TiVo Premiere reviews aren’t too enthusiastic

TiVo’s effort to fuse cable and Web TV with TiVo Premiere earned praise from some reviewers, but the new set-top box isn’t everything it could be.

I haven’t tried the TiVo Premiere myself, but the general impression I get from several reviews is that the device needs improvement. Fortunately, some of the changes that need to be made won’t require new hardware, which should come as a relief to people who pre-ordered the device.

TiVo Premiere reviews aren't too enthusiastic

First, a little background: TiVo Premiere, which starts at $300 and costs $12.95 per month, still has the same basic DVR functions for which the box is known, but a new software interface, now in HD, makes the Premiere easier to use. More menu options appear on the screen at once, and there’s a new “Discovery” bar that shows similar TV shows or movies to what you’re looking at. The Washington Post said this was TiVo Premiere’s best feature, but the Wall Street Journal said it was “distracting.”

The most interesting thing to me about TiVo Premiere — and the most important change for TiVo — is the way Web and cable content are displayed together, with only small icons to signify that you’re watching one or the other. In general, reviewers like the idea and execution, but Engadget noted that the feature doesn’t work perfectly — one show that was in the reviewer’s Netflix queue didn’t appear as a streaming option when searching for that show, for reasons unknown.

One common criticism among reviews is that the TiVo Premiere is slow. Gizmodo was particularly brutal in its critique, saying that navigation is like “browsing the Web on a slow connection.” Engadget points out that there’s a second core in the TiVo Premiere’s processor, which remains unused due to stability issues. A future update should unlock the second core and improve the TiVo Premiere’s speed.

In general, even the reviews that enjoyed the TiVo Premiere, such as one in PC Magazine, don’t regard the set-top box as a killer product. That’s disappointing, given that this is an attempt for TiVo to regain relevance. I find myself convinced by Gizmodo’s conclusion that the TiVo Premiere lacks “razzle-dazzle” — the extra “wow” factor that, however useless, makes a device fun to use. TiVo has complained to the government that the cable industry is killing the company’s business, but TiVo’s not helping itself by delivering anything less than a knockout.