September 21, 2020
TiVo Stream 4K review: Affordable Android streamer with HBO Max, Peacock

TiVo Stream 4K review: Affordable Android streamer with HBO Max, Peacock


Roku and Amazon Fire TV make the best affordable streaming devices, but both still lack support for two of the biggest new services, HBO Max and Peacock. We have no idea when those apps will appear, but if you own a Roku or Fire TV, maybe you’re sick of waiting. Enter the TiVo Stream 4K. This streamer costs $50 — cheaper than other options with Max and Peacock, like the Apple TV or a brand-new smart TV — and of course it streams thousands of other apps, too, from Netflix to YouTube to Sling TV

Like

  • Affordable for 4K HDR streaming
  • Has apps for HBO Max and Peacock
  • Google Assistant works well for voice search
  • Great remote
  • Stream app aggregates different services

Don’t Like

  • Failed to work with one TV we tested
  • Not compatible with existing TiVo devices
  • More complex menus than Roku

TiVo made its name with DVRs to record cable and antenna TV broadcasts, but the Stream 4K is not a DVR at all. It’s a media streamer that competes directly against two of our favorite such devices, the Roku Streaming Stick Plus and the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K. It runs the Android TV system with extras like Google Assistant voice control, 4K resolution, Dolby Atmos and Dolby Vision compatibility. 

Here’s the bad news: the TiVo Stream 4K simply failed to work with one TV, an LG CX OLED. Video on apps, including Netflix and Disney Plus, would stop playing and boot back into the main menu, rendering the Stream basically unusable. TiVo promised a fix back in June but has since told CNET that the update has “unfortunately been delayed and we will share more detail on it as soon as we can.” 

The Stream worked fine on three other TVs we used for testing, from Sony, Samsung and TCL, so that issue is not a deal breaker for this review. It’s impossible for us to test the Stream with every TV, however, so we can’t guarantee it will work fine with yours. In short, it’s worrisome enough to prevent our full recommendation.

There’s also the fact that the Stream 4K won’t work with existing TiVo hardware (yet), so it can’t play back your cable or antenna DVR recordings or let you stream them to your phone. It’s also worth mentioning the rumors about Google’s own $50 Android TV streamer, which will likely be announced Sept. 30 as the latest Chromecast.

The TiVo Stream 4K is available now for the introductory price of $50 but TiVo says that’s due to increase to $70 at some point. If you want access to HBO Max and Peacock now, or you just like its features and Google goodness, it’s a solid deal — provided it works with your TV. Otherwise you could wait until Google reveals its hand or buy one of the excellent Roku or Fire TV streamers instead.

Get to know TiVo Stream 4K

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Sarah Tew/CNET

The TiVo Stream 4K, a credit card-size widget with an integrated HDMI connector, is designed to hang out of sight behind your TV. Unlike most adapters of its type, it’s got a little bit of personality — a big TiVo logo on the front and a distinctive wedge shape like a miniature Edge DVR

The Stream 4K’s most recognizable feature is the iconic peanut remote. It’s about two-thirds the size of TiVo’s standard DVR remote and has a couple extra features. Hold the Google button down, wait a beat and then speak to access voice search via Google Assistant. The familiar silver TiVo button gives you access to the Stream app, while the circular key to the left of the Assistant button takes you to the Android TV home page. There’s no thumbs up or down buttons, which is a shame, but otherwise there’s a ton more keys than on a typical Roku or Amazon remote. It will also control the power, volume and input on your TV but since it relies on HDMI CEC instead of infrared like Roku and Amazon, it requires a newer TV to use those functions.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

The TiVo Stream 4K dongle is not especially powerful in terms of specs: there’s an Amlogic S905Y2 processor, 2GB of RAM and 8GB of storage space. In comparison the more expensive Nvidia Shield offers the same RAM and storage, but comes with the Nvidia Tegra X1 Plus processor, as well as microSD expansion (Android PC TV did a comparison between the two processors.) In practice we found the TiVo plenty zippy for 1080p but it didn’t have the horsepower for some advanced capabilities like the Steam Link app.

The main missing feature right now is the device’s lack of integration with existing TiVo devices. It may share a name with the older Stream product but it can’t share recordings or otherwise interface with the thousands of TiVos already in the wild. A TiVo spokesperson did tell CNET way back in January that TiVo integration was on the road map for the Stream 4K’s future, but the company has been unable to give us an update on timing since.

TiVo’s special sauce: The Stream app

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The TiVo Stream interface.


Sarah Tew/CNET

The TiVo Stream 4K has an exclusive app, called Stream, which TiVo designed to be the centerpiece of this device. It integrates TV shows and movies from apps, including Sling TV (see below), Netflix, HBO Now, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, Disney Plus and Google Play Movies and also suggests new content TiVo thinks you might like. It lives on top of the standard Android TV interface and for that reason can be kind of confusing: The device effectively has two home pages.

Many of the buttons on the remote feed you directly into Stream. The app’s main menu is off to the side, similar to Neflix, with categories including My Shows, Guide, TV Shows, Movies, Sports and Kids. There’s also a Search tab but the Google Assistant search is quicker and more straightforward than Stream’s version. We also liked that Google’s search was available wherever you are on the device, not just from inside the Stream app. 

tivo-guide

The TiVo Stream guide.


