The Curious TiVo Roamio OTA


The new TiVo Roamio OTA is a curious beast, In fact, we’ve fielded more questions on it than any other product the DVR pioneer has released in recent years.

Unlike TiVo’s prior attempt at targeting cord cutters, instead of lowering services fees on existing hardware, this time around they’re dropping box cost. The prior base 4-tuner cable/OTA Roamio runs $200 (MSRP), whereas the Roamio OTA clocks in at a mere $50. And, according to The Verge, the only physical differences may be limited to an empty CableCARD compartment… now that we’ve confirmed the Roamio OTA will indeed stream to TiVo Mini extenders and WiFi is present. And, with that in mind, the hardware likely costs TiVo more than $50 to market, manufacturer, and support – hence the requisite $15 monthly fee… which, depending on length of ownership, flips to TiVo’s benefit at some point (as there’s no way “guide data” runs double Netflix’s content licensing). Related, TiVo has made the business decision to exclude the Roamio OTA for Lifetime Service.

Assuming you’re OK with the monthly fee, TiVo remains the best retail DVR — not that they have many competitors. And, the ability to add extenders at $150/pop with the potential of other end points, moves it well ahead of the Channel Master DVR+. Plus, as the box advertises, the Best Buy exclusive Roamio OTA is indeed a “Streaming Player” for a handful of over-the-top services including Netflix and Pandora… with Amazon and Vudu arriving later this fall. However, for cord cutters on a budget, a used Lifetimed 2-tuner TiVo Premiere remains the best deal in town … given a massive, recent software update bringing Roamio parity.

33 thoughts on “The Curious TiVo Roamio OTA”

  1. I assume there are cord cutters who would pay up for more premium features including larger hard drive, MoCA bridge, and streaming capabilities. Sadly, those are currently restricted to cable-only 6-tuner Roamio Pro/Plus boxes.

  2. No question Roamio is superior to Premiere on a number of levels including snappiness, reception, and tuner count, but for folks on a budget with decent reception and no need for extenders, the used Premiere is a steal. In fact, I have a 2-tuner Premiere collecting dust in the basement going on two years now – I should probably try to get in on that $99 Lifetime dealio and resell it.

  3. The monthly fee, while high if you think you’re just paying for guide data, would still cut my Dish bill for the Welcome Pack, 1 Hopper, and 1 Joey from $46/month to $15/month. If I add in Hulu Plus to get a couple of shows I’d miss on Comedy Central, I’m still cutting my bill in half. While this may not be as good a deal over 3+ years as lifetime, it is still a good deal compared to any pay TV options I have. The service fee also pays for several software updates per year which often include new features to make the Tivo experience better as well as bug fixes. Finally, the Roamio OTA includes (or soon will include) access to all of the major streaming services, so you don’t have to switch inputs just to watch Netflix like I currently do with my Dish setup. I hope Tivo sells a ton of these. It will make them a bunch of money while sending a message to the pay TV providers that enough is enough with the fee increases.

  4. Thinking about selling my 2TB Premiere & picking up a Roamio OTA for the 2 extra tuners, better OTA tuner sensitivity, plus speed, plus longer future update cycle.

    As for “will never offer lifetime,” well, a nice CSR sold me lifetime on the above Premiere for $99 after it had been on the $9.95/month plan for only a little over 2 years.

  5. Would be tempting to upgrade from my TivoHD which is on an annual contract, however spouse would not go for the increase in cost ($129/yr vs. $15/mo). Plus, I really don’t have much need for more than two tuners.

  6. How do you get in on the $99 deal? I have an un-subbed Premiere XL collecting dust as well (along with a lifetimed S3 with a dead HDD).

  7. I am softening on this product. I am always going to be critical of monthly versus lifetime service, but with all the benefits, it is a good product.

  8. “And, with that in mind, the hardware likely costs TiVo more than $50 to market, manufacturer, and support – hence the requisite $15 monthly fee… which, depending on length of ownership, flips to TiVo’s benefit at some point (as there’s no way “guide data” runs double Netflix’s content licensing). ”

    This is an odd review. You point out positives of the box but the box likely costs more than $50?!! Just the cost of parts (HD, CPU, DRAM, NVRAM, motherboard, power supply, box enclosure has to be close to $50. Then Pace builds the box, tests it and ground ships it to TiVo. Adding shipping & handling along with Pace profit. We haven’t even gotten to TiVo yet and it’s marketing, S+H and overhead costs (600 employees salaries).

    And TiVo has to pay up front for box costs and then wait as the money slowly comes in at $15 a month. Borrowing money up front has costs associated with it. The DVR market margins are about as attractive as the consumer PC market.

    Then the review ends recommending a used 2 tuner Premiere? Sometimes I wonder why TiVo even bothers with cord cutters if they really have no money (college kids).

    And Netflix’s business model only works at $9 when it has 50 million users and growing since the growth outpaces the fixed content outlay. This is the Achilles heel of Netflix according to analysts who are bullish on the company.

  9. Bryan,

    TiVo builds it’s own boxes through contract manufacturing in Mexico. It doesn’t impact your analysis too much.

