TiVo’s New Device Speeds Up Your TV Binge. Literally.

30 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Press Button, Skip Commercials on TiVo Bolt DVR.

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.

Back in 2012, the major US networks sued Dish Network over AutoHop, a DVR feature known as “The Hopper,” that allowed viewers to black out commercial on shows they’d recorded earlier, and eventually undermined the feature through contract negotiations with Dish. 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. One of the veterans of this battle is TiVo, the San Jose, Calif.-based company that was so pervasive in pushing the DVR revolution that we don’t record shows; we “TiVo” them. QuickMode, meanwhile, lets you watch something 30 percent faster without making those on screen sound like chipmunks. “QuickMode’s pitch-corrected audio lets you comfortably speed through slow-moving programs like news, sports, and overly long award shows,” TiVo said. “Bolt was designed to meet the requirements of a new generation of TV viewers,” Ira Bahr, TiVo’s chief marketing and retail sales officer, said in a statement.

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. When an electronics manufacturer elects a white case with rounded edges, I can’t help but imagine some product designer being pushed to make something look more “Apple-like.” And that’s what this unit, visually, is telling me.

The Bolt includes universal search, so a search for episodes of The X-Files, for example, would tell you if the series is on Netflix as well as when reruns might next air on TV. I don’t know whether this is an effort to meet Apple head on for stepping onto its turf – or a sign that TiVo is giving Apple’s visual aesthetic too much respect. SkipMode isn’t available on local news or sports, according to TiVo. “The TiVo Bolt arrives at a time of piqued interest in both connected devices and commercial avoidance,” president and CEO Tom Rogers said in announcing the feature. “The clear demand of consumers is for a TV experience that quickly delivers them exactly what they want the instant they turn on the screen.” But to get the ad-skipping and the rest of Bolt’s features, TiVo will charge an annual service fee of $149.99, plus any applicable taxes.

The DVR’s mobile apps, meanwhile, offer recommendations from friends and family, top critics’ selection, and the latest videos related to personal hobbies and interests. 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. A fall update, meanwhile, will lets users create a personalized “What to Watch” screen, and share links to favorite shows on email, Facebook, and Twitter.

TiVo automatically tags the start and end of commercial blocks, so viewers can skip over them all at once, rather than fast-forwarding in 30-second increments the way they could on previous TiVo devices. Available today online from TiVo, Best Buy, and Amazon, choose from the 500GB model for $299.99 or the 1000GB version for $399.99; both require the TiVo service, which is currently $149.99 per year. However, the SkipMode feature comes more than three years after Dish Network launched the Hopper DVR, which includes an ad-break-skipping feature for the big broadcast nets’ primetime lineups.

However, the new Bolt DVRs can lay claim to be the first to support recording of 4K Ultra HD video content — although it’s obviously just for bragging rights, given that no U.S. SkipMode isn’t enabled by default, which is part of TiVo’s strategy to avoid raising the ire of broadcasters and advertisers. “We’re not changing the underlying content,” TiVo Vice President Jim Denney told the Associated Press. “We’re not auto-eliminating commercials. 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 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. 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.

In terms of input/output, there’s a Gigabit Ethernet port for handling those heavy 4K loads, 802.11ac Wi-Fi and MoCA support, HDMI and optical audio out, and support for Bluetooth and RF4CE remotes. We’re giving users a tool to get through their content more quickly.” In other words: The Bolt DVR doesn’t take away any of the value of commercials; it simply provides viewers with an (optional) way to watch shows they way they want to.

At the time, the DVR maker did not specify its plans for the new resources, except to say it would bolster the company’s ability to serve the growing number of customers who wanted to access broadcast TV and over-the-top content. The Bolt is an odd-looking, white box with an angled top and bottom, which replaces the current low-end, and most popular, model of TiVo’s current Roamio line, the Roamio-S. (The other Roamio models will remain on the market.) It’s much smaller than the Roamios, and the tapered top surface makes it much harder to stack things on top of it. Earlier this month, the tech heavyweight filed a patent-infringement case against Samsung, alleging that the Korea-based conglomerate violates its “Time Warp” and “Trick Play” patents that allow users to rewind, pause, and perform other DVR-like functions. And, for what it’s worth, the Bolt has a new design with a smaller (11.4-by-7.3-by-1.8 inches) and lighter (1.9 pounds) form factor than previous generation TiVos.

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. The company is selecting popular programs off of certain high-traffic channels and adding tags to the content, which act like jump markers, allowing users to skip commercials on recorded shows without accidentally leaping too far ahead and having to perform the fast forward/rewind dance. But it improves on the older model by supporting 4K video, gigabit Ethernet, the faster AC version of Wi-Fi, and streaming of shows to mobile devices and computers on the same network. (It lacks the costlier Roamio’s out-of-home streaming feature, but the company says it plans to add that next year.) Unlike some TiVos I’ve tested over the years, I found setting up the Bolt to be a breeze, including the transfer of the cable card from my personal, older TiVo. 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.

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. 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.

The Bolt can also pump out video in ultra-HD 4K resolution – a vanity feature for TV, since no American broadcasters use that format yet, but potentially useful for streaming services such as Netflix that offer 4K content. “TiVo needs access to an ever-growing array of online content. 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. I could see this being incredibly useful for catching up on sports or local newscasts, or perhaps whatever terrible TV show friends and colleagues insist I watch. One Pass allows users to subscribe to a specific set of content, like, let’s say, The Walking Dead, and will search out episodes from all services available on the Bolt. So if I have seasons 1-3 sporadically recorded on the device, and seasons 1-3 happen to be on Netflix, it will make all episodes available for me as if they are seamless.

And it only works for other shows between 4pm and midnight, because TiVo figures that’s when most viewing occurs, and it wanted to put some limits on its manual tagging process to start with. Another feature, Collections, will also play into the One Pass concept by organizing content and recording schedules based off of a specific interest. 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.

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. It was also pointed out that my cable provider would have HBO available anyways, which the Bolt could record off of, if I had paid for the subscription and really needed my Game of Thrones (which is tied to HBO Go).

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. Although TiVo doesn’t have an official stance one way or the other on people cracking the unit open and putting in their own, larger, hard drives — they do provide a hard drive extension port in the back. Well, the Bolt only offers a handful of the many, many online streaming services available from Roku or even the more-limited Apple TV: Netflix, Amazon, YouTube, Vudu, Yahoo, and popular music services including Pandora and Spotify.

There’s also an interesting little detail about the Bolt that seems to get glossed over: It’s possible for end users to develop apps for this hardware. TiVo Inc. incorporated in August 1997, a developer and provider of software and technology that enables the search, navigation, and access of content across sources, including linear television, on-demand television, and broadband vide… read more »

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