More Info On the Digeo Moxi Line

I visited both of Moxi’s locations at CES today and spent a fair bit of time talking to their reps and watching demos. I also got a little hands on time with the products. The Moxi reps were quite informative and helpful, and I appreciate it. First things first – still no pricing or release dates on any of the products. Though I did get a couple of reps to acknowledge that the $1000 MSRP that has been repeatedly associated with the Moxi Multi-Room HD DMR is not an unreasonable figure. Also, there will be no subscription on the Moxi products – it is a one time purchase. So it is somewhat like product lifetime service on a TiVo. By way of comparison, the most recent price point for lifetime is $399, with TiVo selling a TiVo HD with product lifetime for $698. So $1000 might not be unreasonable, depending on the final product specs, such as drive capacity. There are still too many unknowns to call it. One rep said that ‘May’ might not be an unreasonable time frame for the first units.

As an aside, I asked about the Moxi OCAP port that was reported back in May and was told that work had ‘just started’ on that so it was far too early to provide any details.

There are three products in the line-up, the Moxi Multi-Room HD DMR (and associated Moxi Mate client box), the Moxi Home Cinema HD DMR, and the Moxi TV for PC software.

I know I’ve been harsh at times in the past when posting about Moxi, so I thought I’d start with some of the things I like.

First, as it is what you notice first, their UI looks good. It has been engineered for 16:9 HD displays and it really ‘pops’. All the graphics are sharp, the colors are bright, text is crisp – it just looks damn good. And, frankly, as much as I like it, TiVo’s UI is looking a bit dated. TiVo really needs to fully rework their UI for HD. At home I have my Series3 on HDMI1 and my PS3 on HDMI2 – and if I switch between the TiVo UI and Sony’s XMB UI on the PS3, which is all HD, I really notice the difference. So Moxi gets points for the look of their UI. And, while I didn’t think it was as intuitive as TiVo’s UI, I found it fairly easy to navigate.

While they weren’t demonstrating it yet, the concept of being able to stream HD video for multi-room playback to a simple client box is nice. That’s something I’ve wished TiVo would do for several years now. I like TiVo’s ability to copy shows between units, and I don’t think it should go away, but I think it would be nice if streaming were an option as well. Being able to have a simple client box, instead of a full-fledged DVR, in another room would be nice. (Maybe TiVo should hook-up with Sling and find a way to make the SlingCatcher a stream client for a TiVo.) I’m not sold on Digeo’s planned implementation, but the overall concept is nice.

The unit I played with was also fairly responsive to the remote, pretty good performance. Selections came right up.

The units support clear QAM tuning, with guide data, unlike TiVo. With the TiVo Series3 or TiVo HD you can manually tune clear QAM channels without CableCARDs, but need the cards for any guide data and real TiVo functionality (Season Passes, etc). So it is nice that the Moxi units have this.

The way the Moxi UI works is kind of two dimensional. There is a horizontal ‘bar’ that you scroll across, and each item on the bar then has a vertical menu in that category. There also isn’t much ‘drill down’ on the Moxi menus, they toss things left and right on the screen more often. So you may select something from the vertical menu, which is on the left side of the screen, and that opens selections on the right side of the screen. It doesn’t really feel like you’re navigating a hierarchical menu as much as TiVo does. Sometimes it felt easier to get ‘lost’ than on TiVo, but overall it was fairly good. Fortunately, TiVo has been moving in this direction too, collapsing more of their menus and doing more of the side-by-side style of screens. This is seen more in their OCAP software, but it is working its way into the standalone units too. The new Web Video UI on the TiVo uses this kind of flow for example.

Moxi will have online scheduling, like TiVo. Unlike TiVo, they will have instantaneous conflict notification. So if you try to schedule a show on the web and it conflicts with a show already scheduled on your DMR, the website tells you immediately and asks you what you want to do. This is accomplished through communication with the DMR in real time. So there is no delay as there currently is with TiVo, where you have to wait for a confirmation email to see if the request worked or not. Now, this could change with TiVo with their coming implementation of XMPP as part of the web video work. With XMPP the scheduling server could IM the TiVo with the request immediately – and immediately be notified of any conflicts. I am hoping TiVo goes this route, it is a nice feature. I’ve never liked that aspect of online scheduling for TiVo.

