TiVo’s New Netflix Player Hands-On Review

May 10, 2012
By

TiVo has just released a new Netflix player as part of their 2012 spring software update. In addition to being able to browse the Netflix catalog, the new TiVo Premiere Netflix player comes with support for 1080P HD video, Dolby Digital Plus surround sound and closed captions. When you add in TiVo’s comprehensive search capability and the convenience it offers (given TiVo usually lives on HDMI1), this is one of the best Netflix streaming implementations available. TiVo is now pushing out the spring software update date but it usually takes a few weeks before it reaches all customers. Thanks to TiVo for providing early access to the new software.

Netflix on TiVo Premiere

New Netflix on TiVo Premiere Opening Screen

When I saw the preview version of TiVo’s new Netflix player at this year’s CES, I was told that it would only support Dolby Digital surround sound with this initial release. It’s good to under promise and over deliver. I was pleasently surprised to see Dolby Digital Plus support in this version (unlike the new Xbox and Apple TV versions). Dolby Digital Plus is more bandwidth efficient and provides better sound than regular Dolby Digital on Netflix. When you play a TV show or movie, TiVo auto-selects the Dolby Digital Plus track when available. While the TiVo delivers Dolby Digital Plus via HDMI, it still delivers Dolby Digital over optical as well (if you have a non-HDMI receiver).

Audio Settings TiVo Netflix

TiVo's Netflix audio and caption settings

There’s also support for 1080P streaming video. Specifically, it supports 1080P video at 24 frames per second (FPS) and 1080i video at 30 FPS. At first, I was concerned since the TiVo Premiere cannot output 1080P video at 30 FPS (it’s a hardware limitation). However, according to my sources, the majority of 1080P content from Netflix is actually encoded at 24 FPS not 30 FPS. It’s not only the case for movies but also TV shows including Battlestar Galactica and Sons of Anarchy. High definition video encoded at 30 FPS is delivered in either 1080i or 720P on TiVo’s Netflix player. Currently, I have not found any evidence of 1080P / 30 FPS titles in Netflix’s library.

There’s only one downside to this set-up. When Netflix starts streaming, it starts with a lower bandwidth stream and quickly improves to HD quality in less than 30 seconds. However, when it switches to 1080P / 24 FPS, my HDTV blacks out for a couple of seconds while it switches resolutions. It also happens after fast forwarding or rewinding or if there is a disruption in bandwidth. It would be nice if the TiVo buffered some more data to avoid this. Below, I’ll share a tip on how to prevent this black-out effect in some situations.

The black-out effect is the result of a feature I’ve never seen on a Netflix player. The TiVo Premiere is the only Netflix device I’ve seen that properly detects and plays content back at its native frame rate. Most Netflix devices don’t even let you select the frame rate you’re watching at, converting everything to 30 FPS. To do this, it inserts extra frame which can sometimes creates “judder”. One notable exception are the 2012 3D Blu-ray players from Panasonic but the frame rate is a manual setting.

Sons of Anarchy on Netflix TiVo

Sons of Anarchy at 1080P / 24 FPS on TiVo's Netflix Player

The other feature that separates the TiVo Premiere from other Netflix players is integrated search. From TiVo’s main menu, you can enter the name of a show and TiVo searches across TV listings, Netflix, Amazon Instant Video and Hulu Plus. It’s a very handy way to find the content you are looking for without going to lots of different websites. The search is a little different from the old version. The old version directly linked to a title whereas the new version pulls up a pre-filled Netflix search screen. It’s still functional but not as efficient as before. That quirkiness is evident other places as well.

TiVo's Integrated Search

TiVo Searches TV listings, Netflix, Amazon and Hulu Plus

This version was not primarily developed by TiVo but by Netflix themselves. The end result is an experience that’s more consistant with other Netflix devices than the TiVo itself. Things such as TiVo’s “instant replay” button no longer work. There’s no information banner when hitting the “Info” button either. To exit a title you have to hit “UP” on the D-pad (I expected to hit back arrow). Hopefully, TiVo and Netflix will improve some of these usability features in the future.

