TiVo Roamio OTA review: the best OTA DVR for cord cutters

Review: TiVo Roamio OTA is the best DVR for recording from a TV antenna

If you’re looking for a way to record shows, movies and sports from a TV antenna, a TiVo Roamio OTA is the best OTA DVR on the market.

Unlike TiVo boxes that are designed to work with cable and satellite accounts, there are no monthly fees with TiVo’s OTA DVR. That’s a big deal in the world of cord cutting, where viewers have purposely shed their hefty cable and satellite bills for good. This review of OTA DVRs examined cost, performance and ease of use.

More and more people are returning to the use of TV antennas for watching network stations such as NBC, CBS, FOX and ABC. These channels are free. Any decent TV antenna will bring free Digital Television (DTV) into your home. Read our guide on how to choose the best TV antenna & DVR for more information on choosing an appropriate TV antenna based on where you live in the U.S.

The Roamio OTA is the best OTA DVR because it also doubles as a streaming media player for platforms such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Plex. The Roamio connects to the Internet via Ethernet or 802.11n WiFi connection. I was also impressed with the “One Touch Skip” option that allows users to skip entire commercials with one button.

If you are just moving away from cable or satellite, I don’t recommend that you buy an OTA DVR right away. Remember, an OTA DVR can only be used for over-the-air recording. It can’t be used later for cable or satellite subscription if you go back.

I quickly settled into a PlayStation Vue subscription and using TV antennas for my programs. I know that I’m never going back to cable so investing in high quality hardware makes sense for me.

What shows can I get on an antenna?

Many people have forgotten about the wide variety of HD programming that’s available absolutely free on television. Believe me, your local cable company or satellite provider wants you to forget.

NBC, CBS, ABC, FOX, PBS, ION and CW are among the 60 channels that I get from my two modest antennas that I have been testing out. If you watch shows like Empire, Thursday Night Football or The Big Bang Theory, you can get all of those shows and much more for free and in high definition.

The majority of NFL games are broadcast over the air in HD on CBS and NBC. You can also catch some NBA games on ABC. And you can watch golf all season long on some of major networks mentioned above. More sports options are available on Sling TV and PlayStation view. Read our comparison guide to see the differences between Sling TV vs PS Vue.

My own daily recordings include the local news, CBS Evening News and Austin City Limits. I’m usually getting home from a long day of work when my news shows are broadcasting live so it’s really nice to be able to settle in a bit later and watch my free TV after dinner.

How many shows can TiVo Roamio OTA record at once?

TiVo Roamio OTA can record up to four shows at once, or up to 150 hours of HD programming. The TiVo Roamio OTA comes with 1.0TB of storage and lifetime service. There is no mandatory monthly subscription fee.

Can I stream Netflix and Amazon Prime on TiVo Roamio OTA?

Yes. One of the most impressive features of the TiVo OTA box is its streaming options. Netflix, Amazon Prime, Plex, Hulu, Vudu, Spotify, YouTube and iHeart Radio all stream from TiVo’s media player. If you are searching for a particular TV show or movie, the OneSearch feature pulls up a lineup of results from your TV and streaming apps like Netflix and Amazon Prime.

You won’t find those options with competitors like Tablo. The TiVo Roamio OTA’s streaming and consolidated search options also may eliminate the need for you to buy an Amazon Fire TV or Roku for your home. As I said in a prior review, the only thing that could make TiVo Roamio OTA any better would be the ability to tap into live streaming platforms like Sling TV or PlayStation Vue.


Can the Roamio OTA stream to Amazon Fire TV or Apple TV?

You can download the TiVo App and stream recorded shows from TiVo Roamio OTA to an Amazon Fire TV or Apple TV. But there’s a catch. You have to buy a TiVo Stream accessory for $130. The TiVo stream is only sold on the TiVo website or at your local Best Buy. If you order from Best Buy online, then shipping is free.

Can I use TiVo Mini with TiVo Roamio OTA?

