Jeff's Guide To Cable Cutting - Going to Tivo - Dumping ChannelMaster and iView

Well I've had it with Channelmaster. What a hunk of junk. Several software updates and STILL this thing fails to record unless I do a full factory reset. Do you know how long that takes?  So I'll be shelling out $15 a month for the rest of my life but at least I'll have a device that works.  I also tried an iview DVR which only cost $30 on Amazon.  Another hunk of junk.  I plugged in an external terabyte drive and sure enough it records but if I try to program the remote to recognize my LG TV it fails.  Epic fail.  So I'm not only buying a Tivo, I'm picking up a Tivo mini to provide DVR function in a second room.  

Left: Tivo Roamio, Middle: ChannelMaster DVR+, Right: iView Converter Box (with PVR)

I suppose I should stick with the tutorial theme here and share what I have learned.  First, I'll talk about the current flavors of Tivo.  There are 3. The Roamio is the only unit for cable cutters.  The Roamio Plus and Roamio Pro won't even work for OTA TV.  They are really aimed at cable card users.  Then there's the decision whether to pay $15 a month or $499 up front for "lifetime" service.  Lifetime means as long as the Roamio lasts and I'm not willing to bet the thing lasts longer than 2.5 years without failing so I opted for the base model that requires monthly payment to keep it running.

I should also share a little bit about the ChannelMaster.  At first I was impressed. After all it promised to save me a lot of money.  Then I saw the same thing on Amazon for 1/10 the cost!  Of course the iview DVR is shoddy compared to the Channelmaster.  The iview says "please wait" when you hit pause. Say WHAT?  I hit pause so I could read the fine print on one of those ads and you want me to ... please WAIT?  I think NOT!  iView is capable of recording shows based on the OTA program guide which means you can basically schedule something about 24 to 48 hours in advance. That's about it.  Another nice thing about the iview is it has no internet connection. It's completely self contained. This means it relies completely on the OTA progam guide. OTOH, the Channelmaster uses a "Rovi" program guide which goes about 2 weeks in advance but it is more often than not completely wrong.  I forgot to mention the third DVR gadget we tried which is Elegato Eyetv software and a HDHomerun network tv tuner.  It does work and it uses an internet based program guide that is more often than not completely right.  It's just awkward with a capital AWKWARD.  Whoever wrote that eyetv software has a completely different idea of "good enough" than I do.

So later this week I'll be unplugging the Channelmaster and carting it down to the basement to the island of misfit toys.  The iview will be sharing the same fate.  Look out ebay, here comes some more of Jeff's handmedowns!

Update: I've now plugged in and activated the Tivo Roamio and Tivo Mini. I am pasting in my Amazon review of the Roamio here. Enjoy...

What a fine product!  Ok I'm not in love with the expensive monthly commitment but if you are willing to shell out for 30 months in advance, they will never bill you again. Not only that, there are discount codes available for the "lifetime" service. Google for them and you will find them if they are still valid.
As with any device there are pros and cons to the Tivo. First I'd like to focus on the pros.  
1) OTA TV reception. By far the Tivo Roamio has the best OTA TV reception of all my devices and those include: an HD Homerun network TV adapter, Two recent model LG LED TVs, an older Samsung TV and an off brand TV in the exercise room.
2) Selection of stuff to watch: Tivo does a GREAT job of organizing and presenting content. Not only that, Tivo Roamio also allows you to access Netflix and Pandora and the user interfaces for these are quite nicely done (compared to other devices claiming to stream Netflix and Pandora). I also like Tivo's Youtube interface.  Well done.  
3) Power consumption: Tivo Roamio comes with a small brick about the size of a cell phone charger. That's 5 to 10 watts and not the 60 watts or more a Comcast box would devour 24x7x365.
4) Remote layout: The Tivo remote layout is good.  It's a little confusing having two "rings" but they are different looking enough that hitting play/pause when I meant arrow down is something I've only done once or twice. The best thing? I can pair my iPhone with the Tivo and use my iPhone keyboard instead of typing my Netflix and other network login through that letter-by-letter on-screen qwerty keyboard.
5) Use with CATV. I haven't checked this myself because I'm a cord-cutter but the Tivo Roamio accepts cable cards through a little door on the bottom. I mention this in my review because it was not obvious in any of Tivo's online material and if you are considering a Roamio Plus or Pro simply to get a cable card slot, you do get one on the base Roamio.
6) User interface. While there are some small niggles I have about the Tivo user interface, it is much more intuitive than anything I've used from either Uverse, DirecTV, Comcast or Charter.  I've heard some of those companies license Tivo technology.  Why don't they simply let TIvo provide the software?  Well done!  If you're gonna charge me a monthly fee at least provide some value and I can say that the Tivo user interface provides value.
1) Cost.  While not as expensive as cable, Tivo is not a cheap service.  It's $15 a month forever or $499 one time. 
2) Menu layouts. I really think Tivo should rethink the way the Tivo button works.  It needs to be a toggle.  Hit it once to pull up Tivo menus. Hit it again to go back to Live TV.  It's too confusing to have any one-way functions where your finger can brush a button to get you into something you have to read on-screen prompts and think about how to get back to Live TV.
3) External expansion options.  The external HDD really should have been either USB or Thunderbolt.  It costs extra for ESata drives and they come with their own power bricks.
4) Activation. Tivo activation can be a bit clunky. You have to read and type in a very long hexadecimal number.  Why can't the Tivo simply give you a short activation code you can associate with your account like so many Netflix and Pandora capable set boxes do? Also initial installation brings up a screen that says "This may take an hour or longer" and while it went away before I could dig up my iPhone and take a picture, it was very disconcerting to buy a new bit of electronics and have it go online and spend "a long time" downloading stuff that should already be there. It's new, right?
5) Remote pairing. Remote pairing is a bit clunky and you can only get to it AFTER what can be a lengthy activation. I suggest Tivo move remote paring (so the Tivo remote can power on/off, change volume and select source on your existing TV whether it's been activated or not.
That might sound like a long list of cons but they really aren't all that bad compared to the pros of what is a fine quality product that is easy to use and fairly intuitive.