First off, I apologize up front for the length of this, but I feel that a comprehensive comparison of the ReplayTV and the Moxi DVR's is in order. This thread is inspired by a posting in a Moxi DVR thread over on the HDTV Recorders Forum
as well as the fact that I just had a Moxi box installed by our local cable provider, Charter. For the next month, I will be comparing Moxi to ReplayTV head-to-head to see how they compare, after which I will make the decision as to which box retains the prominent place in our family room entertainment center. I have been getting more and more frustrated by the gradual difficulty in getting ReplayTV to work with our Digital Cable box, so new solutions are always welcome. I still love ReplayTV, and will probably keep at least one of the three I own.
I look forward to your comments and suggestions concerning this comparison...
Moxi vs. ReplayTV Comparison
Before I get into the review and comparison, I want to provide a bit of background and perspective. I have been a long-time proponent of ReplayTV boxes and I have participated on AVS Forum's ReplayTV forum for a number of years. I have owned three ReplayTV boxes over the past four years, and I run a personal hobby site, JimsTips.com
, where I have been providing Tips & Tricks related to several topics that interest me (including ReplayTV), so to say that I've had some DVR experience and interest would be an understatement!
As for ReplayTV boxes, I currently own an "upgraded" 2001, an "upgraded" 2020, and a "Stock" model 5040. For me, the 2xxx models are simply "tanks" that just work. They are solid, reliable, very responsive to the remote, and have proven to be exceptional in their reliability and function. The only downside of them is that they are not "networkable". The 5040 on the other hand has all the bells and whistles, but at the same time, it seems "forced" in many of its design points. Its remote is much less responsive, and it has an overall more sluggish feel when compared to the 2xxx series. It is more prone to lockups than the 2xxx series. To ReplayTV's credit, they have released some software updates over the past couple years that have improved many issues.
The one real plus to the ReplayTV 5040 is its networkability: All program data is received via broadband as opposed to dialup on the 2xxx boxes, and any show that is recorded can be offloaded to a PC for playback, editing, and burning to a DVD. This is excellent for building a personal library of favorite shows. You do have to jump through a couple hoops to accommodate ReplayTV's picky MPEG-2 format, but the results are excellent. (See my "ReplayTV to DVD HOWTO" on my Web site JimsTips.com
for more details.)
Finally, please don't think that I am ignoring TiVo here. I think TiVo is very innovative and an excellent product. It's just that several years ago, I chose ReplayTV because at the time, its interface was more familiar and solid, and it provided a logical and simple transition from DirecTV's interface. TiVo's interface was just too different to make an easy transition. ReplayTV just had a "feel" about it that seemed less intrusive. Over the years, though, TiVo has significantly improved things, and they are certainly a fine choice. So much so that if I was starting from scratch, I would seriously consider a TiVo box. I just won't be covering TiVo here because I have no real experience with it like I do with ReplayTV.
OK, enough background. First off, I'm going to give you my Pros and Cons list about Moxi. These are based on playing around with Moxi, reading data sheets, and my experience with ReplayTV. There may be a bias or two, and I'm trying to be objective, but when you've used ReplayTV for over four years...
No Initial Equipment Costs
There is a monthly charge of $9.99. Over the course of a few years, ReplayTV would be more cost-effective, but then if a new box becomes available, typically Cable companies let you swap them out for little or no cost whereas ReplayTV would require a new purchase.
AKA, a Status Bar. This is pretty cool. This is something that I wish ReplayTV optionally had. It gives a quick and easy visual cue as to where you are in a show. It's also nice because it's clean and slick looking. At-a-glance, I can really get a good sense of where I am in the show without having to do mental time calculations.
If you decide to record a show AFTER it started, it can record the entire show back to the beginning as long as it is buffered. This is very nice. Not a huge deal, but I do wish ReplayTV had this on occasion.
Like ReplayTV, pressing this skips ahead 30 seconds. This is not native to TiVo. This will make transitioning to Moxi easier.
Flexible "Find" Capabilities
Like ReplayTV, you can search by keyword and category, but Moxi has a bit more "advanced" search functionality. The ability to search for a show is essential and a very often-used ReplayTV feature.
