In using different devices in my home as DVRs, I've gained a certain amount of experience when it comes to using the various systems available to people. Having chosen Windows Media Center as our family's main DVR, it's sometimes hard to walk away from that and start using another service. It's not that the new service is bad, it's more a question of familiarity. After the last month of using the TiVo Premiere Elite DVR, I can safely say that people should get familiar with the device.
TiVo has stepped up their game when it comes to the hardware side. No other set-top cable DVR on the market is going to give you four tuners to use at once. (Note: DirecTV should soon be releasing their HR34 5-tuner server. DirecTV is now offering a TiVo device for customers in select areas but this isn't going to be a good comparison for the Elite as it's a two-tuner DVR.) The only other device that compares right now is the Ceton InfiniTV4 and you'll need to purchase or build an HTPC in order to use that. If you're not the type of person who wants to go through that process then you now have an option to enjoy just as much recording ability as those who do. I really wish more companies saw the need for four tuners. I regularly had all four in use during the 30 days that the TiVo Elite has been in my home.
Along with the four tuners, the company has also upped the storage to 2TB. Again, other than an HTPC where you can constantly add more, you won't find an STB with this much storage. Even newer cable company supplied boxes top out at 1TB. The 2TB drive will give you somewhere around 300 hours of HD recordings. This is more than enough for the average person though you do have the option to add more using the e-SATA port on the back of the device should the need arise.
Other hardware features include two USB ports, Ethernet and all of the typical A/V connections you might need. The only audio connection missing is a Coax S/PDIF. Not totally necessary but it would be nice to see for people who have older equipment. Even newer A/V receivers will have a Coax input. You'll also find a CableCARD slot, needed for receiving and decrypting most cable channels.
One other input that is missing is one for antenna reception and analog cable. TiVo had to actually get a pass from the FCC to drop the support for these signals and while I don't understand the decision, if you want to use a TiVo with OTA or analog cable, you'll need to stick with the Premiere or Premiere XL. This wasn't an issue for me as I can't receive OTA transmissions where I live but it's something to keep in mind if you enjoy getting your local channels for free.
Overall, the Elite's hardware is great. Most people aren't going to use all four-tuners at once but knowing their there gives a certain piece of mind. As does the storage. It's going to take you a long time to fill out that HDD. The STB looks good in an understated way as it isn't flashy. The exterior will look at home in most A/V racks unless you're rocking brushed nickel everywhere.
Another feature that's not being talked about is the fact that the TiVo Elite has the ability to use MoCA. While it won't do you a lot of good right now, if TiVo decides to release the "Preview" to retail, you should be able to use the existing coaxial cables in your home to share recordings on multiple TVs without buying and activating multiple TiVos. My hope is that they allow full functionality from these devices however. The Moxi Mate is a half solution as you can't delete or schedule recordings from it. Hopefully TiVo won't make the same mistake.
Software and UI
While citing the hardware specs is great, the UI that you're going to be using every day is where it's at. TiVo has been hammered hard in the past for their non-HD UI and they've fixed that with the Premiere Elite. The menus look good, fill the screen nicely and are easy to navigate. If you've used a TiVo before you'll feel right at home. Unfortunately, they still feel sluggish from time to time. Scrolling down your list of recorded programming, page changes take a minute. I have to say I wouldn't mind seeing a bit of pick up in the menu system. The lag isn't awful but it's there. It's a shame too because the lag is the only issue that bothered me in the least with the interface.
Again, if you've used a TiVo in the past then you'll be right at home. Even new users won't have an issue learning things. Unlike the Moxi I reviewed a few months back, where I never really felt at home within the interface, TiVo let's you know, for the most part, exactly where to find what you're looking for. Whether recorded TV, Netflix, or other services, finding your way around the UI is pretty intuitive.
I can't say enough about TiVo's unified search function. When combined with the Slide Remote, you get an easy way to find what you want to watch no matter where it comes from. Unified search pulls results from your guide, recorded TV and any online services you've activated. One quick keyword search and you have all of the available options in a list. The only thing missing is the ability to add items to your Netflix queue. There were times that when I searched, I may not have wanted to watch the item at that time. The only way to save it was to jump into Netflix and add it there. If they could add the option to save it to your queue for later viewing, it would be an almost perfect search solution.
In the end, TiVo provides the best UI of any set-top DVR I've used. Cable company provided DVRs can't compare and it definitely beats out the Moxi in usability and feature set. Cable companies and other DVR manufacturers could take a page from what the company is doing to move forward.
Much like the TiVo Premiere I reviewed earlier this year, the Premiere Elite should be your first choice if you can afford the price of entry. While the device with lifetime service will run you around $1000, that g-note is getting you a DVR you can't get anywhere else short of building and maintaining an HTPC. TiVo builds quality hardware and you shouldn't have any issues. The unit I received has been rock solid since connecting it, never missing a recording or hanging up and requiring a restart.
Again, you may notice a bit of lag when using the menus, but no worse than any other DVR I've used, including Xbox 360s acting as Media Center extenders. Couple the UI with hardware you can't get anywhere else and the TiVo Premiere Elite becomes the first choice among set-top DVRs.
I would encourage any potential TiVo customers to take a look at the slide remote they offer as well. It adds a bit to the overall upfront cost but the extra functionality is completely worth the price.