Until the Apple TV announcement, I was never fully aware just how heated the set-top box market actually is. Everyone and their Mom is suddenly trying to plant their flag on the consumer’s living room entertainment centers.
One of the veterans of this battle is TiVo, the San Jose, Calif.-based company that was so pervasive in pushing the DVR revolution that we don’t record shows; we “TiVo” them.
TiVo is reacting to this wave of contenders with the Bolt, a new model of its set-top product, which is available from today.
When an electronics manufacturer elects a white case with rounded edges, I can’t help but imagine some product designer being pushed to make something look more “Apple-like.” And that’s what this unit, visually, is telling me. I don’t know whether this is an effort to meet Apple head on for stepping onto its turf – or a sign that TiVo is giving Apple’s visual aesthetic too much respect.
The Bolt’s silhouette is a bit of a shock at first glance. It’s not a rectangular flat box, but a folded unit, with the crease lying off-center. Supposedly, people who like to stack things on top of other things don’t like this idea. I think that to nitpick about this in 2015 is at least a little bit ridiculous. Even if the Bolt were flat, it’s too tiny to stack crap on top of.
Besides aesthetics, the bend is actually a functional design choice, as the Bolt’s vents and cooling system are located in the bottom gap. How hot it gets, I couldn’t tell you right now. But I think it’s a cool, practical, and visually appealing solution.
There are a lot of little improvements on the software and content end of Bolt, aside from the obligatory user interface polish. First of all, TiVo is pushing a refined ‘Skip Mode’ feature. The company is selecting popular programs off of certain high-traffic channels and adding tags to the content, which act like jump markers, allowing users to skip commercials on recorded shows without accidentally leaping too far ahead and having to perform the fast forward/rewind dance.
These tags are being placed by hand, by a human being at TiVo HQ, not based off a cold, soul-less algorithm that can be easily tricked. That also means this feature won’t work on live television, brand-new programming or local broadcasts.
Quick mode is another convenient function on the Bolt. It’s a fast-play scrub feature that speeds the footage up to about 30 percent, leaving audio intact (and obviously, a tiny bit chipmunked).
I could see this being incredibly useful for catching up on sports or local newscasts, or perhaps whatever terrible TV show friends and colleagues insist I watch. You know, stuff I just need to skim, not so much absorb.
The coolest feature that caught my attention, however, is the updated One Pass feature. This is something that was introduced in earlier TiVo products, but seems to have received a couple of tweaks.
One Pass allows users to subscribe to a specific set of content, like, let’s say, The Walking Dead, and will search out episodes from all services available on the Bolt. So if I have seasons 1-3 sporadically recorded on the device, and seasons 1-3 happen to be on Netflix, it will make all episodes available for me as if they are seamless. I can also choose which source I prefer for each episode.
There are many potential sources for content on almost any set-top box solution, and I am glad that this type of feature is becoming the norm.
Another feature, Collections, will also play into the One Pass concept by organizing content and recording schedules based off of a specific interest. So if I am really into, I don’t know, zombies, the Collections feature will scan television broadcasts, streaming services, and viral content providers like YouTube to find content based around walking corpses.
As for which services are going to be available on the Bolt, it’s easier to just list what isn’t included. Hulu Plus and HBO Go were noticeably missing from the list. I was assured by a rep that they are coming, but both are slightly delayed because of app development issues. It was also pointed out that my cable provider would have HBO available anyways, which the Bolt could record off of, if I had paid for the subscription and really needed my Game of Thrones (which is tied to HBO Go). Still, it’s noticeably missing, and until it’s available, I would only be able to watch whatever content HBO is currently showing, not their backlog.
And if one of those Game of Thrones episodes I do wind up recording is cool as hell? TiVo added social media functionality as well, allowing me to email, tweet, and Facebook update my friends on what I am watching. I guess it wouldn’t be a modern consumer electronic if it didn’t allow me to be at least a little bit narcissistic.
The smaller details
The Bolt is going to be 4K compatible, for those that require ridiculously high-definition resolutions. Hard drives are 2.5″, at 500 gigabytes for the $300 model, and 1,000 gigabytes for the $400 SKU. Although TiVo doesn’t have an official stance one way or the other on people cracking the unit open and putting in their own, larger, hard drives — they do provide a hard drive extension port in the back.
There’s also an interesting little detail about the Bolt that seems to get glossed over: It’s possible for end users to develop apps for this hardware.
This means HTML5 games and content can be accessed through the Opera TV storefront. TiVo is positioning this product to mainly focus on television and movie content offerings, but this obviously leaves an opening available if they want to start crossing into a wider suite of services.
In any case, both units are available for online purchase today, with units expected to hit brick n’ mortar locations by October 4th.