Reviewed by Ronald Epstein
For years I have been enjoying the pains and gains associated with being a Tivo owner. I started with the brand well over a decade ago when the company first introduced an integrated DVR for DirecTV set top boxes. When that association initially ended, I bought my first standalone Tivo unit. A few years later, I upgraded to the Tivo Premiere.
Obviously, I have been immensely enjoying the benefits associated with Tivo which includes it enhanced interface, ease of use, and ability to stream programming, music and photos from your PC/Mac to your display. Tivo's goal has always been to be a complete home media solution, and for that reason, it generally exceeds the experience one gets from the standard DVR set-top boxes offered by cable and satellite companies.
Unfortunately, all this Tivo luxury comes at a rather steep price and if you want to stay ahead of the game and own the latest and greatest DVR from the company, it is going to cost you a pretty penny. It has not been uncommon for me to shell out nearly $700 in hardware and lifetime subscription fees every few years when the company introduces a newer model.
Those who have may have recently purchased Tivo's current line of Premiere models may be be a little agitated to learn that those units have now been somewhat outdated with the company's release of a new line of DVRs called ROAMIO. The new name suggests that you can not only stream content to other displays in your home without an additional DVR, but also take your content with you thanks for its ability to stream and download to iOS devices (iPad and iPhone), and with a promise of Android compatibility in the near future. Additionally, Tivo has now made the ability to search and play streaming content across several streaming services even easier and faster than before.
I'll break all of this down for you as we move forward into the review. Please be patient, there is a lot to cover. If you want a capsulized summary just jump to the end of the review where I will go over the pros and cons of owning one of these units. I will also highlight the fine points of my review in RED. Please also check out the two videos at the bottom of this review.
Tivo's ROAMIO comes in 3 different specs. The TIVO ROAMIO ($199), the TIVO ROAMIO PLUS ($399) and the TV ROAMIO PRO($599).
The TIVO ROAMIO with its 500 GB drive, can record 4 shows at once with up to 75 hours of HD content. The TIVO ROAMIO PLUShas a 1TB hard drive, can record 6 shows at once and up to 150 hours of HD content. The TIVO ROMIO PRO with its 3TB hard drive, can also record 6 shows at once but has the ability to record up to 450 hours of HD content.
All models have built-in Wifi capability, but only the ROAMIO PLUS and ROAMIO PRO units allow you to stream video content to your iOS devices within the home network (and eventually outside the network). The base TIVO ROAMIO does not have iOS streaming ability unless you purchase an additional $130 adapter. So, if streaming to mobile devices is your desire, it almost makes it worth investing in the PLUS model instead of having to purchase a separate adapter.
Finally, I should mention that only the TIVO ROAMIO supports an HD antenna connection. The two higher end units require a cable subscription. I should also mention that Tivo only supports cable TV service or Verizon Fios. It does not support satellite or AT&T U_Verse.
This was my model of choice based on my what I felt best met my suited viewing needs. It is the middle of the 3-tiered models and the first of the upper two that offers streaming to mobile devices.
Ridiculous name aside, I am really pleased with the new aesthetics of these models with their more modernized design, a touch-sensitive power button, a singular circular green recording indicator and a cool remote finder (see below). Seems the logo also gets a revision as the little Tivo guy is now completely faceless.
The unit features a single coax connector, two USB ports, eSATA and a CableCard slot. You'll find HDMI, Toslink and Analog audio/video outputs. The unit also includes 802.11a/b/g/n Wifi that allows streaming to other devices.
The basic TIVO ROAMIO is the most streamlined of all three devices, having the smallest overall footprint. In this photo above you can see that the TIVO ROAMIO PLUS (top) is fairly close in overall dimensions of the older Tivo Premiere model. For anyone needing a reference I have provided a chart of dimensions below...
Inside the box is exactly what you would expect to be included: Power supply, remote and batteries and a manual to get you started.
Coming off of previous models, Tivo has somewhat downsized their remote and made it more bright and colorful, which is rather a good thing. It's curved backside makes for a nice placement within the hand. It takes two AA batteries (included). The smaller design makes it easier to operate the remote with one hand. Two new cool things about this remote: First, it is no longer reliant on IR. When in RF mode the remote does not require a line of sight to operate the equipment. Second, if you happen to lose the remote somewhere in the room, just press the small button on the front of the Tivo unit (next to the lit green circle) and your lost remote will sing a tune for you to find it.
