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Oh My Tech!: Answers to Comcast's X1

Published August 23, 2013 9:52 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Earlier this month, Comcast, the state's largest cable television service provider, switched to a new platform and cable box for its subscribers called X1. It's got more features and it's a cloud-based service that brings a simpler and more robust interface to TV watchers.

Not everyone can get it right now, only new subscribers to Comcast's "Triple Play" plan (the bundle of Internet, cable TV and phone service), but more customers will be allowed to make the change soon. While making the change doesn't result in higher monthly cable fees, there is a $50 to $100 installation fee should you decide to get it (and it is not required).

I wrote about it a couple of weeks ago as it launched in Utah — we're one of the earliest states to get it — and I've since gotten questions from new subscribers and others asking about the service. I'd like to answer a few of those and explain further what customers should expect when they get Comcast's X1.

Do you know if the new X1 box has a 1080p output signal? I have a 1080p LED HDTV connected to DirecTV, and the DirecTV receiver's maximum resolution is 1080i. I have to set the output to 720p to get a decent picture, but that causes blacks to appear blotchy and pixelated. I'd love a new box with 1080p output. — Scott Christian Bauer.

Yes, the new X1 box has the ability to change the resolutions to fit your television's needs. Unfortunately, right now there is a bug related to that. More on that in a second.

Scott's referring to televisions displaying different screen resolutions. All new HDTVs today output a high-definition resolution of 1080p or 1,080 horizontal progressive lines. When you make the change to X1, you get a new cable box, and you can set the output resolution on your box to match your television.

I have a 1080p big-screen TV downstairs, and it looks really good with X1. I have a HDTV upstairs with a maximum resolution of 720p, and it looks good, too.

Which brings me to the second question:

Under settings, the output resolution doesn't show up. When I try to change resolution it immediately defaults back to 480! This just started the other day. I've had the box for two weeks now. I tried restarting it but it doesn't change! Don't know how to reboot it — perhaps unplugging all the wires including ethernet cable — but I hesitate doing it. Any help would be appreciated. — Vincent Marvasi.

The bug I mentioned before is that when you set the box to any of the higher resolutions, the menu always goes back to 480i (for 480 lines of interlaced) resolution. It may say 480 but it's still outputting at the maximum resolution of 1080, so it's a software bug in the menu system. That hopefully will get addressed in a future update.

So if you initially set the box to the right resolution, it will continue to display at that resolution even though it says otherwise in the menu. The same bug also occurs in some other menu settings, where you change it but it defaults back to the original setting.

Also, you can restart the X1 box by going to the settings menu (the little cog wheel in the menu bar), then scroll down to the "About" section and click on the "Restart" button. But that won't help in this case. I've tried.

The question I have relates to the apps. On the master equipment, I can access Pandora and Facebook. It does not show on any of the other equipment for my additional TVs. Is this the way it is supposed to be? — Doug White.

Doug is referring to a new part of the X1 cable box that now runs applications similar to what you might see on a Roku box or video game console.

The X1 includes apps for Facebook, Pandora, traffic and weather information, voicemail and a nifty sports app that lets you see the day's scores. They work fine, but they're awfully slow to load. And they won't work on every X1 box you might get installed.

That's because there are two different kinds of X1 boxes: a main box called a "hub" that has a built-in DVR and is the central box in a home, and a smaller satellite box that doesn't have a DVR. If you get one "hub" and one satellite box, the "hub" can be the DVR for all the boxes in the house, which is a nice new feature to the X1 platform. So when you change over to X1, you have to get one "hub" and the rest of the boxes can be satellite boxes. The upside to getting satellite boxes for the rest of the TVs is you don't have to pay separate monthly DVR fees for each of those boxes, just for the "hub."

A downside is that those satellite boxes won't run apps. But that's the only feature missing from the smaller boxes compared to the "hubs."

I've encountered a number of bugs with Comcast's new system, but patches have been coming pretty regularly. Hopefully, they'll all be squashed by the time most cable subscribers in Utah make the switch.

If you have a tech question for Vince, email him at ohmytech@sltrib.com, and he'll try to answer it for his column in The Salt Lake Tribune or on its website. For an archive of past columns, go to http://www.sltrib.com/topics/ohmytech.