Twelve months after shipping its long-awaited Roamio DVRs, TiVo has now released a recorder targeted solely at cord-cutters: the Roamio OTA.
The most remarkable thing about this product is the upfront price: only $50, currently a $120 savings over the previous entry-level Roamio. The catch? You still have to pay the same $15/month TiVo service fee -- and there's no "lifetime" option.
As the name indicates, the only way the Roamio OTA can receive TV channels is over the air, connected to an antenna. Unlike other Roamios, it lacks the ability to accept a CableCard and thus won't work with cable TV. Otherwise it still offers the same experience, with access to streaming services and the superb TiVo interface and guide.
Apart from an "OTA" written alongside "TiVo Roamio" on its front, the hardware is externally the same, including the same number of external inputs, including the eSATA port for adding extra storage. Internally, the specs are also mostly identical with a 500GB hard drive and four tuners (and if you can find four things you want to record simultaneously on over-the-air TV, you, sir or madam, are a certified TV addict). Of course, you also get the same upgraded peanut remote.
One of the best features, carried over from the Roamio, is Tivo's search, which integrates results from both the TV guide and the various streaming services. While you still have the option to record new instances of "Brad Pitt," for example, whenever he appears on an OTA broadcast, you also have the option of watching him instantly via Netflix, Amazon Instant, or Hulu Plus.
As with the standard Roamio, the Roamio OTA lacks the built-in capability (found in step-up Roamios) to stream or download recorded programs to an iOS or (soon) Android device inside and/or outside your home network. You can add remote streaming functionality by purchasing the $130 (USD) TiVo Stream, however. The TiVo Roamio OTA will also work with a TiVo Mini ($85 + fees), allowing you share the antenna connection and recorded shows with other TVs within the home.
Where they get you
The bad news, as always with TiVo, is the service charge. It's still $14.99 a month with a 12-month commitment. Even worse, the Roamio OTA is the sole current-generation TiVo that lacks a "lifetime" subscription option; you'll be paying that charge for as long as you keep the unit.
Given that those other Roamios require far more robust guides to handle cable, also cost $14.99 a month, and offer a lifetime option, this does seem a rather stiff charge. Also, remember there is no way to upgrade the Roamio OTA to handle cable without buying a new TiVo box.
Total cost of ownership
Channel Master DVR+
TiVo Roamio OTA
As usual, it pays to get the lifetime subscription if you plan to keep a device for more than a couple of years. Factoring in subscription fees and accessories (like antennas and the external hard drives required for some devices), the Roamio OTA is the second-most-expensive cable-free DVR on the market after three years.
And if you keep it for three years and six months or longer, it actually becomes the most expensive, passing the standard cable-compatible TiVo Roamio. Suddenly, that $50 upfront price doesn't seem like such a hot deal.
TiVo is calling this product a "limited edition" at this point, and it sounds like the company is testing the waters for its popularity. The Roamio OTA will be available at "select Best Buy stores in select markets from mid-September," and the company says it anticipates selling the product via BestBuy.com in October.
As with the standard Roamio, the Roamio OTA should offer the best over-the-air DVR experience for cable cutters, but the relatively high monthly charge and the lack of a lifetime option are big disincentives. If you're looking to save money in the long run, the fee-free Channel Master DVR+ is probably your best option.
Look out for our full review of the Roamio OTA DTR very soon.