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The New TiVo Boxes: What's the Big Deal?

At a press event last night in New York City, premier DVR vendor TiVo unveiled its two Series4 models, the TiVo Premiere and the Premiere XL, which integrate online content in a nod to the importance of streamed and downloaded video. Both models offer hardware and software improvements, and keep TiVo's premium pricing, despite the rise of lower-cost alternatives.

TiVo's Series4 models are slightly slimmer than before, although there isn't much cosmetic difference. Both will ship in April, with the $300 Premiere offering a 320GB hard drive (45 hours of HD video or 400 hours of SD) and the $500 Premiere XL offering a 1TB drive (150 hours of HD or 1,350 hours of SD).

TiVo Premiere
The new TiVo Series4.

The biggest improvement is the ability to search across online sources as well as standard program listings, when looking for a show or performer. Compatible sources include Netflix, Amazon Video on Demand, YouTube, and Blockbuster on Demand. While it doesn't include every online outlet (something Boxee does a better job at), it points the way to the seamless integration of online content that will soon be the norm.

The onscreen menu is getting a major makeover with this release, and is now Flash-based and able to fit wide-screen displays. An on-screen meter lets users know how much room is left on their TiVos, while a picture-in-guide display shows the currently playing show in the upper right corner even when displaying listings.

The company is offering three new remotes with the Series4 models, all of which have the classic peanut shape. The Premiere comes with a base model remote with four color-coded buttons for one-click contextual menu changes. The Premiere XL's remote adds in backlighting and programming ability. The cool sliding remote that's getting a lot of attention is actually a paid extra. Its top slides sideways to reveal a QWERTY keyboard, and it communicates with the TiVo via Bluetooth.

Considering that it's been three-and-a-half years since the previous generation of TiVos was released, and the set-top box market has rapidly grown in that time, consumers can be forgiven for having expected a lot more out of this release. TiVo's decision to keep its premium name and price tag will keep it out of reach for most people, while Roku boxes, the upcoming Boxee Box, and connected game consoles and Blu-ray players will grow the market. The new TiVo models won't include Wi-Fi, oddly enough, so consumers will need to purchase a Wi-Fi adapter if they want to ditch the Ethernet cable.

While we applaud the integration of online content, the $300-$500 purchase price and the monthly fee (which starts at $12.95) will prevent TiVo from growing its audience much with this release. Cost is king, we've found, and there are much more affordable alternatives.

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