Cool User Interface
Moxi's UI is very slick and modern. It reminds me a bit of Media Center PC's which have very slick UI's. On the other hand, I consider ReplayTV's UI to be more "functional" though it could certainly use a makeover.
Integrated Cable Box
This is an excellent feature. Channel changes happen almost instantaneously, and it completely eliminates the need for serial connections or IR blasters required of "standalone" boxes.
Another huge feature! This virtually eliminates scheduling conflicts. And the ability to record one show while watching another is something ReplayTV could not do.
30 Minute Buffer
Not really a big deal, but I do like ReplayTV's "whatever-disk-space-is-available" buffer.
No "Grid" Guide
I really like the ReplayTV Grid Guide because it really gives you an "at-a-glance" view, especially when you want to visually look for shows. Moxi's "dual-axis" guide is novel, and I will no doubt get used to it, but I do wish it had an optional Grid Guide.
No "Keyword" Themes
ReplayTV lets you create recordings based on keywords. This is nice when you don't remember the exact name of the show or you don't know when the show will be on. If a show matches, it will record it. This has proven to be very useful in recording shows that we know get aired occasionally but are not currently in the current channel guide data. I haven't found a way to do this in Moxi.
While Moxi's UI is very slick and modern, it is a bit kludgy here and there requireing extra button presses for certain tasks. ReplayTV has some "extra" buttons the let you bypass menus and jump right to specific key functions.
OK, so how does the Moxi compare to the ReplayTV box on a feature-by-feature comparison? I will compare the Moxi to ReplayTV in general while pointing out any differences between the 2xxx and 5xxx series ReplayTV boxes. Note that 3xxx series boxes are similar to the 2xxx boxes and 4xxx boxes are similar to th 5xxx boxes. My intent is not to present a "which is better" review, but more a list of side-by-side features from which you can choose a device based on your needs and wants. As of today, I am running version "3" of Moxi's software. Note that software revisions can change these features and specs in a heartbeat, so if things have changed, please jump in and let us know!
A recording buffer is space allocated by the system where live TV is stored letting you pause, rewind, and resume watching paused TV.
Moxi has a fixed 30 minute buffer. If you are paused for more than 30 minutes, Moxi will resume playback. I am not sure if it resumes back to live or if it resumes delayed with a 30-minute "rolling" buffer--I'll have to test this out. Initiating a Recording of the current show will also record back to the beginning of the show assuming that the channel was tuned to the proper channel at the time of the start of the show, and the recording was initiated within the 30 minute buffer. This is VERY handy if you missed the beginning of a show and want to retain it for later viewing.
ReplayTV's buffer has a minimum allocation of 20 minutes, with the maximum being the amount of free hard disk space. I know of no real limitations save for the amount of free disk space. I have paused and succcessfully rewound back over 12 hours or more of buffer without issue. Initiating a Recording of the current show will flush the buffer and begin the recording at the point where the recording was started. ReplayTV does not back up in the buffer to record the biginning of the show.
This refers to the quality at which the show is recorded. If you are coming from the VCR world of video tape recording, you will be stunned by either system. No more tracking problems. No more video noise. Just decent to excellent digital quality. There are two types of DVD's available today: Standalone and Integrated. Standalone boxes have inputs that accept signals from any video source. Integrated DVD's have Cable or Satellite decodes integrated. These cannot record external video sources.
Moxi is an Integrated box and records the raw bit stream right from the Digital Cable Box, so how you see it "live" is how you see it recorded. It does not compress or convert between Digital and Analog because compression is done at the head-end, so the user has no control over recording quality. Overall picture quality is excellent and comparable to "normal" Digital Cable reception. Basically, what you view live is what you see recorded.
ReplayTV boxes, unlike Moxi, are Standalone boxes that record any analog signal as input, for example, the analog output from raw cable or Digital Cable boxes. It records the analog source signal by converting it from analog to digital on the fly, compressing it based on one of three recording qualities: Standard, Medium, and High.
Standard Quality rivals VCR quality. I personally think it is better, but it is also somewhat prone to digital artifacting depending on the source content. The reality is that it could be better, but over time, you just don't notice the artifacting.
