Last fall, TiVo CEO Dave Shull announced “We’re betting the future of the company” on a plan that splits its product and licensing arms, while also launching a streaming video service and a $50 Android TV dongle. Now, only a week or so late — but just in time to beat the company’s Q1 earnings call — the TiVo Stream 4K dongle is here, and we’re getting a peek at how that plan comes together.
The hardware hasn’t changed from what I saw and felt at CES, and in a short preview period it worked smoothly, showing off the promise of both the current version of Android TV, and TiVo’s Stream app, which is where its custom experience really comes into play.
The dongle itself is a bit large, but fit nicely behind the TV and like so many others, you may want a longer USB cable if you need to plug it into an outlet. The miniaturized “peanut” remote pays some homage to TiVo’s history and is easy enough to use without relearning your traditional TV experience.
But the Stream app is where TiVo hopes its strategy will pay off, and I’ll need some time to find out if its system of recommendations makes a worthwhile difference. The big idea of TiVo jumping into a market dominated by Apple TV, Roku and Fire TV is that its software can push a blend of live TV — with an assist from Sling TV’s 7-day free trial and the various channels in its TiVo+ networks — and streaming options to make finding something to watch easier than switching in and out of a bunch of apps. According to Shull, the Stream 4K’s “recommendation and search features to make it easier to find, watch and enjoy the best news, entertainment and sports from today’s most popular services.”
You can still use individual apps just like on any other smart TV setup, and it’s an Android TV box at heart so it’s flexible enough to access all the big services including Disney+, but that’s not what TiVo hopes make this special. Without any real link to its existing set-top boxes existing fans won’t have a lot of reasons to pick this streaming setup out of the bunch, but my experience with the interface suggests it has potential to rise above Fire TV and Roku as an easy option for cord-cutters. The TiVo Stream 4K goes on sale today on the company’s website, with a “limited time” price of $50, compared to the $70 MSRP.