Rich Warren: New Comcast platform promises to be major upgrade

The cable box: You can't live with it, and you can't live without it. In this digital age, if you want more than the local channels a cable or satellite box joins your home furnishings. Earlier this month, Comcast debuted a box that not only makes choosing and recording your favorite programs easier, but you might just fall in love with it.

The new X1 platform for Comcast Xfinity looks like a sleeker than usual standard black cable box. Technologically, it defines the second decade of the 21st century in home entertainment. Just type the first few letters of a title, genre or actor and get integrated search results across live TV, XFINITY On Demand, and your digital video recorder.

Its DVR allows viewing recordings on any TV in the house. You even can start watching in one room and finish in another. Record up to four shows while watching another. That will quiet spats between siblings or spouses. Once recorded, you won't have to delete them for a long, long time because the X1 stores hundreds of shows.

The X1 works with a multitude of applications. With the sports app, you can track multiple games at once and check the latest scores and standings, all while watching your favorite show. Facebook, Pandora and more popular websites are ready for prime time on your TV, as well as the latest weather and traffic updates and more.

For the first time, you now can tell Comcast where to go. That is, voice control commands the X1. The new X1 app integrates with an iPhone to manage the X1 allowing you to operate the X1 with simple voice requests.

You can control the TV, navigate Xfinity On Demand choices, search for programs and tune to TV shows and movies directly from your iPhone. In addition to uniting the TV screen with your smartphone or other mobile device, the latest version adds the ability to issue voice commands for guiding navigation and discovering content. For example, you can say "When is the next Cubs (or Cardinals) game?" or "Show me all action movies on HBO."

While Comcast's press release specifically refers to the iPhone, it's safe to assume apps exist, or soon will exist, for Android. Far more Android devices populate pockets and purses than Apple products.

Because Comcast prices its services slightly differently in every market, and because it offers so many bundles and packages, you'll have to contact Comcast for the cost of an X1 as part of your monthly subscription. After surfing Comcast's website, I now know where President Obama found all the fine print for the Affordable Care Act.

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Returning to a recent column in which a frustrated reader failed to hear her new digital TV through her existing analog stereo system, even though she bought all the right converters and cables. She took everything but the TV to Radio Doctors in Champaign.

The technician at Radio Doctors connected the digital to analog converter to an optical digital source and then the standard RCA outputs to an analog amplifier, and it worked. That isolated the problem to her TV.

That narrows the issue to two possibilities. The most likely is a selection in the setup menu that directs the TV audio to the TV's optical digital output. The other cause might be a defective optical digital output jack, or perhaps not fully and properly inserting the optical cable into the jack. I'm rooting for the menu selection because solving that is fast and free.

When you buy a new TV, always read the manual. Most are better written than IKEA furniture assembly instructions, although not much more entertaining. While some of the prose may leave you baffled, you'll find lots of hints and tips on how to properly setup and operate your TV as well as adjusting it for optimum performance.

Rich Warren can be emailed at hifiguy@mchsi.com.

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