I also like the physical design of the Moxi Home Cinema HD DMR. It is basically an AMD Live! PC, but the chassis is very nice. There is a small LCD display on the left front which can display the time, channel, etc, and you can even set the background to any photograph you want to use. I think they did a nice job on the physical design of the box.

Unfortunately, there were more issues I didn’t like, or found unsatisfying. I couldn’t recommend Moxi over TiVo to anyone based on what I saw today, there are too many missing features or rough edges for what is being billed as a premium product.

The Moxi TV for PC software I had the least issues with. It is the full-blown Moxi interface, running on Windows XP – Home, Pro, or Media Center. It does not run on Vista at this time, but I was told that is being worked on. I hope they can tackle that soon, since it does kind of look weak not to support Vista this long after it has shipped. Apparently all three products use the very same code base (C++ I was told) and it is just compiled for the different products. The PC software has some minor differences due to the fact that it is running on a PC. The on-screen information browser for news, etc, is not there – since you’re on a PC and can use a real browser, after all. Frankly, I can only hope that the TiVo for PC software being developed by Nero comes as close to reproducing the TiVo experience on a PC.

The number of tuners cards supported at this time is limited, but I was told that is being worked on to expand support to additional cards. Now, the person who gave me the demo indicated that HD tuners would work – but the spec sheet and web site both say it only supports SD antenna or cable, no HD at all. I did catch her in a couple of mistakes, so I tend to believe the spec sheet in this instance. They really need to enable HD support, at least OTA ATSC, especially if this isn’t going to ship for several months. OTA NTSC is going away, remember. Who is going to want to buy a product that might no longer work a few months later? Or even work now for channels that have switched already, the FCC says it is OK for channels to turn off their analog signals before the deadline.

It does provide you with a single interface to your media – it plays back MP3s, views photos, even plays CDs and DVDs. And the rep told me it’ll play Blu-ray or HD DVD discs – whatever the hardware it is on can play. One nice feature is that it will work with Microsoft’s Media Center remote control, and apparently other PC remotes, so you don’t need to drive it from the keyboard. The demo was run using the MS remote. It is a nice effort, and I see potential, but they really need to get it working on Vista and get HD tuner support in there before they ship the first version commercially.

Moxi Home Cinema HD DMR Top Moxi Home Cinema HD DMR Front

OK, moving on to the Moxi Home Cinema HD DMR. I still don’t think the Moxi Home Cinema HD DMR makes a lick of sense in today’s market. It is hobbled by lacking any support for CableCARD. It is NTSC/ATSC OTA and analog cable and clear QAM only. NTSC OTA is going away in a year, of course, so that’s not really a factor. Just how many people are looking to record OTA ATSC and analog cable and clear QAM, but no encrypted digital cable channels? On many cable systems, that’s a number of channels, and usually all of the premium channels. I think the lack of CableCARD will be a big deal for a product at this end of the market.

The design is very nice, as I said, but I don’t understand the niche it is trying to fill – and the reps I talked to really couldn’t explain that either. I even had two Digeo reps say to me that they don’t expect it to be a big seller. It is something of a ‘home theater in a box’ with a CD/DVD drive, DVR functionality, and built-in receiver functions with direct speaker connections for 5.1 audio. But it has some failings even in this regard. It has a single stereo L/R input and a single S/PDIF optical and coaxial input – both ‘for future use’, but that’s it. It isn’t really a full A/V receiver replacement.

It doesn’t work with the Moxi Mate, so there is no mutli-room support on this product. I think that they got some things very right, but other areas left me scratching my head. I’m really curious as to how they’re going to position it in the market when it launches.

It upscales DVDs – but only to 720p, not 1080i or 1080p like most upscaling DVD players. Why only 720p? No idea. The HDMI output is 1.1, while most newer products have 1.3a at this point. Keep in mind the box isn’t out yet, and it has just gone into beta. One of the reps told me they’d been hoping for an early 2008 release, but that based on feedback during testing it was pushed back to later in the year. See the aforementioned ‘May’ time frame another rep mentioned. Since it was originally due in late 2007, and it seems they did some refreshing of the design from the prototypes shown earlier, I don’t know why they didn’t do a little more work to smooth some of the rough edges.