To minimize the issue with video switching: Go to “Settings” and then “Video”. Under “Video Output Formats”, set the formats only to 1080i and 1080P/24 (pass-through).  HD shows that stream at 1080i / 30FPS won’t have to renegoiate the HDMI connection with the TV and that will eliminate those black-outs. One example of an HD show at 1080i / 30 FPS is Doctor Who.

Another tip: Make sure your TiVo does not have “zoom” turned  on or part of the screen will be cut off in Netflix. You have set it to to panel or full (which removes the horizontal bars for SD titles) while you are watching TV or recorded content on the TiVo.

And to anticipate a question, this version of Netflix will not be coming to the Series3. Despite its similarity to Netflix’s HTML5 UI on other devices, this app is Flash-based. It was built with Adobe AIR and AIR is not supported on the Series3.

To wrap-up, while it does have some quirks, the new TiVo Netflix player is a big improvement and provides a great audio and video experience.  Since the TiVo is our primary viewing device and given its integrated search, I will be using Netflix on TiVo much more.  Given the wealth of bandwidth I get from FIOS, the video black-out problem should just be a minor annoyance for me. While I wouldn’t recommend the TiVo Premiere just for Netflix, the new Netflix app is one of several compelling reasons to make it part of your home theater set up.

Tags: Dolby, Netflix, Premiere, Series3, TiVo

15 Responses to TiVo’s New Netflix Player Hands-On Review

  1. Mikeyts on May 10, 2012 at 4:41 pm

    You don’t make it clear whether DD+ is bitstreamed or converted to basic DD. This has me seriously considering buying a new Premiere and selling my trusty Series3-w/PLS.

    • Gabe Gagliano on May 10, 2012 at 5:54 pm

      Over HDMI, Dolby Digital Plus is being bitstreamed. If you use digital optical, it’s converted to regular Dolby Digital. There’s a setting on TiVo to use PCM instead but that outputs 2.0 only.

      Don’t forget the 4-tuner Premiere Elite

  2. Sam Biller on May 10, 2012 at 6:11 pm

    Hi Gabe,
    I’m curious as to what you think of the performance while navigating and playing/pausing. Nilay Patel on TheVerge.com thinks its abysmally slow. I think the UI is pretty snappy although I sometimes see some delay when pausing/playing.

    Also, are you experiencing any audio sync issues? One user on TCF is seeing out-of-sync issues on an HD Title. I had a similar issue until I changes some of the audio settings on my Pioneer Kuro television.

    Thanks for the excellent review!
    ~Sam

    • Gabe Gagliano on May 10, 2012 at 6:57 pm

      Sam,

      For me the speed has been acceptable. With the original Premiere hardware, it takes about 30 seconds to load Netflix. I wonder if Nilay’s internet pipe was slower given he had the new XL hardware. It would be nice if was a little snappier overall, (i.e. scrolling through titles) but it’s sufficient. It’s comparable to the response time on most Blu-ray players out there. I also noticed as I drill into a title it appears to be going out to the network to fetch more data. Once again the speed of the network pipe. The TiVo is VERY responsive while doing anything with watching live or recorded TV.

      I personally haven’t had any audio sync issues.

      Now, if they could only start streaming in 1080P right off the bat and eliminate the black out issue.

      • Ed on June 19, 2012 at 4:15 pm

        Thirty seconds is ACCEPTABLE!?! WTH?? FIVE seconds is painful. You CAN NOT say 30 Seconds is acceptable. If you do, then it IS because companies have no reason to pour CPU power into something that is “acceptable” to users. OMG, You are insane. Nothing less than INSTANT is acceptable. When you press a button, something should happen. IMMEDIATELY!!!!

        The only reason it doesn’t happen immediately is because of reviewers and users like you. IT IS NOT ACCEPTABLE.

        BTW… Tivo used to be instant. My series 2 had IMMEDIATE response on any button. That is until Tivo “upgraded” it. Demand perfection… otherwise you get what you deserve…

  3. TechWzrd on May 11, 2012 at 8:52 am

    Agreed. It would be great if the Netflix App was updated to start out in 1080p24 at low-quality to avoid the black out during switch-over. I suppose the issue might be that some networks can’t support high-quality 1080p24 so TiVo would need to have an algorithm to determine the bandwidth or force a user to disable 1080p pass through if they are suffering quality issues with their internet pipe.

