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TiVo Roamio OTA review: Great cord-cutting antenna-only DVR, but way too costly

The TiVo Roamio OTA is an excellent DVR, but its monthly fee structure makes it too expensive for people cutting the cable cord. The standard TiVo Roamio is a better choice overall.

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Ty Pendlebury
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Ty Pendlebury

Editor

Ty Pendlebury is a journalism graduate of RMIT Melbourne, and has worked at CNET since 2006. He lives in New York City where he writes about streaming and home audio.

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4 min read

Twelve months after shipping its long-awaited Roamio DVRs , TiVo has now released a recorder targeted solely at cord cutters: the Roamio OTA.

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7.1

TiVo Roamio OTA

The Good

The TiVo Roamio is an exceptionally polished DVR for recording free over-the-air TV. The interface is excellent and intuitive, making it dead simple to record shows and series exactly the way you'd like. It has built-in Wi-Fi and a 500GB hard drive. The superb remote works via RF, so you can hide the box behind a cabinet. And the hardware itself is compact, sleek and silent.

The Bad

Despite the $50 upfront cost, the Roamio OTA becomes expensive when you add in subscription costs -- and because it sorely lacks a lifetime option, you'll pay subscription fees forever. It's not compatible with CableCard, so unlike with the standard TiVo Roamio you can't choose to upgrade to cable service later. And there should be more streaming services at this price, like HBO Go, Vudu and a fully functioning Amazon Instant app.

The Bottom Line

TiVo Roamio OTA is an excellent DVR, but its monthly fee structure makes it too expensive for people cutting the cable cord. The standard TiVo Roamio is a better choice overall for cord cutters.

The Roamio OTA is virtually identical to the standard TiVo Roamio with the only difference being that it won't accept a CableCard. As a result, the only way the Roamio OTA can receive TV channels is over the air, connected to an antenna. Otherwise it still offers the same experience, with access to streaming services and the superb TiVo interface and guide.

The most remarkable thing about this product is the upfront price: only $50, currently a $120 savings over the standard Roamio. The catch? You still have to pay the same $15/month TiVo service fee -- and there's no "lifetime" option.

Especially for cord cutters, a fee-averse group by nature, it's difficult to see how the Roamio OTA makes sense versus the standard Roamio with a lifetime subscription. The standard Roamio will cost you less in the long run if you buy a lifetime plan, and promotions like the $0 upfront deal going on now make it an even better value. The standard Roamio also lets you add cable later if you realize cutting the cord has all been a horrible mistake.

Apart from the pricing -- which TiVo is wont to change at any time -- the OTA is just as recommendable as its Roamio counterpart. It offers great search, operational simplicity and access to a host of streaming services. It's just a poor value at the moment.

For an in-depth look at the virtually identical TiVo Roamio, watch our First Take video.

Editors' note (April 27, 2016): TiVo has announced an updated version of the Roamio with a larger 1TB hard disk and a price of $399 that requires no additional monthly TiVo service fees. We'll update this review soon to reflect those changes (and compare it to the newer TiVo Bolt), but it seems to largely eliminate the cost issues mentioned in the review below.

TiVo Roamio Pro
Sarah Tew/CNET

Same great design and features

Apart from an "OTA" written alongside "TiVo Roamio" on its front, the hardware is externally the same, including the same number of connections, even 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.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

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.

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Matthew Moskovciak/CNET

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 Android device inside and/or outside your home network. You can add remote streaming functionality by purchasing the $130 TiVo Stream , however.

Note that the TiVo Roamio OTA will not work with a TiVo Mini , although the standard TiVo Roamio will.

Though the device doesn't support CableCard, frustratingly there are still multiple mentions of it within the TiVo interface and the model we received still had a (disabled) CableCard slot.

Great OTA performance

We put the Roamio OTA through its paces for two weeks in a Manhattan apartment and it performed just as well as the standard Roamio for recording over-the-air programs. We received all of the major networks (CBS, NBC, Fox and ABC) as well as PBS and a handful of other stations. Your reception might vary considerably, depending on your location, antenna and a host of other factors, including the weather.

We called the standard Roamio the gold standard for DVRs, and the OTA deserves that accolade too. Its polished, friendly design, reliability and wealth of recording options simply trounce competitors on everyday usability. All of the little things TiVo does right -- the excellent remote, Season Pass management, 30-second skip, the responsive interface -- add up to make the TV watching experience seamless. It's a luxury to sit down and watch TV without having to think twice about your DVR, and yet...

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+TabloSimple.TV 2TiVo RoamioTiVo Roamio OTA
Hardware $250$220$200$170$50
Accessories $145$105$136$50$50
Subscription fees $0$150 (lifetime)$150 (lifetime)$500 (lifetime)$15/mo






3-year cost $395$475$486$720$640
4-year cost $395$475$486$720$820

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.

Conclusion

As with the standard Roamio, the Roamio OTA offers the best over-the-air DVR experience for cord 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 short term, the fee-free Channel Master DVR+ is probably your best option. And if you're a cord cutter who simply wants the best OTA experience, the standard Roamio is the way to go.

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7.1

TiVo Roamio OTA

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 7Performance 10Value 4