TiVo Requiem Part 3 - Streams, Minis, and Playing Catch-up

If you haven't read the two prior posts in this series, here's the quick summary:

For a long time, TiVo was the "luxury brand" DVR. Sure, it cost more, and you could go with the cable company's DVR service - but their interface was terrible and their boxes were ugly.

And TiVo was selling the beautiful Series 3. It cost more, but it was worth it. A DVR to be envied. 

Then, everything changed.

TiVo started releasing cheaper, underpowered products - trying to bolster margins and increase profitability, and chasing marketshare that never developed. 

The TiVo HD was a stripped-down Series 3. The Premiere couldn't even run its own software effectively.... like a mid-1990's Macintosh. 

Then, TiVo stopped moving. And the competitors caught up. 

And in a flash, those competitors passed TiVo, both in terms of aesthetics and functionality. DirecTV's Genie and DISH's Hopper both offer whole-home DVR capabilities, six tuners, and a true high-def interface. 

It was what we'd imagined TiVo would look like in the far-flung future of 2013. A seamless DVR experience throughout the home, completely controllable via iPad. 

But TiVo was still spinning its wheels. (Literally. That spinning-wheel "waiting to load" icon on the Premiere was infuriating.) From the outside, TiVo appeared to be a company more focused on patent litigation than on making and selling interesting stuff. 

Today, TiVo finds itself in a strange position. For the first time in their history, TiVo is NOT the market-leader with regards to DVR.

The TiVo Mini

First and foremost, TiVo needed to come up with a product that could match the whole-home capabilities that DirecTV provides with Genie. Enter the TiVo Mini. 

This provides the same basic functionality that you'd expect from a whole-home DVR. You can access the recordings from your central TiVo box, and play them in whatever room the Mini is located. 

But there's a catch - there's always a catch with TiVo. 

It only works with 4-tuner TiVo Premiere DVRs. And there really aren't a lot of those in the hands of consumers at this point. So the market for the Mini is very limited. 

Why not allow the Mini to work with a the more common 2-tuner Premiere units? Probably, because it permanently takes up one of the tuners on the aforementioned DVR

If you'd like to watch live TV on the Mini, then the primary TiVo can only record 3 shows at once. If you have 2 Minis, then you've only got 2 tuners left for recordings. 

And God help you if you wanted to add 4 Minis. 

And then there's the cost. $100 up front for the Mini - which is fine, even "good" for TiVo products. But there's also a $6 monthly fee. And for the life of me, I can't figure out what that monthly fee is buying

You aren't paying for more guide data - the Mini is just piggy-backing on the primary DVR (and its existing TiVo subscription) for that. You aren't paying for more DVR functionality, either - again, this is an extender for your actual DVR, which will handle the recordings. You aren't even paying for an extra tuner - you're still limited to the 4 you had previously

Basically, you're paying $100 upfront and an extra $6/month for the ability to use one of your previously-bought-and-paid-for TiVo tuners in a different room. 

The TiVo Stream

This is another add-on box that replicates a feature found on competitors' DVRs - it's a transcoder that adds "Watch on iPad" functionality,  allows you to watch recorded programming on iOS devices while on your own wi-fi network, within the TiVo iOS app. 

The Stream also does one better, and allows transfer of recorded programming TO the iPad or iPhone, so that the show can be watched on the go. 

At $129, it's a bit pricey for a device that, more or less, brings TiVo in line with the features found on the Genie. But it's available, and that's a plus. 

The Way Forward

TiVo is in an unusual spot. 

They spent a decade as the unchallenged leader in the DVR space, and were able to charge "luxury prices". But they never really managed to make any money. 

So they let their product line stagnate, and when new devices were introduced, the corner-cutting was immediately apparent. 

They watched as their competitors caught up and passed them. 

Now TiVo is introducing a patchwork of $100+ products designed to mimic the functionality of what you can get in a standard DirecTV Genie install. 

Speaking as a former TiVo fanboy, I just don't see the point. What TiVo needs to do at this point, is to wow people again - they way they did with the Series 3. 

Release a single TiVo box, with 6 tuners, wi-fi, and the TiVo Stream functionality built-in. 

We don't want boxes and dongles hanging off of our TiVo to remind us what it can't do natively. 

Update the TiVo mini to use its own tuner for live TV, so users aren't crippling their primary TiVo when using a Mini. 

And rethink the "per-Mini" subscription cost. A single "whole-home" subscription price - maybe a couple of dollars more than the standard TiVo subscription price - would make more logical sense to consumers. 

And one more thing....

All of the above will only get TiVo in line with what their competitors are already offering. Something extra is going to be required, if TiVo is going to continue to justify its inclusion in home theaters in 2013 and beyond. 

A completely free-and-open TiVo App Store - with Apple-style oversight to ensure UI design consistency?I'd be interested in seeing SiriusXM content on my TV while playing it through my speakers.  iTunes/AirPlay integration? 

Perhaps TiVo could incorporate true "Second Screen" experiences on the iPad while watching live programming - sports analytics, pop-up facts about scripted programming, and so on. 

Basically, do something great, and people will pay extra. Keep playing catch-up, and people will start to wonder exactly what it is they're paying so much extra for. 


  1. "Update the TiVo mini to use its own tuner for live TV, so users aren't crippling their primary TiVo when using a Mini." LOL I thought you didn't like extraneous wires and dongles? If the mini had its own tuner for Live TV..you also get (at substantial extra charge) to include a cable card and tuning adapter. I guess if it could do both..that would be fine...but now it's a much more expensive product for those who piggyback off a 4-tuner (or 6-tuner in the future) "main" dvr. You'd be better off just getting a refurb 2-tuner premiere if you want a box with a tuner in it that can also share recorded programs with other boxes in the home.

  2. Matthew,
    I have 3 TiVos, all on Lifetime (4XL, 2XL and S3). Added a TiVo Stream.
    NO COMPLAINTS. What are you using now?

  3. My problem with this article is that I can't experience these Tivo alternatives he raves about. I can't get DirectTV and the little DVR that TimeWarner offers pales in comparison with any TiVo. So in my little world, Tivo is still king, despite their bizarre subscription fees.

  4. Well with the new roamio, TiVo has done basically everything you've asked, and they charge somewhat manageable prices. I gave up TiVo after series 2 but now I bought a roamio plus and a new mini and wow, I forgot what I was missing with my optimum DVR TiVo is going in a good direction now: they seem to know what they're doing again, and they once again are the king. My roamio plus is fast (finally) and lightyears ahead of cablevision optimum Never going back

    1. Good to hear. While this article is a few years old, I'm still happy with our DirecTV Genie, although the future seems to be trending away from TV subscriptions and filling up a local multi-TB drive -- and toward gigabit internet and all-the-time streaming for both live TV and cloud-based "recordings".

      I'm really curious to see what Apple will unveil this fall.