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Review: New TiVo delivers for avid TV viewers

Wednesday - 8/21/2013, 9:10pm  ET

This image provided by TiVo, Inc shows a sports menu from the new TiVo Roamio Plus. TiVo Inc. announced a new line of digital video recorders Tuesday Aug. 20, 2013, to give television viewers more control over what they watch on traditional channels and over the Internet. (AP Photo/TiVo, Inc.)

ANICK JESDANUN
AP Technology Writer

EDISON, N.J. (AP) -- In many ways, TiVo's digital video recorders have become redundant as cable and satellite TV companies offer their own DVR services. Yet the company that pioneered DVRs 14 years ago keeps churning out new products.

Avid television viewers will appreciate that. The fifth-generation TiVos, called Roamio, continue the company's tradition of giving you much more than you can get from your cable or satellite company. That includes the ability to watch recorded shows when you're away from home, starting this fall.

But you'll also pay much more for the experience -- $400 for the mid-range model, plus a monthly service fee of $15. By contrast, you can often get DVR service through your TV provider for a comparable monthly fee, with no extra equipment to buy.

If you don't watch a lot of television, Roamio isn't for you. It would be like going to a five-star restaurant when all you want is bread. But Roamio is a worthwhile investment if you have hundreds of television channels and Internet video services and can't figure out where to start.

Like other DVRs, you can pause live television to answer the phone or the door. You can rewind live sporting events and create your own replays. Get home 15 minutes late? You can start watching a show from the beginning as it's still being recorded.

Where TiVo has excelled is in helping you find programs to record. You can create wish lists of favorite actors and have TiVo automatically record movies or talk shows they appear in. You can also do the same with keywords, such as "national park" or "dolphins." You can even have TiVo offer suggestions based on your past viewing, though I have found its picks dubious at times.

TiVos also integrate TV shows and movies from Internet video services such as Netflix Inc., Amazon.com Inc. and Hulu. When you search for "Breaking Bad," for instance, you get a list of episodes the AMC channel is showing over the next two weeks plus all the episodes available on Netflix or Amazon. To watch through TiVo, you still have to get a Netflix subscription or buy individual episodes through Amazon, but it's good to know you can get past episodes there. You can also search for related video on YouTube and see what other shows cast members from "Breaking Bad" are in.

The new TiVo has all that, plus suggestions on what to watch now, rather than just what to record in the future. It's based partly on what other TiVo users are watching at the moment or have watched in that time slot in the past.

Roamio also lets you customize the on-screen television listings. If you're in the mood for a movie, you can have TiVo show you just the movies when you scroll through the listings. You can customize that further and scroll through just comedies or documentaries. Instead of movies, you can also scroll through just sports, news shows or kids programming.

As is the case with previous TiVos, if there are channels you never watch, such as something in Korean or Russian, you can have TiVo remove them from your lineup. Shows on those channels will be filtered out of listings and searches. You can also do that with Internet services you have no interest in paying for.

Roamio also has a number of hardware improvements, mostly on the mid-level Roamio Plus ($400) and the high-end Roamio Pro ($600):

-- Those two models will let you watch live or record up to six shows at once. That's up from a maximum of four. (The $200 base model has four tuners, up from two.)

-- Both will let you watch your recorded shows on an iPhone or iPad. Before, you needed a separate $130 TiVo Stream box. Streaming is currently limited to iPhones and iPads connected to your home wireless network, but TiVo will start offering out-of-home streaming this fall. Users will be able to stream video in various ways, including through a hotel Wi-Fi on the road. Android streaming is promised by early next year.

-- All three models come with a remote that uses radio signals rather than an infrared beam. What that means is you don't have to point the remote at the TiVo.

-- All three models also have Wi-Fi built in, so you no longer need to attach an Ethernet cable or buy a separate TiVo Wi-Fi adapter for $90.

-- The Roamio offers speed improvements over the previous model, which you'll notice when navigating menus. That said, the system did hang on me for a few seconds now and then as TiVo sifted through all the data.

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