TiVo Introduces A $50 Over-The-Air DVR For The Post-Aereo Era

The DVR pioneer's cheapest model ever is aimed at cord cutters.

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court killed the Aereo service—which used banks of tiny antennas and a cloud-based DVR to let people redirect over-the-air TV to all their Net-connected devices—by ruling that it violated Federal copyright law. Now TiVo, the company which popularized DVRs in the first place, is swooping in to seize what it sees as a market opportunity, with a new version of its TV box aimed at folks who get their TV via antenna rather than cable or satellite.

Unlike Aereo, TiVo's new product, the TiVo Roamio OTA, isn't based on radical new technology. It's a near-twin of the most basic model of the TiVo Roamio, with the ability to record four shows at once and enough hard-disk space for 75 hours of HD video. The company simply ditched the CableCard slot which was required to hook up the box to cable TV—and it slashed the price from $200 to $50.

You can only record TV that you can pull in with an antenna. But there's a lot of it out there—around 90 stations in the Bay Area, for instance—and plenty of HD, all for free.

TiVo's new TiVo Roamio OTA DVRImage courtesy of TiVo

This new antenna-only TiVo—which competes with Simple TV and Tablo, two DVRs from startups—is a bit of an experiment. It'll only be available at 430 Best Buy stores beginning in September, and from BestBuy.com starting in October. As always with TiVo, there's also a charge for the service that provides the TV schedule and otherwise manages the box: $15 a month, with a one-year commitment.

Tom Rogers, TiVo's CEO, says that he was struck by how big a story Aereo's legal battle and ultimate downfall turned out to be: "I was surprised how much non-legal press, broad consumer press, that story was getting in terms of over-the-air channels and having some recording ability for them." About 30% of TiVo customers already used it only with an antenna; the company figured that even more cord cutters might be interested in a low-priced TiVo designed especially for them.

The Roamio OTA isn't an exact counterpart to Aereo. On its own, it's meant for TV watching on an actual TV; for $130 extra, you can buy a complementary box called TiVo Stream which lets you stream live and recorded video to iPhones and iPads or download entire shows for offline viewing. (In my tests with an earlier-model TiVo, it worked well.) Aereo's base service cost $8 a month and only let you record one show at a time; the Roamio OTA can record up to three shows while you're watching live TV.

Unlike Aereo, TiVo also melds broadcast TV with Net-based services including Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu Plus, and wraps everything up in its famously approachable user interface, with the iconic peanut-shaped remote control, a universal search engine for shows and performers, and a guide to stuff that's on at the moment called "What to Watch Now."

"People viewed Aereo as such a technology advance," Rogers says, "but from the consumer's point of view, [the Roamio OTA] ends up a at a better place." That may be true, although the TiVo versions of streaming services sometimes have holes: Amazon, for instance, doesn't give Prime subscribers access to the video library they get on other devices.

At $50, the TiVo Roamio OTA plays in the same rock-bottom price category as Roku and Google's Chromecast. It's the $15 a month fee that's meaningful over time—and rather than giving you content, all it provides is the convenience of the TiVo service. Which does indeed remain possibly the best way ever invented to find programming you care about and watch it on your own schedule.

For me, it's worth it: I've been a TiVo user for years, and recently upgraded to a Roamio model. (I paid for the service for my box using a one-time, lump-sum option, which isn't available with the Roamio OTA.) But the Roamio OTA will only succeed if there's a critical mass of people who prefer free TV to cable or satellite—but are still willing to pay a significant monthly fee to get more out of the TV they do watch.

[Image: Flickr user Dion Gillard]

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11 Comments

  • It looks like Tivo has identified an untapped market but doesnt understand the market. For the most part, the point of cutting the cord is to not pay a monthly fee for most cable cutters. I could pay TWC $10 a month for local channels if I wanted to pay a monthly fee. If I dont want to do that, why would I turn around and pay Tivo $15 a month for no content when all I want is a recorder? It makes no sense. A one time fee (lifetime) for the use of the hardware is acceptable but if Tivo doesnt offer a reduced lifetime fee for the Tivo OTA recorder, then I suspect they will have disappointing sales. They will then likely turn around and blame the relatively small sales on the small OTA market when, actually, they misconstrued the situation from the get-go. Tivo could dominate the OTA market if they understood it.

