Jefferson Graham reviews the TiVo Bolt, an all in one DVR + streaming device on #TalkingTech.
By Jefferson Graham

MANHATTAN BEACH, Calif. — TiVo Bolt is a DVR. It’s a media-streaming device. It’s a replacement for your cable box.

It’s actually all of those, as well as a pricey all-in-one unit geared toward the TV lover in a big way.

After spending several weeks watching, recording and finding programming via Bolt, I never want to go back to renting my Verizon FIOS set-top box again. And unlike the new (and less expensive) Apple TV, or other streaming boxes from Roku and Amazon, the Bolt offers a major consumer plus. You don’t have to change the TV input settings to bring on the streaming. Everything is tied together.

TiVo imagines a world in which broadcast, cable TV and streaming media apps like Netflix and Amazon Prime all live in one universe, and if you were to search for a TV series like Big Bang Theory on the Bolt, you’ll find entries for CBS, local syndication or streaming on Amazon Prime.

TiVo’s program guide is more viewer-friendly than what I get on my cable box, it’s easier to read and more colorful, and finding my taped shows takes fewer clicks than with cable.

TiVo threw in a bunch of fun features to sweeten the deal. A “skip” button automatically jumps over commercials, taking you from the first segment of the show to the second. It’s a total blast. Fine print alert, though: “skip” only works on 20 channels, the broadcast networks and selected cable channels such as AMC, Food Network and Comedy Central, and with shows that have aired from 4 p.m. to midnight.

It wasn’t that long ago that the broadcast networks were up in arms about technology like this, when the Dish Network introduced the “Hopper” to skip ads. But with TiVo’s “skip,” there has been barely a peep. To access the feature with TiVo, you need to look for the “SKIP” tag on your recorded show, and then once it starts, hit the D button on the remote.

Via TiVo’s terrific smartphone app for Apple and Android devices, you can watch recorded shows on your device within your home network, or just use it as a remote to change channels and adjust volume.

Like streaming boxes from Apple, Roku and others, the Bolt has a collection of entertainment apps — including Netflix, Amazon Prime, Vudu and others, but the offerings are skimpy compared to others. TiVo says other apps will be joining the lineup, including HuluPlus and potentially HBO Now.

Unlike the new Apple TV, the Bolt can show programming that’s been presented in ultra-high definition 4K via the Netflix and Amazon Prime apps.

One feature TV lovers should get a kick out of is TiVo’s suggestions. Once you start recording shows, TiVo begins to figure out your tastes and records other shows. For instance, once I asked TiVo to record every episode of Late Night with Stephen Colbert, it also added the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon and The Daily Show. (Not that I specifically wanted them, but what the heck. They’re nice to have.) But what if you buy the entry-level $300 unit with 500 GB storage and don’t want these shows clogging up your hard drive? TiVo says not to worry — your suggested shows will be deleted first when TiVo looks to make room for the shows you go out to record.

Finally, let’s look at price. The Bolt starts at $300, but includes one free year of Tivo service, which is $15 per month.

Still, that’s twice as much as an Apple TV or about three times the cost of a Roku.

Those boxes, of course, can’t record shows or give you a guide to what’s playing on TV.

In this day and age of on-demand streaming, do we still need program guides and DVRs?

There’s a lot that can be watched at one click. But there’s still plenty that can’t always be seen this way, such as complete newscasts, sporting events and shows like the aforementioned Daily Show or Late Show.

I like having a DVR and really like the commercial skipper. Plus I love the idea of replacing a cable box with a unit that isn’t owned by Verizon.

It’s not cutting the cord, but shaving it a bit.

I give Verizon $420 yearly to rent two set-top DVR boxes. But with the Bolt, I was able to request a “CableCard,” which continued to give me service without having to rent Verizon’s equipment.

My $420 got whacked down to $120 a year — $5 a month for each card and now the bottom line is a yearly savings of $150.

Spoiler alert: Cable companies are notorious for being tough to deal with when the “CableCard” is requested, and my experience was no different. It took many calls, tweets and eventually two visits to make it work for simply inserting a card in a TiVo box. But Verizon had to activate it.

With the CableCard finally installed and TiVo Bolt running the show, TV is more enjoyable, I don’t have to change the TV input to go back and forth between cable and the streaming box. And I’m sending Verizon less money.

What’s not to like about that?

Follow Jefferson Graham on Twitter @jeffersongraham.

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