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TiVo Roamio makes cable and satellite programs mobile

By Kevin Hunt
Chicago Tribune

TiVo isn’t exactly breaking up with its longtime partner, the household television, but it now has permission to pursue other relationships.

TiVo’s new Roamio digital video recorders take cable or satellite programming out of the home and into the world of Apple devices – and later this year to Androids.

Users watch live or recorded shows by downloading a free TiVo app and connecting to a wireless network. This feature is available on the Roamio Plus DVR ($400) and the Roamio Pro ($600). The base-model Roamio ($200) needs a TiVo Stream adapter for mobile streaming.

TiVo says streaming via 4G/LTE wireless service will be coming, too. TiVo owners/subscribers also pay $14.99 a month or $500 for lifetime service.

TiVo, playing catch-up in luring mobile users, now answers Dish Network’s all-in Sling and cable companies’ limited, in-home-only viewing apps.

Sling, however, has no programming restrictions: What’s available in the home is viewable on the road. Roamio has a few exclusions, most notably premium channels such as HBO and Showtime. Cable’s mobile apps typically offer no major networks or premium channels and nothing beyond the subscriber’s in-home wireless network.

In an audition that started just before the service was introduced in October, Roamio proved not as good as Sling and oddly deficient even with a potent wireless network. .

A morning at a local coffee shop with the TiVo and Sling apps and a third, for lowly cable users (Monsoon Multimedia’s Vulkano), showed the differences between the streamers.

The shop’s Wi-Fi checked in at a fully caffeinated 16.39 megabits per second, comparable to a home network powered by a cable model. So speed was not a problem. Yet poor Dr. Phil looked washed out and a little hazy on my iPad, as if maybe he should have called in sick.

Over at CNN, the “Newsroom” crew looked equally hazy, and type in the endless crawl at the bottom of the screen was barely legible.

With Sling, NBA highlights on ESPN “SportsCenter” were an obvious upgrade in picture quality.

Roamio’s “live” showings are actually recorded to the user’s TiVo, with an option to record directly to the mobile device for superior picture quality. It wasn’t much of an option, at least in the coffee shop.

The TiVo app cautioned that recording to the mobile device drains the battery and suggested a direct power source, frequently not an option at a hot spot. The app indicated it would take an hour to record the remainder of “SportsCenter.” No thanks.

For most live viewings, users will likely prefer recording to the Roamio, while simultaneously streaming the slightly delayed (at least 20 seconds of buffering) “live” program. The Roamio Pro at my home, on loan from TiVo, is a powerhouse DVR with six tuners and a hard drive capable of storing up to 450 hours of high-definition recordings. It has plenty of room for a pale Dr. Phil.

The Vulkano Flow ($99.99, monsoonmultimedia.com), a low-profile box that attaches to a cable box or satellite receiver, streams all available programming, like Sling. On some channels, like HBO’s showing of “Ray,” picture quality approached Sling’s. Elsewhere, it became mired in a Roamio-like haze.

Roamio buyers should know that they are getting the best-yet TiVo ( www.tivo.com) and a video streamer bound to improve.

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