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Hardware Review Tivo Bolt: Still The Best DVR Brand That You Should Own (Review)

Discussion in 'Playback Devices' started by Ronald Epstein, Jan 7, 2016.

  1. Ronald Epstein

    Ronald Epstein Founder
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    [​IMG]
    Tivo BOLT

    Reviewed by Ronald Epstein
    January, 2016


    [​IMG]


    When Tivo announced the introduction of their Bolt last September, I had my reservations about how revolutionary their new DVR would be over their current offerings. After all, Tivo was just coming off the introduction of their Roamio branded DVRs, which set the world on fire in 2013, with their ability to stream recorded content to mobile devices -- anytime -- anywhere.

    So, now, two years later, Tivo introduces the Bolt. Should we be excited about an offering that offers new features yet downgrades others? I hope to answer those questions in this review.

    As usual, I need to start off by saying that I am a huge fan of Tivo DVRs. I have freed myself from the chains of cable company set top boxes for more than a decade now since joining the Tivo family. I have owned just about every new device the company has introduced, and at this time, have at least 6 different models in my home -- all with lifetime subscriptions.

    [​IMG]

    When Tivo contacted me about reviewing their new Bolt DVR, I wasn't sure I wanted one. Being a highly satisfied owner of their Roamio Plus, and looking over the specs of the Bolt, I thought I would be downgrading by switching out units. While the BOLTadds 4k and commercial skipping to this new product, it drops the 6 tuners and 3TB storage features of its Roamio predecessor. Certainly not a compelling upgrade for Tivo power users that exist on this forum, including myself.

    And, while the BOLT costs less to own than the $599 Tivo Roamio Pro, the company has jacked up its Lifetime Service fee by $200, making it more elective, for some, to stick with their cable box. I'll talk about these costs at the close of my review, as I am getting a little bit ahead of myself.

    Let's talk about the Tivo Bolt itself....


    [​IMG] THE SPECS


    The biggest surprise for me was the delivery of the Bolt itself. The shipment box was tiny. This couldn't be a Tivo unit...or could it?

    [​IMG]

    The Tivo Bolt is impressively small and lightweight compared to its Roamio predecessors. Its design has been completely revamped with its bright, white outer shell and slightly angled curve. I didn't realize how much I liked this new design until I decided not to hide it inside my A/V cabinet, but instead, place it forefront beneath my display. You can immediately see, from the photo above, that it's a rather handsome device, and since it's now more compact, can be placed just about anywhere without being obtrusive.

    Just to show you how much smaller and lighter the Bolt is compared to the Roamio here are the specs...

    Tivo Roamio Pro: 16.5" W x 9.7" D x 2.4" H (6.9 lbs.)
    Tivo Bolt: 11.4"W x 7.3"D x 1.8"H (1.9 lbs)

    The Bolt is offered in two flavors. The 500GB sells for $299 while the 1,000GB sells for $399. Both offer a year of free service, which is a nice bit of savings considering the $14.99 monthly fee that gets charged for using the device.

    Some may find the Bolt to be a "lighter" version of its predecessors -- not just because of the weight -- but for the fact it drops its tuners from 6 to 4. This means that you can only record 4 consecutive shows at once. Not a deal-breaker for the average customer, but certainly a compromise for the power user. On the other hand, the Bolt adds support for 4k video and adds some nifty software features including QuickMode and SkipMode, both which aim to save you time when watching your favorite programming. Additionally, the Bolt ports over the most compelling feature of the Roamio -- the ability to stream shows to your favorite mobile device. I'll talk about all these features momentarily.

    [​IMG]

    The back of the unit shows connections for cable or OTA antenna, optical and audio outputs, Ethernet port (10/100/1000 Mbps), HDMI output, 2 USB inputs and a eSATA connection for additional storage options. You'll also notice a remote finder button that upon being pressed, makes it easy to find your lost controller. Finally, and most notably, the cable card now gets loaded at the bottom of the unit, one of the ingenious ways Tivo was able to keep the Bolt compact.



