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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.

While I was at it, I also set up a $100 TiVo Mini on the other TV in my house. Originally, every TV needed its own DVR, but the TiVo Mini is part of a TV-industry shift to a different approach. The idea is that every house has one powerful server hooked up to programming—the Roamio, in this case—and several lightweight client boxes that just stream video over a home network. The TiVo Mini is tiny and has no hard drive—it's like a bigger version of the Apple TV or Roku box. It behaves just like a TiVo (and requires its own $6-a-month or $150 lifetime service charge), but it isn't connected to your cable, just to your main TiVo.

The TiVo Mini didn't get up and running right away—since I bought it from Amazon, I had to go to TiVo's website to connect it to my account, and I needed to wait until the next morning and restart the box before it recognized the Roamio in my living room. But once they made that connection, the two devices worked flawlessly together. (To watch live TV, the TiVo Mini temporarily hijacks a single tuner belonging to the main TiVo box, but since there are six to choose from, it rarely causes any conflicts.) If I had a bigger house with more TV sets, I could buy more TiVo Minis and connect them to the Roamio as well. Depending on the number of tuners and TiVos in your house, you can have up to eight TiVo Minis as part of your network. And because the Roamio supports dynamic tuner allocation, the tuner is only used when the Mini needs and otherwise released back to the DVR for use (the Premiere models support the Mini, but not dynamic allocation). Because of the bandwidth involved to send that video around the house, note that you can't use a wireless connection to add a TiVo Mini, so must have either ethernet or a MoCA (Multimedia over Coax Alliance) adapter installed.

High definition... mostly
When I abandoned my Series 2 TiVo five or six years ago, it was capable of showing high-definition programming but all the device's menus were still in standard definition. Over the years, parts of the TiVo interface have been upgraded to HD, but even with new model there are amazingly still menus that are in standard definition. If you go one level down in any of the settings menus, you'll be in interface screens that look no different than those in the original TiVo circa 1999. It's kind of ridiculous.

That said, most of the interface is in HD now, and it looks great. The text is readable and there's a lot of extra information (like the season and episode numbers for many TV shows) that true TV aficionados will love. Maybe it's just my years with the DirecTV DVR (and interacting with the stock Comcast DVRs of friends) talking, but the TiVo interface seems much more attractive and thoughtful than the bog-standard cable boxes out there. It's actually a pleasure to use the interface, right down to the same old silly beep-boop sound effects that were there in the original TiVo. (Some killjoy friends of mine suggested turning those off, but I can't help it—I love the cheesy sound effects.)


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