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$49 TiVo OTA and streaming DVR targets cordcutters

Aug 25, 2014  |  Rick Lehrbaum
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TiVo introduced a Linux-based DVR for “cordcutters” who want to eliminate cable fees by obtaining their TV content from Internet streams and OTA broadcasts.

The TiVo “Roamio OTA” DVR assumes a place alongside Really Simple Software’s “Simple.TV” OTA box, which was funded on Kickstarter two years ago and stepped up to a second generation design last fall.



Roamio OTA DVR
(click image to enlarge)

 
Both the Roamio OTA and Simple.TV obtain their OTA content from an HDTV antenna, and store their recordings on user-supplied HDDs. Also, both offer paid EPG (electronic program guide) services, and both run on embedded Linux. But to a large degree, that’s where the similarities end.


Roamio OTA rear panel connections
(click image to enlarge)

The Roamio OTA’s rear panel has connectors for HDMI and composite video, analog and optical digital audio, dual-USB, Ethernet, and an antenna, and it comes with a combination RF/IR remote control. So, you can simply cable it to your HDTV, add an internal or external hard drive, sign up for TiVo’s EPG service, and you’re good to go.


Simple.TV OTA DVR
(click to enlarge)

Simple.TV, on the other hand, uses IP to transfer its recordings to your favorite device for rendering. Consequently, with Simple.TV you also need something along the lines of a Roku player in order to play recordings on your HDTV.

Another significant difference between the two devices is that TiVo’s box includes built-in apps for streaming media from Internet sources, so you really don’t need to pair it up with a Roku player to have access to both OTA and streamed content. Initially, the Roamio OTA only includes five streaming channels — Netflix, Hulu Plus, YouTube, Pandora, and Spotify — so it’s certainly way behind Roku, but TiVo says more channels will be added, and the company has the necessary clout to make that happen assuming it stays its course.

So, for many cordcutters, the $49 Roamio OTA device would appear to be a bargain compared to the combination of a $249 Simple.TV (v2) plus a $50 Roku player. However, that doesn’t take their respective monthly service charges into account, and it also assumes that you don’t already have a Roku player on hand. Specifically, TiVo’s device requires a $15 per month subscription for services (assuming a one year commitment), whereas Simple.TV’s service runs just $5 monthly and $150 for a lifetime buyout. Besides that potential savings, you can also use the Simple.TV box without the monthly EPG service and its fees, as long as you don’t mind scheduling recordings manually, and you don’t plan on streaming content to devices located outside of your home LAN.

Another point in favor of Simple.TV is that it can stream to multiple devices (tablets, smartphones, PCs) inside the home LAN without any extra fees or devices, whereas doing that with the TiVo OTA box requires the addition of a $130 TiVo Stream adapter. But to be fair, the TiVo device offers twice as many tuners as Simple.TV, allowing you to record or play four programs at once; and it also offers the ability to send three different streams to up to 11 TVs or other devices at once.

 
OTA DVR hurdles


Teeny Aereo antenna
(click for cluster photo)

Interestingly, both OTA alternatives are claimed by their makers to be “legal,” in contrast to Aereo’s out-of-the-box OTA DVR concept that recently ran afoul of the U.S. Supreme Court. The issue had to do with whether a rack containing thousands of tiny DVRs — each with a teeny antenna — is equivalent from a “fair use” perspective to thousands of DVRs and antennas located at thousands of individuals’ homes. Long story short, last month Aereo announced a “pause” in its operations, although it continues to lobby for its cause.

 
Summary of Roamio OTA features


Roamio OTA
remote control

(click to enlarge)

Specifications listed by TiVo for its Roamio DVR include:

  • Signal source:
    • Requires digital HDTV antenna
    • 4 tuners
  • Recording:
    • Records up to 4 HD shows simultaneously
    • Stores up to 75 HD hours of content on built-in 500GB HDD
    • Storage expandable via eSATA up to 1TB
    • 14-day program guide (requires paid subscription)
  • Video outputs:
    • Composite
    • HDMI v1.3 (1080p /24/60)
    • 3D passthrough (SxS/TxB)
  • Audio outputs:
    • Analog stereo
    • Optical digital
  • Networking:
    • Wifi (802.11a/b/g/n)
    • 10/100 Ethernet
    • MoCA bridge (for Ethernet over cable; requires optional adapter)
  • Includes combo RF+IR remote
  • Search function:
    • Simultaneously searches TV shows and streaming apps (e.g. Netflix, Hulu Plus) for content
    • Suggestions help users discover new shows based on what they like
  • Multi-room content sharing — supports up to 11 networked TiVo DVRs or Mini devices, with 3 HD streams simultaneously
  • Streaming to mobile devices — requires optional TiVo Stream device
  • Tablet/smartphone support
    • Free apps available for iOS and Android devices
    • Stream live TV and recorded shows to iOS devices via WiFi; Android “coming soon”
    • Download recorded shows to iOS devices from anywhere over WiFi or 4GLTE (no word on Android)

 
Further information

TiVo’s Roamio OTA DVR is being introduced initially in “select markets,” priced at $49.99, with a $14.99 per month service fee based on a one-year commitment. More details can be found at the company’s Roamio OTA announcement. More details regarding Tivo’s companion products for the Roamio OTA DVR are at TiVo’s pages for the TiVo Stream ($129.99) and the TiVo Mini ($99.99).
 

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