TiVo Bolt OTA for antenna hands-on review

Cut cable and keep quality with TiVo's 4K-friendly Bolt OTA DVR

If you have a 4K TV, but haven’t yet cut the cord, the Bolt OTA is your best choice.
If you have a 4K TV, but haven’t yet cut the cord, the Bolt OTA is your best choice.
If you have a 4K TV, but haven’t yet cut the cord, the Bolt OTA is your best choice.


  • 4K and HDR app support
  • More responsive than the Roamio OTA
  • Multiple subscription choices


  • Awkward design
  • Not all apps support HDR
  • Roamio OTA owners need not apply

TiVo is best known for its cable-compatible DVRs, but the company has been quietly supporting cord-cutters through its Roamio OTA (over the air) receivers for some time. It makes a lot of sense — just because you want to rid yourself of a monthly cable bill doesn’t mean you want to plunge yourself into an entirely different way of watching TV. For many, the Roamio OTA ($400) was the perfect answer, offering an easy way to record your favorite shows with a built-in collection of the most popular apps for streaming internet content (OTT), and of course, TiVo’s intuitive interface and custom content curation.

But the Roamio was built for a previous time, when HDTVs maxed out at 1080p and HDR was something you only did with smartphone photos. Since then, the 4K revolution has taken over all but the smallest, and cheapest TVs, and many of the streaming giants have started to support it. This puts TiVo in an awkward spot: 4K is still a pipe-dream for antenna TV, and only starting to trickle into cable and satellite services. Would it really make sense to market a 4K Roamio OTA?

The answer, it seems, is yes. TiVo’s new Bolt OTA is exactly that: The same 4-tuner OTA DVR as the Roamio OTA – one of the best OTA receivers around — packed into a smaller chassis and packing 4K HDR streaming.

Smooth operator

First things first, the Bolt OTA offers the same great OTA experience as the Roamio, but with a significantly more responsive interface. Apps launch faster, and channel changes are quicker (they were already impressively fast). Even the initial set-up, a process that took between 30-40 minutes on the Roamio OTA, has been accelerated, taking us just 15 minutes.

Location, location

The wave-like shape of the new product, which it shares with the Bolt VOX cable device, might be the only downside to the Bolt OTA. Though certainly distinctive, and a genuine departure from the boring, black set-top box, it must be placed at the top of your device stack since nothing will be able to perch on its sloped contours. TiVo says the design is intended to make a statement, while also giving the always-on device much needed air circulation.

This design choice will be controversial, especially for those used to the Roamio’s more traditional shape, but everyone will agree that the inclusion of the remote locator function (previously reserved for the Pro version of the Roamio OTA) is a handy upgrade.

Spotty HDR support

Clearly the biggest reason to buy the Bolt OTA is its 4K and HDR chops. But be warned: Support for these technologies varies by app. Plex, for instance, will happily stream 4K content, but it currently ignores HDR data. Plex says that updating its TiVo app for HDR is on its radar but didn’t offer a time frame. Same thing goes for Netflix, and Amazon Video. If your TV doesn’t support HDR, then this isn’t a deal-breaker, but if it does, you may want to wait until these apps have been updated. Unfortunately, TiVo isn’t being forthcoming on when these updates will arrive, instead simply telling Digital Trends that, “it is up to the app providers, not TiVo, to take advantage of this capability.” Well OK, then.

Future proof?

Despite the lack of HDR support from streaming companies, when those streaming companies are ready, so will be the Bolt OTA. It supports both HDR10 – the most commonly used HDR standard for streaming video – as well as HLG (Hybrid-Log Gamma), which is expected to one day become the HDR standard used by broadcasters. While the Bolt OTA is currently only compatible with ATSC 1.0 – the digital OTA standard that maxes out at 1080p – TiVo is aware that the 4K, HDR-ready ATSC 3.0 standard is around the corner (even if that corner is a few years away). The company claims to be evaluating an external ATSC 3.0 tuner that could be a hardware upgrade for BOLT customers by 2020. While we wish the format would have come standard, that’s a bridge we won’t likely be crossing for some time.

Praise for pricing

One thing we really like about the Bolt OTA is TiVo’s decision to give buyers more flexibility on its service subscription. The Roamio OTA only offered one level, an all-in option which was included in the unit’s $399 price. The Bolt OTA can be purchased for $250, and then you can choose from a monthly ($7), annual ($70), or All-in ($250) plan. Granted, the equivalent of the Roamio OTA option is now $100 more expensive, but you are getting a more capable DVR for the money.

Worth the upgrade?