Medium Quality is decent quality and is a great compromise between quality and disk capacity. It is, in my opinion, the most "compatible" quality when offloading shows to a PC for burning to a DVD. (See my "ReplayTV to DVD HOWTO" on my Web site JimsTips.com
High Quality is excellent for sporting events and fast-action movies. If you have a larger TV (and can thus more easily see artifacting) then High Quality is almost essential.
Note that on series 2xxx ReplayTV boxes, audio records at varying levels associeted with the various recording qualities resulting in better or worse audio quality. On 5xxx boxes, audio is always recorded at the same high quality.
Recording capacity refers to the maximum number of hours of show content that you can record. This greatly varies depending on the model of the box and the recording quality used.
Currently, Moxi only offers one capacity. Moxi can record about 50 hours of Standard Definition content and about 10-12 hours of High Definition content. These numbers are rough estimates, but should give you a ballpark idea of total capacity. As mentioned above, there is no recording quality setting.
ReplayTV storage capacity can be determinied approximatly by considering the size of the include hard drive and the recording quality setting. For example, a ReplayTV box with a 60GB drive can record about 60 hours at Standard Quality, 30 hours at Medium Quality, and 20 hours at High quality. Other drive capacities have the same recording ratios. Note that ReplayTV boxes cannot record High Definition recordings, only Standard Definition recordings.
The Channel Guide is the method by which the system organizes and presents show information on channels over time. This is the way you typically select shows to watch and record.
Moxi used a novel "dual-axis" navigation system. Along the horizontal is a list of "categories" like Channels, HDTV, Favorites, Settings, etc. When you scroll right and left, the available options in each category appear in a vertical scrollable column. For example, if you bring "Channels" into focus, all channels and the current show airing on those channels appear in a list running vertically. You just scroll or page up and down to the desired channel. The highlighted channel also displays additional information about the program and pressing the "Info" button brings up yet more detailed information. It also displays the next three shows airing on that channel. Pressing the right arrow moves you to that "On Next" section and you can also scroll through that sub-list out to 14 days ahead.
If you are used to a typical Grid Guide, Moxi will disappoint, and definitely require a change in mindset or perspective, BUT it does work well, and is quite effective. The more I use it, the more it works for me. Two quirks: First, the sort order of the channel list is "descending" as opposed to the typical "ascending" list. Not sure why they decided to break with tradition, but this seemed anti-intuitive to me. Second, there are no channel numbers listed in the channel listing, only network logo icons. Yes, the channel DOES display on the highlighted item, and I do realize that screen real estate is at a premium, but it seems strange that they would omit channel numbers. Time will tell if these really are issues.
Moxi provides two weeks of show data.
ReplayTV uses a "classic" Grid Guide. If you are used to looking at a paper TV Guide, then you will be right at home with ReplayTV. Channels are listed on the left of the screen, half-hour time blocks are listed on the top, and corresponding shows fill the grid. You use the arrow keys tom simply move around the grid to view and select available shows. The show that is currently highlighted displays brief information at the top of the screen.
ReplayTV 2xxx boxes store one week of programming data, and 5xxx boxes provide two weeks of programming data.
While watching a show, you often want to more information about the show such as description, actors, etc. Both systems offer program information in various forms.
When viewing the Channel Menu, a brief show description is displayed next to the highlighted show. Pressing the Info button brings up an extended description screen. Depending on the amount of data, this can be a multi-page screen providing excellent information.
Moxi also has a "Flip Bar" that is a small status bar that appears on the bottom of the screen when you press the "Info" button or an arrow button. It displays information about the current show and also shows the next three shows airing next on that channel. Pressing the right arrow moves you to the "On Next" section where you can scroll through 14 days of data. Selecting one of these shows brings up options to record. Scrolling up or down will also display the corresponding show information on other channels without actually tuning to that channel. "On Next" information is also displayed as well
While scrolling around the Channel Guide, the highlighted show's information displays in a banner at the top of the screen. The number of lines is is adequate, but it is limited though, so if there is extended information, it gets cut off.
Pressing the ReplayTv's "Info" button brings up a banner at the top of the screen containing information about the current show. Series 2xxx boxes have "static" banners while 5xxx boxes have scrollable banners letting you see current show information on other channels without tuning to that channel.
