“With 4K, Dolby Imaginative and prescient, Atmos, and Chromecast, the Stream 4K packs a ton of worth.”

Inexpensive

Nice distant management

4K, Dolby Imaginative and prescient, and Dolby Atmos

Chromecast and Google Assistant built-in

Solely helps Sling for stay TV

Dolby Atmos assist is inconsistent

When TiVo introduced the Stream 4K at CES 2020, we have been a bit stunned. The corporate that constructed its fame (and arguably an business) across the invention of the DVR confirmed off a gadget that couldn’t file TV exhibits to a tough drive and couldn’t even be related to conventional TV sources like cable, satellite tv for pc, or free antenna-based broadcasts.

The Stream 4K can also be a departure from TiVo’s previous in the case of value. At an introductory value of $50 and with none further charges, the Stream 4K is definitely TiVo’s most inexpensive product. However did the corporate promote its soul so as to harness the ability of the streaming video revolution?

Let’s have a look.

What’s the TiVo Stream 4K?

Simon Cohen / Digital Traits

Earlier than we dive into the total assessment, it’s value discussing what the Stream 4K is — and what it isn’t.

Regardless of the TiVo branding, the Stream 4K has nearly nothing in widespread with DVR gadgets just like the TiVo Bolt OTA and the TiVo Edge. It might probably’t be utilized in the identical family as these different TiVo merchandise to entry your DVR recordings or typical stay TV (in case you have been hoping it’d function a less expensive model of the TiVo Mini). However right here’s one factor the TiVo trustworthy gained’t miss: The payment for the TiVo service (as a result of this isn’t a TiVo DVR).

As a substitute, it’s a $50 streaming media dongle powered by the Android TV working system. TiVo has added a number of software program tweaks of its personal, however for probably the most half, the Stream 4K must be thought of an Android TV system.

At its extremely inexpensive value of $50, the Stream 4K would possibly simply be one of the best Android TV system on the planet proper now. Nevertheless it’s positively not a TiVo within the conventional sense.

Design

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The Stream 4K appears to be like like a cross between a Google Chromecast and Roku Streaming Stick+. The primary dongle is a small, rectangular system that has been styled to resemble TiVo’s latest DVR, the Edge, and it sports activities the identical offset-squares look.

TiVo is aware of a factor or two about distant controls. You would possibly say it’s one of many firm’s biggest strengths.

A versatile HDMI cable makes it simple to connect with the again or sides of a TV, and a reasonably commonplace Micro USB cable powers it from the included AC adapter. Although it’s attainable that an out there USB port in your TV may very well be used for energy, TiVo particularly recommends not to take action.

Across the aspect, you’ll discover a USB-C port, however for the second, it’s solely used for including a third-party Ethernet adapter.

What units the Stream 4K other than the streaming dongle competitors is its distant.

TiVo is aware of a factor or two about distant controls. You would possibly say it’s one of many firm’s biggest strengths. The Stream 4K’s distant appears to be like like somebody took a daily TiVo distant and shrank it within the laundry.

The traditional peanut form stays, making it comfy to carry and use. It consists of many of the anticipated buttons like quantity, channel, a devoted quantity pad, and even the well-known TiVo “Skip” button. A few of these buttons, like Skip and the TiVo button, work somewhat in a different way on the Stream 4K than on the PVRs, however general it’s a really acquainted expertise.

One notable exception is the Google Assistant button, which takes the place of the blue voice button. You’ll use this for all voice-based instructions.

The one button I want it had was a devoted play/pause. As with some older Android TV gadgets just like the Nvidia Protect TV from 2017 and earlier, the central D-pad button is an “OK” perform for menus, and a play/pause button whereas streaming, however you typically should press it twice if you wish to pause or play.

Setup

Getting the Stream 4K arrange is easy because of a step-by-step on-screen wizard. Ordinarily, TiVo gadgets require you to create a TiVo account as a part of the activation course of. Nevertheless, as a result of that is additionally an Android TV system, you’ll want a Google account to obtain apps from the Google Play Retailer, and to make use of the Google Assistant.

The one distinction from different streaming gadgets is TiVo’s personalization step, which guides you thru a collection of “A or B” selections utilizing standard TV exhibits so as to set up a benchmark on your preferences.

After making a few dozen of those selections, TiVo’s personalization engine presents up a collection of steered titles on your My Reveals assortment. If, like me, you’re not particularly enthused by the alternatives, you’ll be able to at all times add your personal exhibits and flicks to your My Reveals library later.

Within the last step, you’ll be requested to pick out the streaming companies to which you could have entry. Choices embody Sling, Amazon Prime, Amazon Prime Video, Netflix, HBO Max, Hulu, Disney+, and Google Play Motion pictures and TV.

Questioning what the distinction between Amazon Prime and Amazon Prime Video is? Amazon Prime is the entire content material that’s included along with your Prime membership, whereas Amazon Prime Video is Amazon’s paid programming — exhibits and flicks that you could solely hire or purchase.

