If you’re a Cox Communications digital cable customer and you haven’t already, you soon will be visited by the upgrade fairy. This means that the display on your unit will suddenly and totally freak out and the whole thing will be unusable for about a half-hour, if it happens to you the way it did at my house. But when it clears up, you’ll be getting the new interactive guide, a new On Demand setup and improved performance. Settings menus have been simplified and there are nifty new search and customization options.
While some of the features are good, others left me scratching my head. The On Demand system definitely loads much faster and runs a lot more smoothly than it used to. Content is arranged within the appropriate categories by sub-categories such as “new,” “last chance” and by program name. But with the update and reorganization comes the nagging feeling that a lot of the content in the Free Zone has been scaled back greatly — there just isn’t as much of it as there used to be. And as in-demand services increasingly compete against DVD rental services like Netflix, I can understand that. But I sure don’t like it.
Whereas the old guide had a menu for selecting the day of the week you wanted to scope out, the new setup requires you to punch in a number representing the number of days in the past or future you want to go, then hit the appropriate directional button. Not only is this not very intuitive, it is hopelessly flawed because it requires people to do math. Alternatively, you can just hold the D-pad left or right and scroll quickly through time — but not quickly enough.
The old setup was also better because it limited you to the days for which the guide had data, six days away. In the new system, you seem to be able to scroll into the future endlessly — but you still hit the wall of “No Data” six days out. It feels like they’re giving you more, but you know they’re not.
A minor annoyance: Whereas once you would access information about upcoming programs with the D-pad, a barrier to this has been introduced by requiring you to hit the “Info” button first — a pointless change, in my opinion.
The DVR functions have been revamped as well. It takes a little getting used to, but for the most part the learning curve is worth it. The entire system behaves more like TiVo, letting you easily manage entire series rather than treating them as individual episodes. This was one of the more frustrating aspects of the old DVR setup.
Data management is easier than ever with the DVR upgrade, allowing you to specify which individual programs will be deleted as space on your hard drive fills up.
One of the things I really like about the new DVR is a feature called “fast-forward forgiveness,” which helps you out by rewinding 5 seconds after you stop speeding through commercials. It takes a little practice to get it right, but once you get the hang of it, it’s a huge time-saver that keeps you from missing anything.
The bottom line: The upgraded Cox interface isn’t bad — not at all. But it’s not as user-friendly as it should be. With time, however, all of it will become second nature. Plus, everything is pretty well documented online and with help videos on a dedicated section of On Demand, and the people at Cox have been very helpful and responsive — even on Twitter.