Liberty Global said that there are now 270,000 Horizon boxes in use in The Netherlands and Switzerland. Introduction in Germany and the Irish Republic is scheduled to happen in the next few months.
The operator is very pleased with the results, but Dutch and Swiss consumer forums show that the users are not so satisfied with their ‘next-generation TV experience’.
Liberty Global introduced the first working models of its Horizon box during last year’s IBC resulting in many ‘wows’, but what happens when you actually have the box at home?
When you have a set-top box in your home from your local cable operator you expect it can at least perform a few simple tasks, such as watching television, looking up programmes in the EPG, record a few programmes and order a VOD movie. Right? Sorry, not so with the Horizon box.
At my home, we have now used the box since last September. To give just a sample of the things we encountered the past few days after a number of (small) updates:
– Set-top box ‘freezes’ about ten times a week;
– The set-top sometimes tells us it is not connected to the server, which makes viewing the encrypted channels not possible (luckily a large number of channels are now unencrypted on the network);
– Accessing the VOD and catch-up TV services is playing Russian roulette – you never know if you can actually demand a stream to actually start. A few times a week the box freezes when trying to access on-demand and needs a hard re-set;
– Often the EPG information is just available for now and next – information about the following programmes fails to load;
– A programme we scheduled to record failed to do so;
– A movie we recorded a couple of months ago mysteriously disappeared.
In top of failing to perform the most basic of tasks, there also seem to be a lot of elemental design faults. To name a few…
– When tuning to a channel only the What’s on Now information is shown, not the What’s on Next information;
– Information on content in the various sections (catch-up TV, VOD, programmes on the hard disk) is supplied by a cover-flow type of screen. Given the fact that only proper covers are available for the on-demand movies, most programmes are marked with a generic icon making finding a particular programme incredibly difficult;
– There is no information on how much space is used on the hard disk by the recorded programmes;
– Too many steps have to be taken to reach certain functions – this concerns most actions, from accessing the EPG information to finding recordings on the hard disc, from finding on-demand content to actually record a programme.
UPC in the Netherlands has promised a firmware update to address a large number of the problems – the improvement was originally scheduled to take place this July, but so far has not materialised.
Meanwhile, I consider myself lucky to have a Philips smart TV at home, which allows me to smoothly access catch-up TV content, play back my own videos and see my photos on the TV screen as well as tune in all unencrypted channels.
The question now is – are these teething problems or is Horizon a disaster? One thing is for sure – despite the many delays in launching the Horizon box, it still seems to be a product in it’s laboratory phase, not yet ready for prime-time.