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Editors' note, October 28, 2015: This review has been updated to reflect software and pricing changes to the Mini over time.
With "TiVo" being synonymous with "DVR," it would not be unreasonable to assume the TiVo Mini is a small DVR. It isn't one.
Instead, the Mini is another part of the company's whole-home viewing experience, joining the TiVo Stream, which streams your recorded content on iOS devices.
Similar to the Stream, the Mini feeds off of a TiVo Premiere 4 or XL4 DVR, TiVo Roamio DVR or TiVo Bolt. Connect the Mini to a secondary TV and to your home network, and you'll have access to live and recorded TV, video-on-demand services (for Comcast Xfinity and Cox customers, at least), and other broadband-delivered content through the main DVR.
Basically, it gives you a chunk of TiVo DVR functionality without the need to buy an additional DVR and pay for additional services or equipment from your cable provider. But, like all things TiVo, it comes with a list of caveats.
One of the nicest things about the Mini is that getting it up and running is simple and doesn't require any calls to a cable provider. The TiVo Mini needs three connections: power, network and audio/video. Power is handled by a fairly small wall wart, and HDMI is used for AV (component and composite connections are available, too, but require a breakout cable with a 3.5mm plug).
Connecting to your network can be done over a MoCA connection (Multimedia over Coax Alliance) or Ethernet; MoCA, which uses your home's coax cable to stream between devices, is preferred and support is built into both the DVR and the Mini.
The TiVo DVR needs a wired Ethernet connection to your router as well as a connection to your home's coaxial wiring. If your router is nowhere near your TiVo DVR, you'll need to connect a MoCA network adapter to your DSL or cable modem (unless, of course, you have MoCA support built into your modem). You could also use a power line adapter, but, again, MoCA is preferable since it gives you a fatter pipe to meet the high-bandwidth requirements for streaming live TV. Wireless is not an option for live TV or anything else.
The Mini is controlled with a standard TiVo peanut remote that is included with the box. There is also a USB port, which can be used to add TiVo's Slide Bluetooth remote, or, should you decide to hide the box behind your TV, an IR extender. There are mounting holes on the bottom, so it can easily be attached to a wall. If you're looking to extend your TiVo experience into a bedroom or other space where you don't want a large DVR, the Mini is a way to do that.
Once connected, the Mini finds the TiVo DVRs on your network. Then, you point it to the one you want to attach to. Each DVR can support up to 10 Mini boxes at a time. However, for each Mini, you have to surrender a tuner on the host DVR for watching live TV, which means you lose it for recording.
In other words, if two Mini boxes are in use for streaming live TV, you'll be able to record only two programs at the same time with the Premiere 4/XL4 or Bolt or four shows with a Roamio Plus or Pro. For Roamio DVRs the tuners can be released if not in use for streaming live TV to a Mini. However, using a Premiere 4/XL4 with a Mini requires a tuner be constantly dedicated. So, while Roamio and Bolt DVRs can continue to record on all four or six tuners when not in use by a Mini, Premiere 4/XL DVRs will only be able to record on two or three of its tuners regardless of whether the Mini is in use for live TV streaming.
Again, the Mini isn't a DVR, so it doesn't have its own storage. But, it sort of eliminates the need for multiple DVRs since it can control a tuner for watching live TV and setting things to record. You also have full access to your recorded programs, so you can start watching something in one room and then finish it in another. All without paying any fees to your cable provider for additional services or equipment like a CableCard.
The other benefit is that you get access to TiVo's supply of on-demand apps. The selection continues to grow, but at the moment this includes Netflix, Amazon Instant Video with Prime, Hulu Plus, YouTube, Yahoo, Aol On, Vudu, Plex, Web Video Hotlist and HSN for video; Spotify, iHeartRadio and Pandora for music; and PhotoBucket and Google Picasa for photos. And, if you're a Comcast Xfinity or Cox subscriber, you'll have access to On Demand content 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, which is to say they take about 5 to 8 seconds, 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.
There are a few things missing from the interface compared with the DVR's, such as a live viewing window while you're in TiVo Central. 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.
The TiVo Mini is $150 with lifetime service. Originally, the Mini was $100 with a recurring service fee or the option to pay an additional $150 for lifetime service. At the time, TiVo defended the subscription fee by saying that it was required to maintain the quality experience important to TiVo users. That sentiment clearly didn't translate to its subscribers or potential buyers as TiVo has since rolled the service fee into the Mini's price.
|TiVo Bolt + TiVo Mini||DirecTV Genie HD DVR + Genie Mini||Dish Network Hopper with Sling + Joey||Time Warner Enhanced Whole House DVR & Service||Xfinity X1 HD DVR + HD extender||AT&T U-verse DVR + receiver||Verizon Fios Quantum TV Enhanced|
|DVR price||$299 (500GB)/ $399 (1TB)||$299||$199||Lease only||Lease only||Lease only||Lease only|
|Extender price||$149||$99||$99 (free to new subscribers)||Lease only||Lease only||Lease only||Lease only|
|Monthly service||$14.99 (after first year of service)||$15 + $13||$7 for Joey + $12 DVR fee||$22.50||$19.90 + $19.95 DVR fee||$9 for receiver + $10 HD fee||$44|
|Number of HD recording hours||75/150||200||500||150||75||155||100|
|Number of simultaneous recordings||4||5||3 (up to 6 during prime-time hours)||6||4||4||6|
|Number of simultaneous streams to extenders||3||5||3||4||3||7||5|
|Live TV streams supported||Yes||Yes||3||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Start/delete recordings from any TV||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||No||Yes||Yes|
|Broadband apps available to all components||Netflix, Amazon Instant/Prime, Vudu, Yahoo, YouTube, Hulu Plus (coming soon), AoL On, Plex, Pandora, Spotify, iHeartRadio, more||YouTube, Pandora, weather, sports||Netflix, Pandora, Facebook, Vevo, MLB Network, Weather Channel, MSNBC, SiriusXM||None||Traffic, weather, sports, Facebook, Pandora||Facebook, Multiview, weather, Media Share (DLNA), Food Network, NBA stats, more||None|
|On demand to extender||Xfinity, Cox subscribers (in select areas)||Yes (requires Cinema Connection kit)||Yes||No||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Stream to computers, mobile devices||Yes (in-home to computers, out-of-home to mobile devices; iOS and Android supported)||Yes (in-home and out-of-home streaming; iOS and Android supported; requires $99 GenieGo device)||Yes (iOS and Android support)||Yes (in-home computers, iOS and Android devices, and Roku devices)||Yes (in-home and out-of-home streaming; iOS and Android supported)||No||Yes (in-home and out-of-home streaming; iOS and Android supported)|
|4K support||Yes, streaming content only (for TiVo Bolt only, not Mini)||Yes (DirecTV 4K-ready TV required)||No||No||No||No||No|
As you can see in the chart above, the TiVo Bolt and Mini package is competitive. 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. However, 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. Have Verizon and want to switch to Comcast? No problem, just get a new CableCard from your provider of choice.
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. If you or someone you live with won't stand to see another big, ugly DVR cluttering up another space in your home, this is a simple alternative.