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TiVo Offers a “BOLT” of 4K Energy for DVRs

With these new models, TiVo is among the first to provide for DVR capability with the anticipated introduction of native 4K content via cable as well as the existing 4K content offered by Netflix Amazon Prime and others.

TiVo’s BOLT 
It’s been about two years since DVR industry pioneer TiVo introduced its last new models. While the Roamio product line has helped TiVo exist in both the cord-cutting world with its “Roamio OTA” model and a variety of models aimed at both cable customers and those with FIOS, the need to keep up with current industry trends have led to a new pair of models known as TiVo BOLT. In addition to sporting a new all white design on the outside, TiVo BOLT continues to set the pace for third-party DVR products.

You may have already heard about the advances that the two BOLT DVRs deliver, but here are the highlights before we get to the specifics that are especially relevant to residential electronics professionals that have not been discussed in the popular or business press. From a user interface and control standpoint, the BOLT models feature “SkipMode” that simplifies the ability to scan past commercials in recorded programs and what may be my favorite, a feature called “QuickMode” that allows the viewer to watch programs at a speed that is almost one-third faster than normal. For sporting events and talking head programming, this is like manna from heaven.

The UI also integrates and searches content from the unit’s streaming services, including Netflix, Amazon Prime, Vudu, YouTube, among others, which is an expansion of what started to some degree in the Roamio models. To make all of this possible, the BOLT models are based on a more powerful processor that offers three times the RAM of Roamio models. On the connectivity side, there is now a wired gigabit Ethernet connection along with 802.11ac for wireless. MoCA remains as an additional connectivity option.

As widely reported, the Bolt models can deliver 4K content from streaming, and when available cable sources with the outputs using HDMI 2.0 and HDCP 2.2. With regard to the forthcoming HDR-encoded programming that a number of the streaming services are, or will soon provide, TiVo is investigating the technology, but at this time TiVo has not upgraded the Bolt units to HDMI 2.0a; we expect that will happen at some point along the line. The two models store the content on either a 500Gb drive (75 hours of HD content) for $299 or a 1Tb drive (150 HD hours) for $399. Storage capacity for 4K content is not yet available as it will depend on the encoding and compression technologies selected by the various content suppliers.

With the mention of pricing it is now time dig deeper. Both new models, as well as the Roamio “Pro” model that is still available, now include a free year’s subscription to TiVo’s service guide. After that year, you or your clients will pay either $14.99 a month, $149 per year, or for a “lifetime” subscription, a one-time charge of $599. Note that in exchange for the free year, the ongoing cost is $100 higher that previously. Equally important, the $399 price that has been available to those who already own any TiVo DVR product has been discontinued and is now longer available for either Bolt or Roamio models. Further, the current Roamio “Plus” model, while still in the line, does not include the “one year free”, nor do the remaining “Roamio S” and “OTA” models that will remain available in their on-line “Outlet” while supplies last.

For those anxious to add 4K DVR capability, the pricing probably isn’t a barrier, particularly with 4K projection displays that do not include the “Smart Apps” that UHD flat panel displays almost always include. For standard HD applications, however, there are some important points to consider.

One example is the reduced storage size for the BOLT in comparison to the 3,000Gb capacity in the current Roamio Pro model, albeit at a $599 price. Yes, all recent TiVo models—BOLT included—have an E-SATA port that allows external storage to be added, but clearly at an extra cost. For those seeking larger internal storage one presumes that Weak Knees, a leading specialist firm for TiVo and add-ons, will offer larger drive upgrades, just as they have with all current TiVo models. Never-the-less, with 4K/UHD content a main feature of Bolt, one has to see increased storage capacity beyond what is available as being key.

As a side note, for situations where extreme storage capacity is needed TiVo is still working on the previously announced “TiVo Mega” model. The arrival of 4K and the availability of the technical underpinnings of the Bolt have sent TiVo Mega, along with its 24TB (!) of storage in a RAID configuration that delivers for 4,000 hours of HD storage or an incredible 26,000 hours of standard definition recording back to the drawing board.

Moving back to reality, another item to consider when suggesting a BOLT vs. Roamio for yourself or your clients is the fact that the current Roamio Plus and Pro models both have six tuners, while the BOLT models only sport four tuners. To be honest, the new basic Roamio model installed in my house only has four tuners and that really appears to be a one-off for most applications. With a great deal of network and cable programming now available for “catch-up” viewing directly via streaming services perhaps four tuners is really all one needs. At the end of the day the decision as to how many tuners are really needed for a given job is something that you should talk to the clients about.

With regard to off-air tuners in the current Roamio line, only the base “Roamio S” model and, of course, the $49 TiVo OTA model are equipped with off-air tuners. The new Bolt models both include off-air tuners, which should delight your cord-cutting customers by combining their advanced content management features without the need for cable service. Another interesting addition with the Bolt line is the availability of TiVo’s new Continual Care program. Rather than have to pay for repair or replacement of problem boxes that will now be replaced outside the warranty for only $49. Speaking from personal experience when we were informed that when one of our older, out of warranty Series Two models needed to be fixed out of warranty with a cost that included a new program guide subscription this is a great step forward for customer satisfaction.

With these new models TiVo is among the first to provide for DVR capability with the anticipated introduction of native 4K content via cable as well as the existing 4K content offered by Netflix Amazon Prime and others. It will be a while before we have the opportunity to compare the new bold models against the cable boxes that the MSOs will certainly provide when UHD content is available. At that point it will be interesting to see which provides the better user experience but based on my long history with owning TiVo models back to the original Series One unit that we’re still using (despite its being more than 15 years old) it’s a safe bet that the new TiVo BOLT will be a viable option for all-in-one cable/streaming content management and viewing.

A final note: along with the recent introduction of the new 4K-compatible Amazon Fire products, we are currently in the midst of product introductions that provide even more options for those with 4K displays. Stay tuned to the Residential Systems site for this news as well as our analysis of the new Chromecast and Chromecast Audio models from the perspective of the design and installation professional coming next week.