TiVo Mini Review
The TiVo Mini, which lets you watch live programming and your TiVo recordings on another television, is a new toy for current Premiere 4 DVR owners, but it has too many restrictions to be the killer product that TiVo aficionados are looking for.
- Comes with HDMI cable
- Streams TiVo content to other TVs
- Replaces one DVR or set top box
- Supports Hulu Plus, Spotify, Pandora, and other apps
- Lacks Wi-Fi
- No Netflix
- No Amazon Instant video
- Monopolizes one tuner
- Doesn’t work with two-tuner TiVo Premieres or Series 3/HD DVRs
- Requires additional subscription fee
The TiVo Mini ($99.99 direct, plus $5.99 monthly service fee) is a media hub made to work with the four-tuner TiVo Premiere 4 and the TiVo Premiere Elite , which is now the Premiere XL4. Like the competing Dish Network Joey, it’s an add-on to a primary TiVo DVR rather than a stand-alone product. It does what it aims to do, letting you watch live programming or your TiVo recordings in another room of the house, with some drawbacks. The thing is, though, if you’re a TiVo fan with current equipment, you probably already have a DVR in your bedroom (or wherever else you want to watch TiVo recordings) and you don’t need the Mini. It isn’t the product TiVo needs to bring new subscribers into the fold, nor is it the thing that will keep older Series 2 and Series 3 TiVo owners from jumping ship to a satellite or cable company DVR.
Design and Features
The TiVo Mini is a black square block with beveled side panels. It measures 1.3 inches tall and 6.1 inches square, which is quite a bit larger than other media hubs like the Apple TV and the Roku 3. The top of the TiVo Mini is perforated for cooling, and since it doesn’t have a built in hard drive it features silent passive cooling. The back of the box features HDMI (a cable is included), Gigabit Ethernet, MoCA, and USB ports, and mini-jacks for component and A/V composite video. The component and composite video outputs need adapters, but HDMI, MoCA, and Ethernet works as is. The front panel simply has a TiVo Mini logo and a tiny LED that shows that the media hub is powered up and active. The box ships with the standard curvy TiVo remote.
Setup is a simple affair for TiVo veterans, but a little convoluted for novices. Just plug the Mini into the same network your TiVo is on, and perform a couple of steps. The primary networking method is MoCA (multimedia over Coax), where you need to make sure the TiVo Premiere 4 or TiVo Premiere XL4 is hooked up to both the cable connection and to your wired/wireless router. You can alternately connect the TiVo Mini directly to your TiVo Premiere 4/XL4 DVR via Cat 5 Ethernet cable (using a single cable or through the router). Unfortunately, if you’re using a 802.11g adapter on your TiVo Premiere, it won’t work with the TiVo Mini, in this case, consider picking up a third-party MoCA network adapter as a bridge to your TiVo boxes. After that, hook the TiVo Mini up to your HDTV via HDMI or a component video adapter.
After both TiVo boxes are hooked up, you then need to dedicate at least one tuner on your TiVo Premiere to the TiVo Mini. It’s one of the few parameters you’ll have to change on your TiVo Premiere DVR, the command is buried in the settings menu. You’ll need a four-tuner TiVo to do this, and as such two-tuner TiVo Premiere and TiVo Series 3/HD DVRs won’t work with the TiVo Mini. Once everything is set up, you can view both live TV and TiVo recordings on the TiVo Mini. Think of the TiVo Mini as a replacement for the set top box if you were running your cable company’s multi-room DVR. TiVo is reportedly working on a dynamic tuner solution so you won’t have to dedicate a tuner to the Mini, but for now, this is the best you’ll get.
In theory, life is good after you run through the initial setup. The TiVo Mini can view all the recordings on any shared TiVo Premiere 4/XL4, as well as programs from Hulu Plus, Spotify, YouTube, and other apps. TiVo Mini has a protracted version of the TiVo Premiere’s menu system showing most, but not all of the same options as the TiVo Premiere. Menu selection and reaction was microseconds slower than on the DVR, but the difference was barely perceivable. You can only view videos on the dedicated tuner (no switching back and forth between tuners as on the Premiere DVR), and some services were missing like Netflix and Amazon Prime. You’ll have to use the main TiVo Premiere box or other device to view those services. Since we’re nitpicking, Ethernet or MoCA may not be available in same room as the TV. This is a situation where you’d want wireless connectivity, but the TiVo Mini doesn’t do Wi-Fi. We tried an alternative with a powerline-to-Ethernet networking adapter, which was somewhat successful. While we were able to set up the TiVo Mini over powerline, we experienced video stuttering on HD channels. Stuttering became worse when viewing HD videos with lots of cuts, like the BBC’s Top Gear, while HD programs with long takes like Ken Burn’s PBS documentaries displayed smoothly. The TiVo menu system and SD video channels performed fine with the powerline adapter.
This brings us to another of the TiVo Mini’s problems. While other media hubs like the Apple TV, Roku 3, and Sony Internet Player With Google TV are active after your initial purchase, the TiVo Mini requires either a $6 monthly fee or a $150 up-front lifetime subscription. The subscription really should be built into the purchase price of the box, but then you’d be buying a $250 set top box instead of looking at the TiVo Mini’s more attractive $99 price tag. It’s not a lot, but it effectively doubles the price tag of the TiVo Mini. If you want to put a positive spin on it, you may be saving $10-15 a month on a cable box rental.
The TiVo Mini is a set top box for the TiVo fanatic who also has new enough equipment to use it. It’s not really innovative enough to bring new users into the fold. If you’re just getting TiVo, you’re a prime target for the Mini since you can avoid buying another DVR, which requires an additional cable card. That said, even TiVo fans will miss functionality like Netflix and Amazon, and even the most die-hard TiVo fan will gripe at paying extra for another subscription. The TiVo Mini is a solid idea, with passable execution, but a few fatal flaws. Just like last year’s TiVo Stream, which lets you stream TiVo programming to your phone or tablet, but comes with its own set of limitations, the Mini is not the game changer TiVo users have been waiting for.
By Joel Santo Domingo, PCMag
- Blu-ray: No
- Wi-Fi Compatibility: No
- DLNA: No
- Online Content Services: Hulu Plus, Spotify, Pandora, YouTube
- Web Browser: No