Does the Xfinity X1’s entertainment operating system transform TV?
Xfinity by Comcast claims the X1’s next generation platform will “change the way you experience TV”? At Cable TV, we wanted to dig into the details of Comcast’s cloud DVR to determine if that was truth or hype. Our verdict?
The X1 does offer a fantastic integrated viewing experience focused on Netflix, sports, and on demand HD. The platform specifically shines on the go, where the mobile app serves up one of the best user-friendly interfaces on the market. But the X1 lacks luster in some very basic equipment specs, including mediocre storage and less tuners than many other top DVRs in the industry.
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|DVR||Provider||Simu. Recordings||Storage||HD Storage (Hours)||Cost Per Month|
|X1||Comcast||6||500 GB||100 hrs.||$9.95 per month|
|Hopper 3||DISH||16||2 TB||500 hrs.||$15.00 per month|
|The Genie (HR-44)||DIRECTV||5||1 TB||200 hrs.||Included in service|
|TiVo T6||RCN||6||1 TB||150 hrs.||$9.95 per month|
|HD Storage (Hours)||100 hrs.|
|Cost Per Month||$9.95 per month|
|HD Storage (Hours)||500 hrs.|
|Cost Per Month||$15.00 per month|
|DVR||The Genie (HR-44)|
|HD Storage (Hours)||200 hrs.|
|Cost Per Month||Included in service|
|HD Storage (Hours)||150 hrs.|
|Cost Per Month||$9.95 per month|
What is an X1?
How is it different? X1 features a new:
- User interface
- AnyRoom® DVR system
The AnyRoom® DVR system employs one main DVR box and satellite boxes that connect to it remotely, allowing you to watch recorded programs on TVs throughout your house. With the X1 system you can access all your TV content from your desktop computer, laptop, tablet, or smartphone. X1 also has several additional apps and features that I will discuss later in this review.
When taken together, all of the apps, features, information, and navigation functions on the X1 make me feel like Xfinity is attempting to keep people’s eyes on their TVs and off of their computer monitors. If you’re looking at your smartphone, Comcast seems to hope you’re either controlling your X1 system or watching your TV programming remotely. That’s an ambitious goal, but although the added convenience and sleek navigation are nice, don’t expect X1 to replace your computer anytime soon.
Although the X1 won’t fully replace your computer, it’s still a nice upgrade over the previous system. You’ll see the pluses and minuses as we look more closely at each feature individually.
- Voice remote
- Integrated Netflix
- Record and watch up to 6 shows at once
- 500 GB of storage
- Integrated, customized sports coverage
- Stream live, recorded, and on demand content to your mobile device.
- Dimensions: 18.5 (width) x 13.5 (depth) x 2.5 (height)
- RCA Vdeo
- Digital Audio
- Component video
- Composite video
- 2 USB ports (front & back)
- 2 coaxial ports
- 2 HDMI
- Ethernet port
- eSATA port
Unlike satellite providers, you can’t purchase an X1 outright so you’ll need to opt for TV service if you want this nifty piece of modern DVR equipment. Because of the constant updates and the cloud storage however, I do not recommend you get X1 TV service without Internet service. Finding a rep to sell you a TV-only package is difficult in the first place, but even if you do, don’t buy it. You may save a buck or two, but you’ll end up with a system that won’t work correctly and eventually won’t work at all. You want to get a Double-Play at minimum.
Thinking about getting a X1 but not convinced it’s as great as the hype suggests? We’ll breakdown each part of this system, with details about the equipment hardware and compare it to competing products like the Hopper. Our goal is to give you a sense of what’s superior and what’s pretty standard about the X1 so you can make an informed decision.
Both the main Xfinity X1 Box and the satellite boxes are black, shiny, and measure about 18.5” x 13.5” x 2.5”. Both boxes have three indicator lights and a power button in the front; and they have HDMI, digital audio, component video, composite video, and RF out ports on the back. The main X1 DVR boxes have a clock display on the front, but the satellite boxes do not. The original X1 DVRs had a USB port on the front, but the newer designs have eliminated that port. The X1 boxes will fit in nicely with most home entertainment set-ups.
Unfortunately, the X1 box power supply requires a power conditioner, so you will have to find a place to set the black plastic brick in the center of the power cord. I guess most of us with laptops are getting used to those by now, but they’re still inconvenient.
