Home » Broadband Speed »Cablevision »Comcast/Xfinity »Competition »Consumer News »Editorial & Site News »Online Video »Time Warner Cable »Video »Wireless Broadband » Currently Reading:

Cable Company Hassles Make Life Difficult for Newest DVR Competitor: TiVo’s Roamio

TiVo Roamio DVR

TiVo Roamio DVR

The newest entry in the should-be-more-competitive world of Digital Video Recorders (DVRs) might have gotten five stars from reviewers willing to play down the device’s asking price, but the biggest hurdle of all isn’t its cost, it is the complexity of getting it to work properly with your cable provider.

TiVo’s new Roamio was designed to declutter your viewing experience. It’s a DVR that can record shows you missed, an online video device that can stream content from Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Video, Spotify, Pandora and YouTube right on your television, and perhaps most powerful of all — it will soon stream it all to you on any mobile device located anywhere there is an Internet connection.

That puts TiVo’s Roamio well ahead of the behind-the-times set-top boxes and DVRs rented out by the cable company. Customers have clamored for a device that can properly record scheduled programs and allow those recordings to be viewed anywhere the customer wants to watch. Comcast’s box doesn’t work that way. Neither do boxes from Time Warner Cable, Cox, Bright House, and the rest.

Comcast-LogoCue the lawyers.

The reason these common sense portability features are not available on the box you rent in perpetuity from the cable company is that programmers won’t allow it and many pay television providers don’t consider it a priority. Time Warner Cable only recently filed a patent to deliver customer-recorded content to portable devices. The patent application is an exercise to placate litigious programmers that cannot sleep nights knowing someone is offering a service they failed to monetize for themselves through licensing agreements. Feel the legal fees piling up:

“Because of the increasing popularity of home networking, there is a growing need for a strategy that enables a user to perform authorized transfer of protected content, e.g., transferring content from an STT [set-top terminal] to a second device in a home network, and at the same time prevents unauthorized distribution of the protected content,” Time Warner writes in its patent application.

While TiVo is selling a device that allows consumers to record programming for private viewing purposes, a cable operator with deep pockets that only rents DVRs cannot do likewise.

The Roamio comes in three versions, none of which are compatible with satellite television services:

      • Roamio Pro ($600): Six tuners allow customers to record up to six shows at one time and has storage capacity for 450 hours of HD programming. Includes built-in Wi-Fi. Stream TV to mobile iOS devices coming soon (as is Android support);
      • Roamio Plus ($400): Same as above except storage capacity is 150 hours of HD programming;
        Roamio ($200): Four tuner basic version omits built-in streaming to mobile devices but can record four shows at once and store 75 hours of HD programming. A good choice for cord-cutters as it includes an over-the-air broadcast television antenna input.
      • All Roamio devices require TiVo service, which costs $15 a month or $500 for a lifetime subscription. All boxes support external hard drives with an eSATA interface to backup or store more recordings. All Roamio devices support 1080p and Dolby Digital 5.1 sound.
This Comcast DVR is only available for rent.

This Comcast DVR is only available for rent.

In contrast, cable operator-provided DVR service can often add $20 a month to your cable bill… forever. But is there real value for money paying TiVo $15 a month (or a $500 payment for the life of the device) for “service” on top of hardware that can cost up to $600?

TiVo thinks so: “Once you bring together all your favorite shows, movies and music into one place, you’ll wonder how you ever lived without it.”

Unfortunately, getting there is one heck of a battle according to Bloomberg’s Rich Jaroslovsky, who got his hands on a test unit that simply refused to get along well with Comcast.

“The cable industry is standing in the way,” Jaroslovsky writes.

That may not be surprising, considering the lucrative business of renting DVR equipment to customers eager for time-shifting and commercial-skipping. The cable company’s concept of DVR service includes a set-top box, decoder, and recording unit into one, relatively simple integrated device.

TiVo’s persistent monthly “service fee” as well as a steep purchase price made marketing the cable company’s “no-purchase-required” DVR easy, and the cable industry quickly won the lion’s share of the DVR business. Another strong argument in favor of the cable company’s DVR is the lack of a complicated set up procedure to get competing devices to reliably work with the cable company’s set-top box.

Motorola's M CableCARD

Motorola’s M CableCARD

Thanks to Comcast and other cable companies, setting up Roamio managed to confound even a tech reporter like Jaroslovsky, and Comcast was not much help.

