HD Satellite TV DVR Digeo Moxi

HD Satellite TV DVR Digeo Moxi DISH Networks and Direct TV have poached a lot of cable customers using the allure of their premium HD DVR. Bigger storage, more robust features, a slick user interface, no cable company to deal with it’s an easy sell most of the time. But what if you can’t or won’t do the dish and still want an enlightened HD DVR experience from digital cable? Digeo’s answer is the Moxi HD DVR. At its core, the Moxi is a high end HD DVR that has a 500-gigabyte hard drive with a 75-hour HD capacity and the ability to add a ton of additional storage. On paper, the Moxi would be a compelling device even if this was all there was to it. But its DVR functionality is only the beginning. The Moxi is also a media hub that aggregates content from your home network and the Internet without bringing a full-blown media PC into your living room. Yep. Those newfangled widgets are inside. Let’s take a look.


The Moxi Model
As a sign of the times, Amazon.com is Moxi’s exclusive e-tailer.When you buy the Moxi directly through www.moxi.com, the Buy link hits Amazon. The Moxi HD DVR costs $799 up front, with no additional or recurring fees, ever. The only hidden cost is the fee for the Multistream Cable CARD, which is about $5 per month. The Moxi works only with Multistream Cable CARD, which allows you to record two HD programs simultaneously while watching HD content you’ve already recorded. You must be a digital cable subscriber, but you wouldn’t buy this if you weren’t. A broadband Internet connection that’s hard-wired to the Moxi’s Ethernet port is also required, and you need to hit Moxi’s Website from your PC to activate the HD DVR and your account.

By way of comparison, “Comcast” is charging me $16 per month for DVR satellite tv services and an HD DVR. So my stock HD DVR has already cost me $382 over the two years I’ve had it. The other game in town for a premium cable HD DVR is the TiVo HD XL It sells for $599. You still have the Cable CARD charge, and you have to pay TiVo for DVR services. Annual service is $129, and a lifetime service contract is $399. It does include 1 terabyte of storage for 150 hours of HD, and it also has an eSATA port for expanding storage. So a TiVo HD XL with a lifetime of service is $998 up front.

There are a couple of drags in being tied to Cable CARD, as both the TiVo and the Moxi are. You can get all of your premium cable programming (HBO, Showtime, etc.), but when you use Cable CARD, it currently excludes you from consuming any On-Demand content that your cable tv provider provides. It also eliminates Pay-Per-View (PPV) programming. No PPV is the biggest drawback for me. I never miss a big PPV boxing event, so this Moxi would not fit the bill to be the sole cable box in my house. Tru2way might change this down the road, and Digeo is already making plans in that area. But supporting Tru2way would require you to invest in a new Moxi hardware platform, so bear that in mind.

A final, temporary buzz kill is the Moxi’s incompatibility with switched digital video (SDV), which some cable systems use to conserve precious bandwidth. Digeo is in testing now and promises a summer rollout for SDV support. Check with your satellite tv providers if your system uses SDV, your number of accessible channels could be limited until the Moxi update arrives.

Speaking of updates, Digeo rigorously tests and then pushes firmware updates silently to its boxes. Unlike a growing legion of CE devices, users don’t have to go through a process to check for updates and install them.

Scaling Storage
Comcast rents me an HD DVR with 30 hours of  HD recording capability, which is the best they had two years ago. While the box I rent from them has an eSATA port, Comcast won’t activate it. So to make space for new recordings, I constantly have to dump HD content I’ve recorded but haven’t gotten around to watching. If Comcast  has a newer and better DVR with expanded storage, they haven’t told me about it.

The Moxi ships with a 500-GB hard drive that’s good for 75 hours of HD (or 300 hours of SD material, however unworthy it may be). Better still, the eSATA port is active and fully supported. You can hang an additional 2 TB of storage off this port. Any additional storage adds to the 500 GB on board; it doesn’t replace it.Moxi  specs demand a hard drive “marketed or certified for DVR use†that spins at a minimum of 7,200 RPM and is at least 160 GB. Checking on Amazon, you can buy a DVR-compatible 500-GB drive for as low as $128, and a 1-TB drive is just under $200 (at this moment). If you’re keeping score at home, a Moxi that’s expanded to 1.5 TB is about the same price as a TiVo XL HD with a lifetime contract. When you connect storage, the Moxi formats it quickly, and you’re up and running with the increased storage seamlessly integrated into the scheduling and storage interface.