The boxes work best when they maintain a constant Internet connection. Comcast regularly sends software updates to the X1 boxes via that Internet connection. These upgrades need to download and sometimes need a system restart to install. This system for updating software caused many of the initial complaints about the service, but you can minimize the inconvenience by accommodating the updates.
Leave your system on all the time with the exception of the automatically scheduled restart that happens each night. (If you‘re watching anything when the pre-scheduled restart is about to happen, you’ll be prompted to postpone the restart until the next night.) By leaving the system on, you ensure your system downloads the updates it receives and the once-a-day restart guarantees the updates get installed in a timely manner.
If the system is off when updates come through, they will get backlogged. If that happens, when you eventually turn on your system, it will run slowly because part of its bandwidth will be used up downloading the updates it missed while it was off. Then it will need to restart in order to install them all. You don’t want to wait for all that when you get home from a hard day and just want to watch last night’s Adult Swim cartoons. So leave your system on and don’t postpone your restarts for more than one or two nights.
- Comcast replaced the “jump ahead by 30 seconds button” with an “advance five minutes” button. According to the Internet, you can hack your remote and reprogram the button back to 30 seconds, but that’s more work than I want to do.
- You also can’t advance the menu by full days which can make things difficult when trying to set programs to record.
- New buttons on the remote will take you to specific sections of the navigation menu. These can be extremely useful, but they take a few days to memorize.
Another special feature of the X1 system is the ability to turn your smartphone into a remote control. If you download the app you can navigate your X1 menu on your phone and use it to control your TV system. Comcast has big plans for its voice remote, including integrating Alexa and controlling other home devices. More to come on that this year. In the meantime, see the snazzy new voice remote in action here:
Like the remote itself, the smartphone app also has a feature that will recognize voice commands. Speaking commands to the TV isn’t my style, but it was fun for a little while. If you hate having to use a manual input, you might love this feature. For those of you without a smartphone, XFINITY has now built voice command functionality right into your remote so you won’t be missing out.
While some of the functionality was lost in the upgrade, overall, the new remote and other control functions of the X1 system is a definite improvement.
X1 User Interface
We’ve highlighted the hardware, so let’s move onto the software. What is the user interface for the X1 like and what can you expect from your experience.
The biggest changes from the previous Xfinity system to the X1 platform are the on-screen guides and menus that make up the user interface. It was obviously influenced by online streaming services, but Xfinity expanded on those ideas to create an all-encompassing user experience.
The design is sleek, but can be a little slow at times. You’ll notice more lag if you don’t keep the system updated regularly. Some people don’t like the size of the font, but it wasn’t much of an issue for me. The system displays network logos for each channel, which makes finding them with a quick visual scan simple. Maybe the best thing about the new guide is that the current program you’re watching keeps playing in a small window, no matter where you go in the menu.
The menus are deep and interconnected. Gone are the days of scrolling through screen after screen of titles you don’t care about while the same, lame On-Demand promo plays on loop. Now you can just enter the title you’re looking for and the X1 system will find all the possible options for that particular program. Whether it’s playing on live TV, On Demand, or stored in your DVR recordings, you will find all occurrences of your desired program with one search. You can narrow your search further by selecting specific categories.
Once you’ve got your list of results you can choose your program. This is where I noticed Comcast trying to keep me locked onto the TV screen. When you select your program, X1 brings up an info screen similar to what you would find on IMDB.com. It lists a lot of information about the movie or TV show, including the cast. You can then navigate this info screen and select items from it.
So, if you search for Ghostbusters, you can then select Bill Murray, and again, much like IMDB, X1 will show you a list of movies and TV shows with Bill Murray in them. You can then select those programs and watch them or keep exploring from their information screens. Exploring these connections alone could provide hours of entertainment.
When you finish watching a TV show On Demand, the X1 system will ask if you want to watch the next episode and you can start it immediately. With the old system you had to go through all the menus to find the show again and then find the correct episode. The convenience added by this small change is a huge improvement.
Another great feature of the user interface is the “Last” function. It doesn’t just take you to the last live program you were watching—it brings up a list of the last nine programs you were watching, regardless of if they were live, On Demand, or DVR recordings. You can then choose any of them.