The Roamio requires a CableCARD, a plug-in card-sized version of the cable company’s set-top box, to unlock digital cable channels.

The CableCARD was Congress’ attempt in the 1996 Telecom Act to give consumers an option to avoid costly and unsightly set-top boxes. Originally envisioned as a plug-in device that would offer “cable-ready” service without a set-top box in future generations of televisions, the CableCARD never really took off. The cable industry opposed the devices and dragged its feet, preferring to support its own set-top boxes. The CableCARD that eventually did emerge was initially often difficult to obtain and had huge limitations, such as one-way-only access which meant no electronic program guide, no video-on-demand, and no access to anything that required two-way communications between the card and the cable company. Newer CableCARDs do offer two-way communications and support today’s advanced cable services.

The only place most cable operators mention the availability of the CableCARD in detail is in a federally mandated disclosure of pricing, services, and a consumer’s rights and responsibilities — usually provided in a rice-paper-thin, tiny-print leaflet included with your bill once a year, if you still get one in the mail.

Roamio is likely to frighten technophobes right from the start with this important notification:

CableCARDs are made by one of four manufacturers: Motorola, Scientific Atlanta/Cisco, NDS, or Conax. You need one multi-stream CableCARD (M-card). Single-stream CableCARDs (S-cards) are not compatible.

“That costs an extra $1.50 a month from Comcast, and in my case, required three trips to its nearest office because the first card didn’t work,” Jaroslovsky writes.

On the second trip, Comcast handed him two cards in the hope at least one would work, requiring one last trip to return the card that didn’t.

Time Warner Cable and certain other cable operators use Switched Digital Video, incompatible with the Roamio.

Time Warner Cable and certain other cable operators use Switched Digital Video, incompatible with the Roamio without a Digital Tuning Adapter, available from the cable company.

The second hurdle was to get Comcast to recognize and authorize that CableCARD. Comcast’s technical customer support staff was lacking. Jaroslovsky found his call bounced from department to department attempting to authorize the card and diagnose why it simply refused to work at first.

After finally overcoming those problems, Jaroslovsky discovered he was out of luck getting Roamio to stream premium movie channels like HBO and Cinemax. The encryption system Comcast supports prohibits streaming the movie networks outside of the home. The Slingbox works around the issue by bypassing the encryption system’s permission settings with extra cables between it and your cable box.

Time Warner Cable subscribers will need still another piece of equipment — a Tuning Adapter compatible with Switched Digital Video (SDV). To conserve bandwidth, cable companies like Time Warner limit certain digital channels being sent to each neighborhood unless someone is actively watching.

Before you can view or record a program on an SDV channel, your box must be able to send channel requests back to the cable headend. Roamio is a one-way device and cannot send the required channel requests. Cable providers who have deployed SDV technology will provide a Tuning Adapter to customers who have HD TiVo boxes. A Tuning Adapter is a set top box that provides two-way capabilities, so your box can request SDV channels. There are two Tuning Adapter brands: Motorola and Cisco. Motorola CableCARDs work with Motorola Tuning Adapters. Scientific Atlanta and NDS CableCARD work with Cisco Tuning Adapters. Without the Tuning Adapter, a Roamio user will find error messages on several digital channels indicating they are “temporarily unavailable.”

Other cable operators offer varying support for Roamio. Cablevision has been learning how to support the device along with customers. Prior customer experiences make it clear front-line service representatives are not going to be very helpful managing the technical process to properly configure, update, and authorize CableCARD technology for the new TiVo device, so prepare to have your call transferred to one or more representatives.

After all this, Jaroslovsky was finally watching his Comcast cable channels, able to access on-demand services, and found TiVo’s interface and program guide more satisfying than the one offered on Comcast’s DVR.

Roamio Plus and Pro have built-in support for video streaming away from home that will be fully enabled this fall.

Jaroslovsky found in-home streaming smooth and satisfying. Programs launched quickly and looked terrific on an iPad with Apple’s high-resolution Retina display, with none of the blockiness or stuttering sometimes associated with streaming video.

