There was a time when the name TiVo was pretty much synonymous with “digital video recorder.” But these days the company’s set-top-boxes compete with generic cable company DVRs, not to mention a plethora of internet streaming boxes from Apple, Amazon, Google, Roku, and others.
So how does TiVo hope to compete in 2015? The company’s new TiVo Bolt DVR has a few new tricks, including support for streaming 4K video from online video sites. But the show-stopping feature might be the way the TiVo Bolt lets you watch shows… without stopping for commercials.
Digital video recorders have always allowed you to watch shows on your own schedule, while fast-forwarding through commercials to save time. But to avoid lawsuits from television networks , TiVo has largely avoided implementing automatic commercial skipping. Up until now, you’ve only been able to avoid commercials on a TiVo by fast-forwarding or enabling a secret 30-second skip button.
The TiVo Bolt lets you skip all commercials in a show so that you’ll never see a single ad. There’s a catch though: it only works with some shows.
That’s because the new SkipMode feature is human-powered. A group of TiVo employees watches the 20 most popular TV programs every day from 4:00 PM until midnight, figures out where each commercial break begins and ends, and sends the information to your TiVo Bolt unit.
Shortly after the broadcast ends, you’ll see a Skip icon next to recordings of any eligible shows. You can then press the D button on your remote to skip each commercial break entirely.
This is great if you’re into popular prime time content. It’s less useful if you typically record a lot of daytime or middle-of-the-night programs or content from less popular channels.
TiVo does offer another way to zip through programs quickly though: it’s called QuickMode and it lets you watch recorded TV shows at a speed that’s 30 percent faster than their normal broadcast speed. TiVo uses pitch-shifting technology to make sure the audio doesn’t sound like an Alvin and the Chipmunks album, while letting you zip through a 1-hour show in a little over 40 minutes. If you use QuickMode and SKipMode together, you could probably get through most shows even more quickly.
The TiVo Bolt has a few other compelling new features. It supports 4K content. It doesn’t yet support recording 4K video, but you can stream YouTube and Netflix videos at 4K resolutions. We could see additional apps with 4K support in the future.
TiVo is also working on an Amazon Fire TV app which will let you stream recordings to a TV in another room without paying for a TiVo Mini box.
The TiVo Bolt launches in the United States September 30th, with a 500GB model selling for $300 and a 1TB version running $400. Both models come with a free 1-year subscription to TiVo’s program guide service. After that you’ll need to pay $14.99 per month or $150 per year unless TiVo changes its rates in the coming year.