Refining Roamio

TiVo’s new Roamio line has gotten some banner reviews early on, but a key out-of-home streaming feature could apparently use a little bit of touching up before it faces its close up.

Out-of-home streaming is one of the big, new features that will grace the higher end of TiVo’s new Roamio line. That component won’t be available until this fall, and perhaps that’s a good thing, as this review from AllThingD’s Walt Mossberg indicates that TiVo’s out-of-home capabilities are not yet ready for prime time.

Mossberg had an opportunity to test out an early release of the feature and found that it “doesn’t work for all cable networks and will need a lot of work to make its quality acceptable.”

Of course, receiving out-of-home streams means that the user is at the mercy of the available broadband connection. Mossberg tested it out in five public Wi-Fi locations, and only found one (at an Apple store) that delivered an acceptable stream.  In other cases the “streaming was terrible, almost unwatchable,” he wrote. “Buffering was lengthy, video was fuzzy and stuttering and stopping frequent.”

I’ve used a Slingbox for years, and my experience hasn’t been all that much different than what  Mossberg experienced with the pre-release version of this Roamio feature. If you have a crummy Wi-Fi connection, you’re going to get a crummy streaming experience, so it’s not always easy to know where to point the finger. And, as recent studies have shown, not all public Wi-Fi connections are created equal. In fact, many are artificially rate-limited, making streaming a challenge to say the least.

But Mossberg noted that he also ran other streaming services, including Netflix, on the same Wi-Fi networks on which he tested the out-of-home Roamio app, and didn’t run into the same issues. So, that would make it appear that TiVo will need to iron out some wrinkles, and acknowledged to Mossberg that it is indeed working to refine that important function before its formal debut.

As we noted in TiVo’s fine print, the out-of-home streaming component won’t support every channel on the lineup. Mossberg noted that Roamio doesn’t deliver HBO and Showtime out of the home, due to network policies that TiVo is adhering to. Slingboxes (as well as Dish Networks’ Hopper with Sling HD-DVR) don't saddle themselves with such restrictions.

Despite some shortcoming in this admittedly early version of the out-of-home feature, Mossberg’s final verdict is this: The Roamio line may be pricey for some budgets, but the improvements and new features “come close to making it the only set-top box you need.”