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Motorola BMC-9012 Cable HDTV DVR with Moxi

Part II

October, 2005

Gabriel Lowe

 

The available DVR controls, believe it or not, vary somewhat based on your cable provider. My provider allows for all the standard controls, including Pause, Stop, and three speeds of Fast Forward and Rewind. However, there is no Slow Motion available on my unit. There is a Skip Back that goes in 10 second increments, and a Skip forward, which has tragically been locked into 15 minute intervals. One thing I really miss about my old DISH network DVR is the 30 second skip ahead feature. The fact that my provider has locked the skip-ahead button to 15 minute increments is quite frustrating, but what you can do, however, is Fast Forward instead.

One of the great features that Digeo added to the 3.2 software release is that the system automatically compensates for the inevitable delay in dropping out of Fast Forward. Furthermore, the amount it compensates is based on the fast forward speed you are using. For example, if you want to skip part of a program that you are not interested in, you choose whatever speed for Fast Forward that you want. As it scans forward, you wait for the part that you want. Without this compensation feature, you would normally have to stop and rewind a bit because you probably overshot the mark. But with the Moxie, once you press Play, the system smartly skips back for you, and more often than not, it hits the mark exactly. In other words, you don't have to anticipate the spot you want it to start playing again. You just wait until you see it, press Play, and it stops a few seconds before the place where you actually pressed the button. It is almost eerie how accurate this is.

Live television includes all of the same functions. If you press Record while watching live programming, the Moxi will record as much of the program as it has buffered. A nice touch is that all of your controls work even when you are navigating through the menus and the live feed is playing in the small window in the upper right.

  

The Find and Record menu is where you can search for programs, modify series recording options, see what is scheduled to record, and what has been deleted.

The Search utility is actually quite useful. You can search by keyword, title, or category. In the title search screen, a list of all available programs appears, accompanied by a keypad for text entry. As you type letters, the system automatically pares down the list based on your typing. This speeds up searching immensely. In the keyword search screen, you enter a search term, and the system returns hits it thinks match your keyword. This is hit or miss, as some of the results are puzzling. Searching by category is very much the same as selecting a category in the main screen, except that there are more options from which to choose here.

The Series Option screen lets you view and modify settings for your recurring programs. This would be akin to Tivo’s Season Pass feature. There are several options you can configure. You can set the priority for your series, in case the system has to resolve a programming conflict. You can delete series. You can see the upcoming instances of the program. This is also where you can set whether to record first-run episodes only or any instance of the show, how long to keep the program before deletion, and whether to start or end on time. This is much like the options you have from the main interface.

All in all, the DVR portion of the BMC-9012 with Moxi is quite feature-rich, if quirky in some respects. After a few weeks of use, the interface becomes pretty familiar, and you will be recording and watching shows with ease!

On-Demand Video Services

Video On-Demand is a service which allows you to start a program with the touch of a button rather than waiting for it to begin on a schedule. Many on-demand solutions actually download available content to a local hard drive in the background or over night. The Moxi system streams the video directly from a central server at your cable company’s data center. This service is therefore going to vary by cable provider, as is the available content. Most of the premium movie channels offer their monthly catalog for On-Demand viewing, as well as some back catalog of their shows. This service is included with my regular subscription to those premium channels.

There is also a healthy listing of pay-per-view content that includes many new releases for the price of a rental from your local video store (without the late fees or the need to get in the car and return the movie). You have most of the same DVR controls, so it truly is more like renting a movie than traditional pay-per-view. The only part I found a bit frustrating with this service was the limited amount of widescreen content. I almost never want to view a film if it is not shown in its original aspect ratio. This eliminates a lot of the available movies, as a majority of them are Pan & Scan. Of course, HD on-demand content is nowhere to be found. I doubt we will se much of that until newer MPEG-4 compression techniques make it technically more feasible.

Ticker & Games

There is an included informational Ticker which, when selected, appears at the bottom of the screen. You can scroll through information such as Weather, Sports, News, Business, Entertainment, and more. There are also games available, such as Blackjack, Video Poker, Checkers, and more. I find the ticker information somewhat useful. It is nice to be able to get a quick weather forecast or sports score. The games are another matter entirely. My suggestion to the cable providers is scrap the games and use the bandwidth for more HD On-Demand channels. My suggestion to you is if you truly want to play solitaire or blackjack, use your computer! Playing checkers with a remote control just doesn’t provide an engaging experience.

