TiVo Stream 4K Review: A Budget-Friendly HDMI Dongle Packs a Limited, but Promising App





TiVo Stream 4K Review

TiVo Stream 4K Review

TiVo’s Stream 4K represents a different approach for the company. Instead of dedicated DVRs buoyed by paid service plans, the Stream 4K is a budget-priced streaming device meant to compete with Amazon’s Fire TV line, Roku, and others. Its key selling point is an integrated approach to content, pulling in viewing options from a number of services into one centralized place. But how well does the company succeed on that front, and is the underlying hardware powerful enough to serve up the content you want? I’ve spent the last several days using the Stream 4K as my main streaming device to find out.

Hardware and Setup

TiVo Stream 4K and Remote

If thinking of the TiVo brand calls to mind large, hard-drive equipped DVRs that need a decent amount of entertainment center real estate, the Stream 4K might surprise you. This is TiVo’s take on the diminutive, hidden-away HDMI dongle. Instead of giant cable boxes, think of Chromecasts and Fire TV Sticks. That said, the Stream 4K is a fair bit larger than some of its direct competition. At 3 x 2 x 0.6 inches (77 x 53 x 16mm), the main housing (minus the HDMI “tail”) is roughly the size of two boxes of matches side by side.

The HDMI attachment is flexible and long enough for the Stream to clear the other cables plugged into my TV’s inputs. Depending on where your HDMI inputs are, however, the Stream 4K might stick out a bit — though that’s nothing double-sided tape can’t fix if it’s too distracting.

In addition to the permanently attached HDMI connection, there’s a micro-USB port for power, a pairing button, and a USB-C port. TiVo says you should use the provided power supply instead of plugging the power cord into a USB port. As for that USB-C port, it’s not stated prominently on the Stream 4K’s product page or in its support documents, but you can use it to attach additional storage or an Ethernet cable if you have the appropriate adapters on hand. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the connections around to test those capabilities, but TiVo representatives did confirm that the USB-C port can be used to expand the Stream’s capabilities in the future.

The external storage option could come in handy since the Stream’s onboard storage is listed as 8GB. That stacks up well against competitors like the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K (also 8GB), but could be a bit restricting depending on how much you want to load onto your device.

The remote itself evokes the familiar “peanut” shape TiVo’s known for. Despite being a miniaturized version of the form factor, it still remains comfortable to hold in the hands. It is a bit slippery, however, and could benefit from a grippier texture overall. It took some getting used to button placement before I was truly comfortable navigating without looking at the remote. Especially at first, I kept pressing the TiVo logo button instead of the confirmation button located just below within the directional arrows.

You’ll also see hot buttons for Google Assistant and Netflix, and a number pad. If you’re hoping to use the Stream 4K and its number keys as a TV remote, however, you might be disappointed. While I was able to power my LG TV on and off with the remote, and control volume, I couldn’t use the number pad to select channel numbers. As far as I’ve seen, they’re mostly useful for entering numbers when you’re signing into a service or searching for content.

Setting things up was rather straightforward. All you need to do is plug the Stream 4K into an available HDMI port, connect the power supply, and off you go. One of the first steps was pairing the TiVo remote via Bluetooth. Interestingly, it took my review unit three or four times to successfully pair with its remote and allow me to continue. I’m not sure what the issue was (it would simply return to the pairing screen), but I managed to maintain a connection eventually.

For the review unit, the first thing the Stream did after establishing a WiFi connection was download and install a patch update. Anyone who’s purchased a modern video game console likely knows what that experience is like, but it’s worth pointing out for those who might be caught by surprise.

Once the patch was installed and the Stream 4K rebooted itself, I got down to the business of setting up the device. As this is an Android TV product, I needed to sign into a Gmail account before I could get far, and the operating system mentioned how Android phone users could set the Stream up easily from their mobile devices. Still, even with just an iPhone on hand, logging in and verifying an account was fairly painless.

As I progressed through the setup process, the Stream displayed a series of shows for me to pick from. These were displayed in pairs, and my preferences were likely used to build up recommended shows and channels. Once I got through the personalization phase, I could install some apps. The Stream 4K recommended a large collection of apps to download, but you can opt to skip those and install the ones you want from the Google Play Store later. I opted for that route, but for reference, the Stream recommended 19 apps in total, including some light gaming via Crossy Road and NBA Jam.

I also had to verify the Stream 4K on TiVo’s website before I could start using it. While you don’t need to sign up for a paid plan through TiVo, you’ll at least need to create an account. Once your Stream is activated, you’ll also be directed to either link an existing Sling TV account or start a free trial. I didn’t spot an option to skip this step, but even if you’re not interested in Sling at all, you can likely sign up for the trial for now and cancel after setup is complete.

Software and Actually Using It

TiVo Stream App

After a few minutes in total, I was through the setup phase and could start using the Stream 4K. If you’ve been eyeing the Stream 4K’s marketing and product page and expected to dive straight into TiVo’s curated menus and user interface, you might be surprised to learn that you start off in standard-issue Android TV. The Stream’s signature interface appears as an app option alongside Netflix, Sling TV, and others. It gets top billing, so it’s hard to miss, but it’s interesting that the Stream 4K doesn’t automatically introduce you to its signature selling point first before revealing the Android TV experience underneath.

In any case, it’s easy enough to head into the Stream app and explore what TiVo’s aiming to achieve. You’ll find big rows of recommendations laid out in cards. Highlighting each one brings up a summary of the show or movie and a list of which services it’s currently available on. Selecting one of those options directs you to the appropriate app where you then start watching.

