TiVos are "digital video recorders": boxes that let you record TV programs digitally. DVRs are like videocassette recorders without the cassettes — anybody remember VCRs? A TiVo DVR can be set up to "tape" dozens or even hundreds of your favorite programs on its internal hard drive, where they sit until you play them. You play them whenever.
Personally, I'm extremely glad a TiVo is (finally) fast enough to stream back to itself high-def recordings that have been archived a computer, without pausing all the time because it can't buffer the received data fast enough. I'll talk more about that later. But, first ...
Meet the TiVo Premiere
Here's what the TiVo Premiere looks like (click to enlarge):
Its height is considerably less than earlier TiVos'. So is its depth, front to back. It's as wide as the TiVo HD model it replaces.
Its back panel offers a number of connection options:
The best way to connect the Premiere to a recent-model HDTV is via its HDMI (version 1.3) connector, which carries both video and audio. For HDTVs without HDMI input, the Premiere also offers red-blue-green component video connectors, to be used along with audio output from its optical digital connector — and, for antique TV sets, it has yellow-red-white A/V outputs. If you use the latter, the TiVo downconverts HD material to SD.
Networking is done through the Ethernet port or (depending on what type network adapter you have) one of its two USB ports. If you don't have a home computer network, you'll hook a TiVo phone adapter (sold separately) to a USB port to connect the Premiere to the TiVo service to fetch electronic program guides and software updates.
Notice that there are inputs for both cable (or Verizon FIOS) and over-the-air antenna, which can be used simultaneously.
Popcorn handy? The TiVo Premiere comes with a 320 GB internal hard drive that can hold some 45 hours of HD programs, or over 400 hours of SD. You can mix and match HD and SD recordings on it. The Premiere XL's 1-terabyte internal drive holds up to 150 HD hours or up to 1,350 SD hours (!). You can keep track of how much space is left by looking at the My Shows menu:
Here, 7% of the drive has been filled.
The image above of the My Shows screen shows the 720p high-definition user interface introduced with the TiVo Premiere; older models used an SD menu system with no visual graphics or picture-in-picture showing (at upper right) the currently tuned channel or currently playing program. The new menu system is based on Flash Lite and is supported (since it requires a lot of processing power) by a dual-core Broadcomm BCM7413 CPU.
There have been criticisms concerning the sluggishness of the HD menus in responding to buttons on the remote. The software of the Premiere awaits an upgrade later this year that will allow it to use both processors in the Premiere's dual-core CPU. Right now, the software disables the second core, making user-interface response sluggish.
The top part of HD user-interface screens such as My Shows is filled by a Discovery Bar that contains a scrollable row of selectable poster images for TV programs, movies, videos, and other fare that you may want to record or download.
In a carryover from the Series3 TiVos, the Premiere allows you to record programs originated in 1080i and 720p HD. The original TiVo Series3 DVR was the first to do HD; Series2 and earlier TiVos were SD-only. The original Series3 was followed as an HD-capable TiVo by the less pricey TiVo HD, also a Series3, and its big brother the TiVo HD XL. The new Premiere adds 1080p to the list of supported video formats, a list which also includes 480i and 480p SD.
If you are a TiVo newbie and you buy a TiVo Premiere (or any other TiVo), be aware that you can dispense with your present cable box; the TiVo replaces it. But in order to allow the TiVo Premiere to pick up digital cable channels, including premium channels, your cable company (or Verizon FIOS) needs to install an M-type CableCard in the Premiere. "M" stands for "multi-stream"; this one "M-card" allows the two tuners of the Premiere to receive two digital channels at one time. Some older TiVo models could accept two S-type ("single-stream") cards instead of one M-type card, but the Premiere has just one CableCard slot and forces you to use an M-card. The Premiere, by the way, also lets you connect an over-the-air antenna to it, in addition to its cable TV or Verizon FIOS input connection.
The Premiere has spiffy high-definition (720p) user-interface menu screens. Like the My Shows screen pictured above, the outermost screen, called TiVo Central ...
... shows you in one of its corners, the upper-right, a miniature picture-in-picture of the program that is currently playing. In a panel on the left side of the TiVo Central screen are the screen's main functions. Scroll to one of these, and the panel on the right side shows you its sub-functions.
As shown by an earlier graphic, you can see your current list of recordings by selecting My Shows, which in older TiVos used to be called Now Playing. Twice-pressing the TiVo button at the top of the remote is a shortcut to the My Shows screen.