User Interface And System Responsiveness
How quickly a DVR responds to remote button presses, and how quickly it processes requests is very important to the overall user experience. If the system is too slow or sluggish, it will turn people off very quickly. Tech saavy people sometimes have more tolerance because they understand what's going on in the background, but to Joe Sixpack, these are appliances that should respond and operate quickly. You never had to watch an hourglass while programming a VCR, so they won't expect delays or lags in a DVR either.
Version 3 of Moxi's software improves the interface performance. Moxi responds to remote button presses very quickly, and overall, the interface is smooth, animated nicely, and pleaseing to use. The only real annoyance I had was that it is painfully S-L-O-W to check and uncheck channels in the Channel Listing section of Settings. (This is where you can optionally "select" and "unselect" channels to be displayed, for example those channels to which you do not subscribe.) Fortunatly, this is a one-time deal, but unselecting literally a couple hundred channels was less than pleasant. It would be nice if Moxi either had an "auto-unselect" for known, unassigned channels, or at least a faster inerface.
In some cases, Moxie does require some extra button presses to get to "core" functions, but it's not too bad. Other than that, the overall interface is excellent.
As mentioned above, the 2xxx series is very snappy and quick to respond. The only time things slow down is during a long search, but there is screen feedback telling you how it is searching. The 5xxx series is more sluggish, but recent software updates have improved the UI overall. It still has a slight "lag" or "squishy" feel because things just don't respond as snappy as the 2xxx series, but the added features and capabilities of the 5xxx box typically outweigh any response issues.
ReplayTV has a couple extra buttons that take you right to core functions with one button press, for example, "Channel Guide" and "Replay Guide" (recorded shows.) While not essential, this is a nice convenience.
DVRs typically require a remote to do even the most basic functions. Without one, you really can't do anything, so the decent remote is essential.
Moxi's actually has a number of controls on the box itself that you can pretty much control most, if not all functions. This is pretty typical of most cable boxes. Should you lose or break your remote, you are not stuck.
Moxi's remote is solid, nicely weighted, and has a rubbery backing that gives a good grip. It feels good, and the layout of the buttons is pretty decent. And, because it's a Cable Company product, if the remote breaks, the Cable Company typically will provide a replacement as needed.
ReplayTV's boxes have one, yes, one button on the front: Power. All other functions are controlled by the remote. Lose the remote? You better get a new one, because NOTHING is controllable without the remote. OK, that may sound harsh, the reality is that it's typically not an issue.
ReplayTV remotes have gone through three radical incarnations over the years. While all have their idiosyncracies, they are all are effective. I personally like the most recent version because it fits my hand well, it is compact, and the buttons are in a logical placement. My only issue with all ReplayTV remotes is that over time, the "most often used" buttons do wear out, and I have had to buy several replacements over the years--an added cost I wasn't anticipating.
Conflict And Space Management
So what happens when two shows you want to record air at the same time? What happens when the networks change the time slot or extend a show (like the "Must Miss..er See TV" shows where they start them 1 minute early or extend them 10 minutes later.) How a DVR handles these conflicts determines if your show gets recorded or not.
Moxi has a huge advantage in that it has two tuners, so conflicts should be GREATLY reduced. Most conflicts occur typically occur between two shows. Yes, because you now have two tuners, you may have other conflicts, but it's much less likely with two tuners.
Moxi gives you toe option of extending the start or end times of shows. Also, I have not had a chance to determine how Moxi handles schedule movement, so I'll have to address that later.
ReplayTV has a single tuner meaning it can record only one show at a time, so conflict management is much more important. For "Single" and "Recurring" show recordings, if the show moves more than two time slots from its originally scheduled time, it will not get recorded. If it is a "Theme" recording, it will still record because Themes are not limited to channels or time slots.
Further, ReplayTV uses a somewhat complex but effective system of "Guaranteed" and "Non-Guaranteed" recordings. Basically, if you flag a recording as Guaranteed, space is "hard-allocated" on the disk. Non-Guaranteed recordings will record if disk space is available. Guaranteed recordings are great for those shows you "can't miss" and want high assurance that they will record. Non-Guaranteed recordings are great for setting up recurring "filler" shows that you don't care if you miss an episode or two.
