Comcast is primed to take over an even larger share of the US cable market thanks to an upcoming buyout of Time Warner Cable (TWC). While the deal still needs to be approved by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), there’s a good chance Comcast will end up with just under 30 percent of the American cable market, or approximately 30 million subscribers. To compete with up-and-coming offerings like those from AT&T, Verizon, and Cox, the company has rolled out Comcast X1, a next-gen cable box that promises everything from voice control to a real-time television search engine and the ability to record four shows while also watching a fifth. But how does X1 really stack up?


The New Play

The company is pushing the X1 line hard for new customers and those who want to make best use of the “smart” features on Internet-enabled TVs. X1 is a cable box powered by the cloud — released last year, the system is already getting an upgrade and existing users are being ported over to the new platform. The goal of Comcast’s X1 is to be the go-to option for television viewers by providing a combination of Internet content, cable TV, on-screen applications, a five-tuner DVR, and access to on-demand programming with a very Netflix vibe attached. Most reviews highlight the usability of the service along with its clean interface.

Packages start at $90 and include up to 25 Mbps download speeds, 80 television channels, and nationwide voice calling. Access to 500,000 WiFi hotspots is also included. On the high end, you can grab the HD Complete package for just under $200, which features over 200 channels, 50 Mbps downloads, and unlimited nationwide talk and text, along with Comcast’s AnyRoom DVR.

Can You Hear Me Now?

One of the most notable advancements in the Comcast X1 system is the introduction of voice control via smartphone apps. The Xfinity TV X1 Remote app is available for both Android and iOS devices at no charge and lets users control their TV with the tap of a finger. If you prefer to talk, a simple press of the microphone button lets you ask the X1 to record programs, play shows, or suggest content based on past viewing history. Reviews of the app are generally positive, though in some cases the voice control takes more time to return results than using a traditional remote. Still, the app is in its first iteration; combined with automatic digital downloads of the X1’s operating system, expect to see this issue corrected sooner rather than later.

It’s also important to note that this remote app won’t work with older hardware, so users must upgrade to the new X1 network and cable box if they want voice control. Expect to pay between $50 and $100 to upgrade and get access to X1’s cloud-enabled network. Comcast says the upgrade fee goes toward the development of new features, and they’re making good on the promise — in February 2014, the company started rolling out a cloud-based DVR service that offers up to 500 gigabytes of storage per account.

Comcast sees its new cable box as the hub of a next-gen “Entertainment Operating System.” With cloud-based features, slick design, and a solid voice-controlled remote app, the X1 delivers.

Photo credit: Flickr/Steve Garfield