Can one of TiVo’s offerings make your DVR dreams come true?
What Is the TiVo?
The TiVo is a third-party DVR system that can be hooked up to nearly any cable provider’s service, offering an alternative to the proprietary—and sometimes clunky—DVR systems that cable companies provide.
The company has been in the business for a long time, with the original TiVo coming to market in 1999, and it still offers one of the best values in the DVR business. In fact, we ranked the TiVo T6 third in our roundup of the best DVRs of 2017.
How to Get TiVo
There are two ways to get a TiVo:
- If you have RCN as a cable provider, you can get a TiVo T6 as your HD DVR system.
- You can also buy your own TiVo, either directly from the company or through a third-party seller like Amazon, and then use it with nearly any cable provider.
This compatibility with multiple providers is what makes TiVo stand out in a world where every cable company offers its own proprietary DVR system with different features and user interfaces.
NOTE: Bear in mind that the T6 is the RCN-branded version of the TiVo. The current unbranded TiVo line is called the BOLT and has slightly different features than the T6, though the basics are the same. We’ll cover the differences later in this review.
Find out what RCN plans are available in your area.
TiVo Main Features
- Searches through your cable channels and streaming entertainment apps from one convenient interface
- Provides suggestions for programming to watch based on what you like
- Offers 1 TB of storage (150 hours of HD and 1,000 hours of SD)
- Records up to 6 shows at once
- Uses built-in apps for several services, including Netflix and Facebook
- Works with smartphone and tablet apps
- Has whole-home DVR capabilities with TiVo Mini boxes
Here’s an overview of the tech specs of the T6:
- Composite video
- Component video
- Optical digital audio
- Stereo analog audio
- Two USB ports
- Size: 16.5″ x 9.7″ x 2.4″
- Weight: 6.5 pounds
- Size: 6.09″ x 6.09″ x 1.3″
- Weight: 0.78 pounds
If you want to go the DIY route and pick up your own TiVo without going through RCN, it’ll cost you $199 for a 500 GB version, $299 for a 1 TB version, and $499 for the 3 TB BOLT+. The TiVo Mini boxes for your additional TVs cost $149.99 each.
Other TiVo Models
- TiVo T6
- TiVo Roamio OTA
- TiVo BOLT
- TiVo BOLT+
TiVo Roamio OTA
The Roamio OTA is a system that is not compatible with standard cable providers. Instead, the Roamio OTA contains an HD antenna that lets you pick up broadcast channels, much like the digital antennas you can buy separately. The advantage of the Roamio OTA over a plain antenna is the integration with streaming services and the ability to record broadcast channels. Essentially, the OTA is a cord-cutter’s dream that brings together free broadcast TV available to everyone with various TV-streaming and movie services into a single interface.
TiVo Bolt, Bolt+
The TiVo BOLT and BOLT+ are more standard DVRs that work with cable TV services, but are only available through TiVo or a third-party seller. They don’t come bundled with cable subscriptions like the T6. Instead, you’ll pay a subscription fee directly to TiVo that is roughly equivalent to the DVR fees you would pay to a cable provider. In terms of features, the BOLT is a newer version than the T6 used by RCN. The main difference is the size and shape—the BOLT is much smaller and curved and can only record four programs at once. It does offer 4K output, though, which the T6 does not. The BOLT+ triples the storage of the standard BOLT, from 1 TB to 3 TB.
TiVo T6 from RCN
A TiVo T6 from RCN will cost you $15 per month. Whole-Home Bundles start at $20 per month for two TVs and add an extra $5 for every additional box.
Directly from TiVo
If you buy your own TiVo, you’ll have to pay a $14.99 per month subscription fee to TiVo, like the DVR fee that cable providers charge. You can also opt to pay the fee annually for $149.99, saving $30, or go for the All-In Plan, which is a one-time fee of $549.99 that covers you for life. With the All-In Plan, you’ll break even at about forty-two months (a little over three years), so if you think you’ll be using TiVo longer than that, you could potentially save quite a bit of money.
As mentioned, the TiVo boxes can work with any cable provider as well as Verizon Fios. This means that you can buy your own TiVo and take the same DVR experience across multiple providers, which is great if you move. Plus, with more providers moving away from the contract model, you have the freedom to try out several different providers without learning a new DVR interface every time.
TiVo does not currently work with other fiber services like AT&T U-verse—if you want fiber, you’ll have to stick with Fios. As far as satellite goes, you can use a TiVo box with DIRECTV, but not without some help—you’ll need a separate receiver from DIRECTV to use any of the current TiVo models. DISH is not compatible with TiVo at all, unfortunately.
The TiVo T6 is a pretty standard-looking DVR box, but it’s not a bad-looking box by any means. On the left side, you’ll find your power button and indicator light. There are no ports on the front—everything is nicely tucked away, giving the T6 a clean, sleek appearance. The TiVo BOLT models add some variety with a white option. The whole BOLT package is much smaller and generally more attractive looking.
Inside, you’ll find the 1 TB hard drive with plenty of room for your recorded shows. In fact, for its size, the T6 can store more hours of SD programming than any other top DVRs. The HD storage falls a bit short, at only 150 hours, but only hardcore digital pack rats are likely to ever fill that up.
In terms of output, the T6 offers only 1080p HD resolution—no 4K here. While there is still a relative lack of 4K content out there, it’s becoming more common every year, and 4K TVs are seeing big price drops. TiVo does have the newer BOLT series boxes that support 4K, but as of right now, you can only get them directly from TiVo, which can get expensive. Hopefully RCN will upgrade to one of the newer BOLT options soon.
The remote is a standard size and shape with a clean look. The number pad sits near the bottom, while the middle is dominated by playback controls and a big on-demand button. At the top, you’ll find buttons for various functions like the TV guide and the thumbs-up and thumbs-down buttons that TiVo uses to build your recommendation list.
Integrated Search Function
TiVo really excels here. The integration between your streaming services and provider programming is an outstanding idea that works well. You can search for a movie or show and receive results from not only live TV, but also the Netflix and Hulu apps, or any of the other included services you might use. This can save a lot of time since you won’t have to jump in and out of different apps or the TV guide.
The TiVo will also recommend programming to you based on what it thinks you’ll like. It learns your preferences based on your use of the thumbs-up and thumbs-down buttons on the remote. The suggestions work well, but if you find them lacking, TiVo suggests making more liberal use of the thumbs-up button, giving the same program two or three ratings rather than just one. In any case, it’s a handy feature that can help dig up shows you may not have discovered otherwise.
The TiVo boxes have built-in apps for Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime, which should cover most streaming needs. Add in RCN’s on-demand library and you should never have a problem finding something to watch.
TiVo offers mobile apps for Android and iOS devices. The apps let you control your DVR and stream live and recorded TV straight to your device. They work well enough, and the design is clean and attractive. Reviews are mixed, though, with some users reporting streaming issues. You can also use the apps as a remote control for the TiVo boxes, which can be handy. This often makes searching for a program much simpler than navigating the on-screen search with a standard remote control.
Whether you choose to get your TiVo through RCN or independently, it’s hard to go wrong. All the TiVo boxes offer competitive specs, great user experiences, and convenient integration of streaming and cable TV services. Add in the ability to take it with you to new providers, and it’s no wonder we named it the “Best Value” in A Buyer’s Guide: 2017’s Best DVRs.