TiVo Mini review: Multiroom TiVo experience, complete with fees

The other benefit is that you get access to TiVo's supply of on-demand apps. At launch, Netflix and Amazon Instant Video, but Netflix is now available. A TiVo representative said Amazon Instant is in the works, but couldn't give any concrete dates of availability. What you will find along with Netflix are apps for Hulu Plus, YouTube, AOL On, MLB.TV, and Flingo for video; Rhapsody, Spotify, Live365, and Pandora for music; and PhotoBucket and Google Picasa for photos. And, if you're a Comcast Xfinity subscriber, you'll have access to Xfinity On Demand if it's been rolled out in your area.

The apps load a little more quickly on the Mini than they do on the Premiere 4, and performance in general felt fairly lag-free. Pulling up a recorded program from the host DVR leaves you with a couple of seconds of darkness, but once it's loaded up shuttling back and forth through the program works well, all things considered. If you're a channel surfer, live TV requires a couple of extra seconds for the Mini to "tune in" to a station. Clicking up and down channels one at a time definitely requires some patience, but pulling up the guide, finding a channel, and selecting a program is not bad at all.

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On the Mini, you can't manage your DVR's recordings or downloads, but you can start, stop, and delete them. Joshua Goldman/CNET

There are a few things missing from the Premiere interface such as the live viewing window while you're in TiVo Central and the ability to view your To Do List or manage recordings. Right now you'll have to manage content through the host DVR or with the iOS or Android app.

Again, you're basically getting a decent portion of the TiVo DVR experience with a box that takes up a fraction of the space of a DVR. Unfortunately, that experience isn't included in the price of the box.

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Joshua Goldman/CNET

Pricing and the competition
The TiVo Mini is $99.99 with either a $5.99 monthly subscription fee or a $149 lifetime fee. I was confused as to why TiVo charges a subscription fee for a device that's basically sucking information from a host DVR that you're also paying a subscription fee for, so I asked. TiVo Vice President of Communications Steve Wymer said, "TiVo charges a subscription for the Mini as it's important to note that the Mini provides a full 'TiVo Service Experience.'" When asked what the full TiVo experience consisted of, Wymer replied with the following:

TiVo's full service offering is a unique value proposition for consumers looking to have all their favorite entertainment content available in a simple, easy-to-navigate platform. Whether it's being able to record multiple live TV broadcasts, enjoy online services, music streaming or the ability to take your shows with you on the go, TiVo allows users to enjoy what they want how they want. We feel that the cost associated with this caliber of a quality experience is important to users, and over the years we've [striven] to make it as affordable and all-encompassing as possible.

That's a big pile of marketing gobbledygook that, for me, boils down to, "Because we can." I get that, and the fact is, TiVo's pricing really isn't that far out of sync with what satellite and cable providers are charging for similar products. That doesn't necessarily make it right, though, especially if you're trying to keep customers and gain new ones.

TiVo Premiere XL4 + TiVo Mini DirecTV Genie DVR + Genie Mini Dish Network Hopper with Sling + Joey Time Warner HD DVR + HD receiver Xfinity AnyRoom DVR + HD extender AT&T U-verse DVR + receiver
DVR price $399 $299 (free to new subscribers) $199 (free to new subscribers) None None None
Extender price $99 $99 $99 (free to new subscribers) None None None
Monthly service $14.99 + $5.99 $20 + $6 $7 for Joey + $10 DVR fee $30.24 + $14.25 $13.95 to $19.95 + $9 $7 for receiver + $10 HD fee
Number of HD recording hours 300 200 500 75 60 65
Number of simultaneous recordings 3 5 3 (up to 6 during prime-time hours) 2 2 4
Number of simultaneous streams to extenders 3 3 3 3 3 7
Live TV streams supported Yes Yes Yes No No Yes
Start/delete recordings from any TV Yes Yes Yes No No Yes
Broadband apps available to all components YouTube, Hulu Plus, AoL On, Flingo, Pandora, Spotify, Rhapsody, PhotoBucket, Picasa, more (Netflix, Amazon Instant Video available at a later date) YouTube, Pandora, weather, sports (requires Cinema Connection kit) Pandora, Facebook, MLB Network, Weather Channel, MSNBC, SiriusXM; stream live TV to computers, mobile devices None None Facebook, MultiView, weather, Media Share (DLNA), Food Network, NBA stats, more
On demand to extender Xfinity subscribers Yes (requires Cinema Connection kit) Yes No Yes Yes
Stream to computers, mobile devices Yes, to iOS devices (requires TiVo Stream device) Yes, to iOS devices (requires Cinema Connection kit) Yes Yes, to computers, iOS and Android devices, and Roku devices Yes (requires Xfinity AnyPlay device) No

Basically, outside of going with Dish Network's Hopper and Joey combination -- which offers some impressive streaming and multiroom features in its own right -- the Premiere 4/XL/Roamio and Mini package is competitive. (Disclosure: CBS, the parent company of CNET, is in active litigation with Dish Network as to the legality of the Hopper's other big feature -- its ad-skipping technology.) Keep in mind, too, that satellite and cable providers also make money from TV service and can make different hardware and service deals that TiVo can't compete with. And with TiVo, the hardware is yours and you'll be able to use the DVR and Mini with any cable provider that can supply a CableCard for service.

Still, adding a service fee feels like a money grab (even if it isn't) and considering that you need to have a Premiere 4 or XL4 or Roamio, the cost to upgraders -- especially those who purchased lifetime service for their DVRs -- seems very high. (Dynamic tuner allocation, by the way, will not change this; you must have a DVR with four or more tuners.)

There are other solutions than buying or leasing from a cable or satellite provider, of course, such as buying or building your own home theater PC. But TiVo certainly has one of the best user interfaces around, setup (as long as you have a competent cable installer) is relatively painless, and it does provide more streaming services than its competitors. While the service selection could certainly be better -- it can't compete with what's available on a Roku -- it's better than what everyone else offers. If all you care about are streaming services, though, there's no need to consider the Mini.

The TiVo Mini is an easy way to extend most of the TiVo experience to another room without buying another DVR. TiVo probably shouldn't have bothered with a monthly service fee and just made the Mini $200 with lifetime service, but in the end, its pricing isn't entirely out of line. And, if you live with someone who won't stand to see another big, ugly DVR cluttering up another space in your home, this is a simple alternative. Just make sure you plan on remaining committed to the TiVo ecosystem for the next few years before you plunk down your money.

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