The DCX 3400 is a lot faster than the previous DCT Series cable boxes thanks to increased processor power, additional flash and S-DRAM. The new DCX 3400 set-top boxes also decodes both MPEG-2 and MPEG-4 AVC services while the DCT predecessor only handles MPEG-2. This means that the DCX3400 will support for both 2-D and 3-D TV, Dolby Digital and Digital PLUS audio and automatic video formatting for 480i/p all the way up to 1080i/p via HDMI.
The built is 500GB Hard drive is a great improvement over the 160GB hard drive found in the previous DCT models and will allow you to record 60-80 hours of HD content. If that’s not enough space for you the DCX 3400 has an eSata port which will allow you to connect an external 1TB eSata Hard Drive expanding the recording capacity to 200-240 hours of HD recording.
Now here’s your money saving tip! While Shaw, Future Shop and Best Buy all sell dedicated, branded 1TB hard drives labeled PVR Expander’s for $150-$200 dollars what they don’t tell you is that these so called PVR Expander hard drives are just Western Digital Branded drives and that any external eSata hard drive enclosure which has a Western Digital brand hard drive enclosed will work and interface with a Shaw/Motorola digital cable box.
This means you don’t have to buy the special “PVR Expander Hard Drive” at a premium price but any Western Digital External Drive with an eSata port will also work and cost substantially less. We tested an $85 dollar, MicroNet 1TB Fantom External drive with an eSata port and 1TB Western Digital HD installed inside and it worked perfectly with both the Shaw/Motorola DCT and newer DCX series of HDTV digital cable boxes. We saved 45-100% over the cost of the specially branded PVR Expander. We haven’t tested it yet but we’re wondering if a 2TB Micronet eSata external drive will also work? We expect it will however a word of caution … the larger the hard drive the more likely it is to fail especially when using it in a PVR application where it will be continuously recorded and re-recorded over and over again.
The last feature included in the new Motorola DCX 3400 PVR is the one we’re most excited about but hasn’t been activated yet and that’s the optional MoCA® Home Network Interface which will allow Motorola DCX Series set-top boxes to communicate with each other for PVR anywhere and follow me TV services through existing coaxial cabling.
The new Motorola DCX Cable boxes will eventually be able to offer networking through existing home coaxial cabling to allow you to watch your DVR in any room on another DCX series MoCA® equipped set-top box. You may not have hear of MoCA® yet but you will be hearing it more and more in the coming months. MoCA® stands for “Multimedia over Coax Alliance” and it is a new technology and protocol which will allow MoCA® enabled devices to communicate with each other in a local area network over coaxial cable at similar speeds to what currently exists with Cat5 and Cat6 lan networks. Because there is so much existing coaxial wiring installed throughout the world and wireless bandwidth is limited and expensive MoCA® is the technology that is going to propel IP to the next level. Shaw is in the process of upgrading their network to full digital and once complete sometime next year we expect Shaw to eventually roll out the MoCA® capabilities on Motorola DCX set-top boxes.Front Panel:
The dimensions of the Motorola DCX3400 are 15” wide x 9” deep and 2.2” high. The housing is black with a shinny black front with soft touch buttons and 4 character blue digital display. Blue and red LED’s light up to indicate power, message, data, home, lan and video output format. We like the full feature front panel soft touch control buttons which include direct buttons for Menu, guide, format, channel up and down, and GUI – up, down, left, right and select buttons in addition to the power button. There is a concealed IR receiver and USB type A port also on the front of the cable box.
The rear panel contains an F-connector for cable input plus and HDMI 1.3 output port, YPbPr component video jacks, composite video out RCA, L/R analog RCA output with variable volume control, Optical S/PDIF digital audio outputs both coax and toslink, USB Type a Port, Firewire IEEE-1294 port, 10/100 ethernet jack an eSata port and a 3.5MM external IR input jack. There is NO RF output.
While both HDMI and Component video outputs work at the same time time, the HDMI resolution takes priority so if you plan on using both outputs to feed two different displays then both displays must have the same resolution capabilities otherwise the HDMI display will only work and the component video display will not sync if it is a lower resolution than the HDMI display.
Important note if your planning on using this the Motorola DCX3400 in your bedroom. This cable box contains a cooling fan which operates periodically and does generate some noise which usually is not noticeable in most rooms however when placing the unit in the bedroom the fan noise may be audible when trying to sleep therefore we recommend the DCX 3200 cable box for bedroom installations. The DCX 3200 does not have a cooling fan – see review elsewhere on our blog.
While the Motorola DCX series of HDTV Set-top boxes are definitely an improvement over the ageing DCT series there are still some things we wished Motorola would have included in this new cable box which other HDTV providers have on their set-top boxes.
1- UHF Remote Control: UHF remote controls have existing in the satellite industry for
more than 30 years. UHF, assign able remote controls are necessary
when more than one cable box is housed in the same equipment rack or when
a single PVR is used throughout the house as a media center or hub. A harmony
remote is almost a must with a Shaw Cable box.
2 – Caller ID: both Bell and Telus set-top boxes support on-screen caller id display.
This feature is more than 20 years on Bell satellite receivers and is simple
and easy to implement yet Shaw cable boxes continue to ignore this useful feature
3 – Network – Media Center – Hub: As the Telus slogan says “The Future is Friendly” well
the future is NOW! Telus already offers “Follow Me TV” and “PVR Anywhere”
while built in support for MoCA® is great, Shaw you really need to activate this
feature and soon! The tech savvy public is ready for Networked PVR’s
4 – Online Programming: Once again both Telus and Bell set-top boxes have the
capability to be programmed On-Line via the internet or smart phone apps.
It would have been great to see similar features on these new DCX series
Shaw continues to be one of the most reliable providers of HDTV programming and distribution. As you can seen their new Motorola cable boxes are a great improvement over previous product offerings but there are still a lot of features and options missing from the Shaw hardware line-up offered by other providers.
There is no, one best HDTV content provider or method of transmission. Each content provider and method of transmission has it’s pros and cons the challenge is to find the right fit for your needs. As systems integrators at DJ’s Sound City we design systems with your needs in mind, if you’re uncertain as to which content provider or equipment is right for you give us a call and we’d be happy to help you out.
A note to our American and International readers – Cableboxes are like cell phones in order to work they need to be connected to a network – in this case a cable company. This equipment review was for the Motorola DCX3400 cable box connected to the Shaw cable system in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Some features and configurations may be different depending on the cable service provide – ie Comcast, Viacom, AT&T, Cox, Time Warner etc… We recommend you check with your local cable company as to the features offered and hard drive sizes included with their equipment as the same cable box model number may have a different size hard drive installed and some features may be deactivated by the cable service provider.