schedule conflicts.

The HD part of the Series 3 was really just a nice bonus. I know there’s scant HD content for non-sports fans, but between Nova and some HBO series, it would just be a nice boost in viewing quality on occasion, and I’m all for that.

The sad part of having a CableCARD interface is that CableLabs, a company that basically exists to protect copyrights of media owners, has to certify all equipment that can take a CableCARD. In a nutshell, if you don’t completely lock up content on your device, you can’t get certified. That means TiVo had to disable multi-room viewing and TiVo To Go on the Series 3. I only have one television, so multi-room viewing isn’t a loss for me, but I could be using TiVo To Go now that they’ve finally made it work with the Mac and I’ve got a video capable iPod. Alas, at least for now (and maybe for ever) that’s not an option. So technically, a Series 3, while gaining some features, is losing others. For me, it wasn’t much of a loss, but your mileage may vary.

On the software side of the Series 3, there are some issues. For one thing, there are features the Series 2 has, like a “Recently Deleted” folder, that aren’t on the Series 3 yet. Also, the “Showcases” feature, which lets you find new shows, is almost devoid of content except advertising. I’ve heard these two things are soon to be addressed in an update, but it’s been an annoyance. The software is also sluggish in the interface in certain areas where the Series 2 is consistently fast. I am hopeful this will go away, but it’s clearly the usual price you pay for being an early adopter.

Did we get what we wanted? More reliable and better quality recordings and some HD recordings? Yes and no.

The recording quality is definitely better, and HD recordings look and sound great. And it is much easier to schedule recordings with two tuners. We do get sound dropping for a second periodically during shows on occasion, but I am not sure if that’s the TiVo or our cable company.

But reliability is still an issue for different reasons. Sometimes we get partial recordings for no clear reason. It’s like the CableCARD lost the channel, and the TiVo doesn’t get a signal so it doesn’t record. We get several “partial recordings” a week, and it is frustrating. I don’t know who to blame, our cable company or TiVo, but it is clear we’re not the only Series 3 owners having this grief. It occurs on a variety of channels (not just premium ones) and different times and shows. It is never consistent. It is always annoying.

So did we get our $800 worth?

Not yet, but I’m hoping we will. I wouldn’t recommend the Series 3 at this point. As much as they suck for different reasons, cable company DVRs are a much better value in the near term.

I love TiVo, and their software quality and innovation are what give me some encouragement about the future. I just hope they get it together sooner rather than later.

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