The remote that comes with the Premiere ...
... is much nicer than the crappy one that came with the TiVo HD and is something like the "Glo" remote that came with the original Series3. (Neither the TiVo HD nor the original Series3 is still available from TiVo.com, by the way. I have two TiVo HDs and an original Series3, in addition to my new TiVo Premiere.) The remote's buttons have a crisp, positive feel. The Select button is now where it should be: in the middle of the Top-Right-Bottom-Left ring, not below it. The Aspect (ratio) selection button has been renamed "Zoom."
There are four new buttons on the Premiere remote. Coded yellow, blue, red, and green, they have functions that depend on which menu screen or activity you're in. For instance, the blue button toggles the way the programs in My Shows are sorted (by name or by date). The red button toggles between grouping My Shows items of the same name in folders to reduce clutter, or not doing so. Both of those buttons take on other roles when you are using the Premiere's Search capability, for instance, or when you use the Premiere's Browse TV capabilities, etc. I have also read that the colored buttons do interesting things when you are accessing Video On Demand content, something I haven't confirmed.
The remote that comes with the basic Premiere isn't backlit, though the nicer remote for the XL is; the latter is also a "learning" remote that can adopt the behaviors of your other remotes and replace them.
Coming soon for the Premiere and Premiere XL, an optional upgrade remote ...
... has a slide-out QWERTY keyboard and uses Bluetooth, which means you won't have to point it at the TiVo!
Oddly, the Premiere remote lacks the TiVo HD remote's slider switch to identify it as either Remote #1 or Remote #2. If you have a Premiere and another TiVo in the same room, as I do, Controlling two TiVo boxes with separate remotes tells how to pair each TiVo's remote to its appropriate TiVo. However, If you would like to control two TiVos with just the Premiere remote, you're out of luck. Controlling two TiVo DVRs with one remote can tell you how to use a non-Premiere remote with a "1-2 switch," such as that for TiVo HD, to control (say) a TiVo HD and a Premiere. You lose the A, B, C, and D color-coded button shortcuts for the Premiere HD menus if you do that.
Also, if you own two Premieres and hook them to the same TV, you have to use two remotes.
There is much more to say about the sophisticated functionality of the TiVo Premiere, but at this point I'll just refer you to an in-depth technical review of the TiVo Premiere by K. Fowler ("bkdtv") in PDF form here.
The Premiere, as the first Series4 TiVo, lets you finally do a full range of network-y things with your TiVos, things that you could admittedly — with drawbacks — do before; now, with the Premiere, you can do them faster and better.
For instance, Series3 TiVos were the first to let you view recordings from TiVo #1 on TiVo #2 in a different room. This capability was dubbed multi-room viewing (MRV). Using a home Wi-Fi or Ethernet network, a copy of a program sitting on TiVo #1 could be sent to TiVo #2. You could play the copy on the receiving TiVo as it was being transferred, or you could wait until some future time to begin playback. So if you recorded a show on your living room TiVo on Saturday night and wanted to watch it in bed on Sunday morning, you could pull it up to your bedroom TiVo on Sunday and lie there in your pajamas watching it as it was being transferred.
Unfortunately, Series3 TiVos couldn't MRV recordings fast enough to keep the playback-during-copying capability from pausing repeatedly due to TiVo #2's buffer running short of incoming data.
The Premiere, like its predecessors, supports MRV. But the Premiere is faster than its elder brothers, so (if you have the right network gear; see below) the blue LED that indicates a MRV copy is in progress turns off faster, showing you that the copying is finished.
In addition to MRV, Series3 TiVos — including the original Series3 and the TiVo HD — allowed you to copy TiVo recordings to your computer via your home network. Once on the computer, they could be deleted from the TiVo, if desired, thereby freeing space on the TiVo's hard drive. Then they could be copied back from the computer to any TiVo in your house whenever you wanted to watch them again. They could even be streamed back from your computer: you could view them at will without making a new copy of them on the TiVo.
Sadly, though, the third-generation TiVos couldn't move data fast enough from your computer back to themselves, no matter how fast your network happened to be. So, though you could stream a high-definition recording from your computer to your TiVo, the TiVo kept pausing because it couldn't fill its buffer fast enough with incoming data.
The TiVo Premiere is finally fast enough.
