Amazon Fire TV Recast vs Tivo Bolt OTA – over-the-air DVR compared

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.

 

Features:

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.

WINNER:  Tie
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
Simultaneous streams:

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
Supported standards:

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.

Amazon Fire TV Recast vs Tablo – networked OTA DVR compared

Amazon Fire TV Recast vs Tablo – networked OTA DVR compared

Since Amazon Fire TV Recast was announced I’ve been meaning to compare it against its main competitor on the feature set Tablo. Since Recast isn’t released yet I am only basing my opinion on what was a released by Amazon as well as the hands on preview that was done by Janko Roettgers from Variety here and some detailed technical information from AFTVNews here.

For this review I will be focusing on Amazon Fire TV Recast 500GB (2 tuner) model and I will compare it to Tablo DUAL 64GB OTA DVR.

Let’s start with similarities.

Both devices are 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 both require another device to view both live TV and recorded content. Both can be placed anywhere in the house wherever your antenna reception is the best and there is no need to extend the coaxial antenna cable to the TV like it is the case with Tivo, Channel Master or Android TV Live Channels solutions. 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.

Now let’s talk about differences

Simultaneous streams and recording format:

 

While both Amazon Fire TV Recast and Tablo are similar here as well is one major distinction in how they operate and record that will have a huge impact on functionality and storage requirements for each box.

Recast records raw MPEG-2 over-the-air video files. All recorded or live content is transcoded on the fly to H.264 and quality adjusted as needed. There can be maximum of 2 simultaneous transcodes and maximum resolution is 1440×720 at 60 FPS. This means that ONLY 2 devices can watch either live or recorded content simultaneously but at the same time the device can continue to record 2 more channels (or 4 more for the 4 tuner model).

Tablo does it differently and in my opinion their approach is better. Instead of recording in MPEG-2 it encodes all video files to H.264 before it stores them on the hard drive. This means that a lot less hard drive space is used  and 64GB model can record up to 14 hours of over-the-air HD (720p@60fps at 10mbps) video versus Recast 500GB model which gives you 75 hours. Another perk is that since there is no more transcoding needed you can watch recorded content from up to 6 devices at once.

There is however one big impact of Tablo’s approach and that is an extensive delay when switching live channels “channel surfing”. Tablo users reported 10+ seconds delay unless the channel is already tuned. That is one of the reasons I returned Tablo after testing it for a few weeks.

We will see if Recast’s on the fly transcoding will handle this better. If Amazon was paying attention to Tablo customers that was the number one complaint from all Tablo users which may be the reason that the chose the path they did. In any case there is no way to know for sure until it hits the market.

From the real world functionality what all of this means is that Recast can only stream to two devices at a time while Tablo can stream on up to six. While it is streaming Recast can still record on both of it’s tuners unless one of those tuners is used to watch live TV. As it stands today Tablo is a very clear winner here but if Amazon’s approach will allow for painless channel surfing then you’ll have to ask yourself what is more important being able to switch channels quickly or being able to stream from up to six devices.

 

WINNER: Tablo
Connectivity:

 

As far as connectivity goes Amazon Fire TV Recast supports dual band (2.4 ghz and 5 ghz) 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac wireless while Tablo DUAL 64GB OTA DVR only has dual band 802.11n wireless. There is no 802.11ac. Strange omission in my opinion. On wired connectivity Recast has a gigabit (1000 mbps) ethernet vs Tablos fast ethernet (10/100 mbps). If you opt out of built in storage on Tablo and go with the Tablo Dual LITE OTA DVR model you will gain faster 802.11ac wireless but at the same lose storage.

Amazon Fire TV Recast is the winner here but having faster connection will probably not have much impact in the real world since the H.264 streams will not max out either connections. Only time it could come into contention would be if Tablo is actually streaming to 6 clients at the same time.

 

WINNER: Amazon Fire TV Recast
Storage:

 

Amazon Fire TV Recast comes with 500GB (1TB/150 hours in the 4 tuner model) that allows to record approximately 75 hours of the HD content. While spec sheet shows that USB cannot be used to expand storage at the moment according to Amazon it will be added right after launch.

Tablo DUAL 64GB OTA DVR comes with 64GB of storage but due the fact that it records compressed video in H.264 format approximately 14 hours of (720p@60fps at 10mbps) HD content can be recorded. While Tablo is rating this model at 40 hours that would mean that the video is heavily compressed to 720p at 3 mbps. Storage is expandable by adding up to 8TB external drive.

