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Product Review
 

Motorola BMC-9012 Cable HDTV DVR with Moxi

Part I

October, 2005

Gabriel Lowe

 

Specifications:

Dual HD Tuners
80 GB Hard Drive
Connections: Composite Video, S-
   Video, Component Video, DVI-D,
   USB, Ethernet
Video On Demand Services
Dimensions: 3.3" H x 17" W x 11" D
Weight: 15 Pounds
Price: Varies by Cable Provider, but
    Usually a Few Hundred Dollars to
    Purchase and $10/month to Rent.

Moxi

www.diego.com

Introduction

Several years ago, I remember reading about a cool-sounding innovative product that had just won some awards at the CES. It was called the Moxi Media Center, and it performed what seemed like pure magic back then, having things like streaming digital video throughout the home and a built-in HDTV DVR.

At the time, it appeared as a standalone product, not tied to any cable or satellite provider. Then, quite suddenly, it seemed to disappear into thin air. I heard little about the product for a long time.

Then, towards the end of last year, my local cable company released their new HDTV DVR called the Motorola Broadband Media Center with Moxi. Taking what probably turned out to be a more profitable business track, Moxi (now a brand name owned by a company called Digeo) had apparently licensed their software out to service providers instead of selling the box by itself. In todayís world of DRM, HDCP, and other acronyms representing ways to protect digital content, it is a better choice for this type of product to be customized for your cable or satellite provider. Until a two-way CableCard is available, these types of boxes are the only way to truly manage all of your premium digital content in an integrated system.

Since this is a rather unique product, I believe a different type of review is in order. Instead of the standard timeline of set-up, configuration, and performance, I think it would be more beneficial to talk about the productís features, interface, and what I personally like and donít like. This will allow you to draw your own conclusions about whether this is a solution for you or not. It will also let you compare the features and functionality of the Moxi with whatever you have or are thinking about buying.

Suffice it to say, installation and initial software download are completed by the cable installer. I would also like to point out that one of the reasons that I am reviewing a product that is nearly a year old is that in May, 2005, I received a long-awaited software update (the infamous 3.2 update) that added some critical functionality. I felt it would be better to review this product once that functionality was in place and I had a chance to test it. I will discuss these specifics later in the review.

Features

Digeo has a couple of hardware manufacturers that make products with the Moxi software. The model I have is the Motorola BMC-9012, which has two analog/digital/HDTV tuners, an 80 GB hard drive, a DOCSIS-compliant cable modem, two USB 2.0 ports, two USB 1.1 ports, a DVI-D output, S-Video output, component video output, one Ethernet port, and one each coaxial and optical digital audio output. Some of these ports are useful to me, and some are not. But, whatever port you want, it is there (except for HDMI).

Any product that is manufactured by one company and then resold (or in this case, released) to the consumer is bound to have some features that have been disabled by the provider. This happens in the wireless phone industry all the time. For example, many Bluetooth-enabled phones have the ability to double as wireless modems for laptops, but many service providers cripple this ability so as not to lose money on their more lucrative data plans.

Here, we see that different cable providers have allowed for varying levels of functionality of this particular media server device. As I cannot review the features that I donít have, I can at least comment on the hardware that goes unused on my unit. After reading and participating in several online forum threads that deal directly with the BMC-9012, I am aware of some of the things that were intended to be functional, or are available to users in other areas.

So letís begin with those "missing features". First of all, the USB ports were included primarily to support add-on external storage. This is not supported in any way at the moment, and does not look like it will be in the foreseeable future either. External storage would be useful for several reasons. First, and most obviously, is the ability to store more DVR recordings. Another reason would be to store other digital content, such as pictures or music, to then be distributed to the rest of the house over your home network.

As it stands, the Ethernet port on the unit is completely non-functional. You cannot stream digital content to or from the device, even though this was one of the promising capabilities of this unit back when I read about it a couple of years ago. We have categorized this review as a Media Server review, but it won't really function that way until the manufacturers and cable providers turn the Ethernet port on.

That leads to the next disabled item: the cable modem. This is not a huge deal for me, although it would shave a few bucks of the monthly cable bill (I rent my cable modem as well as the Moxi box as part of my monthly fee). Where the cable modem would have come in more handy, would be if they had added wireless capabilities to the unit as well, allowing it to function as both the cable modem and wireless router (I had heard that it was in the works at one point, but have no official confirmation of this).

Next, the DVI output has been disabled. The 3.2 software introduced the ability to enable the port, but my service provider has not yet done it. I realize that this may be a frustrating thing for some, but since I have no ability to switch DVI, and already have two other DVI-equipped devices in my theater, I use the component video output. Apparently in some areas of the country, an active DVI output is available.

These omissions do not begin to overshadow the multitude of features that the BMC-9012 does have. At the main screen, you are offered several options, including channel categories, your list of recorded content, on demand content, pay-per-view content, games, an information ticker, recording options, system settings, and a group of help videos.

