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TiVo Roamio review: A pretty good DVR with a silly name

Jason Snell | Aug. 27, 2013
Beep-boop! There's a new TiVo in town, and its name is Roamio. And it's pretty good.

Currently, the streaming features work only on the same network that the DVR's on—in essence, within your home. But TiVo promises that "very soon" the iOS app will be updated to support streaming and downloading from outside the home. That will be a great addition, because it'll let you download shows from anywhere and stream shows without the need for something like one of Sling Media's Slingbox products. I saw a demo of this feature and it looked pretty good, but it will definitely require a fast Internet connection on both ends for it to stream high-quality video.

Now some of the important details. First, these devices only work with cable TV (and over-the-air antennas in the case of the low-end model). They use something called a CableCard, which is a government-mandated piece of hardware that opens up cable systems to third-party devices like TiVo. Satellite providers are not covered under this law, and so if you're a DirecTV or Dish Network customer, you can't use this product. (DirecTV does currently offer a TiVo-based DVR—after a long absence—but it's based on the Series 3 technology that's now two generations out of date. Get with the program, DirecTV.) The Roamio line will, however, work with Verizon FiOS TV service.

Second, TiVo isn't just a piece of hardware you buy: It's also a service you pay for, in addition to your cable bill. Currently TiVo requires a $15 monthly fee per DVR or a one-time $500 payment for the lifetime of the box. That lifetime service saves you money only if you keep the box longer than just under three years. That's not unreasonable, but it's a gamble. So there's an up-front investment and an ongoing charge, which means TiVo is always going to be more expensive than the box your cable company will provide for you (even from those companies that charge a monthly DVR fee). But with a user interface superior to most provided hardware, it's a cost many are willing to pay.

Getting started
Installing the TiVo (I'm going to try to use the word Roamio as seldom as possible from here on out) was remarkably easy. I already had cable in the house for my Internet access, so all I needed to do was go to my local Comcast office, pick up a multi-stream CableCard, and I was ready to go. I plugged the CableCard into the back of the TiVo, plugged it into my network (I used ethernet, though these models do offer built-in Wi-Fi as well), and connected it into my TV.

It took maybe 10 or 15 minutes to get from that point to being able to watch live TV; that's too long, but my experience starting up DirecTV's DVR was no different. Setting up was easy—since the TiVo came direct from TiVo.com, it was already connected to my existing TiVo account, so I didn't need to enter in a user name or password.

 

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