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TiVo made a name for itself by creating a cable box that was better than every other cable box around. But what if you don't have cable? The Tivo Bolt OTA ($249) is a DVR for cord cutters, letting you watch and record over-the-air broadcasts as well as stream content from several online sources. However, you'll need to sign up for a subscription, and your options for streaming video are much more limited than they are with other platforms.
TiVo's Bolt OTA is a shiny black box measuring 11.4 x 7.3 x 1.8 inches that looks like it's been bent. Yes, this design makes TiVo's box stand out, but it also means it's a bit tough to cram in with the rest of your entertainment equipment.
Apart from the glossy black plastic, which picks up fingerprints, the front of the Bolt has a TiVo logo. Two LEDs — one green and one red — indicate that the Bolt is on and recording, respectively. The Bolt has four tuners, so you can record up to three programs at once while watching another.
MORE LINK: Your Guide to Cable TV Cord-Cutting
Around the back is a coaxial input for the antenna as well as digital audio, 3.5-millimeter audio, HDMI, Ethernet and two USB ports. The Bolt has a 1TB hard drive, but if you need additional storage, you can connect an external drive to the eSATA port on the Bolt.
Cost and Subscription
The hardware itself is $249, but in order to use all of TiVo's features, you need to sign up for a subscription, which is $6.99 per month, $69.99 per year or $249.99 for a lifetime contract.
By comparison, an Amazon Recast with a 1TB drive and four tuners costs $229, but you'll also need a Fire TV device, such as a Fire TV Stick 4K ($39). And, you'll need a Prime membership ($119 per year), but to be fair, that price also includes other benefits such as two-day shipping and unlimited Prime Video streaming.
Compared to the Fire TV's interface, TiVo's feels a bit sparse.
One advantage of the Recast is that you can place it pretty much anywhere in your house, since it will stream content via Wi-Fi to your Fire TV device. The Bolt OTA needs to be physically connected to both your TV and your antenna. You can purchase the TiVo Mini VOX ($179), however, which will let you access content from the Bolt wirelessly.
TiVo's remote control has had the same figure-eight design for quite some time, but it's time to try something new. The buttons on this bulbous, heavy remote are impractically laid out. In the top half is a circular navigation button surrounded by volume and channel rockers, a voice search button and a few others.
In the center of the remote is another circular button to control playback of whatever you're watching: play, pause, fast forward and reverse. The bottom of the remote has a number pad as well as buttons for skipping commercials and opening Netflix.
Having two circular controls causes confusion if you're using the remote by feel; too often, I would unconsciously press the pause button in the middle of the remote when I meant to press the navigation controls.
At the very top of the remote control is a TiVo button; press this and the TiVo's home screen appears. Along the middle of the screen is a ribbon with My Shows, What to Watch, Search and Apps. Below this are four thumbnails for programs that are currently airing.
Compared to the Fire TV and other interfaces, which offer dozens of icons of things to watch on their home screens, TiVo's feels a bit sparse. I would prefer to see more program suggestions along the bottom.
Choose My Shows, and you can see TV programs and movies you're watching or have recorded. You can sort these by TV series, Movies, Sports, Kids and Suggestions.
The What To Watch menu offers dozens of suggestions, sorted into a few interesting categories. Collections has curated lists with such names as "Grammy Winners," "Congratulations Boston!," "Valentine's Yay!" and "Valentine's Nay." Other categories include Box Sets (such as the complete Aliens or Back to the Future trilogy).
TiVo gives you a variety of options for recording a program, whether it's a single episode, an entire season, upcoming episodes, new episodes, only reruns and more.
Unlike Amazon's interface, which puts streaming services first, TiVo lets you see what's airing on your local channels by using a single button press. That could appeal to those who would rather watch the local news before bingeing Netflix.
TiVo gives you a variety of options for recording a program, whether it's a single episode, an entire season, upcoming episodes, new episodes, only reruns and more. You can also specify if TiVo should start recording before or after the scheduled time, which is helpful when you're recording sports. By comparison, the Recast only gives you the options of recording a single episode or an entire series.
Between Roku, Amazon and others, voice search has become an essential component of any streaming device. TiVo's works well — you can search by title, genre, actor and character; it accurately interpreted my voice and pulled up whatever it was I asked. What's more, it will search across all your linked streaming services — if the movie is available on more than one service, you can pick the one you want — and will display ratings for that program.
That's a good selection, but Amazon and Roku offer a much larger menu of streaming services. One exception is Vudu, which is not available through Amazon.
You also can't control TiVo using Google Assistant; Amazon's Fire TV also lacks this compatibility, but that's to be expected.
TiVo has made a very good DVR box for cord cutters, catered towards those who want to watch and record over-the-air programs. It's easy to search for programs, and TiVo's system offers a tremendous number of options for recording shows you want to watch. However, you'll have to pay for the box ($249) as well as a subscription fee.
However, I wish TiVo would update its remote to be something more comfortable and intuitive. And, adding a few more streaming services wouldn't hurt, either.
MORE LINK: Amazon Fire TV Recast
If you're already using a Fire TV device, then Amazon's $229 Recast is the better option, as you won't have to pay additional subscription fees for TiVo's service. But for those who aren't indentured to Amazon's ecosystem — and there are still a few of you out there — the TiVo Bolt OTA is a good, if pricey, system.
Credit: Tom's Guide
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Michael A. Prospero is the U.S. Editor-in-Chief for Tom’s Guide. He oversees all evergreen content and oversees the Homes, Smart Home, and Fitness/Wearables categories for the site. In his spare time, he also tests out the latest drones, electric scooters, and smart home gadgets, such as video doorbells. Before his tenure at Tom's Guide, he was the Reviews Editor for Laptop Magazine, a reporter at Fast Company, the Times of Trenton, and, many eons back, an intern at George magazine. He received his undergraduate degree from Boston College, where he worked on the campus newspaper The Heights, and then attended the Columbia University school of Journalism. When he’s not testing out the latest running watch, electric scooter, or skiing or training for a marathon, he’s probably using the latest sous vide machine, smoker, or pizza oven, to the delight — or chagrin — of his family.