Couple of weeks ago I took a stab at comparing Amazon Fire TV Recast vs Tablo DVR and it’s time to compare it to the new Tivo Bolt OTA offering. It is still a theoretical exercise since Recast isn’t released yet but enough of its specifications are known to be able to compare versus other OTA DVRs. We won’t know real world experience until it comes out I think I speak for most cord cutters when I say that we are looking forward to more competition on the market.
For this review I will be focusing on Amazon Fire TV Recast 1TB (4 tuner) model and I will compare it to TiVo Bolt OTA for Antenna. Amazon also offers 2 tuner model but since specs on 4 tuner are very close to Tivo Bolt OTA I chose to compare that model. If you only need 2 tuners you can obviously go with that model to save some cost.
Both allow you to record up to 4 programs at once and both provide 150 hours of storage. Both can stream live TV and recordings at home and on the road. With the exception of those similarities Amazon’s and Tivo’s approaches are very different which will become apparent as you read on. In some cases it might be difficult to compare since they are so different but at the end of the day they are OTA DVRs so I’ll do my best.
Amazon Fire TV Recast is the contender for the over-the-air DVR crown. For the record when it comes to ease of use and deployment that title is currently held by Tivo. It’s a system that simply works out of the box. No tinkering is necessary.
Tivo is the pioneer in this field and their offering is very mature. All basic DVR functionality is there as well as additional features. Complete Tivo experience quite simply has not been matched yet by any other OTA DVR offerings. Their SkipMode which skips commercials is a great service that simplifies the process. OnePass records all broadcasts of specific shows and sporting events airing on the specific channel or any channel. You also get to choose how many episodes you want to keep. Voice control is available and it also integrates with Alexa.
Amazon is planning to match all those features but we don’t know if all of them will be available at launch. Voice control through Alexa is obviously available on all Amazon devices.
Single vs multiple screens:
Amazon Fire TV Recast is a networked DVR (headless device) that makes free over-the-air (OTA) HD channels and recording available over the network. There is no HDMI port to plug into your TV so it requires another device to view both live TV and recorded content. There are pros and cons to that approach, on one hand you do need another device to watch the programming but at the same time you can place the box anywhere in the house where the signal from the antenna is the best. This may not affect some of the cord cutters that have the antenna installed on the roof or in the attic but for the rest of you that are just starting it is a great perk to be able to place it anywhere.
Received TV signal is then recorded to local storage or live feed is broadcast locally over your wired or wireless network to both TV and mobile devices.
TiVo Bolt OTA takes a different approach here. Their device is both a DVR and a player, so it has to sit right next to the TV since it has to be attached to it. You only need one device if you only have one TV but you are also in some ways limited when you need to send recordings and live TV other screens.
Which is better depends on how many screens you need to serve. If you only need one screen and have no plans to expand to other TVs then Tivo is a simpler solution. If you already have the working antenna plugged into a TV all you need is plug it into the Tivo and connect it to the TV via provided HDMI cable. That is it. Cost would be $249.99 and $6.99 per month after that. There is also an option to purchase lifetime subscription for $249.99 which we should probably be comparing to since Recast comes with subscription for free.
In this single screen scenario Amazon Fire TV Recast would be deployed closest to the TV signal (either coax or new antenna) and one of the Fire TV devices would be plugged into the TV to play the recordings and live TV. Least expensive route would be 4 tuner Fire TV Recast model which costs $279.99 and Fire TV Stick 4K which is $49.99 (there is a cheaper Firestick but we are trying to match Tivo’s 4K player claims) for the total price of $329.98.
Tivo Bolt OTA with Lifetime subscription would be $499.98 vs Recast which would cost $329.99. You can opt for monthly $6.99 subscription with Tivo but after 1st year cost is equal and from that point on Recast is more cost efficient.
Tivo’s situation is even worse when you need 2 or more TVs.
Tivo ecosystem requires Tivo Mini VOX to be deployed to every TV. Each of those devices costs $179.99 but at least they no longer require additional subscription like they used to. Another serious limitation is that those boxes are not wireless so either Ethernet or MOCA will be required to connect back to the Bolt OTA. Huge oversight in my opinion. If those are not available where you have the TV you will need to pull the cable or install the WiFI to Ethernet bridge. This might not be a complicated task for some but Tivo should be easy and this could be complex and costly.
On the Fire TV Recast side all you need to add is another Fire TV Stick 4K for $49.99. That’s it, you’re done.
