TiVo Roamio Pro: Will it hold our love in an online world?
In part one of our TiVo review, we limited ourselves to how well (or not) it worked as a DVR. Here we delve deep into the online features of the Roamio, i.e. how well does it earn the “roam” part of its name? How does it work as a streamer? What are the mobile and tablet apps like? And what other connected features does it have?
Let’s take a moment at the start and talk about one of TiVo’s real strong suits: its integrated search. We’re including this in the “streaming capabilities” discussion because whenever you search for a show, the Roamio will return results not only from the TV guide, but also Amazon Instant, Netflix, HuluPlus, YouTube, and other services, such as podcasts. This is a killer feature and it works really well. The search is as fast as you’d want it to be. And if you find a show that’s available via several services, you can choose which one to use to obtain the show. In the case of Amazon Instant, it will show you the price and allow you to purchase it. You can also set preferences to show you only HD content, free content only (which would filter out Amazon Instant, for example), and others.
The next somewhat unique online feature we want to talk about is the TiVo web site. You can control an awful lot of the TiVo’s functions from there. You can search for shows and add/delete recordings, add/delete Season Passes. You can view your channel guide, view suggested shows you might like. And if you have more than one TiVo, you can copy Season Passes from one device to another.
In fact, there are a few things you can set only on the web site, such as adding video podcasts. From the Roamio itself you can search for podcasts and add a Season Pass, but you can’t type a URL to a podcast that the Roamio doesn’t know about. But you can do that from the TiVo web site. A podcast Season Pass downloads episodes to the device as they become available and are listed in the My Shows listing.
We were surprised that so many of the podcasts we like to watch (Revision 3′s HD Nation, Tekzilla, and CNET’s Apple Byte, TEDTalks, etc.) came up in search results where we easily added Season Passes. And we could pause, fast forward and rewind while watching. Nice!
Another way to interact with the Roamio is via TiVo’s iPhone/iPad and Android apps. Like the TiVo web site, you can view your To-Do List, manage Season Passes, add/delete shows, etc. But you can also use your phone/tablet as a remote control. But where the Roamio really earns the “roam” part of its name is on the iPhone/iPad apps.
With these you can actually watch anything that’s on the Roamio, even live TV and podcasts, as long as you have a WiFi connection. And it works both inside and outside of your home. With live TV, you have to record the show you want to stream, so you need to have a tuner free. And if you choose to watch a live show, if the show is already tuned when you choose to stream it, the thirty-minute buffer that TiVo maintains is included, which is a really nice touch.
For shows you’ve already recorded, you can download them to your iDevice. You’re given three choices in quality so you can limit the file size and there’s a nice gauge that indicates how much free space you have available. The UI is really nice, filled with lots of useful information, but isn’t cluttered. These apps are a real stand-out feature.
The Android apps (we tested with a Kindle Fire) does everything the iDevice apps can with the exception of streaming shows. In all other aspects they worked and looked the same, though.
The Roamio also has DIAL support. We tried it with the Netflix and YouTube apps on our iPhone and it worked really well. You could find a video or movie and choose to play it on the Roamio. The Roamio would launch the appropriate app (Netflix or YouTube) and then begin playing the video using its own network connection. In other words, you aren’t mirroring the display from the iPhone to the Roamio. In fact, once the playback begins, your device becomes a remote where you can play/pause, use the video scrubber bar to fast forward and rewind, etc. It worked really well, although in our limited testing the YouTube app seemed to work just a little better.
The Roamio has myriad streaming apps built-in: Netflix, YouTube, HuluPlus, Amazon Instant, Pandora, Spotify, MLB Live and a few others. For the most part, each app launches fairly quickly (most in three to fifteen seconds, though some took longer–up to thirty-five seconds). And each app responded very quickly once they were up and running.
Let’s just get this out of the way: the Amazon Instant app is a disgrace. It’s the same app that’s on the previous TiVo generation, which means the UI is in standard definition. It doesn’t support Amazon Prime videos either. It’s a real black eye to what is an otherwise excellent streaming device. Now that we’ve got that out of our system let’s leave that unpleasantness and move on.
The Netflix app was very easy to use. You can search for shows and add them to your queue. The picture and sound quality was quite good, as good as you’d find on any other streamer. The remote responded well. There’s not much to say other than it works well.
In fact, that’s pretty much the same for HuluPlus.
Pandora works well, too. I did have to change my password, though, because I had an ampersand (&) in my password and the onscreen keyboard didn’t have one! But a quick visit to their web site to change my password and I was up and running. The interface is very clean and stripped down to the basics. TiVo’s thumbs up and down buttons can be used to rate songs. Having a plasma TV, I was a bit concerned that leaving this app on the screen for hours might give me some nasty burn in, though.
Lastly, the Roamio has the Opera App store. While we poked around the aisles a bit, we didn’t find much of interest. We did find a decent weather app, and another app that would play music while displaying soothing landscape scenes. It was nice, but it’s not something I see myself using a lot. While this might not be a compelling feature at this point, it has the potential if developers apply their creativity.
We think the Roamio is an excellent choice for a DVR. It isn’t everything our Windows Media Center PCs can be, but it isn’t trying to be. For anyone who wants a DVR with the basic streaming services, this is an excellent choice. Add in the ability to access the Roamio from outside the home and to stream anything it has recorded via WiFi, and you have a real killer device.