His review unit allowed him to test streamed programming outside of the home and video quality on the go was much more variable. The current software prohibits video streaming on AT&T’s 4G LTE network, a problem with a resolution now in the works. Public Wi-Fi hotspots often delivered poor performance, even when they could supply up to 2Mbps. Blurred pictures and pixel blocks often broke up the video on slow Internet connections. A faster connection supporting more than 10Mbps is capable of delivering a better viewing experience, especially if that connection comes without usage caps.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/TiVo Roamio DVR Demo Video 8-19-13.flv

An introduction and demo of the TiVo Roamio DVR, produced by TiVo. (3 minutes)

This article was updated with a clarification about Tuning Adapters, required by some cable operators using Switched Digital Video. Thanks to reader Dave Hancock for helping clear things up.

Share

Currently there are 18 comments on this Article:

  1. Dave Hancock says:

    Phillip, In the following section:

    “Time Warner Cable subscribers will need still another piece of equipment — a digital tuning adapter (DTA) compatible with Switched Digital Video (SDV). To conserve bandwidth, cable companies like Time Warner limit certain digital channels being sent to each neighborhood unless someone is actively watching. Roamio itself cannot ask Time Warner’s network for those channels, so the customer ends up with an error message indicating one or more channels are temporarily unavailable. A tuning adapter that can handle the request is required. Unfortunately, some of these devices are not HD compatible, compromising the video quality Roamio is capable of providing, and Time Warner’s early supply of DTAs are not compatible with SDV at all.”

    You are mixing up two entirely different devices:

    Time Warner’s SDV requires a Tuning Adapter to be used with TiVo (or other 3rd party DVRs) to signal the local SDV server to deliver the desired channel to the TiVo. These devices have always worked with HD as all they needed to do was signal the local server what was wanted and to provide some logic for this to happen.

    This is entirely different than the Digital Terminal Adapter (DTA – aka Digital Transport Adapter) which is a low cost cable box with limited capabilities. This what cable companies are using when transitioning to “all digital”. Generally it is a one way box with internal security (no CableCard) that cannot work with SDV or On Demand. Because they were developed to enable legacy analog TV sets to receive digital cable signals they generally were not available for HD.

    Another, perhaps minor, point relates to the CableCard. The piece implies that the newer CableCards are two-way devices. This is not strictly true. The newer “M Cards” work on two way systems, but do not provide the transmission capabilities (that is what the Tuning Adapter does).

    • Yes you are correct. I unfortunately -did- mix up the two devices, both annoyingly abbreviated DTA and performing similar functions. Thank you very much for updating all of us with the correct information.

      To clarify, here is the information from TiVo themselves (http://support.tivo.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/1350/kw/dta):

      Switched Digital Video (SDV) is a technology that allows cable providers to expand the programming you receive by sending certain channels to customer homes only when the channels are requested. If you have a Roamio Series, Premiere Series, or Series3/HD DVR with CableCARD(s), you might see a blank screen on a number of channels if your cable provider makes the transition to SDV. The good news is that TiVo has worked with your cable provider to develop a solution at little or no cost to you.

      With a Tuning Adapter from your cable provider, your TiVo box will be able to receive and record all your channels, just as it did before.

      This is what you need to do:

      Watch for communications about the transition to SDV from your cable company.
      Call your cable provider to get a Tuning Adapter at little or no cost.
      Install the adapter by plugging it into your cable line and the USB port on your TiVo box (click here for an interactive walkthrough, or here to view installation instructions), or have a cable company technician install it.
      Continue to enjoy your TV and TiVo box in the same way you always have.

      TiVo does not distribute Tuning Adapters – only your cable provider can do that – but with the most current software update, your Roamio Series, Premiere Series, or Series3/HD DVR is fully compatible and ready to display SDV channels as soon as a Tuning Adapter is installed.

      NOTE: Switched Digital Video only affects TiVo boxes that use CableCARDs, and is not related to the transition to digital antenna signals.

  2. BenJF3 says:

    Good luck trying to get a CableCard to work with Time Warner Cable. It’s been an absolute NIGHTMARE! They just keep saying it won’t do HD and I need a set top box. They are clueless. I’m about to return my Ceton infin6 ETH and just cancel AGAIN!

    • John says:

      It took me over a month from when I bought my Tivo last year to when I was finally able to watch every channel with a cablecard and tuning adapter.

      I finally had to tweet the time warner twitter page, they seem to be the only techs that are knowledgeable.

      • Dave Hancock says:

        A real problem with TWC (actually it is even worse with others such as Comcast, Verizon FiOS & etc.) is that CSRs have no technical background at all and are only supposed to work with scripts. The scripts are quite deficient when it comes to thinks like CableCards, or QAM tuners & etc. The only way to get real help with TWC is if you can get to 3rd level support (and they make it hard to get there) or get an actual TWC technician (not a contractor) to your house.

