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Is Tivo's new Roamio OTA DVR a cord-cutter's dream?

This $50 DVR connects to an antenna so you can watch and record broadcast shows—like Aereo, but it's legal

Published: August 25, 2014 05:15 PM
Tivo's new Roamio OTA DVR costs only $50, but charges a $15 monthly susbcription fee.

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If you're a current or potential cord-cutter who's been lamenting the loss of Aereo's ability to record over-the-air TV signals, there's soon going to be another option: the TiVo Roamio OTA DVR, a $50 box that's designed to work exclusively with an antenna. Initially, the new TiVo will be sold only in select Best Buy stores starting Sept. 14.

Unlike other Roamio boxes, the Roamio OTA has no cable-card slot, so you can't get cable TV signals. Instead, you connect an HD antenna to receive and record over-the-air broadcast signals. You'll also get a two-week programming guide, plus access to streaming services such as Amazon, Netflix, Hulu Plus, and YouTube, provided you have a broadband connection.

The box is cheap, just $50—$150 less than the regular TiVo Roamio cable DVR—but you have to pay a $15 per month subscription fee, with a minimum one-year commitment. Unlike the other TiVos, this has no lifetime subscription option, which usually works out better if you expect to use the DVR for at least three or four years.

Looking for a great TV antenna? Check out our report on some of the top-selling indoor models.

But the Roamio OTA DVR comes with a 500GB hard drive, capable of recording 75 hours of shows in HD, and it can record up to four shows at once. You can connect the Roamio OTA to other TiVo DVRs and Minis for multiroom streaming, and it's compatible with TiVo Stream (a $130 option) for streaming shows to your iPad and iPhone.

Like other TiVos, the Roamio OTA can integrate live TV and streaming services in its search. And it will also offer recommendations based on the programs you've previously recorded.

But is it a good deal? Not especially. TiVo has always stood out for its intuitive, easy-to-use interface, and certainly the lower price for the hardware makes the Roamio OTA DVR worth considering. But the $15 recurring monthly fee, with no lifetime option, may make it less enticing to those looking to cut their TV service bills. There are also other options, ranging from the Channel Master DVR+ to Nuvyyo Tablo, which have a higher initial hardware cost but a lower—or no—subscription fee. We haven't yet tested the Roamio OTA DVR, but we expect that it will be a worthwhile option mainly for those able and willing to pay a bit more for it.

And if you're looking for a new antenna to get free over-the-air reception, make sure you check out our special report on indoor antennas.

—James K. Willcox

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