X1 boasts a faster, glossier menu and search engine. And unlike ye old cable, X1 is upgradable and future-minded. Comcast has already made more than 1,200 tweaks to the system. This week's are the most radical and forward thinking:
_ While you shouldn't notice a difference, X1 users will no longer store shows on their cable box's built-in hard drive. Instead, hitting the "record" button will trigger a "cloud" Comcast server to nab, store and then deliver the selected show to your TV.
_ X1 is also changing the way conventional cable channels reach your screen. Channels will be beamed one at a time over Comcast's "managed IP [Internet protocol] network." That's radically different from old-school cable or satellite TV, which push several hundred channels simultaneously to a set-top box.
This increases channel capacity to, well, infinity while freeing up cable space for other uses, like faster Internet.
_ X1 improves your ability to watch Comcast-subscribed channels on a tablet or smartphone.
All channels (not just some) will be available to your small screen device when it's connecting (via Wi-Fi) through the same Xfinity home network that your cable box uses.
Content recorded to your Cloud DVR library can be downloaded to a tablet or smartphone, then enjoyed wherever you and your device go.
THE MORE THE MERRIER: While older cable boxes only have 80 GB of video recording storage, X1 customers can stockpile up to 500 gigabytes of content (good for 75 hours of high definition TV recording) in the Cloud.
The stiff monthly charge ($17) for DVR activation stays the same in the new tech order. Ditto the ability of X1 customers to program up to four simultaneous recordings while watching another show live. That may increase to six soon. (Hey, Dish's Hopper multiroom system captures up to eight). Comcast might also offer customers more Cloud storage, for a price.
CUTTING COSTS: At present, X1 is only available to Comcast subscribers with "Triple Play" service - TV, Internet and phone for $90-$200 "for the first 12 months with two year contract."
Moving recording functionality to the Cloud should allow Comcast to offer a full-featured box without DVR and (quite likely) to offer X1 service to customers who opt for a less pricey "Double Play" TV and Internet package, currently starting at $80 a month.
Comcast CEO Brian Roberts has stated his intention to spread X1 to all customers. At a cable convention last year, he flashed a much smaller, cheaper and energy-efficient receiver (code named Xi3) that would make this possible.
Comcast execs like to say these changes represent a "win-win" for the company and the consumers. But there are a couple downsides to consider, too.
THE BUMMERS: With the upgrade, the hard disc drive built into a current X1 box is no longer usable for recordings. So if the cable service goes down, so does the Cloud DVR.
Then there's the notorious history of Web-streamed TV shows freezing up when too many people are tuning in at the same time. Comcast hasn't proven it can handle the load.
Finally, don't be surprised if a Cloud-stashed "60 Minutes" takes 65 to play back. With this new storage/playback system, Comcast can change and increase the number of commercials "on the fly," as it already does with shows summoned via Video-On-Demand.