In case you’re involved that your favourite streaming service isn’t among the many choices, don’t be. That is merely the record of streaming companies that TiVo can at present entry for its personalised Stream app, which we’ll focus on subsequent. The Google Play retailer enables you to choose from an enormous variety of further streaming companies, the one notable exception being Apple TV+.

The TiVo Stream expertise

Simon Cohen / Digital Traits

The TiVo Stream 4K is extremely inexpensive contemplating it has each Dolby Imaginative and prescient and Dolby Atmos. However TiVo would argue that the Stream 4K’s greatest draw is the included TiVo Stream app, and it’s an argument with some benefit.

Very like Apple’s TV app has tried to create a curated streaming expertise that gathers content material from a number of streaming platforms (together with its personal Apple TV+, when you’ve got a subscription), the TiVo Stream consolidates all of your companies into one easy-to-use interface.

The entire curated content material is damaged down into acquainted classes like Motion pictures, TV Reveals, Sports activities, and Children (although oddly, no “Information” possibility), and every breaks down into deeper classes like “Superhero Motion pictures.” It’s a great way to browse a number of sources of content material from a single interface. Simply as precious is the Search device, which, because the identify suggests, enables you to search the entire curated content material.

It’s extremely inexpensive contemplating it has each Dolby Imaginative and prescient and Dolby Atmos

The Stream app can also be the house of the TiVo+ free, ad-supported stay TV platform, a set of hyperspecific channels like Unsolved Mysteries, Conde Nast Traveler, and Meals52. You entry these channels through the Information button, or by switching to the Information view within the stream app. In case you have a Sling subscription, that’ll present up right here as properly.

TiVo considers the Stream app the true “dwelling display” of the Stream 4K, though you’ll be able to nonetheless entry the traditional Android TV dwelling display. In truth, every of those consumer experiences will get its personal button on the distant. The Stream app is triggered by the TiVo button, which is entrance and middle on the distant, whereas the Android TV dwelling display is accessed through a small, round button subsequent to the Google Assistant button.

Will you discover these dueling dwelling screens complicated? At first, sure. You’ll seemingly stumble round a bit, particularly for those who’ve by no means used an Android TV system.

Nevertheless, you’ll rapidly notice the Stream app is rather like some other app inside the bigger Android TV expertise. It’s there if you would like it, as is the devoted button, however it’s simple to disregard for those who don’t discover it precious.

How precious you discover it would depend upon how lots of the supported streaming companies you subscribe to. In case your solely paid subscription is Netflix, the Stream app can solely give you solutions from Netflix, plus no matter it will probably discover by itself TiVo+ stay TV service.

That pales by comparability to Roku’s The Roku Channel, which not solely curates from amongst most paid streaming companies, but additionally finds one of the best free streaming choices from amongst a a lot wider set of companies.

Made for Sling, kind of

TiVo

To get probably the most out of the Stream app, you’ll want a Sling TV subscription, which is at present the one stay TV service (apart from TiVo+) that the app helps. Sling TV successfully replaces the position that cable, satellite tv for pc, or antenna TV performs on TiVo’s DVRs, by giving the Stream app entry to all kinds of broadcast channels and exhibits.

With out a Sling subscription, the Stream 4K is a succesful Android TV system with a number of nifty extras. With a Sling subscription, it will get somewhat nearer to the TiVo expertise that has made the corporate’s DVRs so standard, however with some essential caveats.

Sling channels present up within the Information interface the place you’ll be able to see what’s taking part in now, and what’s developing on the schedule. However for those who’re subscribed to Netflix or one other streaming service that carries the identical exhibits as a Sling channel, clicking on future scheduled episodes within the information solely presents you the power to look at them instantly, as a substitute of the Sling file possibility you would possibly count on to see.

In some methods, that is good. Why wait to file an episode for those who can watch it proper now on one other service? However I believe the information ought to give you each choices, not only one. The one method to set off a Sling recording of a “duplicate” present is to change to the stand-alone Sling app from the Android TV dwelling display and use its information.

For those who schedule a recording within the Sling app, the Sling Information will point out that recording has been set, however you gained’t see this data mirrored inside the Stream app’s Information.

There’s additionally no method to entry your Sling recordings from inside the Stream app. It’s essential to return to the Sling app to search out, watch, and handle them.

Efficiency

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In contrast to Roku, Amazon Fireplace TV, or Apple TV — all of which management the software program and that mix to ship their experiences — Android TV can really feel a bit just like the Wild West. Fortunately, the Stream 4K is among the good ones, and it didn’t exhibit any noticeable delay when utilizing the distant’s buttons.

That’s seemingly as a result of Stream 4K’s internals. It has 2GB of RAM and 8GB of onboard storage, and it will probably stream wirelessly through 802.11 AC Wi-Fi. However what I discover particularly attention-grabbing is its CPU, the Amlogic S905Y2. That’s the identical chip that Google makes use of for its Android TV developer platform, the ADT-Three, and it’s seemingly the identical chip that Google will use in its upcoming Android TV system code-named Sabrina.

