4 reasons you hate cable boxes

Consumer Reports

If you could shop for your own TV set-top box, you probably wouldn’t pick the frustrating device your TV service provider gave you. But you’re still paying for the privilege of using it. We asked Consumer Reports' Facebook followers to tell us about their cable, satellite, and telecom-company boxes. We heard what annoyed them about the equipment, but they also mentioned a few devices that show changes for the better.

Here are some of the top complaints.

Sluggish response

Too many boxes are slow or unresponsive to commands, especially when changing channels or navigating menus. Having to regularly reboot the box isn't winning fans, either.

Dated interfaces

TVs, smart phones, and tablets all have slick, modern graphical menus. So why do so many cable boxes have clunky, text-based interfaces and unintuitive menus—some still in standard definition?

Unreliable DVRs

There's nothing more frustrating than watching a cliffhanger or critical game that's missing the last few minutes of action.

Energy waste

New Energy Star guidelines help, but older cable boxes and DVRs sometimes suck more juice than a refrigerator.

Before you shop, check our Blu-ray player buying guide and Ratings.

Boxes with promise

Certain new advanced systems offer better menus, voice control via smart phone, and the ability to watch shows on a phone or a tablet. Many will also recommend TV shows and movies based on your viewing history.

DirecTV Genie: A whole-home DVR that uses one central DVR and up to three “mini” boxes that connect to other TVs in the house. It can record five shows at once.

Dish Hopper: A DVR that can record prime-time network shows automatically and let you skip commercials during playback.

Comcast X1: This whole-home system lets you record four shows while watching live TV. The company says an update this year will offer cloud-based storage in certain markets.

TiVo: People still love TiVo thanks to its standards-setting interface and built-in access to streaming services such as Netflix.

A version of this report appeared in the May 2014 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.

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