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Friday
May202016

Podcast #740: Tivo Bolt Review

Cord cutting is all the rage, but for many of us, it simply isn’t an option. There’s way too many members of the household that can’t do without TV, you’re too far from the transmitters to get over-the-air TV, or the shows you really want to watch aren’t available from streaming, or you really like watching live events you can’t get over-the-air. Whatever that case, cutting the cord is a non-starter. Slimming the cord, however, could totally work. And the Tivo Bolt might be the perfect device to do it.

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Tivo Bolt Review

Cord cutting is all the rage, but for many of us, it simply isn’t an option. There’s way too many members of the household that can’t do without TV, you’re too far from the transmitters to get over-the-air TV, or the shows you really want to watch aren’t available from streaming, or you really like watching live events you can’t get over-the-air. Whatever that case, cutting the cord is a non-starter. Slimming the cord, however, could totally work. And the Tivo Bolt (buy now) might be the perfect device to do it.

 

Bolt Features

From the Tivo website:

“The TiVo BOLT is the shortest distance between you and your entertainment, because it combines all your options into a single box. No more switching devices, toggling inputs or juggling remotes. Whether it's from TV, available on-demand libraries or streaming apps like Netflix, Amazon Prime, HULU, YouTube or Pandora, TiVo BOLT delivers it all in an instant.

OneSearch™ scours multiple platforms like TV and Netflix simultaneously, so your search experience is always fast, simple and seamless. No more drilling down into each app and doing multiple hunt-and-seek searches. Find shows and movies by title, actor, director or keyword—and start watching in seconds.

OnePass™ tracks down every available season and episode of a show—whether it's on television or a streaming app—and creates a customizable watchlist for you. Start with the pilot episode or jump in anywhere mid-season. OnePass automatically records upcoming episodes and adds them to your list.

TiVo BOLT is 33% smaller than any other product in its category, but it packs a mightier punch. With 3x the speed of our previous box and up to 3x the memory, TiVo BOLT satisfies your entertainment appetite… and your need for speed. All that power is packed into a slender, elegant package that runs your entire entertainment center. Oh, and that distinctive, arched design isn't just for looks, it serves as a clever cooling system.

No more waiting for commercial breaks to be over. With a single press of a button, you can continue watching your recorded show. SkipMode works with the top 20 channels, including ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, AMC Comedy Central, Discovery Channel, TBS, FX, TLC, History Channel, TNT, The CW, Food Network, USA, Bravo, ABC Family, Syfy, Lifetime and HGTV.

QuickMode lets you zip through your recorded shows—and shows with a buffer—30% faster than normal speed with pitch-corrected audio. You zoom along and nobody sounds like a caffeinated chipmunk. It's the ideal way to power through slow-moving news shows, sports and long-winded political debates.

TiVo BOLT can handle the biggest entertainment jones. It records up to four shows at once and provides up to 1 TB of recording capacity—enough for roughly 150 hours of HD programming. Need even more? Add an external hard drive or a TiVo-ready NetGear ReadyNAS. And if you've got a new 4K Ultra HD TV, then get excited, because TiVo BOLT is 4K-compatible right out of the box.”

The Bolt can be purchased in three different options. The 500 GB model goes for $199, The 1 TB model is $299, and the 2 TB option is $499.

The big knock on Tivo as a cord cutting device is that it isn’t free. There is a monthly or annual subscription fee associated with each DVR. There is a new Tivo Roamio OTA that doesn’t have the subscription fee, but it only supports Antenna tuners, not CableCard.  The Bolt includes the first year of service for free, but after the first year, the cost goes to $150 per year or $15 per month if you pay monthly. Not great, but honestly, not that bad.  Cox charges $28.49 per month for a DVR, so the Bolt is less than half the annual cost of a Cable DVR, at least in our area.

 

Installation

The saga of getting our Bolt up and running wasn’t really anything to do with the Tivo device itself, but it was quite an ordeal, so we’ll tell you everything we went through so you have an understanding for what you may be in for if you decide to go the Tivo route. Since we both are (or were) Satellite TV customers, one of us had to get Cable activated to do the review. So Braden stopped by a local Cox Solution Store, activated a basic Cable package for about $40 per month, added a CableCard for an additional $2 per month and left the store quite satisfied. The whole process took about 15 minutes.

What is supposed to happen is you get home, plug the CableCard into the Tivo, connect the Bolt to Coax for Cable service and you’re all set. If only that was the case. First thing that happens is you call the Cable provider to pair the CableCard with your account and activate it. This was easy, but it didn’t work. The tuning adapter Cox provided couldn’t lock on, so the Bolt couldn’t pick up any channels. The phone representative suggested a visit from a technician, so we got that scheduled.

The technician arrived the following day and found the signal to the Bolt was both weak and dirty. He did some rewiring, added a signal booster and retested the line. All looked good, everything was green and should have been the perfect situation to get the Bolt working. The tuning adapter did lock on, but the Bolt was permanently stuck at 89% on the process of getting Cable channels. A quick call to HQ to un-pair and re-pair the CableCard got us past that. We could then get guide, but no video. Everything should have been working, but we just couldn’t get it there.

