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Monday July 26, 2004 3:03 pm

Time Warner Explorer 8000 DVR Review


Explorer 8000 DVR ReviewThis machine will forever change how you watch TV.

That's a pretty bold statement, I know. And to make things bolder: Since TV is so closely tied to our lives, this product will also change your life overall. There, I said it. In the past couple of months, I've concluded that no one should be without some form of DVR in their homes. While TiVo and ReplayTV are perhaps more widely recognized, you simply can't deny the convenience and flexibility that comes out of this box, called the "Explorer 8000" directly from the folks at Scientific Atlanta and Time Warner. Click the link for Hector's review.

INITIAL IMPRESSIONS

The box is pretty solid, though not as heavy as it's size would imply. Programs and recordings are most likely being streamed from outside when they are "called for", so that helps its weight. It is a rather wide box, wider than any of my other components. But it's also the flattest thing resting on my entertainment center. It looks like it could take a fall without breaking, but I decided not to try my luck there.

INSTALLATION

This shouldn't be much of a problem, considering that the service guy installed the thing himself for me after I set up the appointment. It plugs via the back of your set via a standard coaxial or S-Video cord, though you can upgrade the box to an HDTV model if you wish. The service guy didn't really know much about how the DVR actually works, but that's okay. You pretty much get the hang of it after 30 minutes of use.

FEATURES

This is where the box comes out swinging, especially if you enjoy a lot of TV programming.

You can pause and rewind live TV. Once you are able to do this, you won't know how you ever lived without having this capability on your set. Say you're watching the news, or some special awards show, or some sporting event. Ding-dong, woops the pizza's here. You pick up the remote, and click the pause button during live television, and it freezes in place. It's almost as if you had your live program on a tape.

You can simply leave your set to answer the phone, listen to the wife, set up the dinner table, or whatever other pressing need arises. When you're done, click pause again, and you're back to where you left off. For those of you who feel like television programming masters your time schedule, this is the first step in taking control of content. If there's any other person living in your home, you'll love this feature. The screen even dims a little after about 5 minutes to avoid burn-in.

Explorer 8000 Screenshot

However, there are some precautions to make note of. For example, you can only pause the content for up to an hour. After that, the program will begin to play again. But this can be avoided: Choose to record the program instead, and you won't lose any of it.

Speaking of which, recording programs is so easy you'll be left wondering why VCR's never got it. Click on the "Guide" button on your remote, and up pops a TV Program Listing, very similar to a TV Guide. The show you're currently watching crops up to the upper right so that you don't miss that either. You find a program by scrolling down the list of channels, and across the various times. You can also click over to the next several days. Once you find the program you want, you click the red "Record" button, and the prompt will ask you if you'd like to record just the program or the entire series, as it airs on that channel. Make your selection. Simple. Whenever your show comes on, the DVR will automatically record it.

This is probably the most cherished feature of the unit. There are so many programs that come on late at night, that I really can't stay up that late to see. This way, you can have them stored on your system, and watch them when you want to. Sometimes I watch a show episodes back to back, again on my own time. This allows you to go and enjoy whatever you'd like outside the living room or home, and come back home to hours of recorded quality entertainment. You can imagine how this will change your entire life schedule, as it is no longer is controlled by the timing of the networks. You can record up to two shows at the same time. If you do this, however, the set will need to stay on at least one of the channels that you are recording. It prompts you with a warning if you are about to leave the channel during this process.

RECORDING OPTIONS

For any given series you can ask the box to record only first runs, or to include repeats. You can ask it to record a few minutes shorter or later than the actual program time. You can have it record the program on multiple channels, at multiple times, or just on specifics. I really love how you can have all these options.

Once you have a program recorded you view them through the "List" menu. All the shows and their record dates show up. You simply select them, watch, and when done you can choose to keep or erase the program. You can also check for the recordings scheduled for this week, and remove any repeats or other unwanted items that you find.

THE REMOTE CONTROL

I have pretty big hands, and this remote still looks huge. Well, can you blame them? They need to fit all the numerical digits, plus VCR-like controls, volume and channel buttons, and soft-keys to control the various options when viewing or scheduling your recordings. It's still very smooth though, and accessing the keys is in large part an unconscious affair. It uses two AA's that come included. Your service person will program the remote to operate your set as well as the box, which helps to reduce the clutter on your coffee table.

Explorer 8000 Remote Control

OTHER FEATURES

When you're watching either live or recorded content, you can auto-rewind by the touch of a button. It goes back about 10 seconds, in order for you to catch something you might have missed. Very convenient. If you need to rewind or fast-forward, there are of course, buttons for that as well. Interestingly, by pressing rewind or forward multiple times, you can increase the speed of the content whizzing past your screen. You get to the point where you can skip past most commercial breaks in 5 seconds and go right back to content. This is just priceless. I don't do commercials anymore. I just don't. Neither will you.

Is the Explorer 8000 perfect? No, of course not. The unit's biggest drawback is that it can only store up to 36 hours of content. TiVo has a 40-hour limit for its box, but they are also higher-capacity boxes, ranging up to $349 for 120 Hours. ReplayTV also has similar options, at slightly higher prices for the box.

Keep in mind though, that the Time Warner box is free with the service. Yes, there is about a $12 additional monthly charge on your cable bill, but TiVo and ReplayTV also have similar monthly charges as well. So in the end you have almost no upfront costs, which is a good plus. I find though, that I do have to get around to watching the programs eventually, even if you can "lock" any program from being erased by new content.

Another thing to note is that switching to digital cable will cause a certain lag as you change channels. Usually I scroll through the "Guide" and select the program, so that it saves me time.


FINAL VERDICT

If you can get past having to actually watch your recorded programs every few days or every couple of days, if you're recording three daily shows at a time--then this is a great little box, that will free up all kinds of time in your schedule. The interface is clean and simple (read: you won't need the instructor's manual), the remote is perfectly usable, and the sheer convenience of watching all your content when you want, is unbeatable.

In the end, perhaps any DVR will do you wonders, but I found that the lack of start-up costs, and the included installation made this a very solid choice. I use the features on this box every day because of my busy schedule. For something that useful, I can't help but give this a resounding 9 out of 10.


- Hector Martinez

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