  3. Mark in St Paul says:

    I have never been a fan of Comcast but I have to say this went really well.

    On September 18 I purchased a TiVo Roamio at a local Best Buy. I had looked at the Comcast website and, while they mentioned cable cards, I could not fine any definitive info on how one would work or what it would cost. Fearing technical issues and/or exorbitant charges I selected the base TiVo with OTA capability in case I needed a fall back. The Best Buy salesperson assured me that Comcast would GIVE me a cable card and that they would not add the $10/mo “HD charge” to my cable bill like they do with their own set top boxes. OK… but call me skeptical.

    On the way home from Best Buy I stopped at the Comcast outlet and indeed, in 3 to 4 minutes I walked out with the cable card – FREE! And no change to my monthly bill. Call me surprised.

    At home I followed the on-screen setup instructions. When the TiVo was ready I inserted the card and phoned Comcast. The customer service rep asked for the requisite activation info and quickly got the service running. Took 5 minutes in all – easy peasy. Everything works as advertised. Call me happy.

    • sdnative says:

      FCC law as of just a few years ago now requires ALL cable companies to provide a SDV tuning adapter free of charge and make Cablecards available over the counter. Cable customers are now allowed to do their own installation of this equipment where before, many cable companies had a MANDATORY installation charge (which is greedy robbery). Cox Cable was one of those that wouldn’t allow you do do your own install of these two simple devices and charged about $70! An installer was required to come out just for that! I refused to pay that and left my Tivo boxed up for over a year when luckily the law was changed. Even now, Cox trucks rarely carry Cablecards with them. They often call other trucks to see who has one. The cable industry is doing a good job of killing itself without the cord cutters.

  4. Tony says:

    It has been 5 months since I purchased a TiVo Roamio Pro and Charter our provider has still not updated our Cisco Tuning Adapter’s firmware so we do not get premium channels and most of the digital channels. At times, we do not even get analog channels. We are also unable to record 6 channels at once.

    We have wasted over two dozen in-home tech visits, countless hours and hours on the phone and sending emails.

    All we get from Charter is “we are working on it.” I was so frustrated I filed a complaint with the FCC to which Charter replied to the FCC with an outright lie.

    We have had other issues with Charter TV and Internet (being billed for 100 Mbps when we were getting 8 Mbps if we were lucky) but the issue of a simple firmware update and their refusal to do so, is gross negligence. I have spoken with our Congressman and I am so annoyed at this point, I am prepared to launch an all out campaign and lobby Washington, DC to have the proposed Charter, Time Warner merger blocked as a result of their horrific customer service. Class Action lawsuit is also an option even if I have to buy full page newspaper ads and a down or so billboard in all the major Charter markets.

    • Eric says:

      Tony, I too have Charter and have read several postings (on other blogs) regarding their failure to properly provide support for adapters required for TiVo. I would really like to drop their DVR, but feel I am pretty much stuck if I want to enjoy all of the channels that I am paying for. I also understand that TiVo does not play well (if at all) with Charter On Demand.

      Please update your post if you manage to get anything resolved. Good Luck!

      • Tony says:

        We finally received a tuning adapter that was updated and actually works. It took over 6 months for success! It still amazes me every time I see a Charter commercial touting their excellent customer service, talk about “untruths in advertising”…

  5. Hello! I could have sworn I’ve been to this website before but after
    looking at some of the posts I realized it’s new to me. Anyhow,
    I’m certainly delighted I came across it and I’ll be bookmarking it and checking
    back often!

    My site – rebelmouse site

  6. Peter Randrup says:

    What about people like me who are not wealthy?

    I’m on disability and can’t afford satellite TV service…and I get free cable with my rent. That means I’m screwed because the DVR is NOT actually a proper replacement for the VCR.

    VCR’s could be purchased anywhere in a consumer electronics store for a reasonable price. Today DVR’s are being held hostage by service providers – if you don’t purchase their expensive TV package “NO DVR FOR YOU” and no recording of your favorite TV programs!

    And there are no other affordable 3-4 tuner devices that do the same. I’m looking into Tivo but I’m not sure if it works without signing up for service. Some people say YES but no channel guide which I can live without.