Unfortunately, the Stream app doesn’t support all services and it’s currently limited to Sling, Netflix, HBO Now, Prime Video, Hulu, Disney+, and Google Play Movies & TV. If the show you’re interested in is available to rent, buy, or freely stream among those services, you’ll see its logo displayed. For TV shows, you can select the Episodes option to browse through seasons and select a specific episode. This could be especially handy if you’re not a fan of how a particular service handles navigating through episodes.

Elsewhere, you can use the Guide area to browse Sling TV’s offerings, select a show or movie to watch, and set your DVR to record (if that channel supports recording, that is). Selecting a show or movie to record automatically adds it to the My Shows section of the Stream app, so you can still access it without leaving the app itself. But since it’s still Sling TV’s DVR, you can also get to those recordings from the actual Sling app as well.

Searching for content from the Stream app brings up a Google-branded search experience, complete with a Google Assistant voice response. For example, searching for “Stargate Atlantis” gets you a “Here is some information on Stargate Atlantis” reply, followed by viewing options.

Where the Stream’s all-in-one approach starts to break down is with content on unsupported services. I used the app’s search function to look for Star Trek Picard and I got back cast and crew info, and related shows on Hulu and YouTube clips. But there was no indication I could watch the show since the Stream app doesn’t support CBS All Access. I could still directly load the CBS app like normal, but it does highlight the Stream app’s limitations.

Overall, the Stream app does what TiVo said it would: provide an easy-to-use hub that pulls in content options from a number of services. However, if you’d rather deal with native apps, you can return to the Android TV home screen using the remote’s Circle button and access the app of your choice.

Using those apps was fine for the most part — pretty much what you’d expect from a modern media streamer. However, I did run into a few playback quirks here and there. While watching Thor: Ragnarok on Disney+, for example, the audio sometimes cut out if I accessed the subtitles menu. Stopping the movie and resuming was enough to restore audio, but it was odd nonetheless, and I couldn’t replicate the issue using my LG OLED’s built-in Disney+ app.

Elsewhere, I successfully used Google’s Live Channels app to stream Pluto TV channels, but I also ran into issues trying to add additional sources. That said, it’s unclear whether that’s the Stream 4K’s fault or the Live Channels app itself. For instance, troubles connecting the Sling TV app appear to have been affecting Live Channels users in general for a while now – not just Stream users.

One more curiosity: The Stream 4K engages my LG TV’s Dolby Vision HDR mode at all times, including menus. This could be troublesome if you have different profile settings for HDR and non-HDR content. On my LG, for example, I couldn’t access non-HDR picture modes while using the Stream 4K.

It’s also important to note that despite the Stream 4K’s app and overall marketing focusing on Sling TV and its DVR, you can still use other live TV streaming services with the device — they just won’t integrate into the Stream app itself. I tested this using YouTube TV’s app and it installed and ran just fine. I was able to view live TV and set up recordings as you would expect.

So if you’re curious about the Stream 4K, but wanted to use a live TV service other than Sling TV, you certainly can — so long as Android TV supports it. You’ll lose out on the integrated experience of the Stream app, but beyond that, it’s pretty much business as usual for other live TV apps.

And if you’re wondering about potential hardware performance, the Stream 4K is clearly designed to be a streaming device as opposed to a streaming/gaming/all-in-one powerhouse. Still, I ran the 3DMark benchmark to see how the Stream 4K’s Amlogic S905Y2 fared and came away with an underwhelming score of 333 in the Sling Shot Extreme benchmark. For comparison, I ran the same benchmark on my NVIDIA Shield TV Pro and got a 3,992. Of course, NVIDIA touts gaming performance as one of the Shield’s strong suits, whereas TiVo’s making no such claims with its Stream 4K. It’s also currently available at one-fourth the price of the Shield TV Pro, and runs standard streaming apps just fine.

Things We Liked

  • Solid, competitive price (especially during launch)
  • Familiar, well-made remote
  • Android TV runs well and offers wide app availability
  • Stream app is easy to use and does a good job aggregating info from multiple services

Things We Didn’t Like

  • Stream apps’s limited service support, especially for live TV options
  • Remote isn’t a complete TV remote replacement
  • Dolby Vision engaged by default

Wrapping Up

In the end, you’ll get the most bang for your buck if your suite of services aligns with what the Stream app currently supports. If those two groups don’t perfectly overlap, you might find yourself navigating to and from the Stream app to access all of your content, which somewhat dulls the app’s main appeal. But even if you ignore the Stream app entirely, you’re still left with a budget-friendly and capable Android TV streamer — especially at its $49.99 intro price.

Of course, that value proposition weakens if and when TiVo bumps the price up to the regular $69.99, so you’ll need to weigh the attractiveness of the Stream’s signature app over competing Android TV options like the Xiaomi Mi Box S (around $50).

As for the Stream app itself, it integrates supported services as advertised and provides an easy-to-use interface. It would be interesting to see TiVo build out support further and perhaps even offer it as a standalone app you can use on other devices. We’ve not heard of any plans to do that as of yet, but we’ll let you know if plans change.

Overall, if you’re looking for an affordable Android TV device, the Stream 4K delivers. But we’d recommend picking one up sooner rather than later, as more established competitors like Amazon and Roku look considerably more appealing once that price goes up.

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