It’s no secret that cord cutting is a trend, but once you do, live TV, especially events and sports, can be a challenge.
Now, major cable companies Charter and Comcast have teamed up to offer a way to bridge the gap with a modern cable box that combines the best of live TV with streaming apps.
It’s called the Xumo Stream Box and you’ve probably seen it advertised if you live in an area that offers it. Spectrum recently started selling it and soon Xfinity will, too.
I met up with Spectrum’s Dennis Johnson at their Manhattan Beach Store to get a demo of the box and to see how it works.
Follow Tech Reporter Rich DeMuro on Instagram for tech news, tips and reviews.
For starters, it’s much smaller and lighter than I expected. It’s also very simple.
In the box you get the Xumo device, a remote control (more on that in a bit), power and HDMI cable.
The device is completely powered by an internet signal, either plugged in via ethernet or via Wi-Fi. You can “install” it yourself in seconds vs waiting for a cable technician to come to your home as long as you already have Spectrum internet.
When you power up Xumo, live TV starts playing immediately. This is a key differentiator from your typical Apple TV, Fire TV or Roku, which shows you a home screen and you must take action for something to happen.
This will appeal to those who like the idea of traditional TV that just sort of happens in the background. The channel that plays, of course, is Spectrum’s own 24/7 news channel, if it’s available in your market. Otherwise, it’s the first channel in your lineup. I’d like to see them let customers customize this option to show their favorite channel (but maybe I’m biased here.)
You can choose to jump right into cable TV and check out a programming grid, or you can hop into a streaming app. There are 300 of them “pre-installed,” which means they’re not necessarily already taking up space on your device, but when you tap on one for the first time it quickly downloads to your box.
It seems like all the major streaming services are represented here, but since there is no App Store, if you’re interested in a particular app I would check the Xumo website to make sure it’s available.
Overall, the interface is relatively fast and much more modern than a regular cable box. There were a few hesitations here and there along with quirks when things didn’t work quite as expected, but this box is about a month old so I expect regular software updates should help smooth things out.
One key benefit of this setup is a unified screen for everything you want to watch. There’s no switching inputs to watch cable TV vs streaming apps. Plus, you can get all the channels you want that are offered by cable, especially the exclusive ones just for sports.
The single remote control means you can do everything from turn on the TV to tune in a channel using the actual number keys. That’s something I’ve never seen on a streaming set top box.
There’s also a dedicated voice search button which the cable companies are heavily promoting.
In my testing it was somewhat hit or miss. It worked well for specific actor names and genres, but when I got a bit more specific by saying things like “Halloween movies good for the kids” it had some trouble. Again, this is easily fixable with software, and I think overall the voice button will be a straightforward way to control things, especially for people that know what they want to watch.
There is an option for a cloud DVR, but I wasn’t able to test it.
Pricing is either free for the first year for new customers, a $5 monthly fee or $60 to buy the box outright.
Bottom line: if you still like the idea of traditional cable TV but want your streaming too, Xumo bridges both worlds in a way that makes the transition easy.