Monday, February 2, 2009

New TV Cable Box Gives Me Wood


Bend Broadband's Moxi MC3 HD DVR does it for me. Yep, I can honestly say that after nearly 40 years of Life With Cable TV, beginning in the early 70's in Goleta, California (where the cable company apparently got its signal by using a pair of rabbit ears in someone's garage, and seldom bothered to see if the channels were actually delivering picture and sound), I have finally found a cable box with a user interface that doesn't appear to have been programmed by the same folks that designed the Atari 400's graphics, a box that doesn't drive me crazy like the poxy Motorola DSH3416 HD DVR + clunky iGuide software (read my highly opinionated rant, here).

The MC3's graphic user interface is pretty and operates smoothly. It uses a different approach than the familiar program grid + menuing system commonly used on other boxes. After about a minute of messing around with the remote I sorted out their way* of doing things -- and I like it. It's easy to navigate to where one needs to go to watch live TV, to set up recordings, to play back recordings, and it's easy to find other settings to play with which are so frequently buried in sub-menus on lesser boxes.

The hardware has none of the frustrating remote control lag that plagues the Motorola+iGuide line of DVRs. Nowhere to be found on the Moxi interface will you find advertisements for Bose Lifestyle systems or Preparation H. Suck on that, iGuide.**

I can leave this box on my favorite music-only channel all day long, and it continues to play that channel even after it starts recording the five o' clock airing of KOHD news (more about them later -- it's like watching a high school production, those kids are so darn adorable). Unlike the Moto+iGuide box, the MC3 understands that record means record, not show. It's only when both of the tuners are needed will the MC3 switch away from my default music channel. 

Me likee.

The picture quality is perhaps a smidge better than the Motorola DSH3416, but without a side-by-side comparison I can't say for sure. It just seems that way. The MC3 box's motorized bits are no noisier than those in the Moto, i.e., pretty quiet. The remote handle is smaller, better-balanced, and the most-used controls are fairly close together; while in comparison, the most-used buttons on the larger "Polaris" remote that BBB provided with the Moto box were, in my opinion, not grouped quite so well, so it was like playing a double bass in comparison to the Moxi's cello --  you need to reach your fingers farther to hit the notes. 

There have been a few glitches with the MC3, which is to be expected for a new product, and I've forwarded them to Digeo (who wrote the Moxi UI and worked with a hardware vendor to create a box to support it). Compared with cable box behemoths Scientific Atlanta and Motorola, Digeo is a small company so it is to be hoped that they can be more responsive in the bug-squashing department than those giants.***

Before we got the Moxi MC3, I figured that even though I had, amazingly, lived to see a black man elected President of these old racist United States, I would forever be tortured by crappy cable boxes. I'm pleased to say that the zeitgeist and events have proven me wrong. And cable companies have come a long way since the bad old days in Goleta. Time Warner in Carlsbad wasn't so bad, but in my experience, BBB is the best so far. Their service has been excellent, video and audio quality just fine, HD selection excellent, and pricing pretty much in line with all the others. 

Now that the MC3 is in our system, the satellite providers (DISH and DirecTV) will have to do some fancy talking (read: serious price reductions) before I could be talked into leaving BBB . . . and that's even if the satellites start carrying local network affiliates (read here and here). I've tried DISH's box, and have heard nothing to suggest that DirecTV's is any better. 

A final note. Believe it or not, I'm not that much into TV. There are a few shows that I like, but it's not that big a deal to me and I could forego TV easily. I've lived for years at a stretch without TV. However, Mrs Elliott loves her some TV, and since happy wife = happy wife then TV is here to stay. Given that I have to use it, I expect it to not be stupid. I've designed successful consumer electronics since 1980 and I know stupid when I see it.  The Moto+iGuide (and every other box I've had before it) is. The MC3 ain't.

Recommended. Link to BBB's Moxi page here. (Note that the page does not mention that the box has an HDMI output.)

Thanks, Bend Broadband, for giving me a superior option. 

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* Moxi uses a colorful horizontal row of category "cards." Many provide access to pre-sorted lists of channels, such as "Channels" (all channels BBB provides), "HDTV" (all HDTV channels), "Movies," "Kids," "Music," und so weiter. Three great features recommend themselves: first, you can "turn off" any channel you aren't not subscribed to or are not interested in ever ever watching (I'm looking at you, QVC) so it never rears its ugly head again; second, a card called "Favorites" gradually fills up with the channels you normally watch; and third, programs that you've recorded appear on the channel listings, so you don't need to use a separate menu to find and play them. Other cards give access to settings, your list of recorded shows, and a host of other functions. When a channel card is brought into focus, it brings up a vertical column of channels to select, while cards that don't access channels bring up "action menus." Cable-box functions, like setting video resolution (which on the Moto box could only be accessed through menus which look like the BIOS setup screen on your PC) have the same clean look as all the other functions. The display responds promptly, for a cable box, to keypresses and selections. All in all, the interface is nicely thought out. 

** iGuide is the software that runs on the Moto box. It's what you see when you press "guide" on the Moto box remote. Note the advertisement taking up space at the bottom. Note how when you scroll downward to see other programs the remote highlights the ad -- just as if you were actually interested in seeing more information about the product. Are you? probably not. But you have to get past that thing every time you scroll down the list. An extra keystroke. You can use the page up and page down buttons to speed the process, but it's still aggrievating, like paying AOL for internet service and still having to see ads. 

*** One of the glitches might very well be an HDMI handshaking problem between the MC3 and our Philips HD TV (LCD, not plasma, thus lower power consumption thankyouverymuch) that occurs when the box switches resolution. It's probably nothing that the MC3 is doing wrong. The Moto box sticks to one resolution (you set it on a BIOS-y looking screen) while the MC3 is allowed to change. The installer told it that 480p, 720p, and 1080i were all okay so I bet it's switching to match the program resolution. Anyway, the Moto box didn't glitch like this. I'll be tinkering with the settings to sort this out.

4 comments:

  1. So you are, as an old friend of mine would put it, 'falling short of your required assemblage'...
    You haven't posted to yer blog in over two weeks and you haven't posted to the Vgon list in ages. What up wit dat?
    And why, by the beard of Poseidon, can one subscribe to the blog comments but not to the blog itself?
    Geez man, I'm wondering if your new cozy life up there is taking all the piss out of ye...

    Cya,
    Robert

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hey Robert,

    Nothing to add to the Vgon mailing list right now, got other pots a-boilin'

    I have no idea why you can't subscribe to the blog feed. I'm subscribed through Google Reader and it works for me.

    And, yeah -- I haven't posted lately. There's a new love in my life and it's taking my attention and I haven't yet been moved to post about it.

    ReplyDelete
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  4. Hi there! I understand you like the new cable box but I subscribe to DISH Network as my TV provider and I have their Sling box and it allows me to have TV everywhere! Not to mention the DVR has the largest hard drive in the industry. As a DISH employee I can even tell you that DISH has over 200 national HD channels which is more than any other TV provider! You should check out DishNetwork.com for more info.

    ReplyDelete

 
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