The Quick Start Is the Only Start
The box is a simple glossy black rectangle kind of like the monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey laid on its side, with a lit, smoky-gray Moxi logo on the front. (Thoughtfully, the logo lighting is easy to defeat in the Settings menu for a darkened theater environment.) The only other buttons on the front panel are a nearly invisible black Reset button and a set of simple menu navigation buttons that I never used. The back panel has component video and HDMI outputs, as well as coaxial and TosLink digital audio outputs. I only used the HDMI output. In addition to the CableCARD and e-SATA ports, it also has a USB 2.0 connection.

Your mileage with your cable provider will undoubtedly vary, and we’ve all heard the horror stories. But Comcast was easy on me. They offered me a service call to install the multistream CableCARD at the earliest opening (10 days or so, around the impacted holidays) or said that I could pick one up at one of their offices. No guff whatsoever. My wife picked it up for me the next day while she was running errands.

The Start Up guide indicates a 45-minute setup, but it didn’t take me that long. The Moxi gives an ID number for your box, and then you need to go to your PC and hit the Moxi Website to register and activate it. The site e-mails you an eight-digit registration key that you then enter into the Moxi. Then you’re back on the phone with the cable company to activate the CableCARD, and you’re good to go. Again, Comcast was swift with this and offered no resistance.

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The only other pertinent setup issues are choosing the video resolutions that your display supports and setting up the audio output. On the audio front, it’s simple: mono, stereo, or Dolby Digital (I chose the latter, obviously). On the video side, all the usual suspects are here: 480i/p, 720p, 1080i, etc. For my 1080p display, I selected 1080i and 1080p 24 (just in case; I don’t know of any native 1080p/24 coming over cable), which resulted in 1080i signals output at their native rate with proper timing. Further, when I checked 480i/p, 720p, and 1080i, the Moxi output all of the signals at their native resolutions. This allows anyone with high-end video processing in their surround processor, AVR, or display to engage it.

Born in HD
Digeo makes much of the fact that there is nothing legacy about the Moxi HD DVR platform. On the hardware side, at its core, it’s a graphics-grade multimedia PC that’s built on a Linux operating system. And this makes sense. The DVR Digeo Moxi is all about processing and crunching HD video streams. All of the Moxi’s graphics are rendered in HD, and it shows. I (almost) hate to keep beating the crap out of my Comcast box, but its graphics look like they were drawn on an Etch-a-Sketch compared with this.

And you’re never bored. A crisp live TV image or a recording that you’re playing back remains in the upper right corner no matter what you’re doing in the menus until you change channels or access different content. If you’re looking for greener grass on another channel or digging through your recordings, you’re not in a TV black hole while you do it. When Moxi info graphics occupy the bottom of the screen, the image scales back just enough to accommodate them. It doesn’t recede to anything that resembles standard def. The HD image gets a smidge softer, but not by much.

Perhaps another facet of having all this processing power is the Moxi’s HD image quality in general. It wasn’t possible to A/B this box with my Comcast box playing the same content, but my subjective impression when I viewed the Moxi on my front-projection system was that it had better clarity and pop with native HD programs. We’ve seen in DVD and even BD players that improvements in core video decoding and processing can improve HD image quality. And that could be happening here, FWIW.

If you’ve used Sony’s now renowned Xross Media Bar interface, it will be especially simple to understand the basic architecture of the interface. The menu lays out horizontally across the screen and expands vertically as you highlight different functions and filters. The power this wields in organizing your content and accessing your content is extraordinary.

The Moxi includes easy-to-find filters for Channels and Recorded TV (programs you’ve recorded). But when you drill down further, there are filters that show only Music, Kids, News, Sports, and Movie Channels. For in sufferables like myself, there’s an HDTV filter that excludes all standard-def un worhiness. Plus, it has a smart, dynamic Favorites filter that automatically populates with the 15 most-watched channels. The menu is extraordinarily clean and uncluttered. As a result, it’s fast. It takes just a few quick keystrokes to locate and use the Find and Record search function. It’s a snap to find shows and set up series recordings. You can base searches on Title, Keyword, or Category, and the Keyword search is surprisingly shrewd. For instance, when I typed in Eastwood, Moxi not only found me a bunch of Clint’s flicks, it sifted metadata info and found an episode of The Late Show with David Letterman featuring an interview with Clint. My Comcast box doesn’t even satellite tv offers a keyword search. The following is an example of the issues you can have when you search only by title. When I typed “David Letterman†into a title search on the Comcast box, it returned nothing. Zip. Nada. When I typed the same into Moxi’s keyword search, it found every scheduled episode of The Late Show with David Letterman.

Also impressive to me is the way Moxi displays Recorded TV. It groups series recordings together very logically, and you can even access them from the other filters. For example, all of my episodes of 30 Rock and Battlestar Galactica are sorted into folders that bear the shows’ titles, not simply by recording date. So it’s really easy to catch up on several episodes of one show, and you don’t have to bounce back out to a menu and peck through your recorded shows by date to find the next episode.

