TiVo clearly had a choice to make. Deliver an unfinished product now or miss the all-important holiday shopping season. And, despite some compromises, they did what I would have done and released early. For example, only two of three TiVo Bolt models have made an appearance… without a Hulu app, currently being redesigned in HTML 5, and without out-of-home streaming. After all, how could they possibly launch the TiVo Bolt “Aereo” Edition without remote access capabilities (that are expected in 2016)? While I didn’t anticipate them this fall, there’s also no sign of a corresponding Series 6 “Pro” model nor a 4K-capable Mini. TiVo doesn’t seem to have the numbers or efficiency to juggle it all.
The first thing everyone will notice is the new design. It’s fresh and funky. Many of you will hate it. On a more practical level, this smaller form factor means heat is more of a challenge and the Bolt maxes out with 4 tuners while transitioning to a 2.5″ drive. So existing Roamio Pro/Plus owners with 6-tuners and potentially more storage will have a real hard time justifying an upgrade. But, for those new to the fold, there’s a lot to like from this OTA/Cable DVR.
For me, the tent pole feature is commercial skip. However, to avoid ReplayTV’s fate, instead of programatically reading signal meta data and automatically avoiding ads, TiVo’s “SkipMode” requires human intervention… on both sides. As described by Engadget and similar to DISH’s AutoHop, a legion of TiVo staff will view the top 20 networks, 4PM – Midnight, to mark commercial entrances and exits, which are hopefully consistent provider-to-provider, region-to-region. Then, while watching a tagged show, viewers will be alerted onscreen to click the D button if they’d like to bypass commercial interruption
in a given episode at each break. Does The Flash fall within the top 20? With a DVR, who even knows what network a program is on.
On the app front, Netflix and YouTube can stream 4k content (although may freeze your unit). But Amazon UHD is a no-show. And, as previously mentioned, no (720p) Hulu at all. We know WWE is in the hopper. Sadly, I’ve seen no indication that HBO or ESPN are on the way in — apps I require for TiVo to finally live up to its “One Box” slogan (of the Premiere era). I sure hope they’re at least going after the more accessible Sling TV to ultimately launch in conjunction with the Bolt Aereo Edition – as that will be a sticking or selling point for many cord cutters. So, yeah, we’ll all be keeping our Rokus and the like.
Pricing sees a change up too with the relatively new CMO’s third major initiative since coming on board, after the $150 Mini and months of deals. The 500GB Bolt runs $300 with the 1TB Bolt clocking in at $400. Nothing shocking there. Except both also include a year of service to reduce the barrier to entry (as TiVo’s retail headcount remains stagnant). After 12 months, they’re expecting folks to pony up $150/yr to keep those good times rolling. I’ve always been a fan of the annual subscription model. But not at this price, even if subsidizing hardware. $99 would move more folks and, for comparison, Xbox Live Gold is $60 (MSRP) … And their (more limited) DVR and guide service will actually be free. Lifetime gets a rebrand as the “All-In” plan, running $600 and I’m not yet certain if there is a PLS-like discount for existing subscribers.