One of the best updates available in the newer X1 systems is the integration of Netflix, the streaming provider that holds the key to our 4k HD entertainment wishes. You can get a peek at what that looks like below:
The innovations on the Xfinity X1 platform from Comcast make it way better than the old system. You can easily jump from one entertainment delivery system to another. Plus, the depth of information and the interconnected navigation not only take you where you want to go, they take you places you didn’t even know you wanted to go.
The Xfinity X1 DVR lets you record up to four shows at once while watching a fifth. The AnyRoom® DVR system works by employing one master DVR and satellite boxes that connect to the master box from the other TVs in your house. This allows you to control your DVR from any room with a TV connected to an X1 box.
With the AnyRoom® DVR system you can start and stop recordings, access recorded and On Demand programs, and even start a show in one room and finish it in another. Unfortunately, you cannot pause and/or rewind live TV from the satellite boxes—only from the main DVR box.
Unlike traditional DVRs, the X1 Cloud DVR stores all your recorded programs on cloud technology, not on a hard disk inside the machine. This gives you 500 GB of storage as opposed to the 80 GB you got on the old system. The trade-off for all that space is that when you watch recorded programs, you’re technically streaming them, so you’ll need an Internet connection. And in comparison to other leading DVRs like the Hopper and the Genie, 500GB is pretty mediocre.
Depending on how you like to search, you may not like the new interface, but it’s better than the previous version if you take the time to get used to it. It focuses on searching more than browsing, so instead of scrolling through three different menus, scanning everything that’s available, you just use the search function.
The numbers on the remote have corresponding letters on them like a touchtone phone. You can use these to spell out the name of the show or actor you want to watch. The predictive function on the search box works very well. You usually only have to put in the first three to five letters of a show for X1 to find it and show it to you in the predictive list so you can select it. After you adjust to it, you will love this feature.
Because the menus and interface are so much different from Xfinity’s old design, navigating the DVR will take some time to learn. Many of the early complaints about the functionality came more out of frustration over having to learn a new system than from any actual problem.
Watching TV with the X1
This is what you really want to know, right? How is the viewing experience? Because when you’re looking for a TV provider, that’s an essential part of the equation.
Fortunately, this is where the X1 really shines. Since the user interface allows you a high degree of customization, the viewing experience is fairly seamless. Bounce from Netflix, to your favorite game, to the latest episode of Game of Thrones and never miss a beat. The X1 entertainment platform is especially agile on mobile devices.
The X1 system basically has five apps, but it could easily add more. The apps let you access information on your TV that you would normally access from your phone or computer (yet another way Comcast is trying to keep your eyes on the TV). There are rumors swirling that Comcast will actually release an app later this year that will allow Xfinity customers to get rid of their cable boxes. For a fee, of course.
X1 has apps for traffic, weather, sports, Facebook, and Pandora. The ability to turn your smartphone into a remote control is technically an app, but it functions differently than the on-screen apps.
The traffic and weather apps are pretty generic and while checking the weather before you go out might be nice, I don’t see the point of the traffic app when you can get real-time navigation on your phone while you’re driving.
The sports app is cool because you can keep up on several games at once, or get play-by-play details about a specific game, all while watching something else. It gives you a split screen with the game information appearing on one side, while the program you’re watching plays on the other. This is perfect for when your spouse wants to watch the Oscars, but you still want to find out what’s happening in the game.
The Facebook app basically just accesses your Facebook account on your TV. I’m sure Comcast’s market research told them this was a good idea, but I don’t get the point. Sure, I use Facebook, but I don’t want to force everyone else in the room to look at my feed. I guess if you’re by yourself you might use it, but accessing Facebook on your phone while you watch an actual program on your TV seems just as easy.
The Pandora app makes a little more sense, but at the same time, it renders all the music channels in the Xfinity TV packages pointless.
Aside from the sports app, the inclusion of the X1 apps seems more like pandering than providing useful features. Comcast should have just incorporated a web browser into the system and let people access the sites they want to use.
X1: The Verdict
The X1 is an agile piece of DVR equipment and while the seamless integration is exciting, the lack of storage is a real issue. We’re hopeful that Xfinity will release a rumored X3 platform that incorporates cutting edge 4K Ultra HD technology, but until then, the X1 will do. It’ll definitely do just fine.
For more reviews of other DVRs and TV equipment, visit Cable TV’s equipment review section.
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