The Cox technician admitted he wasn’t a Tivo expert, but said there were others who were. He would leave for the day and get us connected with a different tech that could hopefully make everything work. That other techs came two days later and found that it was a PEBKAC issue, Mea Culpa firmly on Braden’s shoulders. The first time walking through the guided setup he either chose Antenna as the tuner option, or it was selected for him since the CableCard wasn’t installed at the time. In any event, the Bolt didn’t set itself to Cable mode when the CableCard was inserted, it stayed on Antenna mode. Trying to tune the Cable signal as if is was an Antenna of course didn’t work. Re-running guided setup and selecting Cable got everything working. With guide, picture and sound.

Well, sound was temporary. Not even ten minutes had passed after the second technician had left the house and sound stopped working on the Tivo. No audio whatsoever. No sound from TV programs, no sound from streaming apps, not sound effects from the Tivo. We rebooted the Tivo, unplugged the HDMI, tried a different HDMI input on the TV, nothing worked. Google to the rescue. We found others complaining of the same issue and it seems Tivo isn’t a huge fan of some TV brands, and we just so happened to be installing ours connected to one of those brands (Sharp). To fix it you have to physically remove power to the TV. When you plug it back in, sound is restored.

About 4 days, three Cable technicians, several calls to tech support and a ridiculous number of Google searches later, the Tivo Bolt was finally installed, working and ready for business.

 

Use

The first thing you notice about using the Bolt is that it is fast. Super fast. UI doesn’t lag. Searches are crazy fast, and everything just feels like it happens when you want it to. Most DVRs, even the Hopper from Dish, have areas of the UI that lag. Searches, for example, tend to be a real chore in a lot of interfaces, but not for the Bolt. And it isn’t just a guide search, or a search of your recordings, it’s a search of the guide, you recordings and all the various video streaming services you have enabled. All of it in one spot. The search functionality is awesome.

Which leads us to the integration of channel content and streamed content. This functionality, like the OnePass recordings, or the unified search, is amazing.  At Braden’s house there were a few episodes of a couple shows that he wasn’t able to record while he was getting the install issues worked out. OnePass to the rescue. He set a OnePass for those shows and it instantly populated all the episodes available, and listed where each one could be streamed from.  For those available on Hulu, you can get them for free.  If they aren’t up there anymore, you can usually find them at Amazon or Vudu for a small per-episode charge.  And for the really old ones, at Netflix or Amazon Prime for free.

This unified approach to content is pretty awesome. No more searching through all your video apps to see who has which show. No more wondering if you can get it for free over here or if you’ll have to pay for it over there. The only weirdness comes in when you set a OnePass for a show like Saturday Night Live, a show with over 40 seasons.  You have to adjust the filters to scope it down to just what you’ve recorded if you don’t want to have to navigate through 40 seasons worth of episodes to find the one you just recorded a couple days ago. It’s two quick button presses, but a bit strange getting used to.

Anytime you switch from one user interface that you’re comfortable with to a new one, there’s a bit of a learning curve to get used to it. The Tivo interface is no different, but it is quite intuitive. Everyone in the family picked it up pretty quickly and Braden’s wife even commented on how much better she thought the experience was than their prior DVR.  Sure the guide works a little different, the searches are a bit different, setting recordings is a bit different, but it all makes sense once you get used to it. And what they say is true, Tivo does have the best DVR interface out there. Different, but different in a good way.

The Bolt also lets you stream recorded content to your phone or tablet if you’re on the same network.  You can watch TV from the treadmill, or turn it on from the kitchen, without the need for another box or device. Yes, the Hopper can do that too, but not all DVRs can. And you can control the DVR: set recordings, etc. from anywhere in the world. If you’re outside the home and want to watch some of the content, your app will tell you what services it is available on for streaming, so you can still watch the shows - or most of them at least - you just aren’t watching the copy you have recorded on your DVR.

There are a couple nits about the Bolt, though. Parental controls on the Bolt are a bit weak. It feels like they threw something in to say they had it, not really designing the feature to match what parents would want to do. If you have a lot of kids all accessing the same DVR for content, it would be nice to have a bit more granularity on what you can do.  And a lot of the menus don’t wrap around. So if you’re on the top option and want to get to the bottom, you have to scroll through all the options to get there, you can’t just click the up button once. Same if you’re at the bottom and want to get to the top. If you try to do it, the Bolt makes an error sound. Admittedly not a huge deal, but strange.

 

Accessories

The Tivo Mini ($137) unlocks a world of whole house video options.  You simply buy the mini and add a video zone. It doesn’t require an additional subscription, just buy the box and away you go. It can be installed using wired Ethernet or MoCA. So if you have a coax cable but no ethernet, you’re still good. If you have neither, you’re stuck. It cannot be installed via WiFi. That’s a huge bummer for those who like the wireless options from Dish or AT&T. But we were able to get one working using a pair of 500MB Powerline Ethernet adapters without issue. We still can’t tell the difference between the direct wired Mini and the powerline wired Mini. So we found a way to get TV to a location without wired Ethernet or Coax for an additional $35.

