Ever wish you could take your TiVo to go? Not the box, mind you, just all your recordings of Community, The Walking Dead, and, admit it, Downton Abbey.
Traditionally, making shows mobile meant dropping $25 on TiVo’s Desktop Plus software, then transferring recordings to your PC and transcoding them to a smartphone- or tablet-friendly format. Talk about a time-suck.
TiVo Stream eliminates a lot of the suck. The little, black Roku-style box plugs into your router, then streams or downloads shows to your iPod, iPad, or iPhone. It’s a sweet little accessory for anyone already assimilated into the Apple and TiVo ecosystems, but it’s not without some frustrating limitations.
For starters, it works only with late-model TiVos, namely the Premiere, Premiere 4, Premiere XL4, and Premiere Elite. What’s more, your supported model of TiVo must be connected to your router via Ethernet or MoCA; Wi-Fi won’t cut it. The Stream itself also plugs into your router, so here’s hoping you’ve got ports to spare.
That part of the setup went easily enough in my house, but the software side seemed to take forever. After firing up the free TiVo app (which was already in permanent residence on both my iPhone and iPad), my unit required a 20-minute firmware update right out of the box, followed by a lengthy connection and activation process that started and restarted over and over — and required at least one trip into the deepest recesses of my TiVo’s menus. All told, it took nearly 45 minutes for my Stream to go from box to streaming.
Thankfully, it was worth the wait. TiVo wisely built Stream’s features into the existing TiVo app. For any given recorded show, you could always tap “Watch Now” to start it playing on your TiVo; Stream adds a “Watch on iPhone/iPad” option that streams the show to your iDevice.
There’s also a download option that gives you a choice between “best” and “standard” quality, the latter is more than sufficient for iPhone viewing and passable for iPads. You’ll need to budget space and time accordingly: A typical half-hour show at standard quality requires about 300MB of storage and 5 to 15 minutes to download. (My results varied wildly.) A two-hour movie at best quality might eat 2.5GB and upward of an hour.
The moral of the story: Plan ahead if you want to stock your device for your morning commute or a long trip. And keep your iThingie on its charger, because the app can’t download a video in the background; it needs to stay active and open. That’s a fairly major hassle TiVo would be wise to address, as it prevents you doing anything else with your screen for the duration. The good news is you don’t have to futz with any power settings; the app keeps your device awake when it’s performing a download.
The bad news is that some content — such as a movie recorded on a premium channel like HBO — is copy protected and therefore can’t be downloaded. That’s not TiVo’s fault, but it’s still annoying. At least you can stream the copy-protected stuff.
Whether you download or stream, you’ll enjoy a decidedly TiVo-like experience, with 8-second replay and 30-second quick-skip buttons, a scrubber, and an “Info” button that reveals deets about the show. You can also switch over to your TV mid-playback, picking up at the exact spot you left off on your smaller screen. Another huge perk: a Closed Captioning toggle for those with hearing concerns (or those who like to watch TV in bars).
The box can stream live TV (“Hey, the game’s on!”), but only by starting a recording first. That’s likely to leave you with a lot of partial recordings you’ll need to clean up later, especially if you channel-hop. And that’s not much fun, given that it takes a good 10 seconds to switch from one “live” show to another.
For all its limitations, the Stream works really well at slinging content from big screen to small. It’s a bit irksome that your TiVo can’t do that without a pricey add-on box, but there’s obviously some complex on-the-fly transcoding happening here. Still, here’s hoping the TiVo 5 builds these capabilities into the box. And here’s hoping Stream support comes to Android in short order; why should iOS users have all the fun?