Today TiVo announced the new Bolt DVR. I’ve a big fan of TiVo, having used their DVRs since the early 2000s. I recently upgraded to the TiVo Roamio earlier this summer and wrote about that experience on this site. Given the great deal I was given as an enticement to upgrade to the Roamio, I suspected a new model TiVo might be on the way.
To Bolt is similar to the Roamio line of DVRs but features a few new features including a redesigned case, ability to skip all commercials in many prime-time television shows with the press of a single button and the ability to speed up play back of recorded shows to 1.3x. It also brings significant speed improvements and the ability to support 4k video. Bolt is shipping next month, and I have not had an opportunity to see or use one. If you’d like to read a few of the early reviews, here are some form David Pogue and Walt Mossberg. But here are my quick takes as a long -time TiVo user:
What’s to Like:
- The premier feature of the Bolt is the ability to skip ads with the press of a single button. Though there’s more to this story. To make this work, TiVo has people manually marking the start and end time of ads in recording. So it only is available on shows recorded from 4pm to midnight, on the top 20 national channels and it’s not typically available on local programing or sports. There’s a new skip icon in the user interface that indicated when a show has the ability to skip is available. Because the information has to be coded in by people, it can take some time for the skip feature to become available. Other companies have tried similar features in the past and litigation put an end to it. TiVo’s implementation is a different, but it wouldn’t surprise me if this is a feature that creates some concern from the networks and content producers. I’m curious to see what happens here.
- Another landmark feature is the ability to playback shows at 1.3x speed. If you listen to podcasts at faster than real time you may already be familiar with this feature. TiVo says this will allow you to get through a 60 minute show in about 45 minutes, faster if you also skip ads. The reviewers say this works fairly well for slower-moving programs without distorting speech. I really like listening to podcasts at faster than normal speed so I’m intrigued, though it’s probably something you’ll have to try to see if you like it.
- This new TiVo is faster than ever sporting 3 times the memory, gigabit Ethernet, 802.11ac WiFi and has completely banished the former flash interface in favor of HTML5. * Both models of the Bolt include support for HD antennas, which is a sign that TiVo is accepting the fact that many of their users are cord cutters. Previously TiVo only had support for antennas on their low end boxes. It’s great to see TiVo supporting cord cutters on their high end products.
- The new remote is RF rather than infrared which means if you don’t like the new design, you can hide it inside a cabinet and never see it again. Though the remote is bright white which makes it a bit of an eye sore.
What’s Not to Like:
- TiVo’s subscription service has always been a touchy issue. They’re trying to hide the subscription fees in the cost of the device this time. The cost of the box comes with 1 year of service that by default renews annually for $150. If you want product lifetime service, you have to pay $600 at the end of the first year.
- The hard drive options in the new TiVo are fairly small. 500GB in the entry model and 1TB in the larger capacity model. If you’re someone who likes to save TV shows up to binge watch you’ll find the 500GB model inadequate. With the new TiVo bringing support for 4K, you may find that even 1TB is inadequate in the future. Though for now, most 4K sources are streaming.
- The design of the new unit is awkward. Some people may love it, but most don’t. It’s a white plastic box that’s bent in the middle. It will absolutely stand out in your home media system and will make stacking units on top of it difficult.
I’ve seen lots of questions from long-time TiVo users, notably users of the most recent Roamio units, as to whether they’ll see these new commercial skipping features come to their DVRs. My guess is, sadly no. While I suspect there’s no technical reason preventing ad skipping and possibly 1.3x playback from working on recently released hardware, TiVo is going to want some leverage to entice users to upgrade. As we’ve seen in the past, once TiVo releases new models we rarely see old hardware get significant updates. As a Roamio user, I hope I’m wrong.
Given my recent purchase of a Roamio, I won’t be upgrading anytime soon. I’m excited about the new features of the Bolt and while I have come concerns about the pricing and if the ad-skipping feature will stick around, it’s a big upgrade for anyone who is using a Series 3 or older TiVo hardware.