TiVo was one of the first companies to produce DVRs, which revolutionized TV watching by introducing time shifting and season passes, and eliminated the need for VCRs. I have been a TiVo user for over 12 years, starting with their original Series 1 device.
When the TiVo iOS app was first released almost 2 years ago, I never found much use for it. I did not have a TiVo Premiere DVR at the time, and the functionality it provided for their TiVo Series 3/HD models was not really much more than what I could already do via the TiVo website. However, this past Fall I finally upgraded to a four-tuner TiVo Premiere and have since discovered the true power of this app.
When you first start the TiVo app, it will search your home network and display a list of the TiVo DVRs it finds. Once you select one of these devices, you are provided with several options (the layout/naming of these options is slightly different on the iPhone and iPad).
- Info – Displays information on the currently tuned channel or program, Allows you to start recording, see upcoming airings, explore the cast and crew, or let your friends on Facebook/Twitter know what you’re watching.
- Guide – Browse current/upcoming program listings by time or channel
- My Shows – View a list of programs you have recorded. Selecting a program allows you to see more info, delete it, or start the program playing on your TV.
- Browse – Discover programs you might be interested in using categorized lists.
- Manage – Check out your upcoming scheduled recordings (To Do List) and optionally delete items you no longer want to record. You can also view and reorder your list of Season Passes.
- Search – Search for programs to watch/record. This not only searches the program guide, but also what’s available for streaming on sites like Netflix, Hulu, and OnDemand.
- Remote Control – An on-screen remote control that looks and functions just like the physical one.
I have found that I use the app more than the actual TiVo to manage my recordings and season passes. It is so much faster to reorder my 200+ season passes via the app than on the box itself. If I try to reorder them from the TiVo menu, I usually have to wait a couple of minutes while it processes. With the app, this is done in the background and I still have full control of the TV. Sure, you can also reorder and set season passes/recordings from the TiVo website. However, you must wait until the next time your TiVo connects via the internet in order to see the change take effect. With this app, it is directly interfacing with the TiVo and everything is done in real-time.
Another great thing is the search. I like that it allows searching the online streaming services you subscribe to and can automatically launch the program you are interested in. I always found the OnDemand menus to be a nightmare. Now i can just search for programs and select ‘Watch on TV’ and I don’t even have to navigate any menus! If you don’t subscribe to Hulu or Netflix, these can be disabled on the TiVo itself and won’t appear in the app’s search results.
One of the truly exciting new features of the TiVo app came just a few months ago, with the introduction of the TiVo Stream box. This small piece of hardware retails for $130, but once you plug it into your home network, it unlocks even more features of the app. The TiVo Stream works in conjunction with your TiVo Premiere box to allow you to stream live and recorded programs to your iOS devices.
When a TiVo Stream is detected on your network, you now have the option of Watch on iPad (or Watch on iPhone) when exploring programs in My Shows or the program guide. The great thing is you could start watching something on your TV and then switch over to your iOS device and it seamlessly picks up right where you left off. You could pause a program on the TV, continue it on the iPad while making dinner in the kitchen, and then finish it back on the TV. If you want to stream a live program, your TiVo Premiere must have an available tuner that is not currently recording anything. When you select to stream the live program from the program guide, the TiVo will start recording it on an available tuner and then stream it to your iOS device.
While streaming a program, you have access to on-screen 8-second replay and 30-second skip buttons, as well as a slider that shows you your progress in the program. You can slide this progress bar to jump to any point in the program. I have found these buttons to be extremely responsive and the program jumps to the selected point and resumes playing almost instantaneously.
There are no exceptions as to which of your recorded shows you can stream to your iOS devices. However, this streaming is limited to your local network. I have tried setting up a VPN to try streaming while away from home, but since the app uses Bonjour to find your TiVo devices, and that is not supported over VPN, this does not work.
For those times when you are not at home, you also have the option of downloading your programs directly to your iOS device to watch later. When you select to download a program, you are presented with two quality levels, Best and Standard. Best is about 1GB/hour and Standard is about 650MB/hour–but standard looked just fine on my iPad 3. Playback of downloaded programs uses the same controls as when watching a streamed program.
There are some limitations as to which programs can be downloaded. Broadcasters have the option to set a Broadcast Flag on their programming, which does not allow it to be copied. This is primarily used by the cable pay channels like HBO and Showtime. So you will most likely not be able to download any recordings from those stations. Also, the app does not support background downloading. So once you start the download, you can’t really do anything else on your iOS device for 15 minutes or so.
Overall, I am really pleased with the TiVo app, combined with the TiVo Stream and a TiVo Premiere, giving it a four star (Great) rating. Having the ability to manage my TiVo in real-time from the app is amazingly useful, as is being able to stream programs to my iPad or iPhone anytime and anywhere in the house
Some of the issues I have with the app is that it is really only useful while on your home network. I wish it provided the same DVR management functionality while away from home, as well as streaming of programs via the internet (like Slingbox does). It would also be nice if it allowed for background downloading of programs so that your device wasn’t tied up the whole time. The app also provides little functionality for older TiVo devices like the Series 3/HD TiVo–I wish they would at least add the ability to directly manage My Shows and the To Do and Season Pass lists on these older models as well.