Found Remote

Executive editors Natan Edelsburg (@twatan) and Adam Flomenbaum (@flobombin), and guest contributors, bring the inside track on the latest developments in the TV space.

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Review: The Tivo Bolt will make you forget about cord cutting

There’s a general sentiment in the TV industry that cord cutting (the art of ending your traditional cable subscription) will very soon be the norm. With the latest F.C.C. announcement that will open up competition in the set-top box space there’s one company that’s poised to reinvent what it means to be a traditional TV subscriber.

TiVo, the television device manufacturer and technology company is disproving that by innovating around your cable subscription, even your cable company isn’t. The new TiVo BOLT, released in 2015, not only allows you to completely skip commercial breaks, but the connected device includes apps for Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and most recently, Hulu.

Found Remote is giving the TiVo BOLT 4.8/5 Remotes.
The TiVo Bolt costs $299.99 and includes a free year of the TiVo service. After the first year, the service costs $149.99 per year (roughly $12.50/month). Here are the details of my experience test driving the TiVo BOLT at home over the past few months.

 
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Transitioning from my DVR to a TiVo:
Like many I was skeptical about moving away from my Verizon FiOS DVR because I had been using it for so long and generally didn’t have much to complain about. I also had recorded programs saved on my DVR from years ago that I didn’t want to lose in the transition.

Additionally, the general sentiment around TiVo among the ignorant (which I was once myself) was that TiVo was some company from the late 1990s early 2000s that had been made irrelevant once the cable companies white-labeled their own digital video recorders.

Then I slowly began to learn that this wasn’t the case. Not only was TiVo still around but also they had been innovating around the television experience for the last decade;I, on the other hand, had been stuck in the past with a DVR that had looked and operated the same way for the last decade. After a friend in the industry recommended that I switch and after another friend joined TiVo to head up their research marketing division, I decided it was time to give it a shot.

Setting up the device:
When the TiVo arrived it came in a beautiful box, with fun messaging all over it about how they’ve been innovating the TV experience. Setting it up was easy for the most part. I had avoided renting a CableCARD from Verizon because it wasn’t 100% clear to me if I needed one or if I could instead use my Verizon box as a proxy until I was sure I wanted to stick with the TiVo.

After I learned that I definitely needed a CableCARD, I needed to figure out what a cablecard actually was. TiVo’s website said I would need a “Multi-stream CableCARD.” Verizon’s website talks about the possibility of ordering a CableCARD but didn’t indicate if it was multi-stream or not. I then spent 30 minutes on the phone with Verizon confirming that it indeed was multi-stream and ordered it for $4.99/month. It would have been a bit more helpful if TiVo could have just confirmed and linked to the acceptable CableCARDs from the major providers on their site.

When the CableCARD arrived it was very easy to setup and the only issue I had was that for many channels, the Electronic Program Guide (EPG) data wasn’t showing up - meaning that for many channels it wasn’t showing me the names of the programs that were on. After some troubleshooting with TiVo support, I ran the setup again and it worked fine.

Setting up my preferences, recorded shows and apps:
After the small hiccups in setting up the device I was a bit worried about other hurdles that I might face. Then I realized that the two small issues I had dealt with, confusion around a CableCARD and issues with the EPG data were simply cases of TiVo having to mold around old-school ways that the providers distribute TV.

From the moment I finished setting up the device, I felt as though I travelled into the future to a world where traditional TV had actually been innovated.

I was able to customize the guide so that only the channels I actually watched showed up - this took me two minutes at most.

There was no way to automatically have my Verizon DVRed shows show up on TiVo, but after making a list of all my DVRed shows it took me just an hour to set them all up under TiVo’s OnePass - which let’s you not only record shows from linear but let’s you find them “no matter where it happens to be,” including the streaming apps they provide.

If I happened to be watching a standard definition channel by accident, TiVo would ask me if I’d rather watch it in HD instead. The entire user experience and design was amazing. Navigating through their software from apps, to TV, to my recorded shows felt like I was on a computer more than a TV. What would take me five minutes of frustratingly slow selecting on my DVR took a mere few seconds on the TiVo. After a day I was shocked anyone was still using the DVR their cable companies provided.

They also had a trending section to show what most people were watching on TV right now. This is made possible based on the fact that you are watching traditional TV on a device that’s actually connected to the internet. I was amazed.

The only thing that tripped me up was that I had the “Suggestions” setting turned on, which I didn’t know and I didn’t understand. I’m a recorder who only wants new episodes recorded and even though I selected that option when I set up each of my OnePass shows there were still older episodes recording. This was because of the “Suggestions” setting, which seems well intentioned but ended up confusing me a lot. When I turned it off everything was back to normal.

The TiVo app:
My Verizon FiOS app had been okay. When it worked I was able to record shows remotely and check what was in my queue. Besides that I used it to pay my bill. The TiVo app for iPhone is phenomenal.

It can easily be used as a remote for your TiVo and you can access and watch anything you’ve recorded from your iPhone as long as you are connected to the same wifi that your TiVo is connected to. Once watching on your iPhone you can then use Apple’s AirPlay to stream what you’re watching to another TV in your house that has an AppleTV. Further, if you want to watch something that’s currently on the air, with one tap you can do that and TiVo will start recording it so you can access it from your device.

