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HD Digital Video Recorders by Scientific-Atlanta

No match for the TiVo, but the Explorer 8300HD is good enough By Charlie White

If you’re getting your high definition television from a cable company such as Time Warner, in most areas of the country you’re now offered a choice of set-top boxes. Time Warner is offering two digital video recorders (DVR) by Scientific-Atlanta, the Explorer 8000HD and the Explorer 8300HD, that are capable of storing and playing back HDTV. If you’re a TiVo aficionado, however, don’t expect to be impressed by either these choices. We took a close-up look at both of them, and noticed that neither one are as good as TiVo, but then, that’s a tall order.

In our search for the ultimate high definition television recording device, we first encountered the Scientific-Atlanta Explorer 8000HD. This unit offers a 160 GB hard drive that gives you the ability to record 20 hours of HD programming. Its best feature is the two tuners nestled inside, letting you to record two programs simultaneously while watching a third show that you’ve already recorded. The 8000HD has a full complement of almost-current technology, including DVI and component outputs, and both coaxial and optical digital audio (SP/DIF) outputs. I plugged the coaxial audio output into my Dolby 5.1 receiver, and plugged the component outputs into a projector. The initial result? Glorious surround sound and a full-resolution 1080i high definition video signal.

But then I started noticing the Scientific-Atlanta Explorer 8000HD’s flaws. The mission-critical show-stopping fault was the 8000HD’s frame dropping problem. A few times every minute, there would be a devastating breakup of the video signal, along with dropped audio, a highly frustrating situation when there’s intricate dialogue to be deciphered, such as NBC’s West Wing or HBO’s Deadwood. If you miss a word in either one of these talk-fast programs, you’re lost. It was so frustrating at many points that I wanted to unplug it and return it right then and there.  

But wait, there’s more. Another fatal flaw was the 8000HD’s inability to record a program that was already in progress. Beyond that, a program was about to begin and I wanted to program it record, that wouldn’t work, either. And then the third frustrating fault is the long, long time it takes for the 8000HD to simply change from one station to another. I never dreamed it would take a full ten seconds to go from one channel to the next. The interminable wait between channels bordered on the absurd. After spending years with a TiVo, this was a serious disappointment. The 8000HD was going back to its maker.

As soon as I heard Time Warner was beginning to offer a newer high-definition digital video recording set-top box, the Scientific-Atlanta Explorer 8300HD DVR, I was packing up the old 8000HD. Would the 8300HD be better? Could it solve the fatal flaws of the 8000HD? To find out, I dutifully delivered the inept 8000HD box to the local Time Warner headquarters. The surly clerk there said the 8300HD boxes were quite popular and were snapped up as soon as they came in, which in the case of this lonely outpost was every Tuesday. So, the following Tuesday, I showed up first thing in the morning, and sure enough, I was one of the lucky ones to get my hands on a Scientific-Atlanta 8300HD DVR.

Now you’re talking. What a difference! First of all, the frame dropping problem was fixed. Because of the 8300HD’s faster 250MHz processor and 64MB of RAM, the time between channel changes was shorter—it was still slow, but it certainly didn’t require the ten-second wait of the molasses-slow 8000HD. Some channels were actually changed in a relatively fast one second. And low and behold, it was possible to record a program that was already in progress. In one swoop, all of these problems were fixed. Now this was what an HD DVR should be like. I quickly forgot my unpleasant experience with the 8000 HD, and settled in for some high quality television viewing. 

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Related Keywords:high definition television, cable company, Time Warner, set-top boxes, digital video recorders, DVR, Scientific-Atlanta, Explorer 8000HD, Explorer 8300HD, HDTV, TiVo, as good as TiVo

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