Having done setups on Tivo units multiple times over the years, I find it to be an effortless process. In fact, I believe the only problem that most people may have will come from their cable provider. I'll talk more about that in a moment. As the screen above indicates, setup should take no longer than 30 minutes. In my case, from start to finish, it took about 20 minutes.
Entering your zip code during the setup process brings up choices of cable or Fios providers in your area. You will also have the opportunity to confirm you made the correct choice of provider as you will be asked to verify that proper channels are being displayed on your setup screen.
The TIVO ROAMIO PLUS requires that a cable card be inserted into the rear of the unit during setup and normal operation. I have only experience with Verizon Fios in knowing that they use a Multi-Stream ("M") card. Take it from me, setting up a new Tivo unit with the Fios M-Card usually involves phone calls to tech support -- even if you are simply swapping it out from an older unit to this new one. There is usually an issue with anyone that has premium channel subscriptions. These premium channels may not initially work until you call support and have them reactivate the card. In my case, it took three separate phone calls to Verizon before I was actually able to get the unit fully activated with all my premium content.
Those of you like myself who are upgrading from a previous Tivo unit will be very happy to learn that you can easily transfer all your Season Pass programming by visiting their online site. If you look at the web screen capture above, you can see I am transferring my shows from the older DVR (left) to the new Tivo Roamio (right).
In fact, probably a great time to mention here that there is so much you can do online -- and via Tivo Apps on iOS and Android -- that allow you to peek at your recorded content and schedule shows when you are away from home. Quite often, I'll hear a co-worker talk about a movie or show they have recently seen. I'll go to the Tivo app on my phone and schedule it for recording -- right from the workplace.
Welcome to Tivo Central! This will become your home screen for accessing everything across the Tivo platform. For newbies to Tivo, it's certainly quite a bit of brilliant HD eye candy to the eyes. Those coming from Tivo Premiere, are already familiar with this interface as not much has changed here....almost.
The biggest problem Tivo Premiere owners had was the clunkiness in navigating the menu. It was often a bit slow and cumbersome to move around the menu structure. This has been greatly improved in Tivo Roamio. You can tell that there is a faster processor at work here, enabling fast and smooth movement across the various screens/menus. Overall response is more instantaneous than before. That's a huge improvement.
While navigating all the menus from Tivo Central -- including searching shows -- there is a small pop-up window in the upper right corner that allows you to continue watching whatever live programming is on your screen. This was a feature added in the Premiere series and certainly, I am happy to see it here.
Unfortunately, when you dig deeper into the settings menus, you lose the HD interface completely (see above). I had hoped this would be something that Tivo would have improved upon. Perhaps they felt that these less frequently accessed menus did not need the HD treatment.
An interesting new feature to TIVO ROAMIO is "What To Watch Now," which gives you a thumbnail look at the most popular programs available to watch at the moment in several categories. This is a great feature when you need to watch something but just don't know what it is you want to watch. Selections are broken down into categories to more easily locate programming that is appealing to you.
Another notable feature, previously introduced in the Premiere line, is the ability to search for content not only across the television guide, but included streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu Plus, Pandora, AOL On, Spotify, Amazon, YouTube and MLB.TV Premium. I found that returned results for searched content are now much more instantaneous than they were on previous models. Additionally when selecting results for web-related content (such at Neflix), it was nice to see that after a few quick clicks, the streamed presentation started quickly.
I'll admit it has been over a year since I last subscribed to Neflix. I had to actually reactivate my account for this review. I was a bit disheartened to see that there doesn't seem to be much changed as far as the interface is concerned. I suppose I am spoiled somewhat by Netflix on Apple TV which is very robust. Here, it seems kind of clunky and outdated. Not that this will matter much when you are launching Netflix via a system search -- but on its own, it could be improved.
I attempted to access Amazon Instant Video, and was initially upset to find that even though I am a PRIME member, there is no way to sign in and associate the free streaming benefits of that service. I contacted Tivo about this shortcoming and I am being told that they working on resolving that problem for a future update.
Also new, and something that surprised me, is a small mini-guide that comes in as an overlay when you double press the Select button. There are also many other manners in which the television guide can be brought up. The guide holds 14 days worth of upcoming programming information.
Of course you get the standard assortment of standard DVR functions that Tivo has perfected on its platform over the years...