TiVo Premiere with 802.11n Networking
If you are using an 802.11n router on your home network — check out the Netgear Rangemax WNDR3700 Dual Band Wireless-N Gigabit Router at Amazon.com for under $135; it's the router TiVo Inc. features on its website, for more money — and if to the Premiere you attach the new TiVo Wireless-N Network Adapter shown at right, you'll be able to wirelessly stream high-definition video from your computer archive to the Premiere and watch it in real time, without pauses. (Of course, if you are using wired Ethernet, which is even faster than wireless-N, the same is true.)
The TiVo Premiere costs $299.99. You can order it from TiVo Inc. and add a Wireless-N Adapter for $67.49. A lifetime service plan — provided you already have another TiVo with a lifetime service plan — costs $199. Add enough extra dough for TiVo Inc. to UPS the hardware to you, and bob's your uncle.
Don't believe the higher price shown for the N adapter on the TiVo website, by the way. If you order by phone (877 BUY-TIVO; 877 289-8486) and mention the lower price for the N adapter at Amazon.com, then TiVo Inc. will match it or better (or so I found when I ordered my Premiere).
What is the TiVo service plan, you ask? Any TiVo needs to be fed with things like the program guide it consults to know when to record a program, as well as occasional updates to its operating software. These things come to it over your Internet-connected home network, as long as you have a paid subscription to the TiVo service. Ordinarily, you'll pay $12.95/month, $129/year, $299 for three years ... or $399 for "lifetime" service that lasts as long as the TiVo does. This "TiVo service," naturally, is in addition to your cable TV or Verizon FIOS subscription.
If you buy a Premiere from TiVo.com, there are service plan discounts for present TiVo owners. If you presently have a TiVo that you've already paid for lifetime service on, and you now buy a Premiere or Premiere XL in a package deal from TiVo Inc., then a life-of-the-Premiere service plan is only, as I said earlier, $199. You don't even have to stop using the TiVo you already have!
Of course, if you wind up with two TiVos in your home — a Premiere and a Series3, say — and you want to MRV recordings between them, you'll be well-advised to get a second TiVo Wireless-N Adapter for the other TiVo. Both TiVos have to be on the same 802.11n network to get MRV transfers going between them at wireless-N speed, so both need N adapters. You can't have one TiVo using 802.11g with a G adapter and the other using 802.11n with an N adapter, and expect them to talk to each other at wireless-N speed.
What is the G-to-N speed difference? 802.11g, or "G," is the familiar Wi-Fi standard that's been in use for the last ten years or so, and it runs at 2.4 GHz. For, oh, say, five years now, 802.11n, Or "N," which runs at over twice G speed, at 5.0 GHz, has been waiting in the wings to replace 802.11g. It's now ready for prime time. 5.0 GHz is, in my practical testing, a lot better than 2.4 GHz.
As I indicated earlier, if you have a router that runs at G speed and doesn't support N, you'll probably want to replace it someday. But there's at least one other option. You can buy an extra TiVo Wireless-N Network Adapter and hook it to the Ethernet port of your G router as a "bridge" device. It serves as an N-speed conduit between the N adapters on your TiVos — assuming that you have two or more TiVos with N adapters.
However, you don't have to buy all this new gear right away. If you have a G network in place, and/or if your existing TiVo uses a G adapter, fine. The N adapter you get for the TiVo Premiere will slow itself down to G speed for you. Later on, when you spring for an N adapter for each older TiVo in your home and you either upgrade to an N router or add an extra N adapter as a "bridge," the N adapter on the TiVo Premiere will automatically start using N speed.
If you insist you'll never need N speed, you currently can still buy the TiVo Wireless-G adapter for around $40 and use it with the Premiere to interface with your G router and any other G-networked TiVos you have in your home. If you don't want to buy a TiVo Wireless-G adapter from Amazon, call TiVo Inc. at 877 BUY-TIVO (877 289-8486) and ask to have Amazon's typically lower price matched for you.
Premiere Networking Speed
How fast is the TiVo Premiere at doing networking tasks? I tested mine by transferring a 1 hr. 30 min. HD recording: "Foyle's War, Series V: Broken Souls," broadcast in HD on "Masterpiece Mystery"on a local PBS station recently and received in HD on Comcast cable.
