I’m a big fan of TiVo, but I’m also a cord cutter. So I was pleased today when I saw that TiVo introduced a new entry level TiVo specifically for cord cutters, the TiVo Roamio OTA. On the surface the OTA version of the Roamio has the same feature set as the low-end Roamio except that it doesn’t include a cable card adapter meaning this Roamio will only work with an antenna connection. This includes built-in apps like Netflix, Hulu Plus, YouTube, Spotify, Pandora, and more. The OTA Roamio also has a substantially lower price point than any other TiVo, only $50 compared to $199 for the entry-level Roamio that works with HD antenna or cable box.
However, there are some drawbacks. First, the OTA Roamio will never work with anything except an antenna. That means if you subsequently decide to reconnect the cable, you'll have to buy a new box. Second, the OTA Roamio includes only a 500 GB hard drive which will record about 75 hours of HD programing. This is probably plenty for most, since OTA offerings are typically limited, but I tend to record and save entire seasons of TV shows when they air in the Fall to watch when my schedule allows in the Summer. This wouldn't be enough for me (though third party hard drive upgrades are available). If you want to stream shows to your iPad or watch shows in a different room you’ll have to buy additional equipmet.
Perhaps the biggest drawback, the Roamio OTA requires a whopping $14.99 monthly service fee with a one year commitment. That seems excessive for a box that only receives a handful of OTA channels depending on your market. It’s unclear whether you’ll be able to buy lifetime service for $499 on this box, though Harry McCracken’s initial review seems to indicate no. That alone would make this a deal-breaker for me.
I love that TiVo is paying attention to the growing number of cord cutters, especially since McCracken’s article points out that about 30% of TiVo customers are already using it only with an antenna. However, my feeling is that most cord cutters are pretty cost-conscious and the monthly service fees are just too much. My current TiVo boxes (a 2007 HD and 2009 HDXL) both have lifetime service and are still going strong so I personally don’t find any compelling need to upgrade. However, if I were to buy another TiVo it would probably be the $199 Roamio with lifetime service. It’s a more expensive up front, but offers more flexibility and freedom from indefinite monthly payments.
Update: according to this tweet from TiVo's VP of Design, Margaret Schmidt, it appears the Roamio OTA does not support the ability to stream content to a second TV using a TiVo mini or offer any multiple-service pricing discounts or lifetime service options. Given all the limitations, I simply cannot reccomend the $50 OTA Roamio. The $199 Roamio provides a far better value and options, cord-cutter or not.