    • Alfred on May 14, 2012 at 9:13 pm

      The Tivo has the sync issue because it doesn’t support 1080p. Using the Netflix app on the PS3, there are no sync issues because the PS3 scales the video properly. The only way to avoid the issue is to set your Tivo to a fixed output resolution.

  4. Jasmin on May 11, 2012 at 8:57 pm

    The Roku also starts off with lower quality & works up to HD, but it doesn’t black out though. Nice update; HUGE Netflix fan here! :)

    • awt on May 13, 2012 at 10:25 pm

      It doesn’t black out because the Roku is scaling it to 1080P. The TiVo is unable to scale it to 1080P. The blackout occurs with the re-sycning of the HDMI which occurs with every HDMI device when it switches it’;s output resolution. Devices that scale to 1080P will not re-sync because the output resolution never changes.

  5. Bdmccaig on May 22, 2012 at 9:11 am

    I have a premier xl and running version 2.20 +.
    I dont see where the new Netflix apps is located.
    Where shoulf I look?

    Thanks,

    • Gabe Gagliano on May 27, 2012 at 12:13 pm

      It takes several weeks for the update to be pushed out to all boxes. Look at your software version, it should be at 20.2.1.1 once you have the update (you’ll also get a tivo mesage about the update). Once you get the app, it may take up to six hours before it’s available.

      If you’re using the latest software, Netflix is located under “Find TV, Movies and Videos” in the HD menus. More info here: http://support.tivo.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/266/session/L2F2LzEvc2lkL28qVHJhOFpr

  6. Mikeyts on June 9, 2012 at 2:31 pm

    BTW, Doctor Who has encodes at 720p25 and 1080p25 as do most if not all of the British television shows. (To determine the frame rate of a title, play it in the PC web player and, once it starts, click on the picture to give the player input focus and type CTRL-SHIFT-ALT-D, which will bring up a debug overlay. You can read the frame rate on the “Video Frames (rendered/dropped)” line). I don’t think that TiVo will play the 1080p encoding of a p25 title–it will play the 720p encodings only.

  7. Mikeyts on July 1, 2012 at 12:07 am

    I got my first Premiere a a little over a week ago and have been using this player to check it out. I am not very sensitive to judder, so I’ve found that setting my output resolution to 1080i only works just fine for me. I’ve confirmed by bandwidth consumption testing that you do get the 1080p24 and p25 British encodes, output as 1080i30 (actually it will access and play the 1080p24 encoding if you have the bandwidth and local server responsiveness even if you constrain output to 720p60 only; it’s unique among the several devices with Netflix players that I own, all of which will only play up to the 720p24 encodes if the output resolution is set to 720p only).

    In any case it works really well, with the exception of some odd flicker now and then in the UI. I also have a problem with its use of CLEAR as one of its app exit buttons; I have my universal remote PAUSE button set to PAUSE+CLEAR to get rid of TiVo’s PAUSE ads and if I forget and use the PAUSE button I get dumped out of the app. The PAUSE, PLAY and SELECT buttons have almost identical function if used during a playing title (as they do on all of my devices with Netflix players) so I could train myself to stop using PAUSE if I were going to use this app regularly (I won’t–it doesn’t do anything better than my favorite Netflix player, the Roku 2 XS).

    • Gabe Gagliano on July 10, 2012 at 8:12 am

      Mike,

      Congrats on your Premiere and thanks for the mini-review. I know TiVo would like the button layout changed, it’s a question of Netflix implementing. I do use the TiVo Netflix player pretty often as its on HDMI1. My issue is the blacking out of the screen when resolutions change. If they could just start streaming in 1080P/24 it would be perfect. I’d be fine with the extra time for buffering it.

  8. max on August 15, 2012 at 2:45 pm

    Have you noticed that the audio is out of sync with video? I haven’t played one show where that doesn’t happen, so I’ve had to revert to Netflix via my blu ray player

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Connect to the Hub

Support the Hub

Shop at:Shop at Amazon

Archives