SEASON PASS: Allows you to record every episode of your favorite show, opting for all episodes (reruns) or just the new ones. You can also select how many shows you want to keep before Tivo starts auto-deleting them. It's the perfect "set it and forget it" option to keeping up with your favorite shows.
WISH LIST: Is there a movie or show that is currently not showing up in the program guide? Simply enter a title, actor, director or keyword. When the program airs days/weeks/months later, Tivo will be there to record it.
COLLECTIONS: Allows you you to customize shows you wish to record according to specific themes. For instance, you could set it to record as many of AFI'S TOP 100 MOVIES as is currently airing. You can click here to see an example of some recommended collections you can program into your Tivo.
Sorry for the bad pun...couldn't help myself...but really, the biggest reason you would want to consider the TIVO ROAMIO PLUS or the TIVO ROAMIO PRO is for its roaming/streaming capabilities to iOS devices -- and soon -- Android.
With a Tivo app installed on your iPad or iPhone, the streaming process will work flawlessly for most everyone. I say that, because I found out the hard way that if you have a device that has been modified (aka "Jailbroken"), streaming will absolutely not work. Fortunately I borrowed a friend's iPad that wasn't jailbroken to test the streaming capabilities.
From the iOS app on your iPad or iPhone, you can go into the MY SHOWS folder and find a mirror of the same menu found on your television display. This easily allows you to locate and select content that is already sitting on your Tivo unit. With one click you can either immediately stream that content to your device to watch instantly -or- actually download it to your device to watch later, say on an airplane flight. Tivo will actually use the space on your portable unit's drive to download and store selected content you have already recorded on your home unit. Please note that a WiFi connection is required for all streaming/download functions.
For me, this was the single biggest reason for me to upgrade to TIVO ROAMIO PLUS. Before this new unit arrived on the scene, I would have to use software on my computer to transfer programming to it, have it then converted to a format that would enable me to retransfer it to to my iPad. Now, it's all done for you, quickly and effortlessly.
By the way, though I did not download any content to my iPad, I was very pleased to find that there were no hiccups in the streaming. I look forward to future updates that will allow me to stream content from my Tivo outside of my home network. Wouldn't it be great to stay at a hotel far from home and have access to all your Tivo recorded content? That reality seems to be close at hand.
Let me also note here that as a Mac user, I have always enjoyed the fact that Roxio Toast software comes with an application calledTivoToGo. It allows you transfer content from your Tivo to your Mac (both connected to the home network) and then burn a copy of that programming to an optical disc, if you wish.
PROS: These are the perhaps the best DVRs on the market. The sluggishness that plagued the Tivo Premiere units has been resolved. These new babies have more processing power, making navigation across menus smooth and responsive. Searching for programming across broadcast and streaming platforms is a huge plus -- greatly heightening the chances that you are going to find the exact program you have been searching for. Additionally, the search functionality yields faster and more relevant results than previous models. Media streaming on the PLUS and PRO models work extremely well, allowing you to take your recorded content anywhere in the home and soon, anywhere else.
CONS: With DishHopper now offering commercial skipping, it would have been nice to see Tivo add that feature to this lineup. There are still advertisements being pushed to the Tivo Central menu and when pausing a program, which is an eyesore and makes no sense to anyone who is paying the exorbitant subscription fees to use the service. Speaking of which, the biggest hindrance to owning the Tivo of your dreams is the cost factor. Tivo is the Cadillac of DVRs, and they certainly seem to charge you as much. While I would highly suggest the TIVO ROAMIO PLUS as the entry-level choice with mobile streaming, the hardware comes at a cost of $400. Then you either pay a monthly subscription of $14.95 (with a year commitment) or $499 for lifetime service.
(5 thumbs up out of 5)
It's nearly impossible not to give the Tivo Roamio Plus/Pro the highest of ratings. I have been with the Tivo family for over a decade. There is nothing that I have found that equals the user experience you get with this brand. While it's costly as all heck to own one of these DVRs, I believe it will be the most used and enjoyed appliance in your home. My brothers and I gave a Tivo to my 85 year-old Mother for Christmas, and she uses it every single day to record her favorite shows. It's so easy to use, even she has no problem with its navigation.
Please enjoy the videos below
Overview of the Tivo Roamio Plus
HTF Visits Tivo at Cedia 2013