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

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8

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.

7.1 Overall
  • Design 9
  • Features 7
  • Performance 10
  • Value 4

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

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.

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.

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.