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Reviewing the TiVo Bolt

I’ve been a fan of TiVo since I first purchased a Series 2 in 2003.

I’ve been a fan of TiVo since I first purchased a Series 2 in 2003. That was back in the day when you got lifetime service for $250. I even had a book (printed on paper) that taught me how to hack it. The 30-second skip was revolutionary at the time, and they couldn’t install a button to do it without their advertisers pushing back, so it was disguised as a remote hack. Fast forward 17 years and two more TiVo models and I got a Bolt.

The Bolt is a new direction for TiVo. Expanding from prior models that only had DVR capabilities, this is the first fully integrated entertainment unit that encompasses streaming features.

The company generously offered to replace my Series 2 TiVo for only $100, mostly so they don’t have to support my ancient technology any more. My old TiVo was still running and worked fine, albeit slow. Last month I got a 150 hour, 4-tuner TiVo Bolt.

What’s New

TiVo has always had a knack for making things simple. The UI has been groundbreaking from the start. The main Home button on the remote and one screen that accessed everything. TiVo applied its uniquely streamlined approach to entertainment to current technology. The problem is that today’s market won’t support a freelance DVR. Cable companies want you to use their set top box with a monthly service charge. You can patchwork a solution with a smart TV, but the clunky interface makes it a challenge. This is where TiVo hits the sweet spot. The Bolt seamlessly integrates all of the disparate inputs like live TV, recorded episodes, streaming services like Netflix, YouTube, and Pandora. It’s like a Harmony remote that not only controls all your devices but integrates all of your viewing and listening options in a streamlined, easy to use interface. It does everything your current technology can do, but better.

Out of the Box

The design of the box seems to be inspired by Apple’s iconic 7-second, slow release iPhone box. It’s less than two pounds, white with no visible external buttons or lights. The remote is a smaller version of the same ergonomic design I was expecting. The unexpected bent shape echoes the slight bend the company added to the refreshed logo.

Although I liked the shape, it was not appreciated by all members of my household. One didn’t care for the lack of symmetry, the other questioned the decision to make it so that nothing else could be stacked. My conclusion was that it’s so much smaller than previous models, it’s easy to find a spot for it.

Setup

And so begins the dark side of my experience. The TiVo customer service rep had told me that the Bolt would require a cable card, so I had ordered it from Time Warner Cable ahead of time. Thus began my multitude of phone calls and the descent into frustration.

TWC sent me a cable card and a tuning adaptor in a huge box. According to the enclosed paperwork from TWC, the cable card was compatible with TiVo devices, so I mailed the tuning adaptor back. I got distracted by life and didn’t get around to setting up the Bolt for two months. In the meantime, the encryption code on the card changed, so it would no longer work. After a quick trip to the TWC office to get an updated cable card (and another tuning adaptor), I inserted the card and booted up the device and connected to my wireless.

Setup from there was simple. Maybe it’s because I’ve loved it for so long, but I was so pleased to hear that familiar bloop, bloop on keystrokes. Until I realized I was only receiving the non-encrypted channels. A few more phone calls to TWC resulted in adding the tuning adaptor to the setup. So my sleek TiVo got a clunky, awkward little brother.

Operation

The status lights are visible through the outer casing. They seemed a bit bright at first, but perhaps that’s because I wasn’t accustomed to seeing the device where it was positioned. It took me a day or two to decide to turn off the lights as an option. The device cooling fan is mounted on the bottom, exchanging air under the curve. It’s noticeable in a quiet room as a low hum, but not bothersome. TiVo BOLT also works with an OTA or HD antenna. If you don’t have cable, you’ll still get a limited number of channels immediately. The main menu is familiar and easy to use. Station graphics have been added to the Guide, and there’s a filter for specific topics so you can view Guide by channels showing football games or action movies or kids channels. The app selection is thorough but not quite as versatile as Roku’s.

The cross-service Search stands out as a premium feature. It combines all of the content from streaming services and your TV schedule together. When you search for a show, you’ll get a list of episodes on TV, plus results from Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu Plus (if they’re running it). If they're only available for purchase, it will tell you so and the prices across services. The new skip functionality is the real deal. With a single button press, skip to the beginning of a program that you padded with a few extra minutes skip the entire commercial break. No more 30-second jumps. A new feature for me is the What to Watch Now. It’s a thumbnail list of the 20 most popular shows airing live in the current time slot. You can also filter it by sports, movies, and kids.

The Cost

TiVo’s monthly service fees raise the total cost of ownership. Even if you paid “full price” of $199 for the box, the Best-In-Class user interface and ease of use still make it a bargain compared to the cable company’s awkward DVR.

TiVo vs. Cable DVR over 24 months Device Monthly Charge 2-year Service Total
TWC DVR + Extender $17 + $7 guide $576 $576
TiVo $100 $12.95 + $2.50 cable card $370.80 $471

The Bottom Line

I’m happy with the purchase, setup, operation and performance of the TiVo Bolt. In my opinion, TiVo has always had a uniquely intuitive user interface which has now expanded to become the first full-service entertainment unit that I’ve used. The Bolt seamlessly integrates every stream, recording, OTA and cable options into a single interface with a search function that works across all options. It’s the first time I’ve seen a set top box that actually delivers on providing shows, movies, music, and entertainment apps in a streamlined, easy to use interface. It does everything your current technology can do, but better.

 Tagged: tivo dvr product recording

Article Author
Megan Southard
NoCable.org Contributor

Megan Southard is a writer, mom, technology enthusiast, and movie junkie. She dreads the day her kids have to explain gadgets to her and is old enough to say, "I was the remote for our TV growing up."

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