Katherine Boehret

TiVo Stream Gets Viewers Off the Couch

With my time limited, I’m continuously working to chip away at the ever-growing list of programs and movies on my TiVo.

For the past week, I’ve been testing a device that solves a lot of my problems: TiVo Stream. The $130 box, available Sept. 6 from TiVo.com and in Best Buy soon after that, streams content from your TiVo to up to four mobile devices in your home at high-definition quality. That lets me watch prerecorded shows while doing other things, like cooking or getting ready for work.

Stream also turns mobile devices into TVs of their own: You can scan the channel guide, select a show and watch it live. It also lets people wirelessly download content to their mobile devices for watching anytime, like on planes or during road trips.

TiVo Stream works with the iPad, iPhone and newer iPod touch models. A TiVo spokesman said an Android-compatible app is in the works.

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TiVo Stream sends content to mobile devices

To use the Stream, you need one of TiVo’s Premiere models. The overall cost may be prohibitive for TiVo newcomers: Getting a TiVo Premiere box can cost $150, $250 or $400, depending on the model. In addition, the monthly service fee for TiVo is $15 for a single DVR or $13 for multiple DVRs; lifetime service is offered to existing users for $400 or to new users for $500.

If you have a Premiere box, Stream is just $130. Users only pay for the cost of the box; there’s no added service fee. More than half of TiVo’s current subscribers use the company’s Premiere boxes. TiVo had 2.5 million subscribers at its last report in May, up from two million in April 2011.

Apps from cable companies, generally free to cable subscribers who log in, also provide some TV-watching options on mobile devices and work in various Wi-Fi network, not just at home. These services vary, and are generally more limited than TiVo Stream. Some only allow viewers to watch specific programming, rather than all live channels and prerecorded content like TiVo Stream. And Stream enables downloading files directly onto devices.

After using TiVo Stream in my home, I’m dreading sending it back after this column publishes, as is my policy for returning products. Without calling the cable company or buying new televisions, I was suddenly able to watch TV in several rooms of my house. As I chopped vegetables in the kitchen, I watched a streaming episode of the Food Network’s “Barefoot Contessa” for inspiration. I watched the ending to an old favorite movie, “My Best Friend’s Wedding,” from the comfort of my bed rather than from the living room. I even played live U.S. Open tennis matches in the bathroom while doing my makeup so as not to miss a minute of my favorite tennis tournament. At one point, I had a Kim Clijsters tennis match simultaneously playing on my TV, on two iPads and on an iPhone.

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Its corresponding app shows what programs are downloaded to an iPad.

Live shows took about eight seconds to buffer when I first tapped a button to play them on my iPad or iPhone, then played smoothly without stuttering. Prerecorded shows played immediately when I tapped a button to play them on my iPhone or iPad. Though downloading shows and watching streamed shows on my iPad and iPhone used up a serious chunk in battery life, I was using them at home for most of the time and could plug them in for more juice.

When I wanted to take a show with me on my iPad or iPhone, I tapped a button in the TiVo Stream’s corresponding app to wirelessly download it. A 30-minute, standard-definition (305-megabyte) episode took 13 minutes to download to an iPhone, and a similar episode took just 14 minutes to download in “Best” definition (537 megabytes). A one-hour show took 18 minutes to download in standard definition (616 megabytes), while another one-hour episode took 28 minutes to download onto my iPad in “Best” definition (one gigabyte). “Standard” looked great on the iPad and iPhone, and for purposes other than testing, I wouldn’t bother downloading “Best” in the future.

To seasoned TiVo fans, the content-downloading model might sound familiar. TiVo already offers TiVoToGo, but this is a slow, wired option that uses a computer.

The TiVo Stream was a no-brainer to set up. I usually use a Wi-Fi dongle to wirelessly connect my TiVo to the Internet, but the Stream requires a wired connection. I used two Ethernet cords to plug the Stream device — a box about the size of a piece of toast and just over an inch thick — into my wireless router and the back of the TiVo. A small, white light on the box blinked for less than a minute before steadily glowing, which indicated that it was ready to use. I opened the TiVo app on my third-generation iPad, tapped a button to select my TiVo Premiere box, and entered its multimedia code, found in the TiVo settings menu. A four-step test appeared on the iPad screen and confirmed its connection to the TiVo. The whole process took less than five minutes and I repeated it with an iPhone and a first-generation iPad.

With the new TiVo Stream app, two columns clearly show what’s recorded on the TiVo and what’s downloaded on the device (iPad or iPhone, in my case). Watching shows was a lot like using my regular TV: I paused live programming to let it get a few minutes ahead, and then used a 30-second-skip button to fly past commercials. With a left or right swiping gesture, I could quickly fast forward or rewind.

Whenever I watched a live show on my iPad or iPhone, it automatically started recording back on my TiVo Premiere box, so if you have two shows already recording, you’ll be out of luck. Two Premiere models offer four tuners each, which avoids this problem.

Write to Katie at katie.boehret@wsj.com.


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