This is a tough one. On one hand Tablo is much more efficient due to compressing files before saving them to the hard drive which results in much smaller storage requirements. On the other hand Recast has a lot more storage built in (14 hours vs 75 hours) and if their approach results in the ability to tune channels quickly then I would say that was a better technical decision.

 

WINNER: Amazon Fire TV Recast.
Supported devices:

 

Amazon Fire TV Recast supports all of Amazon ecosystem devices like Fire TVs, Echo Show and Fire tablet (5th Gen or above). On the mobile side both iOS 10 (or above) and Android 4.4 (or above) are supported.

Tablo on the other hand supports pretty much every major TV and mobile device with the exception of Playstation and Nintendo consoles. Android TV, Apple TV, Chromecast, Fire TV, Roku, Xbox One, LG Smart TVs running LG webOS 3.0+ and Samsung Smart TVs running the TIZEN OS are supported as well as both Android and iOS on mobile.

Amazon is either really short sighted or they want to test Recast in their ecosystem before rolling it out on other platforms. While I don’t expect both Apple TV and Android TV applications unless they bury the hatchet with both Apple and Google it would be great to see Roku and remaining platforms being added in the near future. As it stands today Tablo wins this category by a huge margin.

 

WINNER: Tablo
Price:

 

Amazon Fire TV Recast 2 tuner model retails for $229.99 and doesn’t require any monthly subscription fees. There is also bundle available now which adds new Fire TV Stick 4K and HD antenna for the low price of $249.97. This will get you started on a single screen without the need to purchase anything else if you are within 30 miles of the broadcasting station.

Tablo DUAL 64GB OTA DVR costs $219.99 and requires either monthly ($5/mo), yearly ($50/mo) or lifetime ($150) subscription fees. First month is free.

So let’s say you want to replicate Amazon’s offering, you would have to add lifetime subscription which would put you at $369.99 compared to Recast at $229.99 even before taking the offered bundle discount into consideration. Amazon Fire TV Recast is the clear winner on the value proposition.

 

WINNER: Amazon Fire TV Recast

Amazon Fire TV Recast vs Tablo – networked OTA DVR compared

Here are the differences summarized in the table if above was too much to read:

Amazon Fire TV Recast Tablo DUAL 64GB
Simultaneous streams 2 6
Recording format MPEG-2 H.264
Wired connectivity Gigabit Ethernet Fast Ethernet
Wireless connectivity Dual-Band (2.4 ghz and 5 ghz) 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac Dual-Band (2.4 ghz and 5 ghz) 802.11 a/b/g/n
Storage 500GB 64GB
Hours of storage at 720p@60fps 75 hours 14 hours
Supported TV devices Fire TV and Echo Show Android TV, Apple TV, Chromecast, Fire TV, Roku, Xbox One, LG Smart TVs running LG webOS 3.0+ and Samsung Smart TVs
Price $229.99 $369.99 ($219.99 + $150 lifetime subscription)
Summary and recommendations:

 

It is great to see Amazon coming to the over-the-air DVR market. Hopefully this will improve and reinvigorate competitive landscape which will be good for all of us.

If you are an Amazon household and already have Fire TV and Echo Show devices deployed throughout the choice is very clear. Amazon Fire TV Recast provides much better value and I am sure that it will be very well integrated into the Fire TV UI as well as provide voice controlled operation through Alexa.

If however you have other streamers like Android TV, Apple TV, Roku or you use smart features of the Samsung and LG TV then Tablo is a very clear winner. Even though it costs more it supports many more device types. You’ll just have to look past the channel tuning delays that affect their devices.

Now let’s say you don’t have any streaming devices deployed yet and are currently deciding between Android TV, Apple TV, Fire TV, Roku, etc. Well I would definitely wait to see if Recast delivers because between that and the new Fire TV Stick 4K they probably have the strongest offering that will combine over-the-air and streaming into one platform.

Now we wait and see if Amazon delivers on their promises.

New 4K Amazon Fire Stick announced – pre-order for $49.99

Amazon just announced new Fire TV Stick which will add 4K and all three major HDR standards (Dolby Vision, HDR10 and HDR10+) as well as Dolby Atmos to this tiny device. This is by far the most powerful stick type device on the market. Dolby Vision and HDR+ are the new additions to the Fire TV line making new Fire Stick the one to get.

Brand new addition to the Alexa Voice Remote are the volume buttons which will be welcome by the new users. It also has the IR transmitter built in which will allow control of a wide range of compatible IR-enabled devices, including TVs, sound bars and A/V receiver. For simple setups with TV and soundbar this will eliminate the need for Harmony remotes which is great.

