DVR maker TiVo announced its first devices that can be controlled with voice commands Tuesday: The new TiVo BOLT VOX DVR and the TiVo VOX mini companion box both come with a remote control with integrated microphone. The company is considering adding support for third-party voice assistants and hardware as well, TiVo’s VP of consumer business Ted Malone told Variety during a recent briefing.
TiVo’s new TiVo BOLT VOX DVR offers consumers 4 tuners to record up to 4 shows at once, and either 500GB or 1TB of integrated storage as well as connectivity for cable or over-the-air antennas. In addition, TiVo is making a six-tuner version with 3TB of storage for cable users.
TiVo also revamped its multi-room companion box capable of streaming programming from a TiVo DVR in the same home, which is now called the TiVo VOX Mini. The 4K-capable Mini, which also offers access to streaming apps, costs $180, and the 4-tuner version of the TiVo BOLT VOX starts at $200. The latter requires a TiVo subscription, whereas the Mini doesn’t need an additional subscription plan. All of the hardware will become available this coming Sunday.
TiVo also tweaked the user interface of its DVR for this new generation, promising quicker access to live and recorded TV, and better recommendations. But the biggest news is undoubtedly the remote the two new devices ship with — or more specifically, the remote’s microphone button.
Pressing it, users can now ask the device to launch a TV channel, ask for movies or shows starring a certain actor, skip commercials or command the device to record an upcoming show. TiVo’s voice interface even understands follow-up queries, so you can ask for movies starring an actor, and then filter down to a genre.
To build this functionality, TiVo licensed the speech recognition engine from a third party, and developed its own natural language understanding technologies in-house. And the company clearly believes that consumers want voice control: TiVo is also making the technology available to previous-generation devices, which can be upgraded with the purchase of a $39.99 voice control.
But TiVo may even go further in the future. “We are looking at far-field voice,” said Malone. This could allow TiVo to unlock additional voice features, he argued. For instance, no one would pick up the current remote, press the mic button and tell the device to lower the volume.
However, the same voice command would make a lot more sense if consumers could control their TiVo with an Amazon Echo or a similar device already standing in their living room. Malone didn’t want to reveal too much about his company’s plans to enable such functionality, but did mention TiVo didn’t want to tie itself to just once voice assistant. He also hinted at plans to show off third-party voice integrations at CES 2018.
TiVo has been playing a bit of a tech catch-up game in recent years, and gradually added features like streaming apps and now voice that have been available on devices like Apple TV and Roku for some time.
However, the company has also been producing hardware for pay TV operators, and some of those features are arguably still very new to that market — which is why TiVo’s retail hardware doubles as a kind of R&D for its pay TV business. “We use the retail business as a way to try out new things,” said Malone.