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Cable is dying. Can the $50 TiVo Stream 4K save it from extinction?

TiVo, the company that is synonymous with the DVR, has a new product at CES 2020 that’s not a DVR at all. The TiVo Stream 4K is a streaming dongle set to debut in April for as little as $50. As the name suggests, it’s a 4K streamer based on Google’s Android TV operating system that has support for both Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos. Among the built-in streaming apps is Dish Network’s Sling TV, as well as many of the biggest streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, HBO, Vudu, and YouTube.

TiVo will sell the Stream 4K directly to consumers when it launches, but it will also be making it available to cable and satellite providers. This could help these companies hold on to their customers by giving them an easy way to maintain a cable-like experience even as they move to a broadband-only world of streaming media. The Stream 4K will have the same TiVo interface used on the company’s DVR-based products like the TiVo Edge, its recently released 4K all-in-one DVR and streaming box.

TiVo Stream 4K
Image used with permission by copyright holder

With a voice-enabled remote that looks like a miniaturized version of TiVo’s full-size, peanut-shaped DVR remote, the Stream 4K uses the same basic design as two of the leading products in the streaming device wars: Amazon’s $50 Fire TV Stick 4K and Roku’s $50 Streaming Stick+. The remote has a large Netflix button — similar to its DVR remotes — but the thumbs-up and thumbs-down buttons that have been fixtures on previous TiVo devices are gone. The Skip button, however, remains, and it is joined by a prominent Google Assistant button that appears to have replaced the microphone button from the company’s other voice-enabled remotes.

In a related announcement at CES, Amazon dropped the details on its Fire TV Edition for Operators program that lets cable and satellite companies create versions of Fire TV products like the Fire TV Stick 4K that are customized for their subscribers to show merchandizse within the Fire TV interface.

TiVo Stream 4K
Image used with permission by copyright holder

While the TiVo Stream 4K may help cable companies keep some customers from leaving entirely, it’s also a Trojan Horse of sorts. TiVo’s recently launched free and ad-supported streaming service, TiVo+, is built-in to the Stream 4K, and it’s a good bet that TiVo’s recommendation engine will surface content from this service prominently within the interface.

TiVo says that there are no subscription fees required to use the Stream 4K, a departure from the company’s previous model. TiVo’s DVR-based products are only useful when you subscribe to the TiVo service, which can carry a fee of $70 per year or $250 for the lifetime of the DVR, depending on the model.

Consumers who want to get the TiVo experience throughout their homes have typically needed to buy the smaller but pricey $180 TiVo Mini (or Mini Vox) in order to access the content that sits on their main TiVo DVR. If the Stream 4K can access this content too, it might help TiVo hold on to its own subscribers as well.

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Simon Cohen
Contributing Editor, A/V
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