I called to check on what package deals were available and learned about the Xfinity Steam app for Roku. As we already have Roku boxes, so I was excited to try it out. It was nice to be able to watch live TV and recorded shows, but there are some big usability issues to sort out before it can be a solid replacement for the regular boxes.
First, the interface for finding shows/channels is slow and combersome. Scrolling through the full list of channels is an annoying way to find what you want. The standard grid view doesn't seem to be a good fit for the platform. The categories are a bit of a help (when they work, nothing is loading currently), but there aren't enough to cover everything, and losing the sidebar view of active sports games is disapointing. Entering channels by name/number is buried and awkward to input. Supporting a list of favorite channels would help here, as would a proper search or supporting text/number entry from the Roku remote app. It sort of works, but the text didn't show up until I entered another button on screen. Likewise, the "Browse" section needs better search capabilities as well.
Next, skipping forward/backward in a recoded program is pretty terrible. There is no thumbnail showing what is going on, so you have to blindly guess. Look at how Netflix or HBO handles scrubbing, it works wonderfully.
Related, there appears to be no way to pause or scrub while watching live TV. That is a step backwards from the standard set top box.
A minor annoyance, channels that aren't available in HD only show up as 4/3 with black bars on the side. On the normal box, you can choose how to zoom/stretch to fill the screen. This is annoying on old shows that faked wide screen with bars on the top and bottom. The result is a shrunken picture and no way to change it.
On top of all that, while looking for the place to leave this feedback I learned that the app will cost nearly the same as having the regular boxes once the app leaves beta status. And it won't work outside of my house on a trip or anything. Seems like either the charge is for the service, so it shouldn't matter where I use it, or the charge is for the hardware, so if I use my own I shouldn't pay it.
The app is a great idea, and shows promise, but has quite a ways to go in terms of functionality to be really competetive, and hopefully they reconsider charging customers to use our own hardware. They want people watching and push things like streaming on your phone, why put a barrier in front between eyeballs and the content here?
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