It just seems like an awkward combination of features, with some odd omissions. It seems to be a Jack of all trades, not quite a master of any. Which might be OK otherwise, but it is being pitched as a premium product, and it is coming to market later than planned so there is more time to get it right. Some specs, like hard drive capacity, have not been finalized yet. Nor has the final pricing. Both will be determined just before release, based on the market at the time.

Moxi Multi-Room HD DMR Top Moxi Multi-Room HD DMR Front

Then we come to the Moxi Multi-Room HD DMR and associated MoxiMate, which is their flagship product. This is the unit with the expected $1000 price point. While the PC software and the Home Cinema unit are currently both in beta, this unit is not yet in testing. In fact, when I asked about that, one of the Digeo reps said “We just barely got development units of that one.” And this was announced last year for release in late 2007 – sounds like there was quite a delay.

Additionally, while the Moxi TV for PC and Moxi Home Cinema HD DMR units at the show were live and running, the Moxi Multi-Room HD DMRs that I saw were seemingly all dummy units. Some of them had cables connected to the back at the demo stations, seemingly running the demos, but it was being smoke-and-mirrored. The ‘shelf’ they sat on had a compartment underneath with an IR transparent white plastic front. Inside that compartment was a Home Cinema box that was really running the demo. The people doing the demos sure made it sound like it was the multi-room box doing the work, which I felt was a little deceptive. Based on the comments from the reps and the state of the units at the show, I got the feeling that the mutli-room boxes are much further behind on the development curve than the two in beta and we won’t see it available until 2H08, maybe late in the year, barring more delays.

Speaking of delays, how about the looks of this box? Bear with me, it ties together. As much as I like the looks of the Home Cinema, I hate the looks of the Multi-room. You might say it is minimalistic – I say it is fugly. Seriously, I think it is an extremely unattractive box. To me it looks cheap, like a lab-mule prototype. It is way too big with that dull, plain face. And it is kind of silver/white – it’d stick out badly next to most A/V gear which tends to be black or silver. Fugly. The same design cues work well enough on the MoxiMate because it is compact, but damn it doesn’t scale well. And I’m not the only one to think so, I over-heard the same thing from a couple of other attendees while I was there.

I even observed a demo being given (to Gizmodo, actually) and they mentioned the looks and size of the box. Digeo’s rep said that it the size was due to the layout of the components in the original design and that they’d decided to stick with it rather than re-do the layout because then they could “bring it to market faster”. Seriously? Mock-ups of the box with the same look and feel were first shown in late 2006, and you had them at CES 2007. Now you have them at CES 2008, and the box won’t be out until sometime later this year. You’ve had major delays, how is that bringing it to market faster? The time was there, this is supposedly a premium box. (I told you it would tie together.) That excuse doesn’t hold, especially for a premium product. Give it the attention due a premium box, re-do the layout to shrink the currently massive size, and get whomever did the industrial design for the Home Cinema box involved to make it look good. Seriously, look at that thing, it has the size and personality of an old desktop PC! If I had any Photoshop skills I’d slap an old IBM PS/2 logo on there. I’d just write it off as a prototype chassis, but Digeo says that’s the intended final look. I wouldn’t want it in my entertainment center.

Functionally, unlike the Home Cinema box, the Multi-room supports a single M-Card CableCARD to support encrypted digital cable on its internal tuners. However, unlike the Home Cinema box, the Multi-room does not support antenna – no ATSC. So that’s one big knock against it compared to TiVo. Why? This is one of the things I don’t understand. They have one box which supports antenna, but not CableCARD, and another box that supports CableCARD but not antenna. TiVo supports both in the Series3 and TiVo HD. Hell, DISH Network supports satellite and ATSC in the VIP622/722 DVRs, and DirecTV supports both in the HR10-250 and HR20 DVRs – and now with the AM21 add-on to the HR21. Even XStreamHD is supporting ATSC on their new satellite product! Digeo, what the hell? This is a ‘premium product’, right? You clearly have the ability to handle ATSC, how much would it really cost you to put ATSC tuning in? Not enough to warrant leaving it out.

