Review: Tivo BOLT+

The newest TiVo model is called the BOLT. I've been using TiVo since the first generation, back when it used a dial-up modem to download the tv guide listings and software updates. My how far we've come!

If you have a TiVo already, the BOLT user interface looks and acts the same but everything is faster and better. There is a new feature that automatically skips commercials (if the TV show permits it), an a feature that plays shows at 30% faster speed, with pitch-correction. Everything is faster. This unit has more RAM and a faster CPU than any previous TiVo model, which really shows in the UI. Everything is snappier and that makes it more usable. Most importantly apps like Netflix, Hulu, HBO Go, and Amazon Prime start up instantly instead of making you wait a frustratingly long amount of time. On the old model I'd think twice before starting the Netflix app because it took a full minute to start. If I accidentally hit a key and exited the app, I'd often give up and return to watching recorded TV rather than start the Netflix app again. It just wasn't worth it. The new model eliminates that kind of problem.

That said, the real star of the show is the setup process. Every home electronics manufacturer should be jealous. Since I bought my TiVo online from TiVo.com, they've connected its serial number to my account and therefore have been able to do most of the setup ahead of time. I simply plugged it in, moved my CableCard from my old device, and followed a few basic instructions. I was shocked at how fast the process was. I was shocked at how streamlined it was. This level of perfection must have touched on not just TiVo's engineering team, but everything from logistics, to finance, to packaging, to documentation. I kept saying, "That was too fast! I must have forgotten something!" But no, it really was set up and working. I was sitting back streaming an episode of Rick and Morty.

Even the documentation is excellent. Having such a refined setup process reduces the amount of documentation need, of course. Therefore the docs focus on what's new and basic tips. For example, it points out that even if you haven't received your CableCard yet (that comes from your cable provider and they often drag their feet sending you one), it tells you to do the setup anyway as you'll be able to watch unencrypte channels and stream. Good point. I would have assumed I should leave the TiVo in its box until the CableCard arrived... an unnecessary delay! This tells me that their customer support group and documentation group actually talk with each other.

The Netflix app is much better than on my old TiVo Series3 and TiVo Premiere models. The old models have a Netflix app that uses the buttons on the remote in ways that I can only describe as "creative". Had the product designer never actually used a TiVo before? On the BOLT the Netflix app uses the buttons for the same functions as when watching TV. A lot of the functionality that hasn't changed just plain works better because the CPU is faster. For example on the older slow hardware it is typical to press a button, the TiVo is slow to respond, you press the button again because you think maybe the TiVo didn't receive the first keypress, then both keypresses execute and you are fucked. I hate to dis the engineering team at Netflix, but the app just fails (on older TiVos) in ways that smell like the developers weren't not given access to actual hardware and designed it without realizing how slow the CPU would be. The TiVo BOLT's faster CPU seems to have caught up with their slow software. This is really the first TiVo model where using Netflix meets my high bar to be considered "usable". Netflix on my Mac still gives slightly finer control (you can skip to a specific place by clicking the timeline), but I'll be watching a lot more Netflix on my TiVo now.

The HBO app is better than on the older TiVos but every time I use HBO Go I feel like I'm using a product that is just struggling to run, leaving the engineers no time to make it run well. That said, the faster CPU makes the HBO app less annoying to use. Good job, Hollywood!

The only feature that the new TiVo is missing is the ability to download streams and watch them later. Right now it seems like any streaming is buffered for only a few seconds. If your ISP is having a bad day, you might spend a lot of time waiting for it to buffer. For programming I know I'm going to watch, I wish the streaming services would just let TiVo download the show to my harddrive. I'm sure their lawyers have their knickers in a twist about such features (IP lawyers think that 1's and 0's stored on a hard drive are totally different than ones stored in a buffer. When will they learn?). That said, such a feature would probably make it easier on the Netflix CDN considering they could trickle-feed such videos to me during quieter network times. But I digress..

Lastly... you might be wondering why I'm writing about TiVo on a blog for system administrators. Well, I believe that using a DVR is an important part of time management. Using a DVR puts you in control of your TV-watching time. Otherwise, the TV network controls you. This is why I dedicate an entire page to DVR tips in Time Management for System Administrators.

If you have a TiVo and are considering getting the BOLT or BOLT+, I think it is completely worth it. If you don't have a DVR, I don't think you can go wrong with a TiVo.

Five stars. Would buy again!

Posted by Tom Limoncelli in Time Management

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1 Comment | Leave a comment

I have a Roamio, which is pretty good. The one downside I see with it is that it tries to talk back to the mothership a lot; eg selecting a program makes it talk home so it can populate additional information. When the TiVo site is slow/unavailable/whatever then this can lead to the spinny icon when all I want to do is play the recorded show.

It doesn't happen often, but when it does it can be very annoying!

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