    [​IMG]IN USE


    [​IMG]


    Everything you need to get started comes in the box, including a quality HDMI cable that is perfect for 4k connection.


    [​IMG]

    If this will be your first Tivo product, you'll find setup to be quite intuitive. After plugging in your cable or antenna to the back of the unit and inserting a multi-stream (M-CARD) cable card underneath, the software walks you through the initial process. Basically, you enter your zip code, Tivo finds your cable provider, and within a few short minutes you are ready to start using your new Bolt. You can find a more detailed look at the setup process in my Tivo Roamio review from 2013.

    Those of you who are already Tivo customers will be happy to know that you can transfer over all your existing Season Passes from one device to another by logging onto Tivo's website and selecting TIVO ONLINE -> MANAGE -> ONE PASS MANAGER. Don't expect the transfer of your shows to be flawless. This is the second new Tivo device I have owned where the transfer resulted in duplicate entries. By this, I mean that the new device recorded two versions of my shows both in SD and HD. It also did not properly port over my preferences for just recording new airings vs. all seasons. By the time all was said and done, I found myself manually re-entering every Season Pass myself.

    Another problem, outside of Tivo's control, is the cable cards themselves. If you are dealing with Verizon, for instance, you'll find yourself on the phone with their support team in an effort to validate the card. Verizon won't let you simply take the card from one device to another, even if it's completely Tivo related. Once the card is inserted in a new device, permissions need to be sent in order to authorize all your subscribed channels. This may not be applicable to every provider, so your situation may vary.


    [​IMG]USING THE TIVO BOLT


    Under the hood, the Tivo Bolt has a faster processor and three times more memory than the Roamio models. Graphic overlays were noticeably more responsive as I navigated through the menus. With every click of the remote, I received immediate responses to my commands. Is it night and day faster than the Roamio? No. However, you can immediately tell that the Bolt is a more powerful device. The software interface seems to have gotten a slight facelift with channel icons being placed alongside program listings.

    Starting with the Roamio series, Tivo has built-in wireless WiFi which means you no longer need to use their external adapter (which had to be purchased separately). The Tivo Bolt supports faster network speeds 802.11ac wireless, Gigabit Ethernet, MoCA 2.0.


    Remote Control

    [​IMG]

    At the heart of the Tivo experience is its RF remote control that needs not to be in line-of-site for use. Over the years I have seen these remotes become smaller and more ergonomic friendly. I have always found the remotes very easy to use and appreciate the fact that they can be programmed to any brand of television to control its power, channel and volume features. It might not be able to control your entire home system like an all-in-one remote, but it's perfect for a single display. Speaking of all-in-one remotes, the Logitech Harmony remotes sync perfectly with Tivo. You won't have any problems using one with this device.


    SkipMode

    [​IMG]

    New and exclusive to the Bolt, is a feature called SkipMode. It allows you to skip through commercials with the press of a single button on the remote. I was quite skeptical that I would appreciate this feature -- or that it would even work correctly -- however, after using it for the past few days, I can't see myself living without it.

    First, the bad news: SkipMode is not readily available at this time. It actually took me a week of recording different shows until I actually noticed it's availability.

    The good news is that, when you find a supported show, it works beautifully! SkipMode only works with recorded content. You'll find a green SKIP icon next to the supported show in the program guide. It will also show up in your list of recorded shows.

    [​IMG]

    As you come to a commercial in a supported program, an indicator w/sound appears in the upper left corner of your screen, prompting you to press the small, green "D" button on your remote. When you press the button, the content flawlessly skips the commercials and takes you to the exact resuming point of the content you are watching.

    [​IMG]

    As you might suspect, SkipMode is a rather controversial feature. It's going to take a lot of cooperation between networks and advertisers to allow Tivo to simply skip through commercials. I have no idea who is going to ultimately win the battle, and as thus, it's hard to say how many networks are going to fully adopt this feature -- if at all. The only list I could find of supported networks is in the photo above. For now, you may find yourself only able to use this feature occasionally.


