TiVo is probably the oldest and most well-known set-top box. It's a DVR device, but TiVo's capabilities go well beyond most cable and satellite companies' DVR boxes. Among its advanced features, TiVo allows you to record shows; subscribe to all new episodes of your favorite shows by using the Season Pass feature; and search for shows and movies by name, actor, director, genre, and keywords (a feature called Wishlist Search). TiVo also offers recommendations for shows and movies based on your viewing and recording habits, making it a great tool for finding new programming.
Another useful TiVo feature is the ability to schedule and manage recordings remotely using the Internet or a smartphone. TiVo lists explicit support for iPhone, BlackBerry, and Palm webOS; however, the mobile website should easily work from other Apple iOS devices and smartphone platforms, such as Android and Microsoft's new Windows Phone 7.
TiVo also allows you to export your recordings as video files for playback on your computer, which can be synced to a variety of smartphones and other devices (including Apple's iPad and PlayStation Portable), as well as burned onto DVD (though this requires a $24.95 add-on feature called TiVo Desktop).
Beyond DVR capabilities, TiVo provides access to a range of Internet audio and video content. Netflix streaming, Amazon Video on Demand, Blockbuster on Demand, and YouTube are all supported for movies and TV shows; Pandora, Rhapsody, Live365, and Music Choice are supported for audio content; and Picasa and Photobucket are supported for online photo browsing. You can share music and photos from your computer by using the TiVo Desktop application (available for Windows and Mac OS X). A feature called Framework allows access to additional Internet content, including sources such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Digg, Apple's MobileMe, and more.
While TiVo offers a lot of great features, as well as tech support that can assist in setup and remotely troubleshoot technical issues and configuration problems, these options come at a price. TiVo devices are currently available in basic ($299) and premium ($499) configurations; the major differences being that the premium edition offers three times the storage space, THX audio certification, and a backlit remote control. TiVo devices also require a service plan with options costing $12.95/month, $129/year, $299 for three years, or $399 for the lifetime of the device.
As with Google TV devices like Logitech's Revue, TiVo offers add-ons including the aforementioned desktop software, external hard drives for additional storage, additional remotes, and wireless network adapters.
Unlike several other products in this guide, TiVo can replace a set-top box from your cable or satellite provider through the use of a CableCARD that you can request from the provider. DIRECTV customers can request a preconfigured TiVo-powered DVR from DIRECTV. The same is true for Comcast customers in New England, who also have the option of Comcast's "On Demand" content being available directly through the TiVo interface. As of this writing, TiVo is pursuing a similar deal with Cox Communications.
A/V connections supported: HDMI; component video; TOSLINK digital audio; composite audio/video (analog).
Pros: Advanced DVR features, particularly remote scheduling and the ability to export recordings; broad range of Internet content choices; ability to expand storage; relatively easy setup and use; skilled tech support.
Cons: Price of device plus service; lack of built-in WiFi support; no support for displaying video from your computer; playing music or viewing photos from your computer requires proprietary desktop application.
Best for: People who want advanced DVR capabilities beyond those offered by cable and satellite providers (most notably the ability to archive/export recordings), as well as access to personal content and both basic and premium Internet content.