A review by JACQUES NECHQUES. Recommended number of wine glasses before reading this piece:
F YOU'RE LIKE me (and who doesn’t want to be), you constantly walk a tight-rope that’s strung between multiple skyscrapers, thousands of feet above the masses on the ground. Said skyscrapers are: the "Cable TV Tower", the "FIOS Tower", and the "Satellite TV Tower". The rope on which you walk is tenuous. It’s scary, because falling off could be really dangerous. Disastrous, even.
(Gosh, my skill with metaphors is amazing: Spreading creamy peanut butter on the bread of your computer screen.)
I often lean heavily on the old bromide, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” That philosophy usually serves me well. Yet, I’m not above doing a bit of research to get all the information I can when I make a big decision, such as whom I hire to provide my TV and Internet service.
Last year, I decided to do a bit of said research and evaluate whether I wanted to stay with the provider I currently used (Comcast/Xfinity) or step onto a different tight-rope and switch to either Frontier FIOS®, or some sort of DISH®/Satellite service. (I usually do this evaluation every year or two.) Besides researching prices and services, I also asked my Facebook friends (of which there are so many. I’m that poplear. Who wouldn’t want to be my friend?) to tell me which service they used for TV and Internet. And whether they liked it or not. I got some pribby good feedback.
I DECIDED TO STICK WITH COMCAST
I could delve in to the various options into which I looked, but that's not the purpose of this article. In the end, I chose to stick with Comcast/Xfinity, and in so choosing, I also decided to upgrade to said company's newly-touted "X1" DVR system, complete with a new, ultra-deluxe (or so I thought) remote.
I was excited to use the new X1 system. Those of you who are privileged to know me personally, know that I’m a sucker for a good gadget. I love anything that can be pressed, button-wise.
The older DVR system that Xfinity/Comcast had previously provided was pretty good. X1 was going to be better. That was the promise. And although I’m going to pick apart (i.e. skewer) this newer system forthwith, please know that I’m not totally dissatisfied with it. I just think it needs improvement. In reality, I’m surprised at how frustrating this new system can be to use. I expected that we are all, you know, in the 21st century and all. I’m not asking for the 22nd century; just the 21st.
That said, please allow me to elucidate the CWS as to my impression of Xfinity’s X1:
It’s not that much better than the old system. If at all better.
I have to say that the only real improvement is that the new DVR has more storage capacity to save recorded shows; it also allows me to record multiple (not just two) shows at once. But aside from those two improvements, the system is barely better than what I had before, and in some very frustrating ways, it’s worse.
THE ONSCREEN INTERFACE
Let’s talk first about the DVR box (the onscreen experience), then I’ll get to the very frustrating remote control.
The X1 onscreen experience is clunky. They have provided new graphics, as far as the way they list show schedules, and as to how station-changing is handled, but for me, its frustrating. The customization options (how the "listing" screen overlays the current program when you pull it up) are worthless. I wanted to see more of the current show in the background when I looked through the listings, and they give the option to change that, but it’s useless. “Light,” “Dark,” or in between, there’s barely a change in the level.
Add to that the fact that you can’t customize the action of changing channels, and it’s even more frustrating. As they have it now, when I change channels, a black (again, non-customizable to my tastes) band covers the bottom 25% of the screen for about five seconds after I change the channel. This black band overrides the main content and shows the name of the new channel to which I’ve just changed (as if I didn’t know), the name of the show that’s on the screen (ditto), and other information.
But it’s in the way! If it’s a news show what I’ve changed to, the black band at the bottom completely covers the footer information about the story and reporters. If there are subtitles, you won’t see them either, until the black fades away. Why can’t we customize this? Personally, I don’t need to have part of my screen blackened with meaningless information. Maybe some people like that, but I would love to have the option to eliminate this. How is it, in this day and age, we aren’t given the option of customizing the interface experience to our own personal tastes?
