Press Button, Skip Commercials on TiVo Bolt DVR

30 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

New TiVo Bolt touts 4K, improved ad skipping and speed watching features.

TiVo has launched a new way for TV viewers to skip through entire commercial breaks on the top 20 cable and broadcast networks with the push of one button.Slimmer and smaller than the current Roamio set-top boxes, the new Ultra HD 4K-ready Bolt boasts an improved advertisement skipping SkipMode feature and QuickMode playback for watching content faster than in real-time.This new Bolt DVR may not totally remake the recording technology TiVo is famous for, but it introduces a sharp departure in design and adds features customers have asked for since it started in the late 90s.

The player also includes TiVo’s popular features like OnePass subscriptions, OneSearch and support for the more recently launched web portal, TiVo Online. The Bolt handles current cable services and Verizon Fios — but not satellite TV or AT&T U-verse — and has inputs for an over-the-air antenna and Ethernet connection (it also has built-in Wi-Fi). At the beginning of last month, your options for streaming 4K video were limited to the Nvidia Shield and the Nuvola NP-1 set-top box—and, of course, the services built into the latest generation of Ultra HD TVs. The company’s Bolt DVR family, launched Wednesday, includes a “SkipMode” feature for instantly fast-forwarding past ad pods in certain programs.

Now, the A-listers in the set-top box game are releasing 4K streaming boxes in droves: Amazon unveiled its 4K-capable Fire TV a few weeks ago, Roku is rumored to have its first 4K box waiting in the wings, and TiVo just jumped into the 4K streaming landscape as well. Despite being smaller than TiVo’s older DVRs — or whatever cable box you probably have — it’s eye-catching enough for visitors to stop and ask what you’re watching TV on. But as TiVo refines some of the little annoyances of watching TV, it remains deeply tied to cable subscriptions and recording live TV at a time when how—and what—we watch is shifting online. Instead of a standard black box as TiVo has offered in the past, the new player is white, with a somewhat odd curve to it that initially takes some getting used to. Gone, too, are the hardware buttons in favor of integrated lights which makes the player feel more modern than the cable company DVRs it competes with.

For $300, which includes one year of TiVo service and a 500GB drive to store your shows, the Bolt organizes your whole TV life in a dashboard that’s faster and more powerful than any DVR that’s come before it. The design itself is not only an aesthetic choice – the company says the gentle curve that lifts part of the player up also helps with heat dissipation.

Currently, the TiVo service costs $14.99 monthly. “From a hardware perspective, it’s about changing and future-proofing the platform, getting 4K and speeding up the speed,” said TiVo’s vice president of product management and strategy Jim Denney in an interview. “From the user standpoint, it’s about getting you through your content more quickly and then really being that one-stop shop for all of your content, letting you organize easily as you navigate to it and through it.” TiVo’s new SkipMode lets you bypass all the advertisements between segments of a program on 20 major channels with one button push. The UI has also received a big overhaul, with colorful icons that make it a bit easier to find what you’re looking for in a sea of cable channels: In the channel guide, the logos for each station jump out a bit more than the old plain-text treatment.

That’s actually an old trick, and while it’s appreciated, where I see evidence of TiVo looking towards the future is the way it’s connecting the DVR to Amazon’s Fire TV. Compared with previous-generation TiVos, the Bolt’s interface has a similar feel, but a significantly faster processor and more memory, which it uses to speed up menus, launch apps and play 4K video (if you’ve got it, or might in the future). That’s useful given the hardware’s upgraded internals, which include a CPU that’s three and half times as fast as the older Roamio model and three times the memory. To that end, the new Bolt DVRs are the first to support 4K Ultra HD video content — although it’s obviously just for bragging rights, given that no U.S. These upgrades don’t just make the TiVo BOLT perform better, but also aid with the newly added support for 4K video as well as the player’s now built-in transcoding functionality – another improvement over the Roamio-S.