Yes. TiVo no longer requires subscription fees for the TiVo Mini when using it with a TiVo Roamio. Having a TiVo Mini on a second TV in your home allows people to watch a different program from one being watched (or recorded) in another room.

TiVo Roamio OTA vs. Tablo

Cord cutters want to enjoy their TV at an affordable price point. They don’t want any hidden fees or shifty pricing structures that made them flee from cable. So that’s the standard that should apply when deciding what is the best OTA DVR.

Tablo is a very popular over the air DVR. Users especially love the ability to tap into their OTA broadcasts on their computers, smartphones, tablets and set-top boxes. Tablo has apps to stream OTA TV to Android TV, Amazon Fire TV and Roku.

A Tablo tuner connects directly to your TV antenna then streams the signal to your TV and other devices in your home via an app. Tablo 2 tuners can record two shows simultaneously. Tablo 4 tuners can record four shows at once.

Tablo pitches itself as an alternative to costly cable bills, and it’s definitely a lower-cost option for those paying $80 to $150 per month for cable or satellite TV. But I don’t consider it the best OTA DVR on the market. The biggest gripe that I have with Tablo is the extra costs associated with their products.

Users need to buy an external hard drive to store OTA recordings. Tablo also requires a monthly subscription to tap into its 14-day TV guide data, and more detailed information on sports, movies and shows. Customers who don’t subscribe get limited features after shelling out $200 to $300 for their DVR.

Tablo subscription costs

If you were to do a quick cost comparison, a Tablo 4-Tuner would run about $279. Add a decent 1Tb hardrive at about $60, and you’re up to $339.

The Tablo subscription rates are $4.99 per month, $49.99 a year, or $149.99 for a lifetime. Even if you saved some money by paying the annual subscription rate, a Tablo 4 with a hard drive and full features costs about $489 for the first year you own it. And you will be paying those subscription rates every year with no guarantee that the rates will remain fixed.

The TiVo Roamio is currently priced at about $349. It’s a one-time cost with lifetime service on its features. Even if you did spend the extra $130 later on a TiVo Stream, the device is yours for good. There are no added subscription costs. About 1,744 customers at Amazon gave TiVo Roamio OTA a rating of 4.2 out of 5 stars.

Like the TiVo Roamio OTA, you need to buy your own antenna. Not a big deal, and probably a good idea since people will have very different needs for an antenna based on where they live.

TiVo Roamio OTA vs. Channel Master DVR+ Bundle, a solid runner-up

The Channel Master DVR+ Bundle (model: CM7500BDL3) is a worthy runner-up to our top pick. The Channel Master DVR is also geared for cord cutters. It can record hours of shows, but one drawback is that you will need to buy an external hard drive like the Tablo. A 1TB external hard drive with a Channel Master should give you about 160 hours of HD recording. The DVR+ bundle comes with a USB wireless Internet adapter, HDMI cable and DVR remote.

channel-master-dvrChannel Master only allows you to record two shows at once, but I don’t consider that a deal breaker.

Channel Master has one advantage over TiVo Roamio OTA. It can stream Sling TV, giving viewers an option to live stream channels like AMC, History Channel, TNT, ESPN and A&E. You cannot record Sling TV channels with a Channel Master.

The Roamio OTA does not offer any live streaming TV option. That’s too bad. Lacking live streaming TV features kept it from earning a five star rating with me.

Channel Master does have streaming apps for VuDu, Pandora and YouTube. But the DVR is missing more popular apps like Netflix and Amazon Prime. Viewers wanting to tap into Plex to stream their NAS content are better off with a Roamio OTA DVR.

You can skip through recorded commercials with a jump-forward button, which leaps ahead about 9 or 10 seconds. The user interface for surfing through channels will be familiar and fairly easy to use for anyone that once subscribed to cable or satellite TV. The Channel Master DVR bundle costs almost the same if you purchase a 1TB hard drive to match the Roamio DVR’s storage space.

Choosing between a Channel Master DVR and a TiVo Roamio OTA DVR comes down to deciding what the most important features you want over the long term for your household.

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