TiVo will look to amp up retail sales with the Bolt, a new platform that supports 4K streaming, a menu of OTT apps, traditional digital cable video services, and a new “SkipMode" feature that could become a lightning rod of controversy with programmers.
As shown at left, the Bolt sports a new, smaller and arc-like form-factor, but will kick things off with two differently priced models – the 500 Gigabyte version will cost $299.99, while the 1 terabyte model will fetch $399.99. Bolt pricing bakes in the first year of the TiVo service, which will later cost subs 14.99 per month or $149 annually. TiVo and its online retail partners will start taking orders today (fulfillments begin next week), and the Bolt will show up at Best Buy brick and mortar stores starting this Sunday.
Bolt will also contain a CableCARD slot (it’s located on the device’s undercarriage) and, for the cord-cutting crowed, will also allow users to capture free, over-the-air TV broadcast signals. The Bolt is also outfitted with MoCA 2.0 for whole-home capabilities when paired with the $149.99 (non-4K) TiVo Mini, and 802.11ac dual-band WiFi.
Bolt’s 4K support will come way of HDMI 2.0, HDCP 2.2 and the HEVC and VP9 decode formats, and will initially support 4K via Netflix and YouTube.
"I do expect to add more 4K apps as time goes along; we're working on our application partners on that,” Jim Denney, TiVo’s vice president of product management and strategy, said.
Equipped with four tuners, the Bolt also includes on-board video transcoding for streaming of recorded and live TV to Android and iOS devices and Web browsers. Bolt will support one simultaneous stream at launch, though a November software release will unleash a second. The Bolt will add out-of-home streaming early next year, Denney said.
Replaces the Roamio-S
The TiVo Bolt will essentially replace the Roamio-S, which requires the TiVo Stream sidecar for video transcoding, and “likely replaces” the Roamio Plus in the company’s product line, Denney said. Like the Roamio-S, TiVo also expects to eventually phase out the CableCARD-free Roamio OTA (the Bolt handles OTA signals).
Updated: However, earlier findings tied to TiVo's new platform suggested that TiVo is also developing an "Aereo Edition" of Bolt, suggesting that TiVo might come out with a model that, like the Roamio OTA, supports OTT and over-the-air TV, but eschews the CableCARD. TiVo acquired the trademarks and the customer lists of the now-defunct Aereo service for about $1 million in March
The Roamio Pro, which doesn’t support 4K but packs six tuners and 3 TB of storage, will remain in the TiVo product lineup. “We’ll split the line,” Denney said. (The 1.9-pound Bolt is 33% smaller than the TiVo Roamio-S and 65% than the Roamio Plus and Pro).
Bolt will start out as a retail product (the device will provide integration with Cox and Comcast VOD), but “you should expect MSO-specific versions of this coming out,” Denney said.
TiVoended its fiscal Q2 with 6.03 million total subs (941,000 TiVo-owned, and 5.09 million through MSO partners).
One feature new to Bolt that should gain lots of positive attention from consumers and possibly negative attention from programmers is SkipMode.
TiVo said the feature, which lets users skip commercial breaks in recorded shows with the click of a button, will initially be supported on 20 popular channels, including the Big 4 broadcasters, for shows (save for local content and sporting events) that run each day between 4 p.m. and midnight.
Channels that are part of that mix include FX, HGTV, History, Lifetime, NBC, ABC, ABC Family, AMC, Bravo, CBS, Syfy, TBS, TLC, TNT, USA, Comedy Central, the CW, Discovery Channel, Food Network and Fox.
To enable the feature, TiVo is creating tags on those channels that identify when programming begins or resumes. Commercial pods will be illustrated on-screen with a bar along the recording line and a pop up will prompt the viewer to press the “D” button when a commercial break is skippable. Users can also select the remote’s Channel Up/Down buttons to skip forward or back between commercial breaks.
“From a consumer standpoint, we think it’ll be a very compelling feature,” Denney said. “To a certain extent, it’s fast-forward perfected.”
Time will tell if broadcasters and other programmers feel the same way, as Dish’s Auto Hop feature for the Hopper DVR drew lawsuits from broadcasters. However, in January, a U.S. District Court said the technology that the broadcast networks objected to is legal under copyright law or the Supreme Court’s recent Aereo ruling. Last year, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court's September 2013 denial of a preliminary injunction against Dish’s Hopper DVR service.
Denney said TiVo users are already fast-forwarding through commercials. “What we’re doing is giving them [consumers] a new tool to do what they’re already doing…We’re not affecting any of the underlying content; we're creating the tags to identify where the content begins."
Other New Features
Thanks in part to a beefier memory footprint, Bolt will support a fast app launch feature for Netflix. While it will take five to seven seconds to fire up Netflix on Bolt the first time, the suspend/resume capability with the Netflix app will reduce that to a second or two, giving it the kind of response time offered by a resident application. That feature is initially Netflix-specific, though TiVo hopes to support it in additional apps eventually.
With Bolt, TiVo is also rolling out a freshen up user interface that flattens the graphics, a new color palette, and network logos that will help users more rapidly identify channels in the lineup. “It’s the TiVo UI with new graphics,” Denney said.
A new QuickMode will playback content at 1.3 times real time with pitch-corrected audio (that will make sure that dialogue played back in that mode won’t sound like Alvin and The Chipmunks).
TiVo is also debuting a new iOS app that will allow users bring more personalization and customization to its What to Watch Now element. While the hobbies and interest feature is only for the YouTube app, customers can now customize by genre across other content sources. The app is also expanding its sharing capability beyond Facebook and Twitter to include email, and links that will also direct users to OTT sources in addition to a portal where they can set a recording.
TiVo is also bringing more speed to its cross-platform (streaming, VOD and recording) OnePass with a feature called Quick Select.
And TiVo’s introducing a new remote that includes RF technology (eliminating the need for line-of-sight). To help users find a lost remote, a button on the back of the Bolt will trigger the remote to play a song.
Alongside the new features, there’s also something that the new Bolt won’t support early on – the Hulu app.
Denney said that’s because TiVo flipped to an HTML5 app structure. Hulu’s HTML5 app isn’t ready for that platform, but TiVo, he said, hopes to bring Hulu to the Bolt “sometime soon.”