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TiVo Bolt OTA review: DVR makes cord cutting with an antenna simpler, but also more costly

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The Good The TiVo Bolt OTA offers a plethora of services including streaming apps with 4K support, in-home streaming and voice search. The price per month is a lot more affordable than the full-fat version of the Bolt, and lifetime service brings the total cost to $500. The interface is quick and Netflix loads instantaneously.

The Bad There is no access to live TV streaming services which would help bolster the OTA options. The functionality is skewed heavily in favor of streaming over the DVR. For example, voice search isn't able to be limited to guide data only which means streaming shows are mixed in. I had limited success trying to get in-home streaming to work.

The Bottom Line With its household name, slick hardware design and affordable pricing structures the TiVo Bolt OTA offers one of the best alternatives to the still-fledgling world of streaming TV services.

7.8 Overall

Cord-cutting started as a province for nerds only. It usually meant owning a media center PC, a PCI tuner and even cobbling together guide data from enthusiast websites. While the movement has evolved since then, cord-cutting still clings to its geek roots with the popularity of products like Plex (ex-XBMC) and HD HomeRun (which still needed a PC until 2015).

TiVo's Bolt OTA ($220 at Amazon), on the other hand, is about as mainstream as a cord-cutting DVR can get. TiVo is a familiar name and this DVR aims to make ditching cable as painless as possible. The problem is that plenty of other big names -- think DirecTV Now, YouTube TV and the Amazon Fire TV Recast -- are horning in on the cable-free DVR turf.

OTA stands for "over the air." Unlike the standard TiVo Bolt, the Bolt OTA doesn't work with cable TV. Instead it connects to an over-the-air antenna to pipe in free TV broadcasts in your area. The Bolt offers four OTA tuners (so you can record up to four different channels at once) as well as the most popular streaming apps like Netflix and Amazon.

The TiVo's main advantage compared to live TV streaming subscriptions with cloud DVRs like YouTube TV and DirecTV Now is that it's a hardware solution. Your live TV and recordings are kept within reach, not susceptible to the outages and buffering.

The Fire TV Recast is also a hardware DVR with streaming apps, and in many ways it's the Bolt's biggest threat. It's just as easy to use and has two big advantages over TiVo: the ability to stream to more than one TV in your house, and (the kicker) no charge for a service plan. The TiVo is a compelling product, but for conscious cord cutters, the Recast is definitely a better deal.

The Bolt OTA retails for $250 and owners can either opt for a $6-per-month subscription or a $250 "All-in Service Plan". TiVo is currently offering a $200 trade-in program for owners of the Roamio OTA until Dec. 22 2018, which would bring the total cost to $300.

A modern DVR

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Forget beige boxes with a flashing 12:00 -- the TiVo Bolt OTA thoroughly updates the look of the modern recorder, and mostly for the better. It's vaguely boomerang-shaped (meaning you can't plonk things on top of it) and it's about a foot long. It may look black but in the light you'll find it's a dark, translucent scarlet.

The Bolt OTA is able to hold up to 150 hours of HD programs on its 1TB hard drive, and comes with the now -standard 14-day guide to schedule recordings. It's a 1080p recorder but it will also stream 4K-ready content from compatible apps including Netflix. If you run out of recording space there is an e-SATA port to add additional storage if needed. Other connections include HDMI, coax antenna, optical digital, 3.5mm analog, Ethernet and two USB ports. There is also a handy remote finder button on the rear.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

The new Vox remote has a host of extra buttons over the traditional "peanut" including the new "microphone" button, which adds the ability to search for content. But the biggest change is that the iconic thumbs up/down buttons are tiny and white instead of red and green.

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