TiVo Stream review: TiVo Stream
If you're a TiVo user looking for a strong reason to buy an iPad or vice versa, the TiVo Stream is it.
The TiVo Stream is another step in the company's continued push to make its DVRs more of a whole-home solution.
The Stream, a tiny box that measures 4 inches wide by 4 inches deep by 1 inch high and weighs just 4.8 ounces, lets you stream recorded and live TV from your TiVo DVR to an iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch via TiVo's iOS app. It can also be used to wirelessly download programs straight to your iOS devices. (An updated Android app to work with the Stream is in the works.) And this is all done without interrupting what's playing on your TV.
It works with TiVo Premiere, TiVo Premiere XL, TiVo Premiere 4, and TiVo Premiere XL4 (previously Premiere Elite) models, perhaps giving owners of older TiVo DVRs a reason to upgrade. Then again, at about $130, it's not quite an impulse buy or an inexpensive add-on.
If you've already got a TiVo Premiere set up, then getting the TiVo Stream up and running won't take long at all. About the biggest hiccup you might have is if your TiVo doesn't have a wired network connection either to your router or via a MoCA adapter (the Premiere 4 and XL4 have built-in MoCA support). Both the DVR and Stream need to have a wired connection.
The only jacks you'll find on the device are an Ethernet port and power input on back. Connect an Ethernet cable (one's included) to your router or MoCA adapter and the other end to the Stream, plug it in, and you're all connected. A small white light on back starts blinking, and once it finds your TiVo, it turns solid.
Next, you open the TiVo for iOS app (it'll need to be up-to-date) and it should start the process of connecting the Stream to your iOS device (running iOS 5.1 or later). You do have to activate the Stream through your TiVo account before it can be linked, and you may need to enter the TiVo service number for the Stream and the media access key for your TiVo. It runs through a series of checks, and if all's well, that's it, you're done.
The TiVo Stream's primary feature is streaming recorded programming from your TiVo DVR to an iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch. This is done wirelessly, of course, so you need to have a decent signal to stream smoothly.
From the My Shows section of the TiVo app, you can see everything recorded on your TiVo Premiere DVR. Pick a show that is already recorded or one that's in the process of recording, and tap Watch Now. You'll then be given a choice of watching on TV or your device (in my case, a first-gen iPad).
After a little bit of buffering, the video will start playing. Once a show is playing you can touch the screen once to access the player features. The Trickplay Bar along the bottom will allow you to scrub forward and back, and you've also got a 30-second skip, an 8-second replay button, and a volume control. Just as in other sections of the app, there are gestures for the 30-second skip (slide finger to right) and 8-second replay (slide finger to left).
Record and watch
Want to stream something that's currently on? The TiVo Stream can handle that, too. Pick a show you want to watch in the guide and, again, tap on Watch Now and select your device. After a few seconds the program will start playing.
It takes a little longer simply because the TiVo has to start recording the program before it can start streaming. It still only requires one tap to start the process, but because it has to start recording every time you want to watch something, it's not great for channel surfing. Plus, you could potentially end up with a bunch of little recordings to go back and delete.
However, if you frequently find yourself wanting to watch a second screen while the main one is otherwise occupied, it's a nice feature to have.
Download shows to go
Being able to transfer programs off a TiVo isn't new; the company's $24.95 Desktop Plus software for Windows has long allowed you to do that and more. (Roxio Toast Titanium software is its Mac counterpart.) The process is arduous, though, requiring the program to be transferred to a computer first, converted to a format that'll play on your device, and then sideloaded onto the device. The first two can be automated if it's a series you're recording, but otherwise it's not terribly convenient.
The Stream basically takes this down to two steps: select a show and tap "Download." Everything is done wirelessly on the fly, so there are no cables or computers involved at all. The app gives you a choice of quality and lets you know the approximate time it will take to complete, but once it starts, you need do nothing but wait.
Once a download starts you can view its progress under the My Shows tab, which is now split into two sections, On DVR and On iPad (or whatever device you're on). If you're downloading multiple shows you can edit the queue to prioritize the list. TiVo says a half-hour show takes less than 8 minutes, while an hour-long show takes about 15 minutes. In my tests it took about 5 minutes longer than those times, but this is going to vary with network speeds and whatever else the TiVo is trying to do, such as stream to other devices.
In all, it's a great experience, but it seems like it should do more. For example, you can't set it up to automatically download when a new show in a series is recorded. You also can't set it to download an entire folder of shows, such as a series you've recorded but haven't watched; you need to individually select each episode to download.
Also, downloading and converting understandably requires a lot power, and you have to stay in the TiVo app while it's doing its thing or else the download gets paused. You'll probably want to keep your device plugged in if you're doing a lot of transfers.
Lastly, as is the case with the desktop software, you can only download Copy Freely content to your device. For the most part that means no premium-channel recordings such as shows from HBO or Showtime.
The TiVo Stream isn't a necessity -- especially at $130 -- but it's a very cool addition if you've already got an iOS device. (Needless to say, if you're an Android user, you should probably wait till the app support is available before buying.) The wireless downloading is certainly nice, but the ability to have a mobile second screen comes in handy more than you might think.