My current situation of living in audio/video purgatory is completely self-inflicted. I have been incredibly blessed to have owned some of the best AV gear that our fine industry has made over the past 25-plus years and I have no complaints. After selling our beachy, Los Angeles family home about two months ago, though, I have been sent into a bit of audio-video hell. Our former home was sold with almost all of the AV goodies intact, which was a good thing on many levels. Especially in that I had a lot less to move.
I did keep my 56-terabyte Kaleidescape movie server and 320-disc Blu-ray vault because you never give that up. I kept my Roku streamer, which is, I would argue, the most essential component of any good AV system these days. I also took my Oppo BDP-203 player with me knowing that it was going to put a cool grand in my pocket, and it did just that.
Other than those components, I've got squat for gear right now. Included in my current rent are two pretty dated 7-series Samsung TVs complete with hotel-spec-tastic one-HDMI-input configurations, and no Bluetooth output for audio to something like my new Bowers & Wilkins Foundation speaker. I can't have a soundbar, either, because of the terms of my lease. I told you I was in AV purgatory.
I'm also having to live without my beloved DirecTV service. If you follow my reviews at here at HomeTheaterReview.com, perhaps you read my takedown of Frontier's DVR, along with their completely pathetic service. I were to look at the glass half full, the fact that I could replace Frontier with Spectrum here in this condo is nothing short of a blessing. I am an original DirecTV client going back to the service's introduction in 1997. Cable has never been part of my modern AV system until now. Frontier was a bad way to experience cable for the first time, as they failed to provide working long-distance telephony, useable internet connectivity, or TV I actually wanted to watch. Spectrum's customer service and installation was much better, including a much narrower window for installation and techs that have a basic clue at what they were doing. Things might not have been perfect, but we were making progress in throwing Frontier out the front door and replacing them with Spectrum.
The Spectrum 210 is the company's stock DVR. It doesn't really have a price as it comes as part of your service and you don't really own it. If you upgrade or dump their service, you have to return it to your local Spectrum location, which is an abject pain in the ass. The unit is not a standard rack width nor is it small enough to stash behind your flat TV, thus it is clunky. It is unclear how large the internal hard drive is, but it can hold a pretty good volume of TV (including HD) content. There are many forum posts about wanting to add external, E-SATA drives with little to no success depending on your DIY skills. I would not recommend this path.
How Is Spectrum's Internet?
Frontier's Internet for about $100 per month delivered no better than 16 Mbps down and about 2 Mbps up service. That is bad by 1999 standards. Spectrum's Internet measures in via SpeedTest.Net at just under 500 Mbps. That isn't the fastest service that I've ever seen, as I know people with 1,000 Mbps (aka gigabit) both up and down for the same money, but 500 down is pretty fast and fully superior to that of what Frontier was ripping me off for. Where I have been having problems is with intermittent websites not loading no matter how fast Spectrum's service is. My online CRM, LATimes.com, or even our HomeTheaterReview.com's CMS (content management system) have issues from time to time and it is a productivity killer. In the five years plus that I lived in my last house, I had none of these issues. At the new condo, they are fully annoying even if the Internet, when working, is pretty fast.
Using the Spectrum 210 DVR
The layout of Spectrum's channels is a little erratic. From 01 to 99 you get a best-of selection of some of the most popular channels with no real organization. Then there is another batch of channels from 100 to 199 that overlap with the first hundred in some ways but not completely. Then from 200 to 220-ish you get your news channels. They have packed them in so that Fox News is right next to MSNBC, which is like sitting a Hatfield next to a McCoy at a wedding--not a smart move as even innocuous channel surfing can cause an unneeded, in-house political flare up. The channels go on and on, meandering in clumps of logic and chaos. The 300s are more sports-oriented and unlike DirecTV, Spectrum has channels like the Pac-12 Network (needed for USC football games later in the summer) and Dodgers games. That is a clear advantage for Spectrum over DirecTV that DirecTV should be ashamed about.
Recording a single show on the Spectrum 210 is pretty easy, as you can, as with any other DVR, just hit the red record button and you are all set. The problem that I have with the Spectrum DVR is tacking on extra recording time, which for Game 7 of my 76ers versus Toronto caused me to miss the heartbreaking, last-second shot that ended my team's hope for an NBA title. #trusttheprocess, I guess?
Dennis reports that Dish Network is much better about this, automatically adapting in many cases to shows that run too long. On DirecTV, they prompt you to add an extension. Spectrum buries the option too deep.
Recording an entire TV series or sports team is far more complex with Spectrum than DirecTV. I haven't been able to find a way to select my favorite sports teams and automatically record them as first run shows. I can't easily set the priority of shows and sports as you can with a DirecTV DVR. I also can't figure out how to select fewer recordings for a given show. For example: I might only want to record one or two nights of the CBS Evening News, but I might want to save 10 episodes of Drugs Inc. for future viewing. I tried calling Spectrum twice, including just now. After going through four or five minutes of voicemail prompt bullshit, I got an offer for them to call me back after 19 minutes. I hung up and started a chat to get to the bottom of these issues and the chat operator cut me off and we were disconnected. Believe it or not, Frontier was worse in terms of customer service, but I miss DirecTV pretty badly. And I don't mean the app - the real thing: satellite disc, DVR, Crestron programming, etc.
The remote for the Spectrum 210 is pretty pedestrian overall, despite the importance of a cable box remote in an installation such as this condo. Ergonomically, it is a nicely sculpted product, but that is where my compliments stop. The Spectrum 210 remote is made of super-cheap plastic, it's not backlit, it doesn't have any kind of rubber stoppers or rests on the bottom, which cost pennies but provide real-world value to us end users. But the worst problem with the remote is the fact that is has no "enter" button like a stock DirecTV or other remotes do.
What I mean by this is in the world of DirecTV, you can hit, say, channel 201 for CNN and hit "enter" and it goes right to where you want for live-in-the-moment, instant gratification channel surfing. This isn't the case with the Spectrum 210 DVR. You sit there and patiently wait for the channel to change. Lame.
Even more lame is the fact that the remote is not RF, thus you need to really be in the line of sight of the box to turn on the box. It is even worse at turning on your television, assuming, like in my uber-basic configuration, that you will need the DVR remote to turn your TV on and off. Want a sleep timer? Use your TV remote. Want the guide feature to work? Consider it effective 75 percent of the time, as there is an incredibly high amount of down time in the guide feature of this DVR that forces you to do channel-by-channel surfing or memorize their channel list.
Oh, and did I mention that the DVR, unlike DirecTV and Dish, isn't 4K capable? You have to be kidding me right?
Comparison and Competition
We've established that pretty much anybody wipes the floor with Frontier's service, hardware, and Internet. That was well established before I typed my first word of this Spectrum 210 review. If one more person tells me "you should have known" about Frontier, I am going to explode. I didn't know and now I am warning everybody about how bad their service, customer service, and installation service is.
Moving on to actually viable competition, DirecTV offers 4K, more unique content, better and easier-to-use hardware. I would say when all bundled in it is a little more expensive and doesn't include telephony.
Dish Network isn't cheap by any standard, but they've got 4K, some of the channels that DirecTV is missing, and probably the best DVR ever created. Their product is definitely worth considering if you're still into linear TV, unless there are physical reasons (like trees to constant thunderstorms) that make