TiVo Bolt: Hands-on Review

Reading Time: 5 minutes

(Photo by Anthony Karcz)
(Photo by Anthony Karcz)

In a perfect world, everyone would have TiVo. Gone would be the hours of frustration spent while you railed at your cable provider’s DVR that had managed, yet again, to miss recording The Amazing Race, because the late-Sunday Packer’s game went into overtime and, God-forbid CBS ever just not air 60 Minutes, and you knew this would happen; but the only options your dumb box gave you were “Record” and “Cancel” so you had to just trust that it would somehow know that it needed to timeshift things when the schedule got all f'(ootball)ed-up.

Sucker.

The TiVo Bolt is TiVo’s latest bid to save those of you still chained to sub-par cable provider DVRs that, let’s face it, are there mainly to get a monthly rental fee out of you and funnel you into Pay-per-View content. It’s an eye-catching little white box that’s meant to look different from the rest of your media equipment, because it is. The hardware is solid, pumping out a 4K picture, serving as a MOCA network server (for when you have TiVo Minis to stream to), and a zippy 1 TB hard drive (at least, there is in the unit TiVo provided for this review – a 500 GB drive is available; but you’d better be committed to watching your taped shows quickly). It even has some nifty quality of life improvements, like an RF remote (so you don’t have to point it directly at the TiVo) and a remote finder button on the back of the unit.

Baby got ports (Photo by Anthony Karcz)
Baby got ports (Photo by Anthony Karcz)

But the hardware is secondary to the amazing software package you get with the TiVo Bolt. After living with it for a few weeks, I would find it practically impossible to go back to anything but the Bolt. For those of you on an older TiVo box, you’ll notice right away that the interface has been cleaned up considerably, with a Live TV window in the corner and suggested shows running along the top. The menus are responsive and all settings are much more accessible than in previous versions of the OS. What’s particularly noteworthy is OnePass. The outdated Season Pass feature is gone. I loved it because it let me catch every episode of a show, no matter when or where it aired. But inevitably I would miss an ep and be stuck rifling through Netflix or sifting through VuDu or Amazon. OnePass takes those two paradigms, recording live television and streaming video, and mashes them together. Now, I can see a listing of all the seasons and episodes of a OnePass show, along with where I can get them from. VuDu, Netflix, and Amazon Prime are currently supported on the Bolt (Don’t worry! HuluPlus is coming too!). This was an absolute life saver when I managed to delete the only Wild Kratts show that daughter was interested in watching.

QuickMode is an essential feature on Sunday at my house. My son is a consummate football geek. He wants to listen to every second of commentary and pore over every replay. Me? I just want them to snap the ball already. Usually this meant I would fast forward through all the cruft between plays, right up to the snap, allowing me to watch the game in a fraction of the time. After all, when you’ve got two kids and the schedule to match, fitting in three hours of football is an unheard of luxury. QuickMode lets us both get what we want – it speeds up the playback to 30% of normal, which is just enough to considerably compress the time it takes to watch a game; but still leave all the commentators intelligible  (well, as intelligible as they ever were…it’s not a magic feature). My son complains that it makes them sound “chipmunky” but it does have the added bonus of making all the prostrating and gesticalculating on the sidelines hilarious to watch.

SkipMode is the Holy Grail feature for the Bolt. Having used TiVo for the past decade, I have a deep-seated dislike of commercials. It’s amazing how being able to fast forward past them practically whenever you watch a show considerably lessens your tolerance. In fact both of my children, when confronted with live television for the first time, were gobsmacked when I explained to them that we couldn’t just fast forward past the commercials to get back to their shows. The Roamio introduced a dedicated 30-second skip button, which made jumping past commercial breaks a matter of a couple of presses (and some guessing). The Bolt retains that button; but adds the ability to skip past the commercials entirely with a single press. SkipMode is the closest thing you can get to a streaming video experience for recorded television and it’s glorious. It’s gotten so I practically refuse to watch anything live anymore. I’d much rather wait the hour or so for SkipMode to be enabled for the show. It’s available on nearly every Prime Time show and its commercial-free nirvana. My only wish is that this feature could be enabled across the entire TiVo line (and on every show) so that I could use it on my Mini.

The elephant in the room is that the Bolt requires you to sign up for a service package (or buy a lifetime subscription for the unit). However, it does comes with a free year of service – so you’ll have plenty of time to decide if the greatest DVR ever is worth the $150 a year (They do offer a monthly plan, but it’s not offered up front and it’s $15 a month, which is kind of a “gotcha” after a year of free service). The nice thing is that you can recoup some of those costs by turning in your cable-provider’s DVR and renting a CableCard from them instead. In the end, you’re getting a far superior experience for less cash per month.

Currently, the Bolt will run you around $300-400, depending on the capacity you choose. My advice? Spring for the more expensive 1TB model, get a TiVo Mini for your other TVs, and let the Bolt be the media streaming device for the whole house. Speaking of, there are huge streaming plans in the works for the Bolt. Currently, you can stream your recorded shows in-house to your phones and tablets. But the addition of out-of-home streaming is coming, which means you can get anything your Bolt can access anywhere.

I was a big fan of the software refresh that came out for the Roamio last year and figured the Roamio would be the last TiVo I bought for a long time. When the Bolt was first announced, I was skeptical that TiVo could do much more to improve upon their model. I have happily been proven wrong. If you watch TV, you need a Bolt. it’s that simple.

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