My past concerns over the reliance on M-Card are fading with time. By the time this unit ships, M-Card will likely be universally available. When it was originally slated for late 2007, it was a concern as a number of MSOs still weren’t supplying M-Cards and only had S-Cards. It may still be an issue when the box ships, but I suspect it will be in limited areas.

Unlike the Home Cinema unit, this box will upscale DVDs to 1080i, which is the best output resolution it has. That’s decent enough.

Moxi Mate Front Moxi Mate Back

Now, the Moxi Mate is a nice concept, as I said above. It is a simple box with no drive and no fan, so it is very quiet. And since it has no moving parts, it should be very reliable. It has just enough memory to cache a video stream from the Multi-Room HD DMR, and it provides all the functionality you get sitting in front of the main unit – full access to everything. It should be a lot more affordable than buying another full DVR. And streaming gives you instant access to everything on the main box, no delays. And, online TiVo where you can only access video off other units, as I said, you have access to everything – scheduling, etc. So you can be in the bedroom and setup a recording on the DMR in the living room. All things I’d love to see TiVo do.

However, the way Digeo is planning to go about it seems iffy to me. They’re basically inventing their own system. Instead of using an established system like Ethernet, WiFi, or MoCA, they’re planning on sending FireWire signals over the coax cables. There will be a dongle that connects to the FireWire port on the units, and then to the coax cabling, to handle that. They claim it is because FireWire is approved for transport of content protected by DTCP, aka ’5C’. Well, yes, but there is also DTCP-IP which is approved for the same content transported over IP networks. If they implemented their streaming system using industry standards then there is a chance they could interoperate with other vendors at some point. But rolling their own solution makes that unlikely.

And what if you want to use the Moxi Mate in a location that doesn’t have a coax drop? You’re out of luck. I know from experience that running coax cabling is a lot more of a pain than running Cat5 Ethernet cable – let alone using WiFi. If it weren’t tethered to coax, the Moxi Mate would be great for adding a set in rooms where you don’t have the cabling for a direct feed.

While the main unit has reportedly been engineered to support multiple Moxi Mate units ‘in the future’, when it ships it will only support a single Moxi Mate. So no putting the main unit in the living room with one Mate in the bedroom and one in the office, etc.

Finally, the software itself. While I like the design of the UI overall, there were several issues. The horizontal bar you scroll through to switch categories has several pre-defined category filters such as sports, movies, and news. I found that annoying after about 30 seconds. First of all, the filters lump together both upcoming programs and your recordings. Many people who use DVRs, myself included, never use Live TV – we only watch recordings. And in six years of using TiVo I have never used a ‘Movies’, ‘Sports’, or ‘News’ filter, nor have I had any desire to do so. And I have especially not used a ‘Kids’ filter. Having them as unavoidable elements of the main UI navigation was really quite annoying. I asked if there was a way to disable them and was told no. There needs to be. And, while Digeo is at it, for those who do use such things, there should be a way to customize the filters. Maybe I’d like it if I could have an ‘Anime’ filter or a ‘Sci-Fi’ filter.

The list of recordings is sorted chronologically. I asked about it and was told there is no way to change the sorting – no alpha sorting. Scrolling through screens of content to look was a bit annoying. Especially if someone sticks an eSATA drive on there and has hundreds of recordings. There is a kind of grouping in the list. When you highlight a series you record the recorded episodes pop up in a box to the right. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but I really didn’t like the way recordings are listed. It didn’t feel as clear and intuitive as TiVo’s Now Playing List. I don’t know if it is because the screen is a lot ‘busier’ or what. Maybe you get used to it.

The Moxi equivalent of Season Passes looks pretty solid. It seems to have all the options TiVo provides, plus a few more. You can tell it to keep recordings some number of days, in addition to the basic ‘space needed’ and ‘until I delete’ option. You can adjust the start and end times, record just first run or allow repeats, set how many episodes to keep, and set the SP priority. So scheduling SPs is very much like TiVo. There is a time slot restriction option which, if I understand correctly, would allow you to limit the unit to recording a show to within a specific window. Useful for shows which often have bad guide data and air several times a day. I know this has been an oft-requested feature on TiVo. So Digeo seems to have done a decent job there.

