Digital Gear: New Versions of Old FavoritesTiVo, Shure deliver new, improved products. Also: a look at O ROKR glasses with digital audio player, and a digital video camera for the rest of us.
Agam Shah, IDG News Service
Knowledgeable TV viewers swear by TiVo's digital video recorders, which can record, play and pause live TV. Now TiVo gives these fans a new option with greater capabilities: Series2 DT DVR records two programs at once, whereas the popular Series2 DVR box can record only one program at a time. Meanwhile, Shure's upgraded E500PTH earphone delivers great sound and some unconventional features. Motorola's O ROKR MP3 sunglasses, developed jointly with Oakley, are equally unconventional, with a Bluetooth receiver that makes them a moving discotheque.
Double Your Viewing Pleasure
As the buzz heats up around TiVo's upcoming Series3 digital video recorder, the company quietly slipped in an upgrade to its venerable single-tuner Series2 DVR--the new dual-tuner TiVo Series2 DT DVR. Because it contains two tuners, the new DVR can record two programs simultaneously (or record one while you watch another), a boon for users whose favorite programs have conflicting schedules. There's a caveat though: You can't simultaneously record two premium cable or satellite TV channels.
The definition of premium cable depends on the cable service provider, according to a TiVo spokesperson. The Series2 DT can record one premium cable program and one basic cable program at the same time, she said.
Aside from having to tinker with the cable splitter, I found setup for the Series2 DT DVR straightforward. All told, it took me 22 minutes to hook up the box and connect it to my wireless network. The DVR connects to the required TiVo programming service via a telephone line, eethernet, or Wi-Fi.
One of Tivo's best features is its recommendation service: I selected a few war programs on the History Channel to record; the next day, the DVR's TiVo Suggestions feature recommended additionalwar programs to record.
Two TV Tuners
Using two separate tuners on the box entails no additional setup effort. Just select the programs to record, and TiVo does the rest. The recording quality of the simultaneously recorded programs was excellent; I saw no difference between them and shows recorded alone. If you inadvertently try to record three programs that air simultaneously, TiVo warns you of the overscheduling and asks you to delete one of the programs.
The Series2 DT also supports the free TiVoToGo service, which enables you to transfer recorded programs to a PC for viewing. To use the service, you must install the TiVo Desktop on your PC. You can downloaded the software from TiVo's Web site. Obviously, recording a lot of programs fills up disk space quickly. TiVo offers Series2 DT DVR boxes in the U.S. with storage capacities of 80 hours and 180 hours for $30 and $130, respectively, plus program guide service fees ranging from $17 per month for a three-year contract to $20 per month for a one-year plan. Fees drop to as little as $13 a month if you're willing to prepay up to three years in advance.
TiVo has new content services for the Series2 DT and its other DVRs, too. The company recently introduced TiVoCast, which delivers video clips from Web sites such as The New York Times and the NBA to your TV over broadband. On the horizon is KidZone, a password-protected service that allows TiVo customers to designate which recordings children can view from the DVR. Guru Guides, scheduled for launch later this year, taps the knowledge of entertainment experts to identify the best programs in different categories. TiVo is also working with Verizon Wireless on technology that would allow users to schedule recordings from their cell phones.
It's tempting to wait for TiVo's Series3 HD DVR, which should ship later this year and is supposed to offer support for HDTV and two-way CableCards. But for viewers who want to enjoy the benefits of dual tuners on a good DVR now, the TiVo Series2 DT DVR is a winner.
Rock Out With Updated Earphones
With eye- and ear-popping features, Shure's E500PTH earphones constitute a dramatic upgrade over the company's popular E5c. Two woofers and a tweeter help the E500PTH deliver better bass, treble, and overall sound than its predecessor. Aimed at audiophiles willing to spend money for quality sound, the $499 earphones come with unorthodox features that could either make or break the product.
The E500PTH has a short cable but ships with 3-inch, 9-inch, and 18-inch modular attachments to extend the reach of the wire. Some users prefer short wires because large wires get tangled easily, says Christopher Lyons, product marketing manager at Shure.
It also comes with a Push-to-Hear module--an attachable gadget for listening to external sound without having to remove the earbuds This module is a slightly clunky box that connects with the cable and has a button for toggling between music and external sound. The module is easy to remove, Lyons says.
Veteran users might need some time to get used to these new features, but the earbuds fit comfortably and render excellent sound. The E500PTH is slated to ship in the United States, Europe, and Asia in July.
Shield the Eyes, Satisfy the Ears
Motorola's O ROKR is a hip pair of Bluetooth sunglasses outfitted with headphones that the electronics giant developed with Oakley, a maker of optical products. It resembles Oakley's Thump 2 line of MP3 sunglasses, but without the internal storage that those products provide. Instead, O ROKR receives music from Bluetooth-enabled mobile phones, such as Motorola's ROKR E2, or portable audio players, such as Boomgear's MP-825BT, Oakley spokesperson Julie Crabill says. The O ROKR can also play songs from Bluetooth-enabled iPods.
The versatile O ROKR doubles as a Bluetooth headset for mobile phones and includes a built-in noise-cancellation feature. The device's battery has a 5-hour life when in use, and a standby time of 100 hours.
The temples (the parallel shafts that link the frame front to your ears) hold earbud headphones, which pop down to fit in your ears, and buttons to control volume and let you move between tracks.
The O ROKR targets gadget lovers and people who pursue active lifestyles, Crabill said. The $249 glasses are slated to ship in the next few months. You can read more about it on Motorola's Web site.
Affordable Low-Res Digital Video Camera
If you can't afford an expensive, megapixel-rich video camera, the $129 Point & Shoot camcorder from Pure Digital Technologies could be a good fill-in. It shoots video at 640-by-480-pixel resolution, which is fine for short home videos that you plan to share via e-mail or to publish on a Web site such as YouTube. The camera connects to a PC through a USB port and to a TV through composite cables.
Development labs partnering with Pure Digital can burn videos to a CD in an hour, the company says. The camera comes with software that lets you create video e-mail messages right on the device--and send them when you connect the camera to your PC via USB.