Let’s say you need 3 TVs which is not a stretch for most households.
Tivo would cost you $249.99 for the Tivo Bolt OTA, 2 x Tivo Mini VOX $359.98 and lifetime subscription for $249.99. This adds up very fast and I am not even counting connection if you don’t have one by the TV. With lifetime we are looking at $859.96 and with monthly subscription it would be $609.97.
Amazon Recast solution would cost $279.99 for the DVR and 3 x Fire TV Stick 4K $149.97. Total would be $429.96.
While the case could be made for Tivo in the single screen scenario once you need two or more screens Amazon becomes a clear winner from both financial and technical perspective.
WINNER: Amazon Fire TV Recast
Amazon Fire TV Recast can only stream to two devices at a time. It will still be able to record up to 4 channels (with the 4 tuner box) but only 2 streams can be send to clients at the same time no matter if they are live TV or recordings. If you’re watching live TV then that obviously takes up a tuner and removes it from the tuner available for recording. Recast doesn’t differentiate between local or remote streams, two stream limit still applies. Tivo Bolt OTA can support up to 4 Tivo Minis per DVR. Each time you use the mini one of the tuners is allocated to it and removed from the tuners available for other Minis and for recording. Only 2 streams can be sent to mobile devices at a time.
Streaming and recording are two separate services in Recast that are only paired for watching live TV where in Tivo they are more intertwined when Tivo Minis are used and tuner is taken away even if recording is played. Ultimately Tivo allows to watch more recordings on the local Tivo Mini network simultaneously so Tivo has an edge especially if you expect a lot of people to be watching recordings or live TV simultaneously.
Remotely they are both limited to 2 streams.
WINNER: Tivo Bolt OTA
Third party app support:
Since Amazon Fire TV Recast is the headless device I will be comparing Tivo Bolt OTA to the Fire TV Stick 4K which we picked as the player throughout this article.
TiVo lacks app variety. There are about 23 apps available on the Bolt OTA, and while some of the biggest streaming services are covered, a lot of them are missing. You won’t find HBO Now, Showtime, Cinemax, WatchESPN, Crunchyroll, etc, etc. I won’t even go into apps like Plex or Kodi which are also readily available on Firestick. None of the cable replacement services are present either. You won’t find Sling TV, DirecTV Now, YouTube TV, Philo, Fubo and other apps like those on TiVo devices. They could be added in the future, but not having them now limits the Bolt OTA. You’re gonna have the hard time augmenting over-the air with any of those services if there are no apps.
TiVo also doesn’t have many channel-based apps like FX Now, CBS all Access, USA, LifeTime, and others. While most of those apps require a cable subscription to log in and access full episodes, some don’t, and all of that content isn’t available on the Bolt OTA. Also, if you pay for a standalone subscription like CBS All Access, you won’t be able to watch your favorite shows on the Bolt OTA through that dedicated app.
Tivo is severely limited here and Firestick easily trumps it on all fronts. You get access to the whole Amazon app ecosystem with all streaming services. It is not even a contest. Amazon has a huge advantage here.
WINNER: Amazon Fire TV Recast
Again we are comparing Tivo Bolt OTA to he Fire TV Stick 4K.
Fire TV Stick 4K supports all three major HDR standards (Dolby Vision, HDR10 and HDR10+) as well as Dolby Atmos. Most video
Not much is known about what Tivo Bolt supports except for the 4K claim. I scoured their spec sheets and forums and couldn’t find the definitive answer but I think that if specific standard was supported it would be listed on their spec sheet.
WINNER: Amazon Fire TV Recast
Summary and recommendations:
It is really hard to recommend Tivo Bolt OTA over the Amazon Fire TV Recast. Yes, it is a mature product and Recast might not be all that great when it comes out but if it delivers on its promises it is a very clear winner in this contest. Only place where it is lacking is the simultaneous streams limit of 2 which could affect some but other than that it is a clear winner in all categories.
Another think to consider is that Tivo has been trying to get out out of the hardware market and going all in on licensing only. They already signed yet to be named partner to take over hardware manufacturing and retail side. This could affect the future all current and future Tivo DVR owners.
We are a month away from Fire TV Recast release date of November 14th 2018, all we can do at this point is wait.
You can also read a comparison between Fire TV Recast and Tablo here. This is a much closer contest due to the fact that both Amazon and Tablo take a very similar approach.