  • Despite listing several stores in my area where the product should be available starting Sept. 14th, I called around and none of them had even heard of it. Talked to Tivo customer service and it turns out that the Sept. 14th launch date is BS. The product has not yet shipped and when asked for an estimate of when it would be available I was told "sometime in 2014."

  • Eric Brandt

    Limited Edition means you will not find this at Best Buy or be able to purchase directly from TIVO. Zero available in Arizona for the launch date. #botchedproductlaunch

  • millerprm

    I was a TiVo user for 2 1/2 years and tired of paying $180 year to record free TV. I also wanted a whole house solution and didn't want to buy more hardware and pay additional fees on top of the $15 I was already paying. Enter Tablo. It's a whole house solution using only one box (2 or 4 tuner models). Upfront costs might be a little more (you must supply your own HD) but the monthly fees are lower and total cost of ownership is less over time. $5 a month, $50 a year or $149 lifetime which covers ANY box you ever own.

    Tablo is operated via an apple or android tablet or a Roku channel. I use Roku. At this time I can honestly say the Roku app (I can't speak for the tablet apps) needs polish and lacks many of TiVo’s bells and whistles, but recording is very reliable. Tech support constantly monitors the forum and requests regarding features users would like to see. No question, Tablo is finding its footing like any start-up, but it seems to hold a lot of promise.

  • marathonhippo

    I've had antenna tv for about 3 years now, and the first thing I bought after the antenna was a DVR from Channel Master. I've never had Tivo, and I'm sure it's great, but for me, the point of cutting the cable was to pay no monthly fee. With the Channel Master DVR, you have a one-time cost of the unit, then zip. No contracts, no fees. the CM DVR captures the program listings from each station and integrates them into an on-screen guide that lets you schedule your recordings. Again, it's no Tivo, but for those looking for a totally free alternative, it's great.

  • Dwayne Adams

    DVRs have always had a fee even with cable. I have 2 Tivos and pay the fee. I don't like it, but the Tivos are better than any DVR out there. They have a rich feature set for the money. You can schedule shows from the web and control the device from your phone or tablet to name a few. I think you guys without Tivos don't realize how much better they are than the competition and worth the money. I have been a cord cutter for a few years and my Tivos are the main device we use to watch TV followed by Roku.

  • I was an Aereo subscriber, and started looking around when they got shut down. This looks like a good alternative, but Channelmaster's DVR+ has zero monthly fees. The up front cost of the DVR+ is more, but (depending upon which model you choose) you will be ahead of the game in as little as 17 months. I can't speak to the UI of either option, since I haven't used either of them, but purely from a financial standpoint, I will be checking out the Channelmaster first. Hopefully they will feel the pressure from TiVo and others and lower their equipment price, making the ROI even better!

  • scottwilkins

    TiVo's great, almost awesome, except for that their hardware still remains somewhat ancient in processing power. With newer boxes like the fantastically fast Amazon Fire TV, I don't get why TiVo doesn't up their game on processing power? At least they don't lag as much as a cable provider DVR. Anyway, love my TiVo's!

  • scottwilkins

    TiVo's great, almost awesome, except for that their hardware still remains somewhat ancient in processing power. With newer boxes like the fantastically fast Amazon Fire TV, I don't get why TiVo doesn't up their game on processing power? At least they don't lag as much as a cable provider DVR. Anyway, love my TiVo's!

  • I have a tivo Premiere with the latest updates, and use it with an antenna I paid $50 more for the box than the Roamio OTA's cost, but see it as a great service and gladly pay the $15 fee to get it to work, I live in the Twin cities of Minnesota, and believe that Tivo is figuring out how to market itself to customers who are cord cutters, my premiere has two tuners, but i also have a windows media center program with another tuner to watch a third program while the two other tuners are recording.