The hardware physical appearance did not change it’s still a tiny stick that jacks directly into an HDMI port on your TV. It supports 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5 LE and Ethernet can be added with optional Amazon Ethernet Adapter. There’s 8GB of internal storage. The Amazon logo is located on the side of the stick. 

It makes me wonder if the Fire TV “Pendant” will stick around since it seems like the stick is now more powerful with the 1.7 Ghz quad-core processor (pendant has a 1.5 Ghz one) and supporting more standards.

It is strange that it was not announced couple weeks ago alongside Fire TV Recast but maybe Amazon is trying to steal some of the Google’s thunder with the new Chromecast coming out next week.

With all those new features this will definitely be the one to beat in the streaming device market.

More to come once I get my hands on it.

Tablo 2 tuner (refurbished) is on sale for $89.99 shipped

Tablo has the old 2-tuner refurbished model on sale for only $89.99. It is a great way to start recording live over-the air TV.

Tablo OTA DVR

See my comparison of Tablo vs Android TV Live Channels for more detail.

There is a new model available now for $149.99 which adds 64 GB of storage but functionality is the same so this is a good opportunity to save.

Overall Tablo is a great product with the exception of “channel surfing”. There is a delay when switching channels due to the way Tablo operates.

Tablo includes a 30 day trial of our EPG subscription. After this you can choose to continue the subscription for $4.99 USD monthly, $49.99 USD annually or $149.99 USD for a lifetime subscription. Subscriptions are tied to your account and not the device, so you can add as many Tablo units as you’d like to your subscription or change your Tablo unit at any time. Learn more about Tablo’s EPG subscription here.

Refurbished Tablo OTA DVRs are lovingly restored at TabloHQ. All DVRs are tested, updated with new software, and include all parts and accessories. These units are covered by Tablo’s 12 month warranty policy but are NOT eligible for Tablo’s 30-day return policy.

To set up your Tablo 2-Tuner OTA DVR you need:

  • An Over-the-Air HDTV antenna
  • An internet connection
  • A compatible USB hard drive up to 8 TB – this is required both for watching live TV and recording
  • A WiFi-enabled computer (Chrome/Safari browser) OR a mobile device (iPad/iPhone w/iOS7+ OR Android smartphone/tablet w/Android 4.1+)

To watch Tablo content on your big screen, you’ll need one of these:

  • A Smart TV powered by: Roku, or Android TV, or most LG WebOS 2.0 and 3.0 operating systems; OR
  • A Set-Top-Box/Streaming Media Device: Roku, or Amazon Fire TV, or AppleTV, or Nvidia SHIELD, or Xiaomi MiBox; OR
  • A Streaming Stick: Roku Stick, or Amazon Fire TV Stick, or a Chromecast dongle (casting from an Android device or Chrome browser); OR
  • A Gaming System: Nvidia SHIELD, or XBox One; OR
  • An HDMI-enabled computer:
  • Tablo web app in Chrome/Safari

Amazon Fire TV Recast – new networked OTA DVR announced

Amazon just announced Fire TV Recast over-the-air broadcast (OTA) DVR which will dramatically change the OTA DVR market. Rumors that dropped couple weeks back were true after all.

Fire TV Recast doesn’t have any video outputs, instead you plug it into the network, attach the over-the-air (OTA) antenna to it and starts recording your selections and serving them up to Fire TV devices, Echo Show, Fire tablet (5th Gen or above) and iOS 10 (or above) or Android 4.4 (or above) mobile devices. Not much is known about which devices will be supported yet. It can record 2 to 4 shows at once and stream live and recorded content to multiple devices at a time. Recording and playback can be controlled via voice through Alexa-powered devices.

Watch and record live sports, local news, late night shows, and other can’t miss TV from channels available through an HD antenna like ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, PBS, and The CW.

Two models will be released:

  • 2 tuner with 500GB of storage (75 hours of content) which will be available for $230
  • 4 tuner with 1TB of storage (150 hours of content) which will be available for 280

Closest competitor will be Tablo but it will also give other like Tivo, HD HomeRun and  Channel Master run for their money.

There are no monthly subscription fees with Amazon Fire TV Recast which is a significant cost with other comparable boxes.

Things will get very interesting once it is released this fall and lives up to the hype. If you haven’t picked up the OTA DVR solution this will be a good option.

I will compare what is known to others on the market shortly and share my findings with my readers.