If you’re a Roamio OTA owner, and you haven’t upgraded to a 4K TV (or don’t plan to soon), stay put. You already have the same recording capacity (1TB, or 150 hours of HD) as the Bolt OTA, and all of the main features that make it attractive, like mobile streaming and ad-skipping.

If you own a Roamio OTA, and a 4K TV, you may still want to hang tight. Remember, there’s no such thing as 4K antenna content yet, so only your favorite streaming apps will benefit from this update. As amazing as 4K looks, HDR is the biggest reason for an upgrade, and none of the Bolt OTA’s streaming apps support it yet. Also keep in mind; your Roamio OTA All-In plan is also attached to the DVR, not your account, meaning it won’t transfer over to a new Bolt OTA.

If you have a 4K TV, but haven’t yet cut the cord, the Bolt OTA is your best bet for doing so. You won’t find a smoother path to ditching your cable provider. The lack of HDR support will be something of an annoyance until the streaming apps are updated, but you’ll likely find your TV already has 4K HDR versions of these apps that can see you through the waiting period.

Home Theater

Amazon’s updated base model Fire TV stick now comes with an Alexa remote

If you're looking to take your older TV into the streaming era, Amazon's most basic Fire TV Stick model just got more compelling than ever: Buyers can now get a free Alexa voice remote with their Fire TV Stick purchase.
Home Theater

New TV? Here's where to go to watch the best 4K content available

Searching for content for your new 4K UHD TV? Look no further. We have every major source of the best 4K content, along with the cost, hardware requirements, and features that make each service worth a look.
Home Theater

Here’s why you’re not getting Netflix in HD or 4K, and how to fix it

Are you having trouble watching your favorite movies or TV shows on Netflix in HD or 4K? We explain why loading takes so long, why the picture quality fluctuates, and what you can do about it.
Movies & TV

How much does Netflix cost? Here’s a pricing breakdown of its plans

Wondering how much a Netflix subscription costs? You're not the only one. That's why we put together a quick-hit guide covering all the Netflix plans, whether you want to opt for 4K streaming or a disc-based option.

Take a look at the best 4K television deals for January 2019

There's no doubt that a good 4K smart TV is the best way to take your home entertainment setup to the next level to enjoy all your favorite shows, movies, and games in glorious Ultra HD. We've got the best 4K TV deals right here.
Home Theater

QLED and OLED may have similar names, but they're totally different technologies

The names may look almost identical, but OLED and QLED are two entirely different beasts. In our QLED vs. OLED battle, we dissect the differences between these dueling TV technologies, and help determine which might be best for you.
Home Theater

Leave the charger behind: Wireless headphones will get epic battery life in 2019

From wireless in-ears to noise-canceling over-ears, virtually every headphone manufacturer has seriously improved wireless headphone battery capacity, making fears about charging up for long listening sessions a thing of the past.
Home Theater

Banish the bunny ears (and monthly bills) with these excellent HD antennas

When transitioning away from cable and satellite, finding the best HDTV antenna for your area can be touch. To help, we've compiled our picks of the best indoor HDTV antennas you can buy.
Home Theater

Still listening on tinny TV speakers? Try one of our favorite soundbars

You no longer have to sacrifice sound for size when selecting home audio equipment. Check out our picks for the best soundbars, whether you're looking for budget options, pure power, smarts, or tons of features.

Don't spend hundreds on Pro Tools or Logic. Try one of these free alternatives

Believe it or not, Pro Tools isn't the only digital audio workstation worth your time. Check out our picks for the best free recording software, whether you're looking for a lightweight app or a full-blown audio workstation.
Emerging Tech

CES 2019 recap: All the trends, products, and gadgets you missed

CES 2019 didn’t just give us a taste of the future, it offered a five-course meal. From 8K and Micro LED televisions to smart toilets, the show delivered with all the amazing gadgetry you could ask for. Here’s a look at all the big…
Home Theater

Roku adds automatic sign-out mode, for those with regular houseguests

Being able to use a Roku device while staying at a hotel or Airbnb is awesome. What is less awesome is leaving yourself signed in after you leave. With a new automatic sign-out feature, Roku is making it easier to relax.
Home Theater

Wireless headphones are finally awesome, and these are our favorites

With sleek form factors, prime audio quality, and the freedom of untethered listening, there has never been a better time to pick up a pair of wireless headphones. These are the best ones currently available.
Home Theater

These awesome A/V receivers will swarm you with surround sound at any budget

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to shopping for a receiver, so we assembled our favorites for 2018, at multiple price points and all loaded with features, from Dolby Atmos to 4K HDR, and much more.