TiVo’s Diverse ‘Roamio’ Lineup Could Appeal To TV Power Users & Cord-Cutters

With the launch of its new “Roamio” DVR line, TiVo looks poised to appeal to a broad spectrum of consumers -- from high-end TV power users that subscribe to traditional pay-TV services, to a small, yet growing group of cord-cutters that are looking to pair free, over-the-air broadcast TV with an array of over-the-top video sources.

And the big question moving forward for  TiVo is whether this new product strategy and broader lineup will help it re-spark growth for its relatively flat base of retail subscribers.

Slingbox-like out-of-home streaming is one of the big, new features that TiVo will add to the higher end of the Roamio family. That element will become available this fall, said James Denney, TiVo’s vice president of product management, during a product briefing last week in New York City.

Here’s a snapshot of TiVo’s Roamio lineup:

  • Roamio: This entry-level device, which carries a suggested retail price of $199.99, is equipped with four over-the-air digital ATSC TV tuners, plus 500 gigabytes of storage -- enough for about 75 hours of HD video.
  • Roamio Plus: This six-tuner box sports 1 terabyte of storage (150 hours of HD), integrated video transcoding, and retails for $399.99
  • Roamio Pro: The top-of-the-line, $599.99 device, also is equipped with six tuners and on-board transcoding, plus a 3 TB drive -- enough for about 450 hours of HD.

TiVo’s DVR fee currently runs $14.99 per month, or $499 for a lifetime subscription.

All three models feature a CableCARD slot for linear digital cable TV services, while the Plus and Pro have integrated Multimedia over Coax Alliance (MoCA) silicon for whole-home DVR set-ups that work in tandem with the TiVo Mini IP client box.

A software update for the TiVo Mini will also add dynamic tuner allocation – an important part of whole-home DVR set-ups that was missing in TiVo’s earlier-generation products. Early on, a TiVo Mini essentially hijacked a tuner off the main Premiere box, whether or not the Mini was in use. Dynamic tuner allocation essentially erases that problem.

Thanks to an integrated transcoding chip from Zenverge, the Plus and Pro Roamio models will inherently support in-home streaming, sideloading (the ability to transfer shows and movies marked as “copy freely” from the DVR to a mobile device), and, starting this fall, out-of-home video streaming of live TV and content stored to the DVR.

The entry-level Roamio device can support sideloading and in-home streaming to mobile devices, if it’s paired to the TiVo Stream sidecar box. The TiVo Stream is also slated to receive the out-of-home streaming update this fall.

The TiVo Stream, Roamio Plus and Roamio Pro will support up to four out-of-home clients at once, Denney said.

Although the entry-level Roamio might hold the most appeal to cord-cutters, it's not a "pure play" cord-cutting device. While it does support OTA digital TV (a feature that has also graced some earlier TiVo models), the CableCARD slot does make it compatible with traditional digital cable services.

TiVo's higher-end Roamio devices seem to have the closest in common with Dish's Hopper with Sling whole-home DVR product line, save for differences in storage, the controversial AutoHop feature, and other specs.

But there will be some caveats that TiVo users will have to contend with, particularly when it comes to the out-of-home component. TiVo’s fine print on the out-of-home streaming feature notes that “[d]ue to content provider restrictions, not all content can be streamed out of home” while other content will only be accessible from a mobile device that’s on the same local network as the subscriber’s DVR.

All three Roamio models have 802.11n Wi-Fi on board.

Although the Roamio family is starting out at retail, cable operators and other TiVo service provider partners will eventually have access to all of Roamio’s new bells and whistles, including the out-of-home streaming component. But only if they want it, and provided that their carriage deals with programmers allow it.

“We will have some of our operator customer use this [Roamio] platform. They’ll be able to pick and choose the features they want,” Denney said. “We already have some customers asking for it.”

Denney stressed that the more powerful Series 5 architecture TiVo has packed into the Roamio line is close to a mirror image to the one in use by Pace, which has ported the TiVo platform to the set-top maker’s XG1 gateway. GCI is the first North American cable operator to introduce the Pace/TiVo combo.

RCN, one of  TiVo’s pay TV partners, is testing both the TiVo/Pace and next-gen TiVo boxes in the lab, Jason Nealis, RCN’s vice president of engineering, told Multichannel News via email. He said the new class of device, with six tuners, a larger hard drive and built-in transcoding, will present a more expensive starting point. Nealis said packaging and pricing are among the items RCN is evaluating with respect to a next-gen product.

New to Roamio: HTML5 and DIAL

Also new to Roamio is support for HTML5. YouTube is the first app to take advantage of this addition, though support will not initially be extended to YouTube’s new lineup of subscription-based channels, according to Denney.

The user interface for Roamio is also getting freshened up with new fonts and backgrounds. The new line, like the Premiere platform, also gives retail users an integrated view of what’s on live TV, recorded to the DVR, as well as what’s available over-the-top  from sources such as Netflix, Amazon and Hulu Plus. TiVo has also completed integration with Comcast’s Xfinty on Demand service in 21 markets.

“We don’t want you to worry about where the content is coming from,” Denney said.

TiVo has also built in the DIAL (Discovery and Launch) protocol that Google is using in its new Chromecast platform. With the DIAL integration, Roamio users can control and “cast” Netflix and YouTube playback to the TV via the home network using TiVo’s mobile phone and tablet apps.

Roamio Will Shoot High And Low

TiVo’s new product mix is made to appeal to both ends of that consumer spectrum – from TV power users, to a smaller pool of cord-cutters, said Colin Dixon, the chief analyst and founder of nScreenMedia.  

“Power users and cord-cutters are the two groups that will be most predisposed to look at these new boxes,” Dixon said.

But the big question going forward is whether TiVo’s new product strategy will pay off. Its MSO-based subscriber base has been growing rapidly, but the TiVo-owned subscriber base, which includes the kind of retail customers that TiVo will initially seek out with the new Roamio product line, has been relatively flat.

TiVo ended its fiscal first quarter with 1 million TiVo-owned subs, about what it had in the year-ago period, while TiVo subs acquired through  pay TV partners jumped to 2.39 million, a year-on-year increase of about  1 million, with the bulk of that growth coming way of gains with U.K.-based MSO Virgin Media. TiVo reports second quarter results on Tuesday, Aug. 27.

Dixon believes TiVo’s new lineup could spark some retail action, but won’t set the world on fire right away.

“I do think this could do a good job of reigniting a little bit of growth in [TiVo’s]  individual subscriber base,” he said. “But I don’t think it will turn TiVo into a 20 million subscriber powerhouse, at least not in the short term.”

Dixon also has a suggested path for TiVo as it mulls a follow up to Roamio: develop a cloud DVR. “That would be good investment in their time and would prepare them for where I think the general market is going.”