TiVo announced three new products this morning including two set-top boxes, the Bolt Vox and Mini Vox, plus a remote control with voice search capabilities for existing, recent TiVo hardware. Alongside these new devices, TiVo is showcasing the updated software that runs on them, which will also come to Bolt and Roamio DVRs later this fall.
If you know your TV gadgets, you’re aware that several popular streaming devices like Roku, Fire TV, and Apple TV already support universal voice search — each in their own way — that brings together content from many different services. It helps conceal the fragmented reality of entertainment in 2017; we all like watching shows on Netflix, Amazon, Hulu… and yes, cable too. So tying all of that content together isn’t a new endeavor. But TiVo is positioning these new Vox devices as the most comprehensive and easiest solution of everything out there. That “unified entertainment system” was the Bolt’s big selling point in 2015. Walt Mossberg was rather happy with it. Now, the company hopes that layering voice search and revamped software onto the convenience of never changing HDMI inputs will be enough.
The Bolt Vox looks extremely similar in design to the Bolt released two years ago, but this time there’s no white version. It only comes in black. The connections around back are all identical, as well. In fact, there appear to be no hardware differences at all between the Bolt Vox and original Bolt from 2015. This is the same box as before, but now it’s been rebranded and comes with a bundled voice remote.
Storage options are also unchanged. The base 500GB Bolt Vox DVR costs $199.99 and includes four tuners. A higher capacity 1TB ($299) model is available, but the most spacious 3TB 6-tuner version ($499) is again only compatible with digital cable inputs and not over-the-air antenna programming. So we’re looking at an extremely iterative hardware revision here. For the main DVR, anyway.
TiVo’s new $179.99 Mini Vox is an upgraded, more powerful version of the TiVo Mini, which is a smaller box that plugs into secondary TVs around your house to give them access to your recordings, live TV, and a few key streaming apps. The Mini Vox now supports 4K playback (the prior Mini was limited to 1080p), and it too also has the new voice remote control right in the box. But you’ll still need an ethernet-based home network if you want to assemble this multi-room TiVo system. Wi-Fi alone won’t cut it.
As always, once you’ve purchased TiVo hardware, you’ve got to pay separately for one of TiVo’s service plans. The monthly subscription is $14.99, with annual ($149.99) and “all-in” options also available. The $549.99 all-in plan covers TiVo service for the life of your device. That business model probably sounds absurd to people who’ve never owned or really used a TiVo, but it’s what gets you the signature, convenient features like flawless commercial skipping (for supported shows) and so on.
TiVo calls the software that ships on Bolt Vox its “next-gen experience,” and it does seem like a significant improvement when you remember that this is the company that took years to fully convert its menus to HD. There are carousels of nice TV show/movie artwork, and TiVo is very good about making it very clear where you can watch the content it recommends with badges that designate whether it’s cable or a streaming app.
The navigation for some of these sections seems a bit confusing to me at first glance, but I’d imagine it’s more intuitive in practice after a few minutes. It definitely looks much nicer, and TiVo has taken care to keep your current show in view whenever you’re messing around in the menus so you don’t miss anything if you want to survey what else is on.
As for the big new thing — voice search — TiVo says you can ask for shows or movies and fine tune results as they came back. So you can say “Show me movies with Tom Hanks” and then add “only the dramas” to whittle the list. Voice commands also work for TiVo’s software tricks like SkipMode and QuickMode, which speeds up the program you’re watching by 30 percent.
But nothing about TiVo’s voice search powers seems all that unique or novel compared to the competition. Streaming boxes can already help filter search results in a similar manner, and both Roku and Amazon are extending a hand to cord-cutters with deeper integration of live OTA TV, so you can just say “turn on NBC” and it’ll work on TVs with that software built in. I’m struggling to see the must-have thing here when Alexa can now control Fire TV and Google Home can launch videos on your Chromecast. Those seem like more compelling voice interactions.
If you want TiVo’s voice search (and the new software to go along with it), you’ll be able to get the Vox voice remote for $39.99 in black or white for Bolt devices. If you’ve got a Roamio (Pro, Plus, or OTA), the remote costs slightly more at $44.99 since it includes a Bluetooth adapter. Everything goes on sale October 29th at Amazon, Best Buy, and TiVo’s web store, and we’ll be spending more time with the Bolt Vox soon.