    I suspect they the Roamio OTA costs Tivo around $200 – $250 from a SAC perspective which includes hardware subsidy and sales and marketing.

    At $15/mo, I suspect a new subscriber turns revenue positive for the company in year 2.

    Also, TiVo has essentially zero debt although they have recently visited the credit markets to build a low interest cash balance and buy back more shares.

    If TiVo can acquire retail subs at $15/mo with this sort of equation the economics are very attractive over the typical lifetime of a subscriber.

  10. Bryan10024, not a review by any stretch, just stepping through the permutations. Most consumers don’t care about TiVo’s costs; they only care about their costs. And for those comfortable with perpetual $15 fee, the Roamio OTA is a solid option – in fact, I called it “the “best” (now that we know Mini is supported). My Premiere point is specific to the Haxe rewrite – it’s suddenly a compelling platform, which happens to be economical for those on a tight budget and/or opposed to fees.

    If I were a cord cutter evaluating the Roamio OTA, the lack of Lifetime would irk me. I’d rather pay a bunch up front and not have to think about it again. More importantly, I’d possess a tangible asset that I could later flip when the next thing comes out. Wonder if I’d hedge and spend a $100 more upfront on the more multi-purpose cable/OTA Roamio … and Lifetime it.

    The bigger concern may be there’s just a limited market for DVR. A lot of folks still operate by appointment TV… and can catch up on much via Hulu. I know in 2014 most of my “television” content is provided via Netflix and Amazon Instant.

  11. I don’t understand the bit about the Mini working. I thought TiVo specifically said it didn’t. Also, does it require a TiVo Stream to enable the Mini, like like the basic Roamio model?

  12. @bbock, There was some confusion between engineering, the CSRs and marketing but they’ve since cleared it up and officially stated the OTA supports the mini as well as offers wifi. I’m not sure where you heard that you needed a TiVo Stream to support a mini with the basic Roamio model, but this isn’t true. It supports the mini out of the box with built in hardware. What it doesn’t have is the stream built in like the upgraded plus and pro models do. That’s what may be confusing you.

  13. budgreen, many folks on the TiVo Community forum report being able to add Lifetime to Premieres for $99. I don’t know the exact criteria – something to with age and length of sub and/or lapse. Best thing to do is call in and see what they can do for you. I should probably hop on that as well.

  14. Guess I will add my 2 cents. I have been using the base Roamio for OTA only for a full year now. It is a great OTA DVR. I also have a Premiere, TiVo HD, & Series 3 all also only used for OTA. All my TiVos have lifetime so I am partial to that. The 3 older TiVos are not used much any more and are unplugged much of the time. With the software updates the Premiere is much better than it was but it still has tuner issues that the other TiVos do not. If someone just wants a DVR (no streaming) I have lots of good things to say about the TiVo HD & Series 3, if you are in an area where reception isn’t an issue the Premiere would be a good OTA DVR.

    But the bottom line is the Roamio is just better in every way. If you want to pay monthly this new offering is a great deal, if you want lifetime the base Roamio with lifetime can be had in the $550-600 ranch and is worth it in my opinion (I paid $590).

  15. The Tivo OTA is a great move by Tivo. Sure, the “smart” money will say that the lifetime is a better deal, but that isn’t how the American consumer works.

    Just take a look at smartphones … and how many people are on the 2 year carrier subsidized contracts in the US versus the prepaid model (or Tmobile or Ting). Few people understand that the cost of a Galaxy S5 is not $199 (but rather $600+). Further, if people did have to pay out of pocket for smartphones, I guarantee the 2 year treadmill would slow down and there would be fewer sales of high end smartphone (people would upgrade less often or purchase a lower priced device).

    Cutting the upfront by Tivo to $50 is a good move… maybe a great one.

  16. Yeah, there are definitely some mobile parallels here. But after one or two years, you can still sell a smartphone for decent money whereas an unsubscribed lower end TiVo typically has limited resale value. But you’re probably right most folks don’t think it thru and can’t/won’t fund something larger upfront – lowering the cost of entry is TiVo’s strategy to expand their footprint. I do wonder if $99 hardware and $9.99/month might be more palatable. I suppose time will tell… not that TiVo would ever breakdown this approach or subset of hardware. All we know for sure is defectors still generally outpace new subscribers and the company is willing to experiment with new approaches like this Roamio OTA and dropping Mini service fees (for at least a time) – I applaud their desire and ability to switch it up.

  17. I know that the magic price point for me was the $9.99 per month for the OTA only programming guide. When I cut the cord I didn’t want my family to miss having a DVR and on screen programming guide so a $100 Premiere and a $40 slide remote was just the ticket. I was pleasantly surprised when TiVo allowed me to upgrade to the Roamio and keep my $9.99 monthly programming guide. If TiVo keeps letting me upgrade hardware and keep my $9.99 dealio, I don’t really care about lifetime. Also, now that Amazon Instant Video is on the horizon, Tivo just might own input 1.

