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TiVo: HD and CableCards Together in One Machine

Series3 dual-tuner HD PVR's price not yet determined By Charlie White

At the 2006 Consumer Electronics Show, TiVo demonstrated a prototype of its new Series3 HD Digital Media Recorder. While in Las Vegas for the show, we spoke with Bruce Lee, product manager of TiVo, and also with Jim Denny, TiVos vice president of product marketing, about the companys new high-definition personal video recorder. This much-anticipated product, which TiVo has been touting as ?almost ready for the past two years, will feature compatibility with numerous cable systems and dual CableCard tuners when its released later this year. However, company officials werent yet willing to disclose an exact ship date or price.

The most important new feature of TiVos HD digital media recorder is its four tuners, two of which work with digital cable television signals and the other two with over-the-air broadcasts. Currently, the only HD TiVo available is one that works with the DirectTV satellite service. It is the two CableCards, those standardized PC-Card-sized tuners inserted into a unit such as the TiVo, that will enable this new HD TiVo to work with digital cable systems, allowing users to receive encrypted digital cable programming without the need for a cable box. Cable companies are required to provide a CableCard for a nominal fee to customers who ask for it, so users will need to acquire two of these cards and then plug them into the back of this new TiVo HD unit. These two CableCards will enable users to watch one live program while recording another, or record two programs while watching a third already-recorded program. In addition to these two CableCard tuners, there will also be two broadcast tuners to receive over-the-air HD signals.

The new HD TiVo sports a new look.

Inside the new TiVo is a 250GB internal hard drive, which is good for about 300 hours of standard definition or 30 hours of high-definition recording. If thats not enough, TiVo was showing a demo of an expandable storage unit (pictured below), a small black box that can store additional programs using a high-speed protocol known as external SATA, or eSATA.

Here's one of the the external eSATA drives that can be added to the new HD TiVo.

The capacity of that external storage was yet to be determined, but TiVo product manager Bruce T. Lee said there will be a variety of sizes and brands of drives that will work with the new TiVo product. But Lee said not all manufacturers drives will be compatible. He added, ?It wont necessarily be the case that any off-the-shelf eSATA drive will work. We may do a qualification program to certify that certain specs have to be met. But in theory, consumers would have a choice of different sizes if they want them.

This new Series3 box has a new eSATA data port on the back to which this external eSATA drive is connected (see graphic above -- the eSATA port, at right, is labeled "expansion disk"). The box also features a built-in Ethernet port, in addition to two USB 2.0 ports, enabling the unit to be connected to either a wired or wireless network. It also has HDMI and component-out capabilities. Additionally, the output formats are selectable from either native mode which outputs the content in the same format in which it was received, or a selectable mode where content can be scaled to a resolution of the user's choice.  

It appears there is a certain degree of future-proofing designed into this new HD TiVo unit as well. The first indication of this forward-thinking design is the hardwares ability to decode advanced codecs such as Windows Media 9 (WM9), with TiVos Lee saying the company plans to include advanced codecs AVC and VC-1 at an unspecified future date. Beyond that, Lee said, ?The basic platform could be adopted for all kinds of different delivery mechanisms. You just change the front end and basically have a satellite box, or an IP TV box or whatever else you want. But right now, this particular box is intended for cable viewers, essentially using CableCard as well as ATSC.

TiVo will offer this wireless-G adapter for $49.

Sitting next to this new HD TiVo was a smartly designed TiVo-branded wireless-G adapter ($49, see graphic above) that will work with the new high-definition unit as well as currently-available models. TiVo now supports a number of third-party adapters of this type, but Lee said there are certain brands where some versions are supported and some arent. Lee said, ?It can be a bit of a headache to find the right one. With this one from TiVo, you can just buy it and know its going to work. Lee mentioned that one of the advantages of this adapter it is the dedicated chipset inside which is able to offload some of the processing from the CPU within the TiVo box.

The new TiVo remote is updated with a richer, more upscale look.

As part of the redesign of this HD unit, the remote control (see graphic above) has been slightly altered as well. Seasoned users will be happy to know that its keypad is basically the same as previous TiVo remotes. Theyll also probably like its overall look, which has been updated with an upscale black surface and the addition of ridges on the bottom, making it easier to feel which way TiVos symmetrical signature bone-shaped remote is pointed. 

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Related Keywords:2006 Consumer Electronics Show, TiVo Series3 HD Digital Media Recorder, Bruce Lee, product manager, Jim Denny, high-definition personal video recorder, CableCard tuners, ship date, price

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