Conversely they did a terrible job on WishLists. How terrible? Well, they don’t exist at all. I explicitly asked about this one because I make heavy use of Auto-Record WishLists on my TiVo and not having them would be a show stopper for me. Consider my show stopped. While they have a fairly powerful search functionality – keywords, actors, etc – which are similar to TiVo’s WishList searches, I was told there is no way to save those searches, let alone set them to record automatically. And just to make sure I wasn’t mis-understanding I asked the question multiple ways – no, there is no WishList-style functionality. That’s huge, IMHO.

Another issue – while the Moxi Multi-room HD DMR can stream to the Moxi Mate, and it can access digital music and photos from a PC, it can’t do anything with video. There is no TiVoToGo/TiVoToComeBack functionality. You can’t copy video to a PC from a Moxi, or to a Moxi from a PC. And that includes Moxi TV for PC – even if you have that on your PC you can’t share video with a hardware Moxi unit. There is also no Multi-Room Viewing style functionality with the main units – Home Cinema units cannot share video – copied or streamed, with each other or with Multi-room boxes. And, if I understand correctly, even the Multi-room units cannot share video – it is just from a Multi-room unit to a Moxi Mate. But I’m not 100% sure on that one, I didn’t think to ask specifically about that scenario.

Of course, that means no transferring video to your iPod, PSP, etc. And no transferring your downloads, rips, and home videos to your Moxi to watch on your TV.

The Flickr viewing, FineTune music, casual games, etc, were extremely similar in functionality to the Music, Photos, Programs & More applications on a TiVo. Moxi does have a lot more games. If TiVo would re-invigorate HME development, that wouldn’t be an issue. *ahem* Same concepts, very similar implementations. So they’re decent enough. With music and photos, since the unit has a CD/DVD drive, it can rip music from your CDs and build a library. However, as I understand it, that uses space on the Moxi’s drive. It can also display photos from your digital camera, apparently via the front-panel USB port.

There is a ‘SuperTicker’ that can scroll across the bottom of the screen as you watch TV – like the tickers on news channels – with news headlines, sports info, etc. That actually seems like a neat concept. Except that it isn’t customizable – I asked. So you get the pre-selected categories. I have no interest in sports, I wouldn’t want to see that scrolling by. Conversely, I could see sports fanatics turning it off just to avoid spoilers for games they couldn’t watch live. Nice concept, needs work – allow users to (de)select which content shows up in the ticker.

Moxi has no KidZone functionality, of course, But it does have basic parental controls which allow you to lock out content by rating or by channel. Your standard V-Chip kind of thing. You can also (de)select which channels show up in your listings – almost exactly the same as TiVo’s ‘Channel List’, as well as setting Favorites – just like TiVo.

Digeo was also demonstrating the home control abilities built into the Moxi software through their partnership with 4HomeMedia, announced last September. 4HomeMedia uses Z-Wave modules to control devices in the home. Moxi’s demo including controlling some lamps – you could turn them on and off, and control the dimmer settings. You could also setup macros so you could have ‘Movie Time’ which would automatically adjust the room’s lighting with one selection. Z-Wave modules can control other items as well. As a geek I thought this was very cool. However, even as a geek, I haven’t bothered with home automation in my own home. It is on my list of things that might be fun to play with – but not even close to the top. So while this is a nifty gee whiz feature, and it makes for a fun demo, I’m not sure it is going to sell boxes. It is cool, sure, but how many people not only have home automation, but have Z-Wave based systems, and not one of the competing technologies?

Part of the same system, and probably far more useful, is the ability to communicate with IP based devices such as IP enabled web cams. They had a demo with an IP enabled, remote controlled web cam. You could see the web cam’s video on the screen, and control it – pan/tilt, etc. Now that is something I could see being a lot more useful. Put security cameras around the house, parents can put one in the baby’s room, etc. I definitely can see this being useful, and it is one of the few things I really felt was both cool and useful, and made me wish TiVo did something like that. What would be even more cool is if it could record the camera’s feed based on some trigger, like a motion detector. Then you could setup exterior cameras and the video would be saved it anything triggered them, to review later.

