The Cordcutter’s Keystone

Mj 618_348_the cordcutters keystone

In the TV biz, the dreaded cordcutter – the mythical, motivated customer who sheds his $150 monthly cable bill and goes with Internet-based alternatives (or nothing at all) – is the bogeyman who haunts media company execs in the wee hours of the night. And, ‘Game of Thrones’ be damned, it is also all that we aspire to. Our longstanding (and as yet unfulfilled) quest has been to find that one keystone device that integrates all the alternative options for content – over-the-air (OTA) broadcasts, Internet streaming, DVR capabilities, and, why not, the ability to play old school optical media (DVD/Blu-ray), making cordcutting a feasible lifestyle choice. Lo and behold, we get the essential three out of those four with the still very relevant TiVo Premiere.

The Premiere is the lowest-end model of TiVo’s offerings, yet the only one that allows you to connect a TV antenna and snag free, top-HD-quality OTA broadcast signals, and still have DVR functions, including the ability to schedule recordings. That addresses the Achilles heel of most cordcutting devices, which, for the most part, aren’t designed to grab non-Net-based content. In an age where we still rely on TV for breaking news, presidential debates, live sports, weather emergencies and so on, it’s still important for us and, we suspect, many others. On top of that, TiVo built in the most popular so-called over-the-top (OTT) services: Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube, Pandora, and more. The combination of these two kinds of programming streams, if you didn’t realize, is huge.

With the exception of Boxee TV, no other mainstream box out there currently lets you go seamlessly from OTA to DVR video to Internet-based streaming video without having to go through a complicated rigmarole of swapping inputs and devices. (And, unlike Boxee TV, TiVo can even handle cable content via cable cards, though these require professional installation and don’t allow you to access any “on demand” content from your cable provider.) When you search for shows to record, the results include OTT options; you can’t record those, but you don’t need to since you can watch them any time, instantly. Also, using TiVo’s free iOS app, you can control and schedule recordings using an interface that’s identical to the on-screen one, but is actually even faster. The result is that you can catch mainstream network shows OTA (or in most cases, via Hulu Plus), dip into your Netflix queue for older stuff, or hit up TV series and new films via Amazon, all without needing to flip back and forth between inputs and devices on your TV. And for the budget inclined among us, it’s a fraction of a monthly cable bill for more than adequate return (Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu are all $8 a month, TiVo is $15; for us, the monthly DVR box, remote, and service are $37 alone.)

There are a few hangups. Bizarrely, the box doesn’t have a built-in Wi-Fi antenna and an adapter is a ludicrously steep $90. So that means stringing Ethernet cable all over creation to get the necessary Internet connection. For a service that requires a lot of manual typing and searching, the remote is hopelessly outdated (and for that matter, we think the set-top box itself is needlessly gigantic, especially when compared with OTA-less rivals such as Apple TV and Roku). Still, almost all of the pitfalls are one-off setbacks, and once it’s set up and purring, most aspiring cordcutters will never look back – or only with a self-satisfied smile. [$150 (plus $15 monthly for one-year contract);]

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