I’ve been a fan of TiVo DVRs for years, having bought my first box in 2004. TiVo was smart, easy to use and personable, much like another company I blog about frequently. Sometime in 2008, I think it was shortly before the Summer Olympics, I bought my first HD TV and with that upgraded to a TiVoHD. I’ve used that same TiVoHD, and another I bought a few years later, until just recently when I finally took the plunge and upgraded to the TiVo Roamio last month.
Before I go any further, this is not intended to be a comprehensive review of the TiVo platform or the new Roamio. If you’re looking for that, I can suggest Jason Snell’s original Review with an update here or David Pogue’s review for Yahoo tech. These are simply my views as a long-time TiVo user who is upgrading from an HD to a Roamio.
Why I Upgraded Now
It took me almost seven years to upgrade my faithful TiVoHD to the new Roamio model, and quite a bit of convincing. I use my TiVo with a an HD antenna to record digital over the air (OTA) broadcasts. Over the years, as TiVo upgraded their platform with the Premier and then the Roamio, my TiVo HD (sometimes called a Series 3 TiVo) still worked fine as a DVR, but didn’t gain any enhanced functionality and sometimes lost a few features. While annoying, it wasn’t a deal breaker. I used the TiVo solely as a DVR and looked to other devices, primarily an Apple TV, for all my online entertainment needs. As a DVR, my TiVo still worked and, thanks to investing in the lifetime service option, my TiVo wasn’t costing me anything in monthly service fees. It was hard to justify the price of a new DVR compared to the features I gained. I did have to replace a hard drive in one of my TiVos a few years ago, but it was a fairly painless procedure.
Every so often, TiVo will run a special to try to entice owners of “legacy” TiVo boxes to move to a new model and I was fortunate to be able to purchase a refurbished Roamio with Lifetime service for a significant discount. Because only the entry-level Roamio (with a 500GB hard drive) supports over-the -air TV I choose to upgrade the hard drive, but found this was a fairly easy procedure to do myself with a stock hard drive. (Caution, doing so will likely void your warranty.) I also picked up a TiVo Mini so I could watch the content on my TiVo in my bedroom. The special pricing from TiVo, along with a few Amazon Gift Cards made the my out of pocket costs much more reasonable and the decision to switch much easier. I was also fortunate that I was able to recoup almost all of my out of pocket expense by selling my two TiVoHDs on eBay as TiVo units with lifetime server are still fairly valuable.
TiVo has done a lot over the years to make the process of switching from one TiVo to another easier. As soon as my TiVo Roamio arrived I promptly ripped the stock hard drive out and replaced it with my a 3TB drive. Thanks to the TiVo software being loaded in firmware the TiVo took care of formatting and initializing the drive. After downloading a software update (a process that still takes too long) I was in business and ready to begin.
My first concern is I was setting this new TiVo up during the summer when most of the shows I regularly watch were on hiatus. Thankfully a few years ago TiVo introduced an online Season Pass manager which meant my season passes were already associated with my online account. Once my new TiVo was registered with my account and synced up with the TiVo service I was able to log in and copy season passes between boxes. The process was fairly painless and even shows that didn’t have any episodes scheduled transferred over without the need to setup my season passes again.
Transferring shows on the other hand was not so easy. I had about 60 shows saved up on my old TiVo that I wanted to transfer to my new Roamio. (I tend to record shows during the Fall but am too busy to watch them so I save entire series for watching over the summer.) I setup my old TiVo in a spare bedroom and had all the boxes connected to my home network via Ethernet. Once I confirmed the boxes could see each other it was a manual process of one-by-one transferring each show from the old box to the new.
It was painful! I had to manually navigate to the show I wanted to transfer, click through several different menu options, choose to initiate the transfer, wait several seconds, click through a confirmation screen, then start again. Each step had a lag of several seconds while the command processed. For each individual show to be transferred it took 45–60 seconds to queue the show up. Even with a Cat 6 wired Ethernet connection an hour-long program would take between 30–45 minutes to transfer. Worse yet, it took me more than an hour one evening to manually queue up all the shows to transfer and another two days before all the transfers were completed. Thankfully, once the shows were queued up, the transfer process completed without errors.
I’ve heard the reason TiVo hasn’t simplified this process is concerns about illegal content sharing. However, there still has to be a better way. Perhaps a way to queue multiple transfers through TiVo online to authenticate that the owner of the box is only transferring to another registered box. Or perhaps a way to transfer all shows in a group or folder. Either way, the process as is was tedious and outdated. But, it worked and once it was done, I was setup on my new Roamio and ready to go.
What I Like
There’s a lot to like about the new Roamio. First off, it’s noticeably faster in everything it does. Rebooting, changing channels and switching menus all takes a fraction of the time the same functions did on the TiVo HD. Thew new Roamio also sports a more modern user interface that includes a thumbnail window in the top right that shows live video or the currently playing video. My only complaint is the now playing video, though it can be dismissed, can accidentally spoil a live show if you’re recording it for watching later, so be careful. TiVo’s interface has always been, in my opinion, the best among all the DVRs and the Roamio’s interface only adds additional features and polish.