“But Jacques,” you say, “why not simply hit that circle-arrow on your remote and have it rewind a few seconds so you can then see what that black covered up?”
Because when you circle-arrow back in time, that same damn black thing shows up again! Yes, it is possible to delete that black thing if you are quick and press the correct button, but the process of doing that can have unwanted results (see below for my review of the remote). I want to be able to dis-enable the black thing altogether.
THE POORLY-DESIDGNED REMOTE
Okay, now let’s talk about the remote control that comes with the X1 system: It’s a step backward. How this remote ever got past the “design” phase, I can’t comprehend. To use an aphorism that’s poplear with today’s youth: it sucks.
To wit: When I’m watching TV, I always have my trusty remote on the chair’s arm. This is de rigueur for adult males (and many females) these days. And when I access said remote (i.e., pick it up), I want to—no, I need to—use it without having to look at it. A remote needs to have a tactile interface. I don’t think it’s asking too much (in this day-and-age) to require that the purpose of the buttons on my remote be obvious, just by touch. The X1 fails miserably here.
Miserably, I tell you.
This isn’t rocket science, people. It should be obvious to my fingertip whether I’m pressing the REWIND button or the EXIT button. If my fingertip is wrong as to what it’s pressing, the consequences can be dire. And during my tenure operating said remote, said results have indeed been dire.
Most notably, there are two rows of buttons on the X1 remote that have identical tactical tells. Identical, I tell you. And these rows are right next to each other. So, if one’s attention falters during a show, and one forgets which row upon which one’s fingertip rests (and after all, the purpose of TV entertainment is to loose oneself in the actual show, and not have to pay attention to where one’s fingertip rests, no?), said fingertip may indeed press the wrong button. The above reference to REWIND vs. EXIT is a prime example.
This can be especially frustrating when watching a previously-recorded DVR’d show. The REWIND function is self-explanatory; it’s often accessed while watching a recorded show (or a live one, for that matter). The EXIT function completely removes one from the recorded show and sends them to whichever show happens to be on at the time. Argh! And there’s more: If I’m watching a live show, and perhaps I’d circled back in time to re-see something interesting… in order to return to the LIVE broadcast, all I have to do is press the EXIT button on the handheld. Yet let’s say I’m watching a DVR’d recording of a show. Well in that case, if I press the EXIT button, absentmindedly thinking that it’ll bring be back to where I was before (as it would during a live program), no. It totally removes me from the DVR’d show and places me outside the recording, smack-dab in the middle of whatever random show is airing on the current station! Argh!
There’s more, too. But the technical aspects of the resulting frustration can be too laborious for a highbrow article such as this. Suffice it to say, there have been numerous instances when I inadvertently—through no innocent fault of my own—pressed the wrong button on the remote, innocently thinking that I was operating said remote in a responsible manner. Yet the results have occasionally been so disastrous that I’ve been tempted to throw said remote through the winda. It’s that bad. Much worse than the previous remote.
Why can’t we design a remote that is easy to operate, where the tactile indications of the buttons are obvious? Well, guess what. We can. All it takes is a teensy, weensy, tiny bit of attention to detail. Detail what is quite possibly the most important aspect of designing any device what people might use.
Oh, and Xfinity/Comcast touts that this is the first remote to which one can talk. Not true. I believe Apple was first. In fact, I rarely use the X1’s voice/talk function. Yet, I frequently use the voice/talk function on my Apple TV remote. Siri is friendly, and helpful (and possibly luscious). I often use the “What did he say?” voice command with her, and Siri rewinds the show a few seconds and adds subtitles for a bit, so I can hear and see what I missed.
Doesn’t do that.
So, I give the Xfinity/Comcast (can we decide on a name here, please?) system TWO out of five pips. The remote that comes with the system: ONE out of five. It’s horrible and frustrating.
If said company (with two names) wants to hire me as a consultant regarding a new remote (and DVR) design, I’m available. I gotta few ideas….