For some time now, TiVo has been trying to become a whole-home entertainment solution. With the all-in-one TiVo Roamio Pro DVR, it has done just that.
Though I don't know that it's wise to name a product after something that has an indelible relationship to a tragedy, the company's newest DVR goes hard-drive-to-hard-drive with Dish's Hopper with Sling, offering lots of tuners, tons of storage, and options for sending content to other rooms without buying additional DVRs. It also makes it easier to load up your mobile devices (at least, iOS ones for now) with recordings. The Roamio boxes further sweeten the on-demand video pot with a heavy dollop of online video options, including Netflix, Hulu Plus, and YouTube, meaning you can jump to those services -- and search them -- without having to switch the input on your TV.
Unlike the Hopper, the new TiVo won't automatically skip ads or record every prime-time network show, but at least you can use it with your current cable service.
Of course, all this TV-viewing pleasure comes at a price -- or three prices, to be exact: the $200 baseline Roamio, the $400 Roamio Plus, and the $600 Roamio Pro. And -- as usual with TiVo -- you'll still need to sign up for monthly or lifetime service, $14.99 or $499.99, respectively. (And you'll still have your existing cable bill on top of that, unless you use the over-the-air antenna option available on the entry-level model.)
Still, for serious TV junkies, this is a DVR worth ponying up for.
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.
Collections: TiVo assembles collections of TV shows and movies based on themes. For example, for fall season premieres, TiVo collected all the new and returning shows into two collections. With a couple -- and I mean a couple -- button presses, TiVo will schedule everything in the collections to record. No hunting around for specific times and start dates or anything, it's all just set to record. And if you'd like to customize the Collections, you can do that, too.
What to Watch Now: Ever turn on the TV and you're just not sure what you want to watch? Select What to Watch Now and you're given a thumbnail look at the top 20 most popular shows airing in that time slot. You can also filter it by Sports, Movies, and Kids. Similarly, channel guide information -- whether you use TiVo's Live Guide or Grid Guide format -- can be filtered to help you quickly find what you're looking for. If, for example, you just want to see what movies are on, it will pull all the other channels out of your way so you can see what movies are currently showing.
Search: TiVo's Search is awesome. It ties all of the content from streaming services and your TV schedule together. This allows you to get search results cross-referenced across all video sources, that is TV and online. So, if you search for a show -- say, "New Girl" -- you'll get upcoming first-run and rerun episodes on TV, plus episode-by-episode lists (organized by season) of the shows on Netflix (and Amazon and Hulu Plus, if the shows in question are also available there).
What the Roamio offers
Performance is probably one of the biggest issues for a lot of TiVo users. When TiVo switched over to its HD interface for its 2010 Premiere DVR, doing anything with it -- from opening up the guide to navigating through recorded programs to accessing any of the extra services -- seemingly took forever in TV-surfing time. Not good for a product with a premium price tag.
With the later Premiere 4 and XL4 boxes, performance improved, but it still took a second or two to populate some screens, moving through the guide had the occasional delay, and launching apps or starting playback of a recording wasn't exactly snappy. The experience was not what I would consider painful, but there were certainly times of frustration.
The Roamio DVRs are completely new systems with faster processors, built to handle the demands of all of their features. TiVo claims performance is 1.5 to 2.5 times faster, averaging 1.7 times faster. And, in use, it is noticeably faster. That goes for navigation, launching apps, and everything else. Boot time, by the way, remains long. Maybe not as long as for the Premiere, but it's still a wait. Fortunately, it's been stable throughout a month of testing with no random reboots or freezing.
Multiroom viewing has long been an option for two or more network-connected TiVo units, Series 2 or newer. However, TiVo has spent the past couple of years adding features to its DVRs and extending its product line to make it truly a whole-home solution.
TiVo released its first four-tuner DVRs in 2012, the Premiere 4 and Premiere XL4, and kept an updated two-tuner Premiere in the lineup as its entry-level DVR. Unfortunately, that base model was the only option if you wanted to use an antenna for OTA (over-the-air) TV.
As mentioned above, the Roamio lineup consists of three models: Roamio, Roamio Plus, and Roamio Pro. The base model continues to be the only one that can be used with an antenna or a CableCard (they cannot be used at the same time), whereas the Plus and Pro require a CableCard (digital cable and Verizon Fios only; it does not support analog cable, satellite, or AT&T U-verse). Now, though, the base Roamio can record four programs (again, ATSC or CableCard) at once while you watch a fifth recorded show. The Plus and Pro can record up to six shows at once with a multistream CableCard.
The extra tuners not only come in handy for dealing with conflicts (with programming and people), but can be used to stream live TV to TiVo Mini units on your network. But it's not just the number of tuners or even storage that separates the models.
By comparison, the aforementioned Dish Hopper has three tuners, but one of them can record all four major networks simultaneously. It's the Hopper's ability to autoskip the commercials in those recordings that has focused the legal ire of those same networks -- including CNET owner CBS -- on Dish in a still-ongoing legal battle.
|Roamio||Roamio Plus||Roamio Pro|
|HD recording capacity (hours)||Up to 75||Up to 150||Up to 450|
|Built-in MoCA||Requires adapter||Yes||Yes|
|Stream to mobile devices||Requires TiVo Stream||Yes||Yes|
As you can see, these boxes aren't cheap. And, as always, you're not just paying for the box, you have to sign up for monthly or lifetime service, $14.99 or $499.99, respectively. The Roamio does offer a lot in one box, though.
Holy $#!*, it's got Wi-Fi
Yes, you can stop rubbing your eyes, you read the chart correctly. After years of making users buy USB Wi-Fi adapters (seemingly overpriced ones, at that) to get wireless Internet access, TiVo has finally built in 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi. Although the Wi-Fi can't be used for streaming between TiVo units because of bandwidth demands, it can be used for everything else -- from updating guide data to streaming Netflix to using TiVo's iOS or Android app to control the box.