The TiVo Premiere Elite addresses two things that were disappointing about the regular Premiere and Premiere XL when they launched in 2010: lack of support for more than two tuners and multiroom viewing.
The Elite has four tuners, so it can record up to four programs at once, and you can watch recorded programming or streaming video while it does it. It just requires one multistream CableCard to do it, too. (Unfortunately, the Elite supports digital cable (QAM) and Verizon Fios only; it does not support analog cable, antenna (ATSC), satellite, or AT&T U-verse.) To hold all of those recordings, the Elite has 2TB of storage, which will hold up to 300 hours of HD programming. (Note: some cable providers require a separate tuning adapter box to handle switched digital video networks, which don't always play well with TiVo. Here's a breakdown of some of the best and worst cable companies to use with TiVo from Zatz Not Funny.)
Multiroom viewing has long been an option for two or more network-connected TiVo units, Series 2 or newer. However, it required transferring content entirely from one unit to another, which, while nice, doesn't allow you to pause a show in your living room and start watching again in your bedroom, and some content can't be transferred because of copy protection. With the Elite as well as other Premiere boxes, multiroom streaming is now available.
To do this, you'll need to have a wired network connection, either via Ethernet or MoCA (Multimedia over Coax Alliance), which uses the coaxial cable in your home for broadband networking. MoCA support is built into the Elite, but you'll need to add a MoCA bridge (around $100) that connects to your router if your TiVo is in a different room from your router. Wi-Fi is supported but is not recommended for multiroom streaming because the bandwidth simply isn't big enough. Plus, just like older models, the Elite doesn't have built-in Wi-Fi and requires a TiVo wireless dongle: $60 for 802.11g or $90 for 802.11n. At those prices, you're better off taking advantage of the MoCA support.
However, though the built-in MoCA support is nice, multiroom streaming is supported by all TiVo Premiere DVRs, so the main reasons to get the Elite are the extra tuners and large storage. Of course, you'll also be getting one of the best--if not the best--interfaces available on any DVR.
There's really not too much to the design of the Elite; it's a simple, attractive black box measuring 16.5 inches wide by 9.7 inches deep by 2.4 inches high. On the front are circular notification lights to indicate what it's doing (recording TV, downloading Web video, and acknowledging signals from the remote). Also on the front is a Format button for quickly setting the TiVo to properly display video in different formats; supported formats are 1080p, 1080i, 720p, 480p, and 480i.
On the back you'll find the power input, multistream CableCard slot, HDMI, component video, composite video, and optical and analog audio jacks. There's also an eSATA port for a storage expander, and it has two USB ports for use with TiVo's Wi-Fi dongle, a Bluetooth remote, or a tuning adapter if necessary, an Ethernet port, and a coaxial cable connector. TiVo includes 6-foot HDMI, 6-foot AC power, 6.5-foot Ethernet, and 6-foot composite video and audio cables.
The included remote is the classic TiVo peanut, but it's the backlit Glo version for easier navigation in the dark. Like on the regular Premiere remote, there are four colored buttons to provide additional contextual choices on the system's updated menus--that means there's less need to jump in and out of certain menus to activate filters and sort lists, for instance. It needs a dedicated search button, though, and a button to jump straight to Netflix would be nice, too.
For $60 you can also get the TiVo Slide Remote, which is a shrunken version of the TiVo peanut, but with a slide-out QWERTY keyboard. It uses Bluetooth, so it's not necessary to point the control at the TiVo for it to function, and if you do a lot of searching, it's the remote to have. On the other hand, TiVo has free apps for iOS and Android devices that let you control not only basic functions, but the guide, search, and management of your recordings.
The TiVo advantage
These days, digital video recorders aren't anything special--cable and satellite companies rent them to their customers for a few bucks a month, and said customers can time-shift their favorite programs to watch at their convenience. So, why invest in a TiVo? Basically, it's the same reason you'd pay extra for a Mac versus a Windows PC: for starters, that means a best-in-class user interface and ease of use.
Beyond the standard DVR features of pausing and rewinding live TV, TiVo's got a wealth of less common (and better implemented) TV recording features:
EPG: All digital cable and satellite boxes and DVRs offer an onscreen EPG (electronic programming guide), but TiVo's steps it up a notch, with a degree of customization and configuration that most cable company DVRs don't offer. The guide extends 14 days into the future, and it can be displayed as a standard grid or as a split-screen Live Guide, which breaks out several hours of program information from each channel on the right half of the screen. You also have access to a grid-style miniguide on the bottom of the screen, overlaid on top of what you're currently viewing.
Season Pass: The TiVo Season Pass function lets you record every episode of a favorite show within the parameters you set. For instance, you can record every "CSI" episode on any channel and keep only the five most recent episodes, or you can record only the new (nonrerun) episodes in prime time, or both. This function has mostly been imitated by other DVRs, but TiVo's Season Pass is generally more accurate and reliable than other cable DVR models, especially at delineating between new episodes and reruns, or adjusting if a show changes its time slot.
Wish List: The Wish List is just what it sounds like: you choose an actor, director, genre, or keyword, and TiVo will record any program that involves that keyword. Again, this feature is also available on other DVRs, but TiVo's implementation still tends to be easier to use than other versions we've seen.
TiVo Suggestions: By default, TiVo also uses your TV downtime--overnight, when you're at work, and so forth--to record programs based on interests you express by using the thumbs-up and thumbs-down button on your remote. The more you vote on your viewing choices, the better your TiVo will become at finding similar, related programming, which it duly labels TiVo Suggestions. Some may object to this functionality as invasive or overkill--which is why it can be easily turned off--but for anyone who laments that there's never anything on TV, it's worth trying.