For those who prefer six tuners and a larger built-in hard drive, the Roamio Pro will stick around, but it doesn’t have the Bolt’s 4K or new features. That’s because TiVo has people watching popular shows, too, and individually marking their important moments, like the return from a commercial break. Bolt loses the old analog video outputs and offers only an HDMI port — no breakout cable either — which shouldn’t be a problem in 2015, but is worth knowing. For instance, I noticed no problems with “The Big Bang Theory,” where the characters talk fast anyway; but found I missed some nuances when watching “Sherlock”.

The other Roamio models, including the Plus (the 6-tuner, 1 TB Roamio model) and Pro (the 6-tuner, 3 TB model) won’t immediately disappear, however. The Bolt box supports the HDMI 2.0 spec and HDCP 2.2 copy protection, which means it should be able to dole out 4K video at 60fps from the next generation of sources. 4K video at 60fps isn’t exactly commonplace yet, but there are a few good-looking options on YouTube. It has the same integrated TiVo Stream features we dug on the Roamio, and it will work with the existing TiVo Mini boxes to extend the setup beyond your living room.

Still, you can save a lot of time with these QuickMode and SkipMode — even more if you combine them, which you can for those recorded shows compatible with both. By early November, TiVo will also update its iOS mobile app with easier ways to find programs to watch and record by genres, hobbies, interests and curated collections. Of course, although TiVo wouldn’t confirm this, it seems likely that the Pro will also be phased out further down the road, as having a somewhat fractured product lineup could cause consumer confusion.

Competitors, including the Amazon Fire TV, the forthcoming Apple TV and even some cable-company DVRs offer voice now, but the TiVo Bolt’s remote remains little changed. That makes it possible to watch a 30-minute program in 20 minutes, and TiVo says the sped-up video was engineered to be just on the brink of watchable without everybody sounding like the Chipmunks.

In SkipMode, TiVo has tagged the exact in- and out-points for recorded shows cutting in and out of commercials, so you can jump past ads with more accuracy. It still has the Roamio Pro’s tiny Remote Finder button on the back, perfect for times when the RF-connected control has slipped between couch cushions somewhere. TiVo has not only drastically overhauled the appearance of its product, it has taken steps to hide the monthly $15 fee it charges over and above what your cable service costs. In general, things are the same as they ever were, including stuff like CableCARD setups, and transferring your Series Recordings via TiVo’s sometimes-frustrating website. The company has long justified this fee on grounds that cable companies also charge for boxes and DVR service, but it has always seemed excessive to me for what should be an all-inclusive tech device.

This is a powerful feature: TiVo does the work for us of finding a show wherever it can, be it a live recording, cable provider video-on-demand, paid download or online streaming service like Netflix. To make the price more palatable, TiVo has trimmed it some and bundled the first-year service fee with the hardware to arrive at a $300 base price, with no additional service charge for the first year. While it still feels cluttered with buttons like the remotes that often come with cable companies’ DVRs, it now has a white design and buttons for new features like “SkipMode,” a commercial skipping feature that’s activated by pressing the green “D” button, and “QuickMode,” the sped-up playback which is engaged by pressing the “Play” button followed by the “Select” button.

It works just like it sounds, when you’re watching a recorded program, a green icon will pop up and prompt you to hit the “D” button to skip commercials. Hulu’s initial absence speaks to a problem that may continue to bedevil TiVo: Without the heft of an Apple, Amazon, or even Roku, can TiVo continue to lure developers to bring it the streaming video apps I want?

For another, it only works with shows where the start and end points of the commercial blocks have been tagged, a process TiVo says is done by actual people. At launch, the transcoded feed will allow for one in-home stream, jump up to two in-home streams in November, and allow for out-of-home streams to mobile devices in early 2016. TiVo is managing this by basically having people watch the programs on certain networks (the top 20 or so most popular, between 4PM and midnight) and mark where the actual show begins and the commercials end.