    (Click on the video above)


    QuickMode


    Another new feature for the Bolt, that has also found its way into the Roamio models through a recent update, is QuickMode. It allows you to take any recorded content and speed it up by 30% while retaining perfectly pitched audio. It's quite a useful feature that I found myself using more than I thought I would. For instance, I watch a lot of news and political programs. On those days when I had things to do, I was able to get through quite a bit of my recorded content simply by speeding it up. Because the audio remained properly pitched, I never felt I was missing anything. Would I watch television like this all the time? No. It's just a good feature to have when one is in a hurry.


    (Click on the video above)


    Streaming


    Tivo Bolt comes with a small handful of popular streaming apps built into its interface. These channels include: Amazon Prime, Netflix, Hulu Plus, Plex, YouTube and more. The Bolt is the first model to support 4k streaming from YouTube, Netflix and Amazon Prime. So, if you are planning to upgrade to 4k this year, you already have a product that is essentially future-proofed.

    Best of all, like the Roamio series, search queries are executed across the entire device. This means when you search for a show to record, it will search the streaming apps as well as the cable channels. This way, you have far more opportunities to find a particular movie or show than you would on an ordinary cable box.

    [​IMG]


    The Tivo Roamio series was a revolutionary product for its ability to stream content to mobile phones and tablets. This has been carried over to the Bolt, and for me, it still remains the most important aspect of owning a DVR like this. Essentially, whatever is recorded on your Tivo Bolt, can be streamed to your portable device via the free Tivo app. I have been using this feature regularly during business trips where I need to access to my favorite shows. The Tivo app has a beautiful, inviting interface that makes its use simplistic on both my iOS and Android devices. The streaming quality is excellent, and you can indeed access it from a hotel room on the other side of the world. That being said, there were many times where basic hotel WiFi would not allow me to access my shows. The app needs a strong, fast WiFi signal to properly play content. Some hotels offer enhanced WiFi, which is what you will need. Poor WiFi will only result in constant buffering issues.

    Incidentally, the iOS app provides support to mirror your Tivo to Apple TV. On Android, you can use Amazon Fire TV for the same purpose.

    I use both the Tivo app and its own website to regularly schedule shows while I am on the road. For instance, if I forget to program a particular show, I can simply go into the app or website where I can search for it. Once found I can elect to record a single episode or create a SEASON PASS that records every single entry without me having to touch a thing. All of this can be done remotely, wherever I might be.

    In case you don't know exactly what to watch, Tivo is constantly providing recommendations of the most popular shows. Choices can be filtered under categories such as Sports, Kids, and Movies. Tivo also puts together its own Collections based on particular themes or holidays (such as Halloween, Christmas, etc.). I usually know what I want to watch so I don't pay too much attention to the recommendations, but I can definitely understand why this is such a useful feature to have.


    [​IMG]CONCLUSION


    If Apple were releasing this product it would most likely be named the Tivo Roamio "S"

    In the scheme of things, the Tivo Bolt is nothing revolutionary over what the Roamio was. In fact, Tivo has recently provided Roamio owners QuickMode functionality through a software update. Let's keep pushing the company to also give those same owners SkipMode.

    It seems to me that the Tivo Bolt was specifically designed for the budget-minded individual rather than the power user. By reducing its size and available tuners, Tivo was able to pass on some savings to customers. After all, with their overall subscriber base dropping, Tivo had to find a way to make becoming an owner somewhat more affordable. You can buy either of these models for $100+ less than the Roamio counterparts. Each also comes with a year of free service (you pay $14.95 monthly thereafter). However, raising the lifetime subscription from $400 to $600 is perhaps the most moronic move I have ever seen the company make. For those of us that like to upgrade our Tivo every two years (which is their upgrade cycle), the $400 lifetime fee was very easy to swallow with every purchase. Why would the power users want to upgrade anymore at that exorbitant cost on top of equipment purchase?

