Last week, TiVo unveiled its latest DVR, the Bolt, which has some compelling features—and, as reported by Engadget
, a few that seem to be a step backward from the current Roamio Pro and Plus models. In fact, the Bolt is intended to replace the base-model Roamio and, eventually, the Plus—the Roamio Pro will remain available—but some TiVo enthusiasts might want to wait before upgrading.
First, let's take a look at what the Bolt offers. Along with the odd curved shape that promotes good airflow for cooling but makes it impossible to incorporate into an equipment rack, the Bolt is a 4-tuner OTA (over-the-air) and CableCARD DVR with 500 or 1000 GB of hard-disk storage. It drops all analog-video outputs, leaving only one HDMI 2.0 port, an optical digital-audio output, and an L/R analog-audio output. Other connections include coax (digital cable, OTA, or MoCA), a gigabit Ethernet port, 802.11 a/c/g/n and dual-band ac Wi-Fi, two USB 2.0 ports, and an eSATA port for adding external storage.
New to the Bolt is a feature called SkipMode that skips past commercial breaks with one button push—no more skipping ahead in blind 30-second increments. However, this functionality depends on TiVo minions watching the top 20 or so most popular programs on certain networks from 4 PM to midnight and manually marking where the commercials begin and end. This info is downloaded to the Bolt, after which it can be used to skip commercials in recorded programs; the shows with this capability are clearly marked in the guide.
Another feature related to broadcast TV is called QuickMode, which lets you watch recorded shows and buffered live programs at 1.3x normal speed while shifting the audio down to its normal pitch—no chipmunk voices. According to TiVo, this feature is great for sports, news, and political speeches—and even more important IMO, political debates! Unlike SkipMode, which is exclusive to the Bolt and the TiVo Mini multi-room extender if it's connected to a Bolt, QuickMode will be available as an upgrade to the Roamio.
In addition to OTA broadcast TV, the Bolt provides the ability to stream online content from services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, Vudu, YouTube, Pandora, Spotify, iHeartRadio, MLB, and more. And unlike the Roamio models, it can stream 4K content, initially from Netflix and YouTube. At launch, it won't have a Hulu Plus app, but that is likely to be added later.
The Bolt includes iOS and Android apps that let you cast content to the TV as well as stream live and recorded content from the Bolt to the mobile device in and out of the home. It also includes Apple AirPlay, and it will soon be integrated with Amazon Fire TV. The RF (radio-frequency) remote operates without having line-of-sight access to the box, and a cool Remote Finder button on the back lets you find a lost remote.
So the Roamio can't do 4K streaming or SkipMode, but what does it have that the Bolt doesn't? Well, compared with the base Roamio, which the Bolt is meant to replace, nothing; in fact, the Bolt is a distinct upgrade. Both have four tuners and 500 GB of internal hard-disk storage (the Bolt is available with 1000 GB for more money); the Roamio has 10/100 Ethernet, while the Bolt ups that to gigabit Ethernet. Then there's 4K streaming and SkipMode, which are not possible with the Roamio. Pricewise, the Roamio is $200 (plus $15/month for the electronic program guide), while the Bolt is $300 (500 GB) or $400 (1000 GB), and that includes a year of TiVo EPG service (a $180 value).
However, the Roamio Plus and Pro are a different story. These models have six tuners (which work with digital cable only, not OTA) and more internal storage (1 TB in the Plus, 3 TB in the Pro) for $350 and $600, respectively. (The Pro comes with a year of TiVo EPG service, while the Plus hits you with $15/month right away.) Both models have gigabit Ethernet, but they can stream up to 1080p only and do not have the SkipMode feature.
Is 4K streaming and SkipMode enough to warrant dumping the Roamio Plus or Pro in favor of the Bolt? Not according to many TiVo enthusiasts. The Engadget article I referenced above
quotes TiVo Chief Marketing Officer Ira Bahr in an online conversation with the TiVo community about the new Bolt:
"As an overarching thought for this whole conversation, I would emphasize what many of you have already inferred. And that is, the Bolt product was not really designed for the TiVo enthusiast. So your lukewarm reaction is not unexpected. Bolt is low on tuners, light on storage, doesn't fit into your racks, and really doesn't offer this group much more than 4K and software features you figure we'll roll-down anyway.
"So this leads to 'why the hell did you NOT design for the TiVo enthusiast?' First, we already have a roadmap plan to bring you something you'll like way better in 2016 (more on this shortly). This product is on the already-established 3-year product cycle, which you're used to.
"Second, there just aren't enough of you to sustain the company's retail business alone. If there were, I assure you we'd have a way different approach. TiVo is simply unable to build its business on the backs of its ever diminishing group of loyalists. We did 150,000 activations in our last fiscal year. Compare that to the millions of streamers out there, and the tens of millions of DVRs out there, and you see that we've got a lot of ground to make up. In order to win for the company, and for YOU, we need to expand our market. If we fail to do this, we're not going to be able to do much of anything. We think we've got a plan for both the mass market AND for enthusiasts. So snuggle up with a warm multi-meter, walk through the answers, and we'll try to talk more when you're done."
What do you think? Are you a TiVo devotee? Do you have a Roamio? If so, would you consider replacing it with a Bolt?