Also, it can take a few minutes for a show to become commercial-skippable and gain a tag in its listing that says “Skip.” One of the most important features of the Bolt isn’t new, but it’s improved: it combines old-fashioned cable TV with popular online streaming services in one box. There are some different colors used for certain on-screen navigational elements, flatter icons that complement the more modern design of the new unit, and channel logos now appear in the guide, for example. That means you can go from cable to Netflix without the common hassle of changing your TV’s input to switch from your cable box to, say, your Apple TV or Roku.

SkipMode is not being ported back to older DVRs, but it should work on the Mini (as long as it’s connected to a Bolt.) We tried it out and everything worked without a hitch. For years now, TiVo has been quietly (and clumsily) integrating services like Netflix and YouTube and Amazon Prime into its boxes, but it hasn’t boasted much about it.

TiVo’s scheme covers the lions share of our primetime TV programming, and being able to easily skip commercials can make it easier to blow through shows quickly. It switches between cable and streaming video more smoothly than past TiVos, and it has a faster version of its previous integrated search, which brings up results from both cable and internet video and lets you watch or record from the source of your choice.

Many of you told us you listened to the old HD Podcast that way, and we can confirm, if you’re bingeing on a series to catch up before the finale, it makes things go by faster without seriously compromising the experience. TiVo continues to focus on its larger strategy of allowing viewers to find, subscribe and watch content across a variety of sources, whether that’s DVR recordings, programs on streaming services like Amazon and Netflix, or videos on YouTube. (Unfortunately, Hulu is absent from the collection of apps while TiVo waits for the company to transition to HTML5 from Flash.) BOLT also still offers TiVo’s “OnePass” technology that lets you instantly subscribe to shows, no matter where all those episodes are located. It’s even improving this experience for new users with a “OnePass QuickSelect” feature that will point new subscribers via their welcome email to a page of popular shows they can subscribe to with a click. The menu has been tweaked slightly, and while that change won’t be copied onto older hardware, Premiere and Roamio users can expect a guide update that adds more channel logos.

And, when you set up a season-long recording (called a OnePass), the Bolt fetches episodes from every available source, including streaming services and my cable company’s On Demand service. Other software tweaks coming in a fall update will bring a personalized “What to Watch” section on iOS, better social sharing on Facebook and Twitter, and a slicker OnePass experience for TiVo Online — but those aren’t the features that piqued my interest.

This feature is live on 20 popular channels, but currently only for primetime programming (4 PM to midnight, including repeats and late-night talk shows.) Using SkipMode doesn’t interfere with the option to use other playback functions like fast forward or rewind. Web streaming and in-home downloads work at launch as well, but out of home downloads and streaming won’t ship until 2016 (the latter will only offer one stream, and arrives in the first half of next year). Instead of configuring user profiles, like on Netflix, customizations are per device and now include the ability for users to track their hobbies and interests in addition to genres and an expanded list of collections. When a friend clicks a shared link, they’ll go to the TiVo portal where they can choose to record the show (if they’re a TiVo user) or be directed to the content itself (e.g. a list of episodes on the TV channel’s own website). Perhaps the most dramatic change to TiVo BOLT is the company’s implicit acknowledgement that its current business model could be an issue going forward as more TV viewers cut the cord and turn to low-cost streaming services as their source for TV and movie entertainment.

Bolt pre-orders start today online — check the usual sources like Amazon (500GB/1TB) and Best Buy — with shipments on October 4th, and units should reach retail shelves in the next week or so. With the BOLT, TiVo isn’t going so far as to ditch subscriptions, but is instead is deferring them in a way – a move that the company likely hopes will hook new users so they’ll be willing to pay the fees when the time comes. TiVo, of course, wouldn’t exactly admit that the TV market’s shift is potentially bad for its business, but the new product and pricing does indicate the company understands it’s not enough to just be an upgraded DVR for the cable TV viewer.

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