    If you already own a Roamio, there really is no need to upgrade right now. In fact, I have been reading that Tivo is planning a newer, more powerful model (possibly this year) for us power users who want the additional tuners and the newer features.

    However, if you own the older models prior to Roamio, or you are looking into buying a Tivo for the first time, the Bolt is an excellent choice. Starting at $299 you get a highly capable 4-tuner DVR with all the great features that make Tivo what it is renowned for. You also get a year of free service. For the first time, Tivo has actually made ownership of their brand quite compelling, though for most consumers, it's still a very expensive investment that ultimately comes with hefty monthly service fees. Tivo still needs to rethink this model if it wants to remain competitive.

    Still, no-one will ever mistake a cable box for a Tivo. The interface and accompanying apps are miles ahead of what you'll end up renting from your provider. For that reason, I can somewhat understand the premium costs involved. You really are getting the best DVR anywhere when you buy a Tivo. That is why I will remain a loyal customer of theirs forever. That's the truth!



    Likes

    * Hands down, the best DVR brand you can buy. Tivo continues to raise the bar.
    * The new, handsome minimalistic design motivates moving this Tivo out of the A/V cabinet and out in the open
    * Noticeably faster than previous Tivo models
    * 4k video support, though limited
    * SkipMode is amazing! Skips commercials without skipping a beat. Let's hope there is more network support for it
    * QuickMode also works impressively, allowing you to view content 3.5x faster with accurate audio playback
    * Flawlessly streams content to your favorite portable device no matter where you are


    Dislikes

    * Still not an economical choice over cable boxes. Tivo needs to continue to bring down monthly fees
    * Lifetime service ownership increased to $600. That is simply outrageous!
    * Less storage space and less tuners than Roamio Pro
    * Limited storage for recorded 4k content, even at 1TB
    * Does not work with satellite television



    Not familiar with Tivo? First Time buyer? Our Tivo Roamio review gives more insight into the Tivo interface and experience
     
    DaveF likes this.
  2. DaveF

    DaveF Moderator
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    Thanks for great review.

    The Bolt is not for me. I just manually upgraded my Roamio to 3TB. I won't buy another 1TB TiVo. and while I've not done the count, I see no value in going backwards to four tuners. There's no flaw or weakness in six tuners, and every mini 'costs' a tuner. It's purely cost savings to TiVo with no benefit or savings to the customer.

    "You can immediately see, from the photo above, that it's a rather handsome device"
    No. I see an asymmetrically unattractive device that weirds me out. :)

    This is an equivocal upgrade. 4K and faster interface are an improvement. Four tuners, less storage, higher price are significant downgrades from the previous generation. It's like the iPhone 7 getting the new CPU but a camera from two years ago and a $200 price hike.

    I think for a prospective customer, I'd consider finding a used roamio -- it has the new Quick Mode and is supposedly getting Skip Mode -- or waiting for the Bolt rev 2 or Roamio rev 2.
     
  3. Bill Buklis

    Bill Buklis Supporting Actor

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    The Roamio has had skip mode (zipping past the commercials) for a while now. I don't know if it has quick mode. At least it didn't jump out at me and I haven't looked for it yet.


    Honestly I can't remember when skip mode got put in, but I think it was back in December. It's definitely a feature that I've come to appreciate.
     
  4. Ronald Epstein

    Ronald Epstein Founder
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    Bill,


    Are you certain of that? I know QuickMode was enabled for Roamio, but to date, I don't believe SkipMode.


    I'll double check this.


    I am finding SkipMode is not always consistent when it comes to availability on TV shows. For instance, 60 Minutes has it one week, the next week it doesn't. I am certain the networks are fighting against this feature.
     