    What would you think if the only way to get a brand new laptop was by purchasing an expensive Internet service at $60-$100 per month, that you don’t want or can’t afford? Same thing.

    • RG says:

      Peter, I’ve heard the same thing…that a Tivo can work albeit without the on-screen channel and recording guide which is a big feature to give up if you do a lot of recording. That means the only way to record is to do what they call a manual recording. Manually entering the start time and stop time and the channel. You may also have to rent a CableCard since it has a slot for it. Mine costs $3/month with Cox Cable.

  7. Therese says:

    Just FYI, here in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles, CA, Time Warner is switching (per their letter to me) to all-encrypted SDV as of August 19th. I just bought a Tivo Roamio thinking it would be better than my Series 2 2-tuner DVR, but that was only part of the story. I also use a PHD-VRX set top box to view cable TV on a video monitor; it was cheaper and more convenient than getting a HDTV because I couldn’t find a TV small enough for my purposes and because it was cheaper and more versatile because I needed a lot of amplification and a headphone jack, which I also couldn’t find on HDTV’s at the time I was looking for one. Anyway, the set top box receives analog and digital ATSC and QAM, but doesn’t have provision for the digital tuner adapter, which means I probably will never use its ability to record programs over cable, but probably will use it for viewing live TV for awhile, and for later recording OTA programs. I am really unhappy with the encryption of QAM channels that is coming next month.

    • Dave Hancock says:

      In this right:

      ” Time Warner is switching (per their letter to me) to all-encrypted SDV as of August 19th.”?

      I question the “SDV” part. Generally, it is said that TW is moving away from the use of SDV (Switched Digital Video). None of the popular channels have been on SDV and those channels on SDV have generally been encrypted already. So if the quoted statement is true, you have no sweat.

      I would think that they may well be switching all DIGITAL signals (those using a QAM tuner) to encrypted. If that is correct, then your concern is valid.

  8. Bob Mc says:

    Have to say that there was no problem with Brighthouse (Florida, Merritt Island) in setting up my new TIVO Roamio Plus with the M-card and tuning adapter. Did have a bad tuning adapter initially that was replaced at no cost by one of the BH techs, but once the TA was changed out, everything worked fine. It’s been almost six months now and is working smoothly, so I now want to get rid of the DVR provided by BH ($8/month) and “DVR services” at $11.95/month for a total savings of $20.00. Only problem is that I can’t get a straight answer from BH as to whether I need the “DVR services” once I get rid of the BH DVR. I think the answer is “no” but I don’t want to cancel the service only to find that it somehow relates to the Roamio cable access.

    Question: Does BH “DVR service” have any relationship to the functionality of the TIVO Roamio?







Search This Site:

Contributions:

Recent Comments:

  • B.B.: I have been paying for AT&T INS for over 5 years now. EVERY Single month. Let's call it 60 months- never had a claim- until last year sept or oct-...
  • scrisoare de dragoste: I have read soo many articles regarding the bogger loverfs but this paragraph iis genuinely a nice piece of writing, keep it up....
  • Chris: No the DVR service that Brighthouse is charging is for their DVR box, it will in no way affect the Tivo....
  • Rickey: Sometimes just calling them and talking to them about a small problem helps too. about two weeks ago i had U200 and 18mbps and i was chatting with som...
  • Aaron: I applaud your efforts to inform the public about these types of behind the scenes actions, Phillip. Consumers could use more people like you! If I ...
  • Will Knot Tell: What is not mentioned here is that ACS and GCI have combined resources and have a near monopoly on internet and wireless service in Alaska. AT&T h...
  • Alisha: This just happened to me as well. I just called and asked to speak with someone about pricing if we chose to set our DTV back up. The lady on the othe...
  • Phillip Dampier: Yes, I try and clean them out a few times a day. Recently, a lot more are getting through the spam protection filters. We get about 300-400 spam comme...
  • Limboaz: Hard to believe but Cox just doubled their speeds on all packages, BUT left the usage caps as is. How dumb. They should have doubled the caps too. But...
  • Limboaz: Wow, the spammers are out in full force....
  • Charlie Kairaiuak: This is exactly what happened to me. All of a sudden they were charging me $188 extra. When I called and told them I was on an unlimited plan they sai...
  • b Skinner: I too went thu with mediacom. Whn I switched from satellite they promised me better service than satellite. Whn they came I had one cable box and they...

Your Account: