It’s been a while since we’ve seen some evolution from the folks at TiVo. I had the chance to see the new units up close and personal a few weeks ago and tonight in NY, TiVo formally announced their new box, the TiVo Premiere. The Preiniere (AKA, Series 4) will ship in two SKUs, $299 good for 45 hours of HD and $499 with a 150 hours (TiVo doesn’t like to talk much about the specific sizes of the hard drives). The cost of service remains the same but there’s a whole new UI here that’s been re-designed and optimized for HD TVs. The new UI is beautiful, somewhat reminiscent of the HD search guide that was in beta for Series 3 devices. There’s a lot more information to be seen on screen as well as the ability to go back to the home screen and still have a small picture window active. Across the top is a “discovery bar” that lets you see recommendations from across your content lineup and you can customize what goes there as well. The UI is flash based and that means there’s a lot of opportunity for TiVo to further customize the UI and add new features. That’s good because at times the UI will drop back to the older UI when an older feature has been called at that isn’t quite there.
The bad news is that the new UI is for Premier owners only, no retrofit is planned for Series 3 or earlier. When I asked TiVo about this they said the flash platform they were building on just couldn’t deliver the performance they needed to make the older units viable. Older TiVo units will still be supported, all the way back to series one devices. Expect to see more than a few promotions along the way to get users on board with the new boxes.
There’s one cable card on the back (which will support two tuners) as well as a USB port to allow for a wireless dongle to connect. The wireless unit is actually an 802.11N Bridge device and that should help with range in flaky connection spots at home. Even more intriguing as a new optional remote that slides open to reveal a QWERTY keyboard. TiVo says they have plans for that remote beyond just searching channel guides. Look for more later in the year.
Bottom line? It’s a nice upgrade to an already premium product and one that still leaves generic DVRs from other player way behind. It’s still missing some key features I’m looking for. but there’s more than enough here to justify upgrading. The Best Buy partnership makes sense but it’s the deal with RCN that gets this more interesting as TiVo makes further inroads directly with Cable companies to provide services. For a company that’s been on a “death lists” for years. This was a nice showing for what looks like to be the next big evolution point for the DVR.