TiVo Roamio OTA review: It feels like going back in time

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If you want to ditch cable without losing the cable DVR experience—warts and all—the TiVo Roamio OTA is your answer.

TiVo’s $400 DVR for over-the-air channels has all the creature comforts of a cable box, from the traditional channel grid and button-packed remote control to the seemingly limitless recording options for TV shows and movies. And like TiVo’s own cable boxes, it comes with some powerful ad-skipping features.

But TiVo’s old-school approach to recording broadcasts from an antenna also brings some baggage. It’s easy to get lost in the Roamio OTA’s labyrinthine menus, or forget what button you’re supposed to press. And while TiVo tries to be a complete cord-cutting solution with both over-the-air and streaming video, its options for the latter can’t compete with dedicated streaming boxes like Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, and Nvidia Shield TV.

Hefty hardware

The TiVo Roamio OTA is a hulking piece of creaky plastic, more like a cable box than a modern streaming device. Around back, there’s an HDMI output, an optical audio jack for connecting to older sound systems, and, quizzically, a couple USB ports whose only purpose is to charge other devices (external USB storage is not supported). You supply your own antenna, which plugs into the Roamio OTA’s coaxial input.

TiVo Roamio OTA Michael Brown

If you want to expand the Roamio OTA’s storage, you’ll need to replace its existing internal drive. The USB ports are only good for charging devices and the only compatible e-SATA drive was discontinued.

Inside, the box has 1TB of storage—good for about 150 hours of HD programming—and four tuners, so you can watch or record four programs at once. The internal drive is replaceable, but while the Roamio OTA technically allows external storage via a rear e-SATA port, the only supported drive is WD’s DVR Extender, which is no longer manufactured or sold.

Equally cable-like is TiVo’s remote control, a hefty implement with more than 40 buttons for changing channels, controlling the TV, controlling playback, and navigating through the TiVo Guide. Having almost every conceivable function just a button press away makes some sense, but it’s going to create whiplash for anyone who’s used to streaming remotes, with their minimalist designs, contextual on-screen menus, and voice search.

The remote does, however, have some welcome departures from cable boxes: It uses an RF signal to control the TiVo—no line-of-sight required—but still includes an IR blaster for your television’s volume, power, and input. Best of all, it lets you easily skip advertisements. Pressing up or the green “D” button during commercials automatically takes you to the end of the break on certain programs, and there’s also a dedicated button for jumping ahead by 30 seconds.

tivoroamioota remote Jared Newman/TechHive

TiVo’s remote is loaded with buttons. On the bright side, it has both RF and infrared transmitters.

TiVo used to charge for DVR service, but now it’s included in the $400 price. That’s a lot to pay up front, but in the long run it beats paying TiVo’s old $15-per-month service charge.

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