So, overall, a decent job with some real high points, but also some show stopping faults in my opinion. Because of missing functionality like WishLists and video transfers, I could never switch to Moxi from TiVo, and it would be hard for me to recommend Moxi to anyone with the current implementation. As a ‘premium product’ (Have you noticed how much I’ve repeated that in this article? That’s no accident, it seems to be a Digeo mantra – I heard it over and over from the various reps in response to many questions) I’m disappointed by the missing features and some of the product design decisions – both functionality and appearance. I think there is a good foundation there to build on, and hopefully Digeo will continue to do so, but they have a ways to go to really compete head to head with TiVo. And TiVo won’t be sitting still either. The longer it takes to being these products to market, the higher the bar gets. And it isn’t just TiVo, Digeo is competing with the next generation of cable and satellite DVRs which are entering the market, or being shown at CES right now. Many of them will be deployed by the time Digeo ships product, and they are better than the last generation.

If they’re going to sell the product for a premium price, seemingly for more than a high-end TiVo, then they need to be more competitive on features. There was certainly a lot more steak this year than last, when it was all sizzle with nothing real to show, and that’s good to see. Competition is a good thing, it drives innovation, and right now I think Digeo is the only company with any chance of offering TiVo competition in the standalone DVR market. So I’d like to see them address some of these issues. I still think they should smash the Moxi Home Cinema HD DMR and the Moxi Multi-Room HD DMR together and produce one top-notch box instead.

On a final note, I did get a little perturbed listening to one demo. Obviously Digeo knows they’re competing with TiVo, so they do a lot of “this is how we’re better than TiVo” bits in their demos. Which is fine, really. But if you’re going to do that, get your damn facts straight, OK? Key points:
- TiVo does, in fact, allow HD video to be transferred between units and is not limited to SD only.
- TiVo does, in fact, officially support eSATA expansion of the Series3 and TiVo HD and it is not only possible with a ‘hack’.
- The fact that the Moxi interface ‘wraps around’ (when you get to the bottom of a list and go down you wrap around to the top, etc) does not make it so much better than the TiVo UI because on a TiVo when you go all the way to the bottom of a long list then you have to go one by one all the way back to the top. Because, in fact, you don’t have to do that on a TiVo. Hit Advance ‘->|’ in most menus and it jumps to the last item on the list, hit it again and it jumps to the first item. And, of course, you can also page up/down one screen at a time, not item by item, using the Chan/Page button on the remote. (Why do you think it says ‘Page’? At least on the newer remotes.)

There were others, but those were the big three that really bugged me to over-hear and made me want to jump in. (I stopped myself on 2 & 3, I did blurt out something like ‘wrong’ on 1 before I could stop myself.)

Yes, items 1 & 2 were true, but have not been true for a while now since the software was updated. If you’re going to compare your products to the competition make sure you know what the competition does. Especially if you’re going to do it a little theatrically, in a “Oh, TiVo is so limiting” fashion. And Item 3 – those navigation steps have been in there for years, so no excuse there.

Also, if you’re going to stress how Moxi has certain shortcuts on the remote to major functions, as if that was a differentiator, you might want to be aware that TiVo has plenty of those too.

I used to do competitive engineering analysis in past jobs. I’d tear apart competing gear and produce ‘hit lists’ for sales and marketing – items to stress to show how our products were better, and, yes, areas to try to steer clear of where we might take a hit because they did something better. So I know how the game is played. Hell, if anyone from Digeo has a question on how, or if, TiVo does something, just contact me. I’ll give you an honest answer to the best of my knowledge, like I would anyone else. I’d rather see accurate information used than having bogus FUD spread around.

Again, I appreciate all the time the various Digeo reps in both locations spent running through the demos for me and answering my questions. I do feel a lot more positively about Moxi now that I’ve seen something ‘real’ on working hardware than I did when it was just plans and promises. I will certainly be watching to see how the products evolve and how they are received by the market, and I look forward to getting a look at how it has advanced, probably at CES 2009.

About MegaZone

MegaZone is the Editor of Gizmo Lovers and the chief contributor. He's been online since 1989 and active in several generations of 'social media' - mailing lists, USENet groups, web forums, and since 2003, blogging.    MegaZone has a presence on several social platforms: Google+ / Facebook / Twitter / LinkedIn / LiveJournal / Web.    You can also follow Gizmo Lovers on other sites: Blog / Google+ / Facebook / Twitter.
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