CES 2020 Media Devices Media Services

TiVo Aims To Solve Streaming’s Biggest Problem

The TiVo Stream 4K and remote control
TiVo’s pioneering products have been the gold standard for TV viewers. But gold is expensive, and viewer’s habits are evolving. TiVo Stream 4K is this company’s answer to the industry’s changing landscape.

For decades now, TiVo has been working to improve consumers’ television experience. From what’s arguably the best remote on the market to patented TV caching and playback features, TiVo’s pioneering products have been the gold standard for TV viewers. But gold is expensive, and consumers’ viewing habits are changing rapidly.

At CES this year, TiVo is introducing the TiVo Stream 4K, moving the TiVo brand definitively into the new decade. The Stream has a form factor not unlike Amazon’s earlier 4K Fire TV devices [think: HDMI “dongle,” but a bit bigger]. The similarities don’t end there. TiVo’s streamer blends both linear/live content and some of the most popular subscription services. A home screen curates content specifically based on your past viewing habits in a highly graphical two-dimensional scrolling dashboard.

Like Apple’s TV app, TiVo will track what you’re watching from your streaming services and know just how far along you are in each series. This makes picking the next available episode from all of your shows so much easier. And it’s recommendations are driven by all of your viewing habits across services. Unlike Apple, Netflix is participating and including its content in TiVo’s curated experience.

Not Your Father’s TiVo

The TiVo Stream blends linear (i.e., “cable” networks’) content seamlessly with subscription content. But this isn’t cable or over-the-air service like what TiVo’s product team repeatedly referred to in our meeting as their “legacy” hardware solutions. The Stream presents content from cable alternatives. At launch, this includes TiVo’s own TiVo+ lineup as well as channels (and DVR service) from TiVo’s exclusive content partner at launch, Sling TV.

TV Series screen on TiVo Stream 4K

So you’re probably still wondering how and why this is any different from what you’d find on any streaming box. Here’s where TiVo’s years of experience mastery comes into play. At launch, TiVo Stream will include Netflix, Amazon Video, Hulu, HBO Now, Vudu, and CBS All Access. But you’ll be hard pressed to find an app on TiVo Stream. They’re there…they’re just not up front.

While that list is relatively short, it includes the major players. And it’s only the start. TiVo is clearly taking an agile development approach here, which means they plan to add content services (/apps) and capabilities regularly after the initial launch. The latest streaming darling, Disney+, is obviously missing here, as well as some other services growing in popularity like Kanopy and Tubi. TiVo will need to ensure they’re making the right deals to continue expanding the content options, including some of the more popular next-tier services (though arguably Disney’s already sitting at Table 1 with the other big guys).

The Future of TV

When Apple proudly announced that “The Future of TV is Apps,” we died a little inside. Apps fragment and segregate content. Apps are part of the reason that TV has become so damn hard. Which app or service has which content? How do you find what to watch? TiVo has already worked to solve some of that problem on its “legacy” boxes with OnePass, but TiVo Stream takes this to a whole new level.

If you’re familiar with Apple’s TV app, it gets partway there. But Apple’s and Amazon’s curated content experiences are cluttered with their own content that they want you to buy. TiVo has no such motivations.

So what about that linear content? Again, here’s where TiVo’s expertise in—and, frankly, its partner providers’ willingness to trust them with—delivering the experience pays off. TiVo Stream’s Guide seamlessly blends your Sling TV package with TiVo’s own linear TiVo+ plus channels into that traditional guide view we just can’t seem to let go of.

All the Ks and That Classic TiVo Remote

Search? Yep…you can do that, too. TiVo integrates its powerful TiVo Voice service with the Google Assistant. Yep…you read that right. This thing is built on Android TV! TiVo’s Voice Search button is replaced by standard Android TV buttons, and the rest of the remote is otherwise streamlined, providing a combination of features and buttons that doesn’t feel like you’re sacrificing anything like on other streaming devices (Ahem, Apple).

All of this is delivered in beautiful 4K, supporting both Dolby Vision and HDR10 as well as Dolby Atmos. And it’s fast. If you’re tainted by TiVo’s past hardware devices delivering slow and outdated apps, forget all that. Expect the kind of performance you’re used to on any other solid-state streaming device.

Apple Didn’t Crack the TV Problem…TiVo Did

Steve Jobs is famously quoted in Walter Isaacson’s book as claiming to have figured out how to fix TV. Apple TV gets close, but it’s far from perfect. On the other hand, TiVo’s new Stream 4K is the first device we’ve seen that could actually get me to cut the cord.

So what is this worth to you? How much would you pay? Again, forget what you know of TiVo past. TiVo Stream 4K will retail for just under $70. You’ll be able to pick one up for a limited special introductory price of about $50 this Spring. And that’s it. Obviously you’ll need to pay for your own streaming services and for a Sling TV package if you choose to use that. But otherwise, there are no additional fees. No service fee, no activation fee, … nothing. Expect to see TiVo Stream 4K in the usual places that you’d find TiVo devices.

As apps and services and cable alternatives have proliferated, watching TV has become increasingly complicated. Discovering content is ridiculously frustrating. And that’s a crime considering the golden age of content we’re experiencing today. If TiVo’s device ultimately delivers and continues to expand on the promise of its initial release, later this spring, TiVo will have cracked the TV problem.


About the author

Richard Gunther

Richard is a product experience consultant with a life-long interest in consumer electronics. He has been immersed in smart home tech for decades now and hosts The DMZ's home automation podcast, Home: On and co-hosts Entertainment 2.0 with Josh Pollard. Richard looks at products through an experience lens, always seeking the right mix of utility and delight.