For those who’re an Android TV energy consumer hoping for an inexpensive different to the Protect TV, take word. TiVo doesn’t supply some superior choices, like pass-through for Dolby Atmos or DTS HD. There’s additionally no method to deal with app-switching and app-quitting, a reasonably commonplace function of most Android TV gadgets.

Audio and video high quality

For those who’ve bought a 4K HDR TV, content material from the Stream 4K ought to look very good, and all of the extra so in case your TV additionally helps Dolby Imaginative and prescient. In a back-to-back check towards an Apple TV 4K utilizing an LG OLED TV, I discovered the Stream 4K produced photographs that have been each bit as detailed and as colourful, whether or not I used to be streaming from Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, or Plex.

I had hassle getting any of the streaming apps to ship Dolby Atmos to my A/V receiver or T.V

It additionally managed to outperform my different Android TV system, a $150 2019 Nvidia Protect TV, with barely extra vibrant hues.

Oddly, there have been a number of cases the place the black bars on the highest and backside of the display (which occurs when taking part in 2.35:1 ratio films like Ford v. Ferrari) appeared grey, not black. However this was inconsistent, and might need been a glitch with the Plex app quite than an issue with the Stream 4K.

I additionally skilled some occasional display blanking, the place the sign from the Stream 4K would reduce out momentarily, although this solely occurred whereas navigating the interface, and never whereas streaming video.

Audio high quality is nice, however Dolby Atmos followers be warned. Even if the Stream 4K helps an enormous number of audio codecs, like Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD, DTS, DTS HD, and Dolby Atmos, I had hassle getting any of the streaming apps to ship Dolby Atmos to my A/V receiver or TV.

TiVo’s consultant acknowledged that the Stream 4K had but to obtain a software program replace to make it suitable with Netflix’s Dolby Atmos necessities, and stated that this replace could be coming quickly. However I didn’t obtain a transparent cause why Disney+ and Amazon Prime have been in the identical boat.

In some methods, this shouldn’t be a shock. TiVo has launched merchandise prior to now — the TiVo Bolt OTA involves thoughts — which have promised options like 4K and HDR however lacked the mandatory assist from streaming companies to make these options work, a minimum of at launch.

On condition that the Stream 4K is clearly Dolby Atmos-compatible, it’s now a ready recreation to see when, or if, TiVo and the streaming companies will replace their apps to allow it.

Google Assistant and Chromecast built-in

Simon Cohen / Digital Traits

Two key advantages of selecting Android TV as a sensible TV working system are Google Assistant and Google Chromecast. Each work properly on the Stream 4K, which signifies that this $50 dongle outperforms Google’s personal $69 Chromecast Extremely in each approach possible.

I didn’t check the Stream 4K for its efficiency with Google’s Stadia gaming service, however the Chromecast function labored like a attraction for different duties like initiating and controlling streams from YouTube or Plex.

Our take

Android TV may not be for everybody, however at $50, the TiVo Stream 4K makes a compelling argument that it is best to give it a strive. With assist for Dolby Imaginative and prescient and a curated watching expertise that ought to get higher over time, the Stream 4K has lots of potential. The corporate should keep on prime of its relationships with streaming suppliers to make sure that potential is fulfilled.

Is there a greater different?

For those who’re searching for an inexpensive media streamer with a distant management, you’ve bought loads of selections. The $50 Amazon Fireplace TV Stick 4K works with Dolby Imaginative and prescient and Dolby Atmos, has Alexa built-in, and boasts a library of over eight,000 apps. Nevertheless, not everybody loves the Fireplace TV interface, and there’s no native casting possibility from Android or iOS gadgets.

The $50 Roku Streaming Stick+ has top-of-the-line sensible TV interfaces we’ve ever used, aswell as tons of apps. Nevertheless it doesn’t assist Dolby Imaginative and prescient, there’s no assist for Google Assistant or Alexa (although Roku has its personal voice command system), and casting is proscribed to what you are able to do utilizing the free Roku app.

Both of those gadgets are worthwhile alternate options, however given the Stream 4K’s distinctive set of options, I’ll cease wanting calling them “higher,” for now.

How lengthy will it final?

It is a difficult query. The is stable, however in the case of streaming gadgets, software program assist is a a lot larger consideration.

Google likes to replace its software program continuously and Android TV is not any exception. If TiVo stays on prime of those updates for the Stream 4K, you’ll be in good condition. But when the Android smartphone world is any indicator, that assist might solely proceed for one or two main updates.

If this can be a concern, Roku and Amazon have wonderful monitor data for updates. Nvidia has additionally been remarkably attentive to its Protect TV gadgets, which it continues to replace even 5 years after the primary fashions launched.

Must you purchase it?

Sure. At its introductory value of simply $50, the TiVo Stream 4K packs a ton of worth right into a small package deal. Even for those who by no means use its signature Stream app to handle your bingeing classes, it’s at present the least costly method to get into Android TV.

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