If you want to record two shows that air at the same time, you are out of luck, but there are several functions to let you find other occurrences of the show. There are a number of other factors that I won't get into in this review, but ReplayTV's conflict management isn't too bad. And the 5xxx series has added several other features to help better manage conflicts. The only major downside is that there is no "ToDo List" showing what ReplayTV actually has scheduled to record. Recordings are listed in the "Replay Guide" but because of the varied nature of different recording types (single-show, recurring, and Themes) Specifics may or may not be available. This is a long-time shortcoming of ReplayTV.
A DVR needs connections...lots of connections...to be compatible with the myriad of TV's and, if applicable, inout sources. Both ReplayTV and Moxie offer very comprehensive connectivity.
Moxi has a single input: Coax. Given that it has an integrated digital cable decoder, this makes sense. It is not a "standalone" box, so a single input is expected.
Outputs are varied. Video options are great: There are coax, composite (RCA video), S-video, Component (YPrPb), and DVI connections providing full HDTV compatibility. For audio, there are standard stereo Left & Right RCA jacks as well as both coax and optical digital S/PDIF connectors. Depending on your cable company's deployment, some of these outputs may or may not be active, and some may not be active while others are active (for example, if Component or DVI video is active, composite and S-Video are not active.)
Because ReplayTV is a standalone box, it requires varied input sources. It has coax, composite, and S-video inputs. You can configure it to utilize all or any combination of the inputs.
For output, all ReplaYTV boxes have multiple S-Video outputs and RCA outputs. The 5xxx series, adds coax output, progressive (YPrPb) video output, and an Optical audio connector. (As a side note, though there is no digital audio INPUT, ReplayTV decided that providing optical audio OUTPUT would help provide the best available audio.)
A signature feature of DVR's is the ability to "pause live TV". In addition, you can typically rewind back through the buffer, pause, and fast forward through the buffer back to live. Other controls may also be available.
Moxi has basic playback functions: Pause, Play, Rewind, Fast Forward. You can also "Replay" which skips you back 7 seconds (useful for replaying a scene) and "Skip" which skips you ahead by 30 seconds (useful for skipping past commer...um...I mean unwanted content.) There is no "Overshoot Correction" so if you hit Play while Fast Forwarding, it stops exactly when you press play, so you may have to rewind or hit Replay to correct if you overshoot. I suspect that this will be added in a later software revision.
Missing are "specialty" features like stepping forward or backward one frame at a time and slow motion. I am not a sports fan, but I do find this useful with movies, especially the credits.
Playback control is a real strength of ReplayTV. It also has the basics as well as the Replay and Skip buttons. For recorded shows (and live shows on the 5xxx series) you can also skip forward or backward by number. For example pressing "5" and then "Skip" jumps you forward 5 minutes. Pressing "15" and "Replay" jumps you back 15 minutes. Pressing "8" and the "Jump" button jumps you the point 8 minutes into the show. Very handy for handling long shows like the Olympic coverage.
ReplayTV also lets you step forward frame-by-frame after pressing Pause, and pressing the "Play" button during playback plays in slow motion in variable speeds.
ReplayTV has Fast Forward and Rewind "Overshoot Correction" where it jumps back (or forward if rewinding) a few seconds to compensate for your hand-eye coordination delay.
I do not use Parental Controls, so I cannot speak to them, but suffice it to say that Moxie has comprehensive parental controls as does the ReplayTV 5xxx series.
Your choice of DVR can be a very subjective one. Different people have different needs, so a simple feature list may or may not provide the information you need to make a choice. For example, we have been using ReplayTV boxes for years with DirecTV with excellent results. When we moved to South Carolina, we decided to go with Charter Digital Cable because of the cost savings, but because there is no serial port control capability on Charter's Digital Cable box, we have to use an "IR Blaster" to control channel changing which has proven to be about 98% reliable on the 2xxx series and virtually useless on the 5xxx series--not something neither my wife or I like. So one of my goals of looking into Moxi is to provide a less complex and more reliable solution. Having a DVR integrated into the cable box is certainly a step forward.
My recommendation is to give the various boxes a "test drive" and see what features you like and what features "feel good" to you. Be sure to take advantage of free trials--Charter offers the first month for free, and both ReplayTV and TiVo offer 30-day money back guarantees, so you are free to compare as you see fit.
One thing is for sure: Once you get hooked on the DVR concept, the specific model really becomes almost irrelevent--you just have to have SOMETHING!