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TiVo Bolt Zaps Ads

By Richard Adhikari
Oct 1, 2015 11:40 AM PT

TiVo on Wednesday urged users to give commercials the finger with its Bolt set-top box, which allows ad-skipping on some shows.

The Bolt is available immediately online, and it will show up on store shelves this weekend.

It comes in 500-GB and 1-TB versions, priced at US$300 and $400, respectively, inclusive of one year of service. After that, users will pay $150 a year for the service.

Prices do not include cable or streaming services subscriptions.

Saying Adieu to Ads

The Bolt's SkipMode feature is what lets consumers give ads a digital salute. They can zip past ads on 20 channels, including the four major broadcast networks, as well as USA, TNT, Comedy Central and FOX, according to reports.

Tivo Bolt remote skipmode

However, the feature works only on recorded shows, and then only on shows running ads whose start and end points have been tagged. That tagging apparently has to be done manually.

Further, SkipMode reportedly doesn't work with sports or local programming, even when recorded.

Also, it works only on broadcasts between 4 p.m. and midnight.

This "seems rather nominal, but does cover prime time," remarked Mike Jude, a research manager at Frost & Sullivan.

Whether TiVo will make SkipMode effective on more shows will depend on their take rate, he told TechNewsWorld, because "content modification adds overhead and reduces margin."

Tagging by humans is slow, and TiVo should automate the process to remain competitive if the SkipMode feature catches on, Jude said.

Other Bolt Capabilities

Another new Bolt feature, QuickMode, speeds up viewing of content by 30 percent without degrading voice quality because of its pitch-corrected audio.

Bolt includes Netflix and YouTube out of the box.

It allows streaming to iOS and Android devices within the confines of the home, and reportedly will allow streaming to mobile devices outside the home at a later date.

Bolt lets users stream content to Apple TV through the AirPlay feature on TiVo's iOS app, according to reports. However, it doesn't support Amazon Fire TV.

TiVo plans to add personalization features, including recommendations from friends and family, and top critics' selections.

The Only Such 4K Device?

The Bolt is the first product of its kind on the market to provide 4K ultraHD compatibility, TiVo claimed.

What about DirectTV's 4K Genie Mini, the NVidia Shield, the Nuvola NP-1 and the Amazon Fire TV?

"TiVo is most likely referring to the DVR category when it says it is the first 4K-compatible device," suggested Prayerna Raina, an industry analyst with Strategy Analytics.

The Genie Mini is a receiver, not a DVR, she told TechNewsWorld, and "TiVo offers more features than a traditional DVR, so it's in its own unique category."

It's the Content, Stupid!

Lack of sufficient 4K content might affect Bolt sales.

Most 4K TVs can upconvert or upscale non-4K content, Strategy Analytics' Raina pointed out, although the upconversion "is not universally good and varies by brand, and [it] can't completely resolve the degradation in quality.

There Can Be Only One

TiVo is positioning the Bolt as the single device consumers will need, as it will unify the source of any available programming from cable, video on demand, over the air, and over-the-top content.

That might fly -- consumers turn to multiple devices due to costs, ease of use, user interface and navigation, compatibility with other ecosystems, and available apps, services and features -- but there is an opportunity for a single uber-device, Strategy Analytics has found.

Copyright Issues

Opposition from the entertainment industry might prove a serious problem. Broadcasters for the past three years have been locked in a lawsuit against Dish Network over its Autohop device, which lets users skip commercials, thus threatening their ad revenue.

CBS and ABC have settled with Dish, but Fox is still fighting the case.

Richard Adhikari has written about high-tech for leading industry publications since the 1990s and wonders where it's all leading to. Will implanted RFID chips in humans be the Mark of the Beast? Will nanotech solve our coming food crisis? Does Sturgeon's Law still hold true? You can connect with Richard on Google+.

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