  5. DaveF

    DaveF Moderator
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    TiVo has had the 30-sec skip forever. The new commercial-skipping feature is new to the Bolt, only in limited markets for testing, and available to only some Roamio owners for in test markets. The rollout was recently reported as having delays..

    The fast-play mode was released to all Roamio owners in a recent software update.
     
  6. Bill Buklis

    Bill Buklis Supporting Actor

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    Discovered that skip mode is only available for the Roamio in Chicago (where I am) and San Francisco. Explains why I've been able to use it just fine while others can't. I have no idea why they did it this way or when it will be available for everyone.
     
  7. Bill Buklis

    Bill Buklis Supporting Actor

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    I've noticed that as well. I haven't worried about it too much. When it's available, I use it. When it's not, I just fast forward like before.
     
  8. Johnny Angell

    Johnny Angell Played With Dinosaurs Member

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    I can't understand why producers of commercial supported content would have anything to do with skipmode. It's like opening a golf course and letting everyone play for free.
     
  9. Johnny Angell

    Johnny Angell Played With Dinosaurs Member

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    $600 is outrageous for a lifetime fee. That's what they charge to freeze your head. ;) And it doesn't work with DTV. It's not even an option for me.

    Limited 4K, what does that mean? Decreased storage from 3 to 1 TB. Decreased turners from 6 to 4. It's almost like they're saying "we dare you to buy this, we tried to make the purchase sting as much as we could."
     
  10. David Norman

    David Norman Producer

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    A couple things
    Very easy to update the HD to 2 or 3TB -- drop in and turn on unit.
    The 4 Tuner Bolt is equivalent to original Roamio -- can operate in ANT or Cable mode, but not both simultaneously
    BoltPlus is a Black 6 tuner variation with only Cable compatibility and 3TB HD so pretty much equivalent to Roamio Pro XL.

    Nothing to offer for Satellite as DirecTV seems to have eliminated anyone other than their own units.

    There are intermittent deals on Lifetime Contracts -- I think Black Friday week may have been the last widespread, but they did just run
    a promo with a chance to exchange a lifetime on a Series 2 or 3 unit for a Bolt + $99. I had an old single tuner Series 2 (12 years into a Lifetime deal) which was pretty worthless, but luckily I had kept it updated with contacting TIVO service a couple times a year. My two series 3 with Lifetime are still working well (slow, but hard to fault), so for now I'll leave those in place since they are dual tuner, but cable card and antenna work simultaneously and are 5+ years into their Lifetime $100 contract.
     
  11. Ronald Epstein

    Ronald Epstein Founder
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    I must agree about the cost of the lifetime fee, though David does point out that discounts are sometimes offered.

    Tivo is obviously also not the most inexpensive DVR that one can purchase.

    However, as someone that has at least 4 Tivo units throughout my home, I am extremely happy with the features and performance of these units. I admit, I haven't looked at what the cable companies offer on their DVRs, but I am certain the software/platform is not as advanced as it is on these Tivo boxes.
     
  12. David Norman

    David Norman Producer

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    I've rarely read many people happy with switching from TIVO to CableCo equivalents. Part of it is the learning curve learning a new system, but it seems most people end up missing their TIVO and return to it. With some CableCo charging $20 or more a month for a DVR it doesn't help when you are missing your old friend.

    Actually the DirecTV DVR I found worked pretty well -- not quite as flexible as TIVO, but much better than most non TIVO DVR I've messed with.
     
  13. DavidMiller

    DavidMiller Screenwriter
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    I love my TiVo been a customer since 2005. I have not upgraded to the Bolt+ yet. Although I'm considering it at some point. They have been rock solid and and the latest releases have been great. The "D" button is my new best friend.
     
  14. Ronald Epstein

    Ronald Epstein Founder
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    Two things I cannot live without on my Tivo....

    First is the QuickMode. I am always pressed for time. Many times, I watch my favorite series in QuickMode. As the video in my review shows, it allows the program to speed up and keep the dialogue distinguishable. So, I can watch an hour program in almost half the time and not miss anything.

