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1. On serial control: Here is a detailed, comprehensive thread on the issue. I'm not sure how up to date it is but it is definitely the place to start: http://www.tivocommunity.com/tivo-vb/showthread.php?s=&threadid=128743
Keep in mind that in many cases it depends on the firmware your cable company is using in these boxes, and that may be difficult to determine.

2. Not at this time, although I think you may still be able to pick up one of the old DirectTV boxes on e-bay or some such. I'm not a DTV user so my grasp of this is fuzzy, but if you check the DirecTiVo forum I am guessing it's a common question. An integrated comcast cable box/TiVo is rumored to be in the works but isn't out yet.

Also, if you are having problems with your IR blasters you may be able to address that. If your problem is reliability, I would start by building an IR "fort" that encloses the blasters with the window on your cable box that puts out the IR signal. You want the fort to be coated with something that prevents any other signals from getting in there -- I use a box my checks came in with tin foil on the inside, cut to fit and taped to my cable box with elecrical tape. This has increased my IR reliability A LOT and it's cheap and easy, and it has never fallen off. Also, have you tried experimenting with different IR codes? A slower or different code may get you better results. There's not much fix for slowness though.
 
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