Most cable and satellite companies charge a monthly fee for the extender boxes. Dish calls them Joeys. They can run from $8 to $12 per month. With the Mini there is no additional monthly cost at all.  Using $10 per month as an average, you break even on the Mini after about 14 months. Keep in mind that the Bolt only has four tuners, so you have an upper bound on the number of Minis you can functionally add. Supposedly you can get two Bolts working at the same time to get 8 tuners in the home, but right now they manage recordings totally independently. Internet rumors claim Tivo is working on a unified view for multiple Bolts, but we don’t have any information to corroborate that claim.

Our local Amazon Prime Now fulfillment house happens to stock both the Tivo Mini and powerline ethernet adapters.  We were able to add a new video zone in less than three hours from “can we watch TV here?” to “we’re watching TV here!” No installer required. No phone calls to tech support. It was pretty cool.

Tivo Stream ($130) gives you worldwide access to your Bolt recordings and tuners. Let’s be honest, this is a Tivo version of the Slingbox.  If you have one, you really don’t need the other. But if you don’t have a Slingbox and want to watch TV from outside the home, Tivo Stream gets you that.  There are some limitations, though. According to a Q&A at Amazon, “ it allows out of home streaming, but only if the content provider allows it. The major networks (ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox), Viacom (Comedy Central, MTV), and Discovery (TLC, Science) all BLOCK streaming, so the TiVo stream does not stream or allow the transfer of shows to another device.”


Conclusion

Tivo is pretty freaking great. For those who want to cut and or slim the cord, it is a tremendous option - and you aren’t giving up anything in usability or user experience. There is a fairly decent upfront cost to acquire the gear, but in the long you you save a lot of money on your monthly service bills. It’s probably a year or so to break even, but after that, it’s all gravy. Image all the home theater gear you could buy with that extra money!


 

Download Episode #740

Reader Comments (8)

For a VERY long time (literally over a decade, maybe almost since Tivo's beginnings), you have been able to use the skip button (->) to move to the top/bottom of a menu.

So you don't have to scroll through long menus as you said.

Also, you said something about it being hard to record SNL.. Just set your OnePass to "new episodes only".. nowadays, you can even set that as the default for all new OnePasses in the prefs.

May 20, 2016 | Unregistered Commentermattack

I know what he is referring to for SNL. I have my OnePass set to record new episodes only but it records the re-run that shows prior to the new episode. If you look at the show data it only has a generic description and records it despite the first air time showing the original air date.

May 20, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterScott

Can you comment on whether the Bolt's 4K output is also HDR. Also, the TiVo Mini has been around for a while and I don't see that they have launched a 4K Mini. Does the existing Mini handle 4K (and HDR) output?

May 21, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterstevem

To add on to the TiVo discussion, moving up and down the menu can also be done with the channel up/down button. It'll skip to the bottom or top item in the list. A further press will jump you to the next section of the list in the corresponding direction.

May 22, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterWilliam

Good job on the TiVo Bolt Review.... have been using a TiVo Roamio (purchased with Lifetime Subscription) for the last two years with one TiVo Mini. It is an outstanding product. My cable bill on Charter here in Atlanta with HBO and Showtime and 2 Cable Cards is $79 month. This makes cable VERY affordable IMO especially considering how much this service is used in our house.

One thing you did not mention is that the TiVo has a PLEX app as well for access to your own media server. I will say that the PLEX experience on my Roamio is so slow as to be considered miserable by me, but fine for my wife and daughter.

May 23, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterSteve Owens

One thing you didn't discuss with TiVo is the iOS app (and possibly Android). You are able to stream live and recorded shows to an iOS device from the Bolt. You are also allowed to download shows that are recorded on the bolt to the device to view on the go. A limitation is that it doesn't allow you view live video when you are on a different WiFi network.

Another added feature of the mobile app is the ability to search for shows and setup OnePasses and recordings. It's easy on the Bolt but even easier on the mobile app.

Good review of the Bolt though, including the cable card fiasco. It seems it's a right of passage with TiVo ;)

May 23, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterSteve

Another neat feature TiVo has is time compression. It speeds up the show (I think it's 1.5 X or 2X normal speed) while keeping the sound relatively normal. It will work with any show you recorded. To access the function while watching a show you recorded, press the play button on your remote. The normal time bar comes up and above the time bar it will say 'QuickMode is Off. Press SELECT to turn it on'. Press select and enjoy time compressed viewing! It keeps the QuickMode enabled as long as you are watching the show. You can fast forward, reverse, pause and skip and it stays enabled. To turn it off, just press play again and press select, or just navigate away from the show you are watching in QuickMode. It's handy to help you get through the massive recording list you might have that these huge hard drives enable storing.

May 27, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterAlex Lee

can anyone verify that TiVo is planning an upgrade to the Bolt this fall that will allow streaming from your dvr away from home?

June 23, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterdave

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