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TiVo Bolt review: The best DVR gets better

Michael Brown | Oct. 7, 2015
Whether you’re a cord cutter or a cable-TV devotee, this is the DVR you should be using.

TiVo Bolt

Don’t get bent out of shape over the TiVo Bolt’s bent chassis. I reacted almost viscerally when I saw it, but the TiVo team swears there’s more to the design than just a compulsion for raising eyebrows. They tell me the angled chassis increases the airflow beneath the box, so the fan can cool its quad-core CPU and 3GB of DDR memory more effectively.

Whatever. The Bolt’s features and performance soon won me over. Whether you’re a cord cutter using an over-the-air antenna, or a subscriber looking for better hardware than what the cable company offers, this is one terrific DVR. If you’re in the latter camp, you’ll need to get a CableCARD card from your service provider and install it in the slot on the bottom of the Bolt. Satellite TV subscribers, unfortunately, are out of luck because there is no CableCARD equivalent for satellite.

The faster processor enables the Bolt to support 4K resolution, but you don’t need a 4K TV to take advantage of what the Bolt offers. Unlike most set-top box manufacturers, TiVo includes a six-foot HDMI 2.0 cable right in the box, so you don’t need to worry about your older cable being capable of supporting the higher resolution. Let’s go over the rest of the Bolt’s hardware configuration before diving into its usability.

TiVo Bolt
Apart from the TiVo logo, you'll see just two LED indicator lights on the front of the Bolt.  Credit: Michael Brown

All of the Bolt’s I/O ports are on the back of the device. There’s an HDMI 2.0 port, of course, and a coax connector for either your digital cable service or an over-the-air antenna (the Bolt has four ATSC tuners). An optical digital audio output (and an analog stereo audio out) enables you to handle audio separate from video, which is very useful if you want to hook the box up to an older A/V receiver that doesn’t support HDMI. You have two storage options to start with: Internal hard drives providing either 500GB or 1TB of storage.

Neither of those options gives you a lot of storage capacity if you plan to record a lot of 4K video and retain it for very long. You can plug in an external eSATA drive to increase your storage, but the Bolt won’t recognize drives plugged into either of its USB 2.0 ports. You can add the Bolt to your network using either its gigabit ethernet port or MoCA 2.0 (Multimedia over Coax), or wirelessly via 802.11ac. The Bolt is also equipped with a Bluetooth radio, but the company hasn’t announced how that feature will be used (it’s dormant for now). The networking options are important because the Bolt can stream content within the home using a TiVo Mini or an Amazon Fire TV set-top box. It will also find recordings stored on other TiVo boxes, including the older Roamio series. Streaming outside the home will be supported down the road.

 

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