Cord-cutters may finally have a reason to pay attention to TiVo, thanks to the TiVo Roamio OTA.
The $50 DVR box connects to any over-the-air HD antenna and lets you record up to four shows at a time from free broadcast stations, such as ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox. It includes a 500GB hard drive for storing up to 75 hours of video, and it also supports streaming apps such as Netflix and Hulu Plus.
In other words, the Roamio OTA is nearly identical to the existing TiVo Roamio, except it lacks a CableCard slot for recording cable TV shows. It's also $150 cheaper.
Like all other TiVo devices, the Roamio OTA requires a $15 per month subscription. TiVo justifies the charge by offering a 14-day channel guide, regularly scheduled recordings, and a universal search feature that works across broadcast channels and streaming apps.
The Roamio OTA's closest competitors are Simple.TV and Tablo—both priced at $200—but those devices work a bit differently. Instead of connecting directly to the television, Simple.TV and Tablo hook up to your home Internet router and require a separate USB hard drive for storing DVR shows. They can then stream over the local network to other devices such as phones, tablets, PCs, Chromecast, and Roku.
Compared to those other options, TiVo's solution is simpler to understand, and its up-front hardware investment is much lower. But if you want to watch recorded shows on more than one television, TiVo's price and complexity ramp up quickly. Watching on each additional TV requires a $99 TiVo Mini box, and beaming video to an iPhone or iPad requires a $130 TiVo Stream. TiVo's mandatory subscription service is also three times as expensive as those of Simple.TV and Tablo, which are optional. You'll need to bust out some spreadsheet skills to figure out which option is most cost-efficient for you.
In any case, none of these options are as elegant as Aereo, which took hardware out of the equation by storing the antennas and hard drives remotely. Unfortunately, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that Aereo is illegal, so a little extra clutter in your living room or near your router is required. For recording broadcast TV, devices like TiVo Roamio OTA are as good as it's going to get.
The TiVo Roamio OTA will be available at select Best Buy stores starting September 14.
Updated at 1:12 p.m. PT to correct the name of the TiVo Roamio OTA in several instances.