Miscellaneous Items

Some additional notes before I give you my final analysis of the unit:

• The Motorola BMC-9012 is not available for purchase in some areas. There are some independent cable operators that allow you to purchase the unit, however, mine is not one of them. Rental fees for the unit also vary by carrier. In my case, the cost is $10 a month which also includes the requisite DVR fees. All things being equal, I would rather pay $10 per month for the rental of this unit than several hundred to use it for a couple of years, when there will be an inevitable upgrade.

• The unit never turns off. I am not sure why they couldn’t find a way to make the unit go into a standby mode to conserve power, but for whatever reason, the box stays on 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. I suppose this is so it can be ready to record something you have programmed, and also store incoming messages from the cable provider, but still, there should be some way for it to go into standby.

• With the 3.2 software, Moxi users everywhere rejoiced at the addition of Native-Mode Pass-Through. Basically, this feature allows you to select the resolutions supported by your display, and then if the program you are watching is in one of those resolutions, the Moxi will allow the un-scaled signal to pass through directly to the display.

Before this feature was added, you would have to select one resolution you wanted to output to your display. Everything would then be scaled to that resolution. This had the terrible result of up-scaling SD content to HD resolutions, which never looked good. In order to get around this, you had to change the resolution setting every time you wanted to switch between SD and HD content. I found this to be terribly inconvenient, and basically refrained from watching any SD content. Now, every channel is presented in its original resolution, (i.e., ESPN HD comes through in 720p, CBS HD comes through in 1080i, etc.). In addition, the quality of SD content has improved with the 3.2 software update.

What I Like

There is a lot to like about the Motorola BMC-9012 with Moxi. Of course, a DVR by any name is an asset to any serious television time shifter. So what unique characteristics of the Moxi did I like? The dual HD-capable tuners are the best things about this unit. I love being able to scan through the movie selections on HBO HD or Showtime HD without worrying about whether I can watch something at a time I have scheduled some other channel to be recorded.

The native mode pass-through feature is another big plus for me, as I don’t need to readjust my settings every time I switch between HD and SD content. While this really should have been a standard rather than a feature, I am pleased that it was addressed by the folks at Digeo. In fact, the picture and sound from the Moxi is first rate for everything except SD channels. While the 3.2 software vastly improved the video, it is a fact of life that analog SD up-converted to HD resolutions just won’t look that good on big screens.

I love the ability to record an entire season. This is old hat for the Tivo folks out there, but it was a welcome new feature for me. Even with the quirks of shows not marked correctly in the EPG (Electronic Program Guide) data, the convenience of clicking on the show once to record each new instance is fantastic.

I was awestruck by the On-Demand feature the first time I used it. While the novelty has worn off, I still love the ability to see films and shows on my schedule without going to the video store. I would love more widescreen and HD content from the movie channels’ offerings, but am quite satisfied with what is available now. Fortunately, HD content will just keep increasing every year.

What I Don’t Like

The single most frustrating thing about the Moxi unit is the small hard drive. Remember when 80 gigabytes seemed like a vast ocean of storage? Well HD video makes it seem more like a pond. After about three or four HD movies and a couple of HDTV shows, my Moxi is stuffed to the limit. I have to begin deleting things often times before I am ready to. I think that an HD DVR should have no less than 250 gigabytes of storage these days. At the very least, Digeo should release an update that allows for external USB storage.

The fact that there is no traditional grid guide is probably one of the biggest complaints most people have with unit. I would agree with this, except not at the expense of the Moxi interface. I would like to see both interfaces included with the user being able to select and browse programming from either one. I find that there are some things better about each. Overall, I have gotten very accustomed to using the Moxi, so it is not the end of the world that there is no grid guide.

Finally, I will say that the amount of functionality that has been disabled is a frustrating point. As I mentioned at the beginning of the review, the Moxi box is still feature-packed even with many of these things missing. I really wanted the ability to integrate the unit into my home network, mostly so I could archive my recordings, but also so I could stream music and video to my theater from my PC. Of course, there are other ways to do that, including putting a PC in place, but it would be nice to have it available from one interface. All in all, you can’t fault the folks at Digeo for not having a lot of these features enabled. Instead, fault your cable provider and the various industry associations that are interested in protecting their content.

Conclusions

All things considered, the Moxi based Motorola BMC-9012 is the best cable converter box I have yet used. Its capabilities far and away exceed any features that may be missing. There are definitely some things I like better in other units, but as a complete package, this is an excellent device. If you are interested in an HD DVR for your cable system, go to http://www.digeo.com to see if it is available in your town. If so, make that call to your cable provider and get one of these babies today!
 

- Gabriel Lowe -

© Copyright 2005 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity

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