Here are the transfers I tried, with transfer speeds in megabits per second shown in parentheses:
- From the TiVo HD that recorded it to my TiVo Premiere (22.22 Mb/s)
- From the Premiere back to the TiVo HD (20.53 Mb/s)
- From the Premiere to my iMac (20.62 Mb/s)
- From the iMac back to the Premiere (46.65 Mb/s)
The Premiere-to-iMac transfer (#3) was done using the kmttg Java application in Mac OS X. The iMac-to-Premiere transfer (#4) was done using pyTivoX: specifically, its pyTivo functionality (as distinct from its StreamBaby functionality). In all cases, the transfers were done over an 802.11n network running at a nominal speed of 5.0 GHz, with both TiVos using wireless-N adapters. My network router is an Apple AirPort Extreme base station. The transfer speeds shown were obtained from the Premiere's Messages & Settings/Settings/Network & Phone/View network diagnostics/Transfer history menu.
All of the transfers happened in much better than real time. That is to say, the rate at which the transfers took place far exceeded the playback speed of the recording — though I did not actually play the recording as the transfers were in progress.
This particular recording's file size, 3.7 GB, was not very large for an hour-and-a-half HD show. Its nominal bitrate was only 5.98 Mb/s. (No wonder all of the transfers happened in much better than real time.)
Most HD recordings that I have been working with originate at bitrates up to twice this one's. The highest bitrate of all the recordings that reside at the moment on my living room TiVo HD is 14.95 Mb/s, according to kmttg. The lowest transfer speed I saw in my testing, 20.53 Mb/s, far exceeds 14.95 Mb/s. Accordingly, I expect that any HD recording I make on any of my various TiVos will transfer to or from my Premiere in faster than real time, whether the device at the other end of the connection is my iMac or another TiVo.
I also found that running the same kind of transfer tests using my living room TiVo HD or my original Series3 in the bedroom, rather than my TiVo Premiere, typically gives slower-than-real-time results when I try to transfer ("upload") recordings of HD material that have nominal bitrates over (say) 8 Mb/s from my iMac to the TiVo. The TiVo HD is slower than the original Series3, but neither older TiVo can upload typical HD material in real time. The fault is with the TiVos themselves; I have run these tests using both wireless-N and Ethernet connections and gotten approximately the same kind of results with both network types.
I have found, accordingly, that the determining factor for transfer speeds in TiVo networking typically is the internal processing power of the TiVo making the transfer, and that when two TiVos are doing an MRV transfer, the speed is limited by that of the slower TiVo.
Happily, I find that using wireless-N (or Ethernet) makes HD MRV go faster-than-real-time even for transfers between older-model TiVos, e.g., from the TiVo HD to the Series3. The throughput of MRV transfers between slower TiVos is facilitated by the fact that the "transport stream" of the recording does not have to be altered. When a recording is downloaded to a computer, on the other hand, the "transport stream" has to be "remuxed" into a "program stream" by the downloading TiVo, and if the TiVo has minimal processing power, the speed of the download suffers. However, the Premiere, with its faster processor, seems to do downloads about as fast as it does MRV.
Because older, slower TiVos handle MRV transfers pretty well, a Premiere is not really needed if you just want to MRV HD material — as long as your network has at least wireless-N speed. Using wireless-G, the network speed becomes the limiting factor to throughput, whether the TiVos doing the MRV transfer are Premieres, older models, or a combination of the two.
But a Premiere is needed (along with wireless-N or better networking) if you want to stream HD material in faster-than-real-time from a computer. Neither my TiVo HD nor my original Series3 can keep up with HD streaming from my iMac using pyTivoX's StreamBaby functionality. This is true whether I use wireless-N or Ethernet. Only the Premiere gives me fast enough StreamBaby streaming.
I have also found that the Premiere copies recordings back from my iMac, using the non-streaming pyTivo functionality of pyTiVoX, at faster speeds than I saw for any of the other transfer types I tested. The 46.65 Mb/s shown above for the upload from the iMac to the Premiere was more than double the 20.62 Mb/s of the same program's download from the Premiere to the iMac.
Thinking this result was possibly bogus, I tried additional uploads to see whether they would give me throughput speeds closer to those for the other three transfer types. The two other upload tests I tried gave me speeds of 37.59 Mb/s and 51.3 Mb/s! So it looks as if uploads — copying programs from a computer to a TiVo — are somehow privileged with the Premiere. They go much faster than other transfers, at least on my own particular wireless-N network. Also, the actual upload speed appears to be highly variable — 46.65 Mb/s; 37.59 Mb/s; 51.3 Mb/s — while throughputs for the other types of transfers seem to hover consistently in the low-20 Mb/s range.
Useful TiVo Premiere Links