  18. I just want to remind people that this isn’t the first time TiVo has tried low upfront costs. With the Premiere there where several points where TiVo offered it for “free” with a $20/mo service cost and a 2 year commitment which was a $480 comment by the purchaser. With this offer the purchaser is only committing to paying $50 + $180 = $230 which seems like it will hardly cover costs – I guess TiVo is banking on most people continuing past the 1 year commitment. Will be interesting to see if they do a zero down offer with the base Roamio at some point or it they have decided that a service fee beyond $15/mo just isn’t acceptable to people.

  19. atmusky, they’re still doing that – one reader received a seasonal promo with those sorts of rates a week or so ago (which I’m going to try to dig up in my email) and similar is available for military right now as well:

    Update: Found the August promo (which appears to still be in effect) – $0 down for Roamio and $20/month with a two year commitment.

  20. Dave: Interesting that they are trying the zero down again with $20/mo service. Cost comparison for various 24 months options is interesting:

    OTA Roamio: $50 + ($15*24) = $410
    Zero Down Base Roamio: $20 * 24 = $480
    Base Roamio Full price: $200 + ($15 * 24) = $560

    So for an OTA user not wanting to pay for lifetime up front this OTA Roamio is a pretty good deal. I am assuming none of the units would have much value after 24 months without lifetime.

  21. “TiVo builds it’s own boxes through contract manufacturing in Mexico.”

    @Sam – Interesting. So where does Pace Plc come into this? Does Pace just help TiVo with design & development of the box? And I assume TiVo also contract manufactures the Mini and Stream?

  22. TiVo has a deal with Pace to place TiVo software only on some of Pace’s MSO boxes… Pace boxes have some nice features that reduce the total cost of ownership for MSOs including embedded DOCSIS modems and other management features. From a retail / TiVo-Owned perspective, TiVo builds all (e.g., Roamio, Mini, and Stream) of their retail boxes in Mexico. In TiVo’s most recent quarter, the company had about $16 million in inventory which includes contract manufacturing commitments.

  23. So the Roamio OTA is something more than an experiment… Based on Sam’s coverage at Seeking Alpha, it appears the future emphasis of TiVo’s retail business will be cord cutters:

    “There are 15 million or so consumers that don’t subscribe to cable or satellite. A few tenths of a percent could be very meaningful to our retail business.”

    Regarding retail in general:

    “We think it’s something that isn’t the main driver of our business but it is something that people could give a lot more value than they are giving it today.”

    Wouldn’t be surprised to see them change up Roamio OTA pricing at some point. Related, it’s interesting that the free/bundled Mini service expires in January – wonder what they’ll have learned and what may or may not happen at that time.

  24. Well I have been an OTA only TiVo user for over 6 years now. I have purchased a TiVo HD, Series 3, Premiere, and Roamio all for OTA only use. I have also said that a good OTA DVR should be the core of a “cord cutters” setup and a TiVo has always been the best option. The Roamio is a superior product and there is significant untapped market if TiVo can find the right price point.

  25. Where are the TIVO Roamio OTA units?
    Best Buy store in SE Michigan are clueless. TIVO website keeps updating their site saying Best BUy has them.
    Calling several BB in the last TWO weeks, no clue.
    Don’t try calling TIVO, they insist BB has them. Worst fail ever for BB and TIVO.

  26. I had to make a couple trips to Best Buy to order one (should be in 4 days from today). The guy in the TV department was an arrogant ass who told me that they had no way to get it in stock and the the TiVo CSR who told me I had to go to Best Buy was misinformed. I left sad.

    According to a post on Reddit you have to talk to someone at the Customer Service desk. That was a dead end (at my local Denver, CO store). As a last ditch effort I went to the In Store Pick Up counter where the rep had no idea what the TiVo Roamio OTA was and was willing to type the SKU into the computer and let me pay for it and said it will arrive at the store in 4 days.

    As BB has awful customer service, I can’t say if this will work for you, but it did (hopefully) work for me.

    In short…
    * The SKU is… 8758098
    * Talk to someone who hasn’t heard of it, so they can’t tell you they don’y have it. In my case the In Store Pick Up counter.

  27. Experimenting with cutting the cord. My Series 3 HDXL works well but is only 2 tuners and doesn’t stream. So I bought a Roamio OTA today. Its reception RF sensitivity is definitely lower. It studders and pixelates where the HDXL did not. For example signal strength for CBS is 50 vs 63 for the HDXL. I may have to return it… will keep experimenting. :(

  28. The roamio OTA is available directly from best buy on ebay at $49.99 as of 10/24/2014. Tivo offered in writing via a chat the 30 day money back warranty despite best buy’s 15 day return policy. Tivo agent provided a phone number for the return directly to tivo beyond the 15 day BB return policy.

    Agent also said boxes shipping with the amazon prime instant streaming included with the current software and updates are going out to those with out this currently.

  29. If it records over the air, what is the $15 monthly service charge for? I don’t care about bells and whistles, I just want to record my TV shows in HD. I don’t have access to high
    speed Internet (3 mbs is it) nor cable. It should be better than a standard def DVD recorder, but not for $15 / month for ever. Just saying.

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