Cable Box Causes Bigger Headache Than Daytime TV

DN Staff

March 5, 2015

4 Min Read
Cable Box Causes Bigger Headache Than Daytime TV

I was recently persuaded by my local cable monopoly Rogers (up here in Canada) to upgrade my analog TV service to a digital one for an offer I couldn't refuse. Included were the main decoder (a Cisco NextBox 9865HD including a PVR) and a satellite decoder (the Cisco NextBox Explorer4842HD). Features abound, like picture in picture, two simultaneous recordings, onscreen guides etc., but when I look at how these are implemented, I see that simians are not an endangered species.

The hard disk drive (HDD) runs continuously, producing an annoying whirring sound. And that is to saying nothing about how much power is wasted.

The remote control is intended to be a universal control. It doesn't have the complete set of controls for the TV and in some conditions it invokes setup modes that can't be exited by the universal unit. Also, to turn the system on and off it first sends the code to the cable box and then 1.7 seconds later it sends the code to the TV. Quite often you have already tossed the remote down before the TV has been turned off. So now the TV and cable box are out of sync. Pushing the power button turns one off and the other on. There is a fairly simple technique to rectify the problem, but it does not appear intuitive to everyone.

In a similar vein, there is the button for the pay-per-view channel. There is no single code associated with this but a three-digit channel number that is internally encoded. Blurting these three digits out from the control takes over 1.7 seconds. I can do it faster manually!

MORE FROM DESIGN NEWS: A $20K Unserviceable TV Graphics Machine

If you simply choose to flip up or down and you get to a channel like the pay-per-view or the movie channel (which includes HBO up here) the flipping freezes until the data that is associated with the channel is uploaded. I don't know whether it is slow access or lots of data, but it can freeze for several minutes. The only way out is to manually key another channel, and if you are trying to be systematic about it, you need to know the channel you are on, which you can't see.

As is apparently tradition in the TV industry hitting the ^ or + on the remote control increases the channel number. This is the same on this remote. But when you press the "Guide" button the channels (and frustratingly there are only five channels listed on a screen at a time) are listed numerically, ascending order from top to bottom. Now you have to use the ^ or the + key to decrease your channel selection.

Let's assume you are watching a movie, but it's late and you want to go to bed. Just push the record button, right? Well, the timer that is set goes by the published schedule and if PBS is raising funds again or for some other reason -- you may not see the end of the movie. It gets worse. When you hit the record button, the PVR commits to disk when you actually switched to the channel that you are watching or when the actual program started, whichever is later -- that's fine, but it DOESN"T note when you pushed the button, so when you come to pick up where you left off, you have to fast forward from the start point until you no longer recognize what is going on. And the cherry on the top -- there is no way to bump the access on five, 15, or even 30 minutes. All you can regulate is the speed of the fast-forward. I had an analog PVR that was much more advanced.

MORE FROM DESIGN NEWS: Wiring Causes Constant Problems

Now there is a way to extend the recording period using the Guide system. It will also allow you to set up to record on new episodes of a series, but somehow is capable of recording the same show twice. I acknowledge that this is finger problems on my part, but I have no idea how I cause it and especially how to undo it.

The satellite box has needed rebooting two or three times. The problem is that it takes at least nine minutes to reboot. During the reboot you cannot access anything -- just imagine what that does to the time wasted on customer help lines.

Based on some instruction it will upgrade its firmware. This box is in our bedroom and so in the middle of the night the light levels change, causing a sleep disturbance and then it does not turn off, leaving the unit out of phase as described earlier.


Tell us your experiences with monkey-designed products. Send stories to Jennifer Campbell for Made by Monkeys.

Sign up for the Design News Daily newsletter.

You May Also Like