There are several other smallish refinements that sum and add to the grander Moxi experience. The Change Time Slot, which is accessible from any of the channel filters, lets you quickly look at what’s on, say, your HDTV channels or your Favorites three days from now at 3:00 a.m. The commercial-killing 30-second skip might be banished from some DVRs, but it’s alive and well here. When you press the OK key or any of the direction keys, the Flip Bar comes up and shows you current channel information and the next three upcoming programs on that channel. If you highlight the channel, you can scroll up or down and show the current and next three upcoming programs on other channels.

Navigating with the HD Satellite TV DVR Digeo Moxi remote is fastest and cleanest in the shallower depths of the menus when the nav/direction keys and enter buttons suffice. Deeper in the menus and when other buttons are required, it’s a little clumsy to find the right one at times. The Live TV button is one I use a lot, and it was marooned up at the top right, away from easy thumb reach. By feel, the recorded TV playback commands are so similar to the nav/direction keys that I sometimes confused them. None of this was enough to mar the overall experience by a long shot, but the remote could still be improved.

Of Web and Widgets
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Moxi™s Website lets you access your cable system’s program guide and schedule recordings from any PC with a browser. Real-time conflict management means you can see right away if any of your new recordings conflict with older ones. It kind of puts a hammer in your hand. No one at home knows that you’re scheduling new recordings, so you can sucker-punch your significant other’s favorite show (at your peril, of course).

The Super Ticker is accessible by one button push on the remote. Once the image scales to show the ticker on the bottom of the screen, you can scroll through sports scores, watch your stocks plummet, or catch the weather and all kinds of other breaking news. The cool thing is that it’s interactive. If you want the “NBA”, you can navigate directly to its scores—there’s no loop to wait for if you just missed your team’s score. What’s more, if your team’s game is in progress, you can lock the ticker on that game and stay updated, which I found very cool (and also crushing when I saw my Golden State Warriors tank games night after night). Moxi Net aggregates more Internet news content, like a larger-scale version of the Super Ticker. Digeo doesn’t supply the interface and graphics here, and it shows. It’s clunky compared with the homegrown features.

The Jukebox lets you store and access your music on the Moxi, and it also accesses fine tune Internet radio. The Photos feature lets you access your Flickr photos and any photo albums you are permitted to view. In a nice touch of consolidation, Moxi will manage your finetune and Flickr account info through its Website, a model that Digeo tells me will continue. As content sources expand, users won’t need to manage Moxi-related accounts all over the Web. By the time you read this, the Moxi will be updated to DLNA compatibility, which will enhance its ability to access music and photos over a home network.

I know what you’re thinking. Decent widgets, but what about a killer app for accessing movies and TV shows from the Net? TiVo’s got Netflix HD streaming and Amazon Unbox, so what’s the Moxi got? Right now, zip, and Digeo knows it. While nothing is finalized as of this writing, this is at the top of Digeo’s to-do list. And since it has a huge hard drive to work with, the Moxi won’t be limited to streaming. It can obviously store downloads, which are higher quality more often than not. But for now, it’s a black eye for the box in black.

Wish List
While the Moxi is loaded by any sane standard, I did jot down a few more to-dos for the home team. The first is Wi-Fi. Ethernet is required, so an optional accessory that eliminates the need for a hard-wired connection would probably be welcome. While another useful tool in this Swiss Army knife of a DVR is the Storage Info settings, it would be nicer if you could see how much recording space is left from the Recorded TV filter. Also, the smart Favorites filter is good, but why not get a little smarter and avoid displaying channels that you don’t subscribe to? How about iTunes compatibility? Now that the iTunes Store’s music is DRM free, there are 100 million iPod users who might like to access their iTunes library. Also, I’d like to see a traffic widget hit the Super Ticker or Moxi Net. My iPhone has that, so why can’t a guy dream? I can’t bring myself to say that I wish I could order Domino’s pizza over the Moxi, but it’s too damned funny to not note for those who care that TiVo offers the ability to order really crappy pizza through its box.

It’s frustrating to know that I probably haven’t done the feature set here justice. I focused on the areas in which the Moxi differs from the “DVR” I use and on the features I gravitated to most in a relatively short review period. While the Moxi can’t access On-Demand or PPV content, virtually everything else about it is superior, including its already massive and scalable storage and a user interface that’s light-years beyond. As premium as the Moxi feature set is now, I have no doubt that it will continue to evolve. If it sounds like I’m enthusiastic about the Moxi, I am. This was like being on vacation from the cable company DVR I use daily. Highly recommended.

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