The best part is that accessing the content works seamlessly via their player. There’s no delay, rewinding and skipping ahead is easy and it doesn’t prevent someone from using the the TiVo with the main TV it’s connected to.

TiVo’s VP of Product Management and Strategy Jim Denney explained how this is possible. “TiVo BOLT currently supports one stream at a time delivered to a single mobile device within an in-home network,” he told Found Remote. “This means content can be playing on one mobile device at the same time as on any TV in the home… In the future, we will support up to two simultaneous streams on Bolt in home,” he added.

Experiencing TiVo’s ads:
After a couple of weeks of experiencing TV through TiVo I started to realize how much amazing data they were sitting on top of. Over Thanksgiving I was catching up on Showtime’s Homeland which I had recorded. Whenever I paused it an ad from HBO would show up at the bottom encouraging me to watch The Leftovers, making corny, but catchy references to Thanksgiving leftovers.

I’m not sure how Showtime would feel about that but it was extremely clever and targeted advertising and did cause me to catch up on The Leftovers right after I finished Homeland. The potential for non-intrusive and addressable advertising is huge with TiVo.

Traditional On-Demand via TiVo:
The biggest disappointment was the fact that I could no longer access Verizon FiOS On-Demand using the CableCARD with my TiVo. Denney explained why Verizon and Time Warner aren’t offering On-Demand to TiVo. “VoD in our retail offering is integrated on a case by case basis in cooperation with the operator,” Denney explained to Found Remote. “Comcast and Cox are the two operators that have cooperated in this effort so far,” he added.

For a minute I thought this might be a deal breaker for me as I used On-Demand often to binge watch and access shows I had forgotten to record or was unable to because I was recording too many other shows.

It quickly became a non-issue for two reasons. With the TiVo I was able to record up to four shows at the same time, with my DVR only two. Also, every major network now has their own apps where you can watch their contact so On-Demand is quickly becoming a senior citizen along with DVDs and non-smartphones.

Using Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Hulu:
I’m an Apple TV loyalist (the older one, I haven’t purchased the newer more expensive one yet), using Roku mostly to access Amazon Prime Video which isn’t available on the Apple TV. I didn’t plan on using the streaming apps that TiVo made available, especially since they didn’t include Hulu (only Netflix and Amazon when it came to the apps I cared about). In December, TiVo added Hulu to their offering of apps completing the trifecta I needed.

I decided to login to my Netflix, Hulu and Amazon accounts on TiVo and since then I’ve only been using them via TiVo. The reason why is simple - there’s now less of a need to switch inputs on my TV, those few seconds saved means more TV and less jumping around.

Taking back control of my bill:
The ultimate question ends up being - do you actually save money using a TiVo over your provider’s DVR. For myself the experience of using a TiVo was so exponentially better that I didn’t care if I had to pay a bit more. In reality, that doesn’t work when bills are piling up.

Denney explained to Found Remote that “TiVo BOLT also saves you money compared to a cable DVR. Where cable providers charge you not only for channels, but also bill you rental fees, DVR fees, etc., TiVo allows you to pay a one-time price for the box and only one monthly service fee no matter how many TVs you’ve connected to your BOLT.”

Here’s my reality: After the one time fee for the device and a free year of their service, the cost per month is only $12.50 compared to the nearly $16.99/month Verizon had been charging me to rent my DVR. The cable card only costs $4.99/month - so after a year I will end up paying about $.50 more for an extremely better experience. I never had a second box in my apartment but the fact that I can now access my shows on my iPhone is giving me an added value that’s way worth the $.50. Also, my Verizon bill is often confusing with taxes and service charges, so one less item I have to worry about on it, is a savior.

How TiVo the company is doing:
TiVo, the company, which is publicly traded on NASDAQ is going through some major leadership changes right now. According to The Hollywood Reporter, they’ve been making a lot of money suing companies that have tried ripping off their technology. Their new interim CEO Naveen Chopra has vowed to, “be highly focused on product innovation, accelerating profitability, enhancing subscription growth and securing new distribution agreements across an expanded geographic footprint — in addition to safeguarding TiVo's invaluable intellectual property.”

While their subscribers have traditionally gone down year over year, the new F.C.C. regulations could change the game completely for them and the need for a CableCARD at all could be obsolete as software takes over.

In addition to acquiring Aereo’s distribution lists and launching an antenna product, they recently had a major presence at CES showing off the BOLT.

TiVo BOLT at CES
 
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Why you should be using a TiVo to become a cord supplementer:
Denney told Found Remote that “TiVo BOLT brings all of your content together into one place for you to manage.  Features like OnePass, universal search and OTT application support mean that you get one point of control for all content, whether from a streaming service or cable provider.  The result is a much better viewing experience.”

I couldn’t agree more. As a passionate TV viewer and fan, immediacy and convenience are of utmost importance. I want to watch my favorite shows the second they air, in one experience with as little tapping, clicking or selecting as possible. For awhile I was planning on cutting the cord and using a friend or family member’s password to authenticate into TV everywhere apps.

Found Remote is giving the Tivo BOLT 4.8/5 Remotes for a near perfect experience. .1 Remotes was deducted for the confusion around setup, .05 for the lack of On-Demand integration, and .05 for the confusing Suggestions feature.

Now that I have a TiVo BOLT I feel like I’ve reclaimed the traditional TV experience, combined it with my favorite streaming apps and a mobile experience, and created that 2016 TV viewing experience I was hoping for.

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