Watching Your DVR from Anywhere

With time- and place-shifting now entitlements of our on-demand culture, it’s no surprise that cable companies have been countering cord-cutters by extending the viewing rights of subscribers to their phones and tablets.

Since couch-sitting is a sign of atrophy, I decided to stand and try two state-of-the-art apps—the TiVo app and FiOS Mobile from Verizon. (Other providers offer similar apps.) Both apps are available for iOS and Android devices and are free as part of a cable TV and/or TiVo subscription. The first time you run either, you must authenticate that you are indeed a subscriber. Fortunate to have both the FiOS Quantum six-tuner and TiVo Bolt four-tuner DVRs attached to my TV and network, I was jazzed to deploy them as media servers.

When I reviewed the TiVo Bolt Unified Entertainment System, the TiVo app allowed streaming within the home but not over the internet. That shortcoming has now been largely fixed. Via the internet, you can stream programs from your TiVo as they’re aired (TiVo starts a recording session on Bolt when a broadcast is in progress) and play recorded shows from its hard drive.

What it can’t do is stream content from premium channels. For that, you must switch to another app such as HBO Go. Nor can it play on-demand cable content. Again, you’d have to leave the TiVo app and load one of the network’s apps.

The TiVo app’s search capability is source agnostic. When I searched for “Kimmy S,” the app brought up Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and a prompt to watch now from Netflix. It then launched the Netflix app. TiVo also returns search results from Amazon Prime and Hulu.

But when I searched for non-cable content like Kimmy in the FiOS Mobile app, it returned nothing. On the other hand, a search for Maya & Marty, the variety show that had ended its season on NBC, produced two on-demand episodes that I was able to stream via FiOS Mobile. The same search on the TiVo app produced no results.

Each app lets you turn the screen into a touch remote identical in layout to the hard remote. TiVo goes further with gesture navigation. Flick your finger to the right anywhere on the screen, and the program jumps 30 seconds. Flick to the left to go back seven seconds. These commands display on the time-elapsed bar, too, but you first have to touch the screen to bring them up.

FiOS Mobile enables voice search. Say “find Roadies,” for example, and recorded and on-demand episodes from the Showtime series show up. To avoid commercials on other shows using the FiOS Mobile app, you can slide the time-elapsed indicator, but there’s no precision in where you end up, and you’ll have to endure several seconds of stalled picture while the buffer catches up. The 30-second button takes you only backwards.

The FiOS Mobile app supports simultaneous streaming on up to four devices per media server, be it in-home or out-of-home or a combination. TiVo Bolt supports two simultaneous streams to other devices. TiVo seemed more concerned about my user experience by prompting me to download a program instead of streaming it when net congestion interrupted the flow.

In terms of content selection, the FiOS Mobile app offered more programs to stream from within my cable TV subscription package, including shows from premium and on-demand channels, but TiVo’s search engine knew when to launch another app to deliver what TiVo didn’t have access to itself. I found TiVo navigation superior, especially when it came to leapfrogging ad clutter.

So, which app will be staying? I like FiOS Mobile a lot, but TiVo gets my vote.