The TiVo Stream 4K is the latest value streaming dongle to hit the cord-cutting market. TiVo is best known for its DVR products. Now the company has its sights set on beating streaming industry leaders with a promotional $49 price tag (plus free shipping) on its 4K-capable machine.
But can it hold its own in a market space that is dominated by Roku and Amazon?
Team Clark has set out to answer that question with this review of the Stream 4K, which touts the versatility of Google Chromecast plus an Android TV-powered operating system.
Money expert Clark Howard has long held the opinion that the Roku Express is one of the top streaming devices on the market. He cites its functionality, compatibility with major streaming TV services and reasonable price tag ($30 retail but often on sale for $25 or less).
For the purposes of this review, we recently purchased the new TiVo device and put it to the test against a couple of the low-cost Roku devices already in our streaming arsenal. Here’s what we found out:
TiVo Stream 4K: Fast Facts
Be honest. When you think of the name TiVo, you probably have visions of a big, clunky machine that helped you record shows back before the built-in DVR was a mainstream idea.
Well, this isn’t your parents’ TiVo machine.
So if you’ve already used one of those low-cost streaming TV devices, you’re probably going to have an easy transition to using this TiVo dongle. If not, stick with us for a quick tutorial to get you up and running.
Let’s start by explaining exactly what you’re looking at with this new TiVo device. It’s a streaming dongle that operates on Google’s Android TV platform (and thus uses apps from the Google Play Store). TiVo hopes to take market share away from its competitors with a “unified guide experience,” which lets you sign into all of your streaming subscriptions at once and consume them through TiVo’s platform.
Here is a quick rundown:
TiVo Stream 4K: What You Need to Know
|$49.99 + free shipping
|“Unified Guide Experience” for apps
|Live Streaming TV Integration
|Sling TV only; others available via app download
|Cloud-based through Sling TV partnership
|4K and HDR Functionality
What Comes in the Package
As you can see in the picture (above) I took after unboxing the device, you’ll get six items:
- TiVo dongle
- Power cord (for the dongle)
- Outlet adapter (for the dongle)
- TiVo remote control
- Two AAA batteries (for the remote)
- Instruction guide (for setup)
Assembly was a breeze for me: It took less than two minutes. You start by placing the dongle into an open HDMI port on your television. Then connect the dongle to the provided cord, connect the cord to your power adapter and plug the adapter into your wall outlet. From there, you put the batteries into your remote and then follow the instruction to link the dongle and remote together.
The Setup Process Is Pretty Painless
Since the TiVo device operates on the Android TV operating system, you need a Google (or Gmail) account to complete the setup process. If you already have an Android phone, tablet or Chromebook, you’ve probably already established a Google account to use those products.
Once you sign up through your Google account, you’ll be prompted to sync your apps from other Google devices to the TiVo Stream 4K. From there, the final step is to answer a series of “this show or that show” questions to help it learn your content preferences.
3 Areas Where TiVo Stream 4K Is Better Than Roku Express
Let’s start off with the good news. TiVo has some strengths over its chief competitor.
1. TiVo’s Remote Is Much Better
After just a few hours of handling the TiVo remote, I found I liked it a lot better than the basic Roku offerings.
Here’s a side-by-side look at the TiVo remote (left) in comparison to the remote that comes with both the Roku Express and Roku Premiere (right).
First, note that the TiVo remote has integrated Google Assistant. This means you can control many functions of the device by simply pressing the button and speaking your command into the remote. Roku does offer voice-activated remotes, but you have to upgrade to either the Roku Streaming Stick+ or Roku Ultra to get one.
Next, you’ll see that there are just more buttons, and that means more choices. The TiVo remote has volume and change controls, a power button, guide button and numerals. Roku has always taken a minimalist approach to its lower-end remotes. That makes them easy to use but somewhat lacking compared to TiVo’s offering.
2. TiVo Can Aggregate All Your Streaming Content
If the “tile-by-tile” browsing format of the Roku operating system annoys you, you may find that TiVo is a real step up in how you search for content.
On the Roku Express or Premiere, you have to navigate from one app tile to another to search through your available content. TiVo streamlines that process by letting you aggregate both your on-demand and live TV viewing across all available streaming subscriptions through what it calls a “unified guide experience.”
For example, you could search for The Sopranos within the TiVo menu, and it would show which of your streaming services offer the show. You can click on the preferred app to watch it (as pictured below) and even add it to your “My Shows” section for quick access in the future.
