By Jason Snell
February 24, 2015 9:16 AM PT
How TiVo Roamio reached its potential
Note: This story has not been updated for several years.
In 2013 I reviewed the TiVo Roamio and liked it so much that I switched from satellite to cable and bought one. Not only am I still happy with the purchase, but I’ve actually become more enthusiastic about it as time has gone along.
The TiVo Roamio Plus DVR is itself a box with a giant hard drive and the ability to record up to six programs at one time1. I find the TiVo interface superior to any other DVRs I’ve tried, and I’ve tried many of them2. It probably helps that I was an owner of the original TiVo model, so the menus and sound effects feel like home to me. I missed them for the years I was using DirecTV’s own proprietary DVR.
I managed to skip entirely over the generation of TiVo models that frustrated John Siracusa with their sluggish interfaces—the Roamio is fast and responsive. So the core DVR experience has been great, but what’s really propelled it over the top has been a whole bunch of ancillary features.
Streaming support. TiVo’s not just a DVR for recording shows off of cable, it’s also a box that supports streaming services, including Hulu Plus, Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, Vudu, YouTube, MLB.tv, and more. My family and I watch many YouTube videos on the TiVo, and all of my Netflix viewing these days is via the TiVo. The only thing it doesn’t do—at least so far as I can tell—is connect with my Mac Mini server to stream videos from its hard drive.
Integrated streaming interface. TiVo’s streaming-service support comes in the form of HTML 5 apps, which you launch from TiVo’s menus. They work fine, but they’re not what you’d call integrated. Fortunately, TiVo has worked to improve integration of some of these services into the proper TiVo interface. If I browse a show’s past episodes, I can see if an episode is available on Netflix, Amazon, or Hulu, and one click will launch the appropriate app and begin playing that episode.
With a recent software update, TiVo also relaunched its Season Pass feature, which automatically records every episode of a given show, as OnePass, which is basically a Season Pass that also integrates streaming. It’s a bit of a weird feature, but it allows me to take a show I’m currently binge watching—in this case, it’s “Arrow”—and place it directly in my main list of TiVo shows. OnePass knows what season I’m watching, and what episode. And it’s also recording new episodes of “Arrow,” so that when I finish my prowl through the back catalog I’m ready to watch the new stuff that’s being shown on TV.
OnePass is a bit of a work in progress, but I like the integration a lot. My TiVo has become the place I go to find and watch stuff, whether it’s on standard television or one of the streaming services I subscribe to. (I’ve also rented movies from Vudu and Amazon via the TiVo.) I appreciate the simplicity of it all.
TiVo Mini remote boxes. I’ve got two other televisions in my house, not attached to the TiVo Roamio. But they’re not left out because of the TiVo Mini—a remote box that uses my home Ethernet network to connect back to the Roamio. The TiVo Mini behaves almost identically to the Roamio. I have access to the entire DVR’s catalog of shows, to streaming services, and to live TV. There’s no lag. I never feel like I’m waiting for a video stream to arrive from a DVR in another room.
TiVo iOS app. The TiVo iOS app is good and keeps getting better. Yes, I can do things like use it to tell my DVR to record a show that I just heard about, even when I’m away from home. But it also lets me use my iPhone or iPad as a TV—I can stream a soccer match from one of my DVR’s tuners to my iPad when I’m making breakfast in the kitchen on a Saturday morning. I can download shows stored on the DVR for offline viewing, so I can fill up my iPad with entertainment before I get on an airplane. I just watched the opening musical number of the Oscars on my iPhone while I was writing this paragraph.
Is TiVo for everyone? Of course not. You’ve basically got to be in the U.S. and have cable TV to use it. (Though there’s also a clever lower-cost over-the-air model for cord cutters who can get TV signals via antenna.) You’ve got to buy hardware and then pay a monthly service fee. But as someone who bought the TiVo Roamio in 2013 because I liked what was there and love its potential, I have to say: It’s grown into its potential. I love it.
- No, there’s never that much on, though at one point last fall I did manage to have every tuner on the DVR set to a different college football game. ↩
- No, this is not a comprehensive review of DVRs. No, I probably haven’t tried that latest-and-greatest DVR model that your cable or satellite company is selling. All I can write about is my experience with this product. ↩
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