Despite the onslaught of set-top boxes allowing TV watchers to access a myriad of shows on demand, TiVo has survived. But just barely. Factor in cable boxes with built-in functionally at a lower cost and it’s a bit baffling to how TiVo continues. That said, I’m actually surprised that they’re still delivering new products, though that isn’t to say their offering isn’t compelling or useful, especially to the existing TiVo user. Which is exactly who they’re targeting with their TiVo Mini.
It’s a setup top box that isn’t that dissimilar looking to a ROKU or VIZIO’s CoStar, at least in terms of form factor and size – every other TiVo to date has been a full-scale box, much like the ones supplied from cable companies. A great many online subscription services can be accessed from the box, though both Amazon VOD and Netflix are nowhere to be found, at least during this initial launch period.
Using MoCA or Ethernet, the TiVo Mini connects to a host TiVo box. As Zatznotfunny points out, you’ll need to own a Premiere 4 or XL4 TiVo since it uses one of the four tuners to access live TV. If you don’t own one of the aforementioned TiVos, the TiVo Mini is effectively worthless, since TiVo has artificially locked it from connecting to dual tuner models, even if you don’t require the live TV feed.
Further, TiVo has chosen to artificially restrict the TiVo Mini to TiVoPremiere 4/XL4/Elite hosts (of which investor Sam Biller estimates at about 50k in circulation) – leaving 2-tuner TiVo Premiere owners out in the cold. For now? We assume this is partially a TiVo marketing strategy, encouraging folks to move up to their lesser subsidized DVR models, and also related to limitations inherent with the simplistic tuner sharing. (source: Zatznotfunny)
Once you’re plugged in to your TV using the HDMI connection (there is a breakout cable port for older model TVs, though you’ll need to buy that separately), setup should take a few hours according to Engadget, thanks to a host of updates. This process might speed up after the initial launch phase, but a frustrating amount of time given the box’s relative simplicity.
The rest of our setup took longer than we would’ve liked, clocking in at almost two hours after the physical connections were made. This process included installing a software update and waiting for both the TiVo Premiere and the TiVo Mini to phone home. (source: Engadget)
And speaking of time, if you do watch live TV on the Tivo Mini, expect not only one of your tuners to be negated from recording live shows, but you’ll have to wait up to 4-5 seconds to flip between channels, at least according to Engadget. However, according to Zatznotfunny, performing other actions, such as scrolling locally stored content is faster than doing it on the sourced DVR.
Performance is so snappy, in fact, it actually feels quicker to browse remotely located content than accessing it directly via the source DVR.
Apparently, TiVo will eventually launch a fix for the tuner issue mentioned above, but for now you’re stuck dedicating one, which may mean a missed show, even when the tuner isn’t actively being used on the TiVo mini.
It’s excessively evident that the TiVo Mini is targeted towards the existing TiVo owner. The cost is either $99 with a $6 a month fee or $249 with lifetime service. Keep in mind that’s per box, so if you plan to scatter these around your home, you’ll be dropping some serious coin. Furthermore, you’ll need to have enough 4 tuner TiVo’s on hand to support all of the TiVo Minis. And as Cnet points out, it’s a bit of mystery as to why TiVo charges a service fee when you’re sucking down content from a box that already has that fee associated with it. And don’t forget that the lack of apps, along with connectivity options (really only HDMI and no WiFi) are further pitfalls that might be just enough to negate this box from your home.
I’m not entirely sure why TiVo charges a subscription fee for a device that’s basically sucking information from a host DVR that you’re also paying a subscription fee for, but, that’s the pricing. (source: Cnet)