DVR

First and foremost, this unit is a DVR (Digital Video Recorder), and a darn good one at that. Having two tuners in your DVR is getting to be more common. The latest DVRs from DirecTV and Dish Network have two tuners, and HD tuners at that. The Moxi include two HD tuners as well. This gives you the ability to record one HDTV channel while watching another, or even to record two HDTV channels while playing back recorded content. Who would have thought a couple of years ago that you would be able to record ESPN HD and TNT HD while watching a movie recorded off of HBO HD? You would have laughed simply at the fact that there was that much HD content available, let alone that you could do all of that recording with it!

The Moxi DVR is somewhat non-traditional. There is no familiar grid program guide to which television viewers have become accustomed. Instead of using a system based on what is on now, the folks at Digeo have taken a different approach, basing the UI on "What do you want to watch now?"

As mentioned above, there is still a full channel listing, but I found that I never used it. Instead, the system has been optimized for swift searching by including channel categories such as Music, Kids, News, Sports, Movies, Favorite Channels, and HDTV. This allows you to quickly scan through the available channels for the type of programming you are interested in viewing. For example, I primarily want to watch HDTV in the room where my Moxi unit is installed. Hence, I almost always use the HDTV menu to see what is on.

Each menu has common controls. First you select a category, and a list of channels is presented. Once you stop on a channel, an Up Next window pops out to the right of the currently playing program, and you can then scan through the future available programs, three at time, up to 10 days in advance.

The program description appears below this Up Next area. After you have selected a program, you can choose to view or record the program, or record the entire series. You are also able to do this from the main viewing window while simply watching TV, although only one channel at a time.

Recorded content is stored in a separate category. You scroll though your recorded shows in the same manner as with the channel listings. Stopping on a program shows you the program length, what channel it was recorded on, and the date it was recorded. Here I would have liked to see them include the time recorded as well, since there are several programs on TV that appear multiple times throughout the day (for example the local news or Seinfeld). If you select the program, your options include viewing it, showing its upcoming instances, and deciding how long to keep it.

 

This latter option is a bit challenging to understand at first. By default, the Moxi will keep a program for two days, after which it will only keep the program as long as the space it consumes is not needed for further recordings. You are able to tell the Moxi to keep a program for three or four days instead of two, as well as to keep the program until you delete it manually. On the other hand, you can also tell the Moxi to keep a program only as long as the space is available

This may sound easy enough, but due to the rather limited storage capacity of 80 GB, this has the potential to become a digital juggling act. The Moxi system never tells you how much recording time in SDTV or HDTV is still left, neither in gigabytes nor in hours. It uses an algorithm that calculates available storage based upon what is scheduled to record when as well as what programs are scheduled to be deleted and when. It also takes into account whether the program is HD or not (obviously HD recordings take up much more space than SD recordings).

Based on these criteria, when you select a new program to be recorded, the system determines whether there will be adequate space at that time to record it. If there is not, a warning message appears that asks whether you would like to "make room" for the new recording. This is very frustrating because it gives you no options as to how to make room available. If you select OK to make room, the system will reconfigure the retention options for various programming in order to facilitate the request. What the wording doesnít really make clear is that nothing is deleted until the time at which the space is actually needed. Also, the only safeguard for your saved content is that it will NOT manipulate any program that has been marked as "Keep until I delete".

A nice improvement would be that if you selected No to the Make Room option, instead of just canceling the recording you are trying to schedule, it would allow you to make your own changes to the future recording or retention schedule right from that interface. As it stands now, if you select No, you have to go out, make your changes, then go back to the program you want to record, and try scheduling the recording again (with no guarantee that you have made enough room for it!) This can be especially frustrating if the program you want to record is a week away, and you have to re-scroll through the entire week to find it again.

It is also limiting in that you cannot record set time slots. All recordings must be scheduled by selecting the program from the menu system and choosing the record option. This has two negative results. First, if a program is scheduled a few minutes off by the network, the system may not record it in its entirety. You do have the ability to edit a scheduled recording by telling it to start up to 5 minutes early and to end up to 90 minutes late, but if you donít know that the program will be off schedule you are out of luck. On the other hand, the ability to extend programs by up to 90 minutes is quite useful if you want to make sure you see who wins Best Pictureģ when it is presented 45 minutes after the Oscarsģ was scheduled to end!

The second negative is that if a program appears several times throughout the day, the Moxi may record every instance of it, thus quickly filling up your available space. There is the option to record first-run episodes only, but if the content provider has not marked the programs correctly, you may still encounter this problem. For example, my local Fox affiliate shows syndicated episodes of The Simpsons every day. I have told my Moxi to record only first-run episodes, yet I still get the daily instance recorded as well the new Sunday night episode. Since there is no option to manually set a time slot to record, my only alternative is to manually schedule each first-run episode of the show.

   

Click Here to Go to Part II.

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