    Of course, the next best feature is SkipMode which allows me to bypass commercials. So far, it works on many CBS and AMC shows I record. Not sure of the other networks.
     
  15. DaveF

    DaveF Moderator
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    What's the typical cost to rent a Comcast or Fios DVR? How's that compare to tivo?

    TiVo has never been the cheapest solution. But they'd been a modest premium over a 3-4 duration compared to renting a cable co box. And if you sold your TiVo used when upgrading, they were even more attractive.

    But I don't know how they compare in the age of $80 streaming boxes.
     
  16. DaveF

    DaveF Moderator
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    SkipMode works on all prime time shows we watch, spanning: ABC to CW to FX.
     
  17. Johnny Angell

    Johnny Angell Played With Dinosaurs Member

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    I did a quick Google to check out prices. AT BB you can get a 1TB Bolt for $266. Assume $100 for a 3 TB HD and now it's $366. Add $600 for the lifetime fee and it's now $966. Assume you can get the lifetime service on sale for $300 and it's still $666. Seems pricey.

    How about OTA? Can it do cable and ota at the same time? DTV eliminated that from their receivers but I got an add on for the receiver that allows it to happen. What does limited 4K mean? How much extra space does 4K use over HD?

    The 6 to 4 tuner downgrade still bugs me. It's happened a couple times that I've maxed out my 5 DTV tuners. Maybe this isn't a big deal, but why downgrade, does a tuner cost that much?
     
  18. DavidMiller

    DavidMiller Screenwriter
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    The Bolt+ has 6 tuners that is the reason I'm thinking about upgrading. Now that I'm using TiVo Mini in the bedroom.
     
  19. David Norman

    David Norman Producer

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    If you're going to update the HDD you might as well get the 500GB Tivo for $130-150 off Amazon (or PM at BBY). I bought a cheap used Roamio Plus on Ebay a few months ago and moved my Cable Card from one of my Lifetime TIVOHD (series 3), now I have the TIVOHD set up for dual tuner OTA and Roamio 6tuner for Cable in the same room. If you have several units in service you can often get them to discount the monthly service to $6.95/month. If you want to try Tivo CSR Roulette, you can activate it it for a 6-12 months, then call in to d/c it and see if they offer you a Lifetime deal -- it's been more hit or miss with the current owners. At $70-80 a year the breakeven point for the Lifetime/All-In is 5+ years.

    TIVO with the Roamio/Bolt removed the ability to do Cable and OTA at the same time. The Roamio and 4 tuner Bolts can be set-up to do one or the other. I'm not sure if there is something technical about the 4 tuners that makes simultaneous usage impossible or that makes 6 tuner units incompatible with OTA.

    There is the 6 tuner premium 3TB Bolt+ for $499.99 though I've rarely seen much of a deal on them yet or you can stay with the Roamio Pro Line which are going to be cheaper and still offers most of the functionality except 4K.

    If you have active Series 2 or 3 units there is hope they'll run the upgrade deals again down the line. The recent 199.99 (500GB Bolt) + 99.99 Lifetime transfer was such a screaming deal I had to jump esp with the obsolete Series 2 to use. Drop a $130 4TB Hard Drive in and I'm good to go. At worst, TIVO+Lifetime units still have nice re-sale value if I don't like the Bolt or decide to go other directions.
     
  20. DaveF

    DaveF Moderator
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    If you're paying $15/mo for a cable co DVR, that's $540 over three years. A $100 premium for the TiVo, to me, is minor. If you can sell the TiVo later for $100+, it's break even. If the TiVo lasts you four years or more, you're actually saving money.

    As for the 4-tuner OTA TiVo...I don't know. What I takeaway is that people uninterested in spending money to watch TV are uninterested in spending money to watch TV. So that market is a lower priority, served by the lowest cost option.
     

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