Ty Pendlebury/CNET

The Stream 4K comes with a free week of Sling TV, and TiVo calls the service its preferred partner. What that means is that Sling users will see the Sling TV guide within the Stream interface, which also allows you to set recordings to Sling’s cloud DVR. The Guide button on the remote calls up the grid, a clear nod to similar functionality on DVRs and cable boxes. Google Assistant was able to search for both Sling TV channels and now playing shows but wasn’t able to access recordings from Sling’s cloud DVR.

Of course, a Sling TV subscription is entirely optional on the device and numerous live TV streaming services will work fine — they just won’t be integrated into the Stream app. If you don’t subscribe to Sling, the remote’s Guide button will still summon Tivo Plus, a proprietary network of that offers free content from TMZ, Outside TV, PowerNation, FailArmy, Hell’s Kitchen, Cheddar and, thanks to a new partnership, Pluto TV. (Disclosure: CNET and PlutoTV are both owned by ViacomCBS.)

tivo-stream-2

Ty Pendlebury/CNET

Outside the Stream app you’ll see the standard Android TV interface, which behaves like any device of this type with rows of content highlights mingled with recently used apps and favorites. Most apps are supported, with the notable exception of AT&T’s live TV services, such as AT&T TV Now

Software updates have helped, but issues remain

We tested the TiVo Stream 4K on a number of different TVs, including the TCL 65Q825, the LG OLED65CXPUA, the Sony XBR-55X950G and the Samsung PN59D8000

As we mentioned above, the main issue, which occurred with multiple TiVo Stream review samples, is stopping midstream and returning to the menu. In addition to the LG it also happened on the Sony, but with the latter TV it seems to have been resolved after a software update. It still happens with the LG.

We also experienced a couple of more minor issues. During setup on the remote pairing stage, the device would attempt to connect after pressing the requested buttons and then time out and return to the pairing page. With perseverance and quick reflexes poised on the Next button, we did get them to work. We also experienced sound dropouts with the Sony TV and an Onkyo receiver, although a software update seems to have fixed that issue, too.

Beyond that, the Stream worked well in our testing. Navigation of the various screens was zippy and we didn’t notice any lag when opening any apps. The handover from TiVo Stream to Sling TV, a potential choke point, was seamless. We were also able to use the TiVo Stream 4K’s Chromecast capability to stream video from a PC browser and from a phone’s Spotify app. If you’re familiar with the Android TV ecosystem, you’ll feel right at home with the Stream 4K, and the Stream app on top is a usable and fun addition. 

Initially we had hoped that this device could replace the Nvidia Shield as a way to stream PC games to the TV via the Steam Link app, but it didn’t work. It wasn’t possible to stream with enough bandwidth to even make the interface stable, let alone play any games, and the device doesn’t offer the app’s recommended Ethernet port either. TiVo representatives say the USB-C port can be used to connect an Ethernet adapter, and this may help if you live in a noisy Wi-Fi environment. Normal Android TV gaming worked OK, however, and we played quite a few enjoyable rounds of Crossy Road and Fast like a Fox with the peanut remote. 

4K, HDR and Dolby Vision tests

To test 4K and HDR we connected the TiVo Stream 4K to the Dolby Vision and Atmos-capable LG CX OLED and Sony TVs. As expected, video quality was as good as the Apple TV 4K on apps where the Stream supports HDR formats.

As usual with streamers, just because the hardware supports those formats doesn’t mean the apps themselves do. In TiVo’s favor, Netflix, Disney Plus and Amazon Prime all streamed in 4K and Dolby Vision, but movie services were more of a mixed bag: Google Play Movies were available in 4K HDR but not Dolby Vision, Movies Anywhere said “this device does not support 4K playback” and while we had some issues with logging in to Vudu, when we did it was HDX (1080p) only. Meanwhile Dolby Atmos was not available on Netflix or Disney Plus, although Atmos support on the Fire TV 4K is also relatively spotty.

Like the Apple TV 4K, the TiVo converts everything to Dolby Vision or HDR by default, including the menu systems themselves and video from every app (including the myriad streams that aren’t in HDR). Unlike Apple, however, there’s to way to change that default. On a TV as nice as the LG that’s not a big problem — everything looks great — but on a lesser set that doesn’t do HDR justice, the option to switch to SDR if you want is nice.

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David Katzmaier/CNET

Should you buy it?

Like the Channel Master Stream+ the TiVo Stream 4K is an ambitious yet imperfect Android TV streaming device, and months after launch TiVo is still working to fix some issues. The Stream app is a commendable attempt at unifying different streaming apps, but in the end it’s not a compelling reason to buy a TiVo Stream 4K — unless you happen to love Sling TV. Impatient HBO Max and Peacock fans, or fans of TiVo or Android TV in general will find a lot to like, but anyone else looking to buy a $50-$70 streamer should look instead to the Roku Streaming Stick Plus and the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K.



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