Senior HTF Member
- Jul 3, 1997
- Real Name
- Ronald Epstein
Reviewed by Ronald Epstein
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.
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....
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?
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.
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.
Everything you need to get started comes in the box, including a quality HDMI cable that is perfect for 4k connection.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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)
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.
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.
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!
* 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
* 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