The entry level Roamio features four tuners, double my original TiVo HD. This means that up to four shows can be recorded simultaneously. Watching live TV or using a TiVo Mini (discussed later) will occupy one of your tuners, but in my experience, four is plenty for watching and recording shows in my household.
TiVo has also replaced their famous Season Pass technology with a new feature called OnePass. This means that you can search both broadcast and streaming services for all instances of a particular show or series. I found this particularly useful when trying to catch up on a series where I might have missed a few episodes. For example, I caught on to the series Scorpion a little late last year and missed the first part of the season. I was able to create a TiVo One Pass to record all episode of the series (and caught a few I had missed when they were re-runs) but for the remaining missing episodes TiVo told me they were available on Amazon for purchase and linked me to those episodes right in line with my recordings. This allowed quickly purchase only the recordings I missed, filling in the gaps.
TiVo has updated their companion App through the years which my antiquated TiVo HD couldn’t take advantage of. The companion App allows you to schedule recordings, control the box, view recorded and upcoming shows and even stream recorded content if you add an optional TiVo stream, or have an upgraded Roamio model.
Speaking of Video On Demand services, the Roamio has all the major players, except of course, iTunes. You can access Netflix, Amazon, including free Prime videos, Hulu Plus, YouTube, Pandora, Spotify and more. TiVo can search for content across all these services, or you can tell TiVo which services you have subscriptions to and it can search only those services you actually use. A recent addition, TiVo now can access a Plex so if you’ve already configured Plex and store your own media on a Plex server you can access all that content as well. Adding a TiVo to a TV essentially turns that TV into a “smart TV.” If I didn’t rely so heavily on the Apple ecosystem I could see the TiVo being my only media box.
In addition to the Roamio, I also picked up a TiVo Mini to use in my bedroom. The mini is essentially an extension device for $149 that allows you to add TiVo’s functionality to another TV. It does not have any additional storage (other than presumably some flash storage for buffering) but will connect to a TiVo Roamio or 4-tuner Premiere and give access to all the main TiVo’s content and features, including access to streaming services, without the need to buy another box. The only “catch” is that the Mini must be hard wired either via Ethernet or MoCA and, when in will occupy one of the tuners on the main TiVo. In the case of the Roamio, it only occupies a tuner when actually in use such as when watching live TV or watching recorded content.
In my use on a wired Ethernet network I’ve found the Mini to be fast and responsive and haven’t noticed any difference compared to when I previously used a dedicated TiVo in my bedroom. It also ads streaming services like Amazon and Netflix to an otherwise “dumb” secondary TV. (I previously used a FireTV stick in this bedroom but with the addition of the TiVo Mini I don’t need it and have relocated it to our guest room.) It’s nice to have all my content on one primary TiVo accessible on multiple devices rather than having to transfer shows and manage multiple boxes.
I should note that TiVo offers an antenna only version of the Roamio designed for “cord cutters.” TiVo has been experimenting with the pricing of this box and their pricing model has fluctuated the last year. As of the time of this post it’s offered for a subsidized price of $50 a year with a $15 per month service fee. Currently there is no “lifetime” subscription model, however they have offered promotions where users can purchase the box with lifetime service for a larger fee. Personally, I would not consider a TiVo Box that did not have a lifetime subscription. But the Roamio OTA is a very compelling box for cord cutters, especially those who are not heavy Apple/iTunes users.
I choose the entry-model Roamio over the OTA for a few reasons over. First, when the lifetime subscription was offered the TiVo Roamio was only marginally more expensive than the OTA. (At the time I purchased TiVo was running a promotion for an OTA model with Lifetime they have since discontinued.) Second, I thought for the additional cost of the Roamio was worth it, in the event I ever decided to go back to a cable subscription service, the OTA would be useless. (Though this may be less of a concern if you did not purchase lifetime.)
Is It Worth The Upgrade?
After using my setup for about a month, I love it and I can’t imagine going back to my system of using two TiVo HDs. The Roamio + Mini experience is superior in every way. But this is not an inexpensive transition. I was fortunate that I was able to make this move thanks to a promotional offer, discounted lifetime subscription cost, gift cards, and recouping much of my out of pocket expenses by selling my old units.
Even with the benefit of hindsight, it’s hard to say if I would have upgraded my old HD units to the TiVo Roamio if I had to pay, cash out of pocket, the full price for the Roamio, Mini and lifetime service. Sticker price for my setup is around $850, not including the cost of the upgraded hard drive, which adds approximately $100 assuming you’re comfortable installing it yourself. The price alone, coupled with the fact that my TiVo HDs were still performing their base function as a DVR fine, is what kept me from upgrading sooner. If you’re a current TiVo subscriber, you may want to call their customer service and see if there are any promotional offers you can take advantage of.
There are also currently a lot of unknowns in the world of set top boxes. Apple is rumored to be launching a new Apple TV and possibly some kind of streaming service this Fall. Without a doubt the Roamio is the best DVR solution I have ever used, but it’s pricey. If you make the decision to buy, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.