This aggregation also works for live streaming thanks to an integration with Sling TV. TiVo offers a seven-day free trial for the service within the packaging of the Stream 4K device. With a simple click of the TiVo guide button on the remote, you get a menu of all available live streams in a cable-like guide.
At the time of this review, the following streaming services were available within the TiVo app guide without opening a separate application:
- Sling TV
- HBO Now
- Amazon Prime Video
- Google Play Movies & TV
You also have access to thousands of apps available through the Google Play Store.
If you want to learn more about how this works, here are a couple of short videos from TiVo that are pretty helpful in explaining the process:
3. You Can Screencast From Your Phone to Your Television
The TiVo Stream 4K comes equipped with Google Chromecast technology. As a standalone device, the Chromecast retails for $35 and has served as a direct streaming competitor with Roku (we even wrote a review comparing the two here). Roku does have some similar screen mirroring capabilities, but the Chromecast functionality offers a nice upgrade in user experience.
When you’re logged into your Google account on your phone, you can simply click a button to connect your phone screen to your television wirelessly through the TiVo device. This lets you share videos, music and photos from your phone to your TV screen almost instantaneously.
3 Areas Where the TiVo Stream 4K Falls Short of Roku Express
While TiVo does bring some exciting new options to the table, the Stream 4K is not perfect. In fact, there are some important areas where Roku clearly still holds the upper hand in this competition.
1. YouTube TV Gets Left Behind by TiVo
Because TiVo has partnered with Sling TV for live stream integration, you can’t use the aggregation capabilities mentioned above with your YouTube TV subscription.
This doesn’t mean you can’t use YouTube TV on the device. You still can download it through the Google Play Store and access your subscription on the device. You cannot, however, integrate YouTube TV with the TiVo channel guide or content search. At the very least, that’s inconvenient.
Given the popularity of YouTube TV, that seems like a pretty big hurdle for TiVo to clear in its efforts to pull users away from Roku devices.
2. TiVo+ Is Not As Good as The Roku Channel
TiVo offers free streaming channels and content on its own TiVo+ app (preloaded on the device), but frankly, its content doesn’t come close yet — in terms of volume and quality — to what The Roku Channel offers.
If you haven’t already checked out The Roku Channel, you may want to read through Team Clark’s review on it. It rates as one of the top options in our free streaming guide thanks to its strong selection of on-demand movies and television shows.
3. Pricing Is a Concern
Many of you come to Team Clark for financial advice, so we’d be remiss if we didn’t address the price difference in Roku’s value devices and the new TiVo offering.
With a promotional price of $49 and a purported regular price of $69, the TiVo Stream 4K can cost more than twice what you may pay for the Roku Express or Premiere. At the time of this article, Roku was running a promotion that priced the Premiere (normally $39) for $29. And you can often find the Roku Express often on sale for $24 (regular price is $29).
While there are some neat features on this new TiVo device, you may find it more financially responsible to save money with a Roku offering instead. If pricing isn’t a concern, you might consider buying one of Roku’s more expensive streaming devices for close to the same price as the TiVo Stream 4K.
Breakdown: TiVo Stream 4K vs. Roku Streaming Family
Now that you know the major user-experience differences between the Roku and TiVo devices, let’s take a quick look at how they stack up in a side-by-side specs comparison.
Here’s a chart, based on data from TiVo and Roku, that compares the Stream 4K to three of the Roku models:
|TiVo Stream 4K
|Full Retail Price
|Expected Discount Price (When Available)
|TV Power and Volume Remote
|4K and HDR Compatibility
|Cross-platform Search Function
So is the TiVo Stream 4K device worth purchasing for your television entertainment?
Let’s help break that question down with some pros and cons to the new streaming dongle:
TiVo Stream 4K: Pros and Cons
|Responsive remote with Google Assistant
|Lack of YouTube TV compatibility within guide function
|Ability to aggregate content from various services
|Price point may be a bit high
|Must log in with Google account
Bottom Line: If you’re making your streaming device purchase based solely on price, you probably won’t find that the TiVo product compares favorably to Roku’s Express model. But if you’re looking for a 4K streaming experience, enjoy having the Google Assistant on a premium remote and want to aggregate your content into one location, the TiVo Stream 4K may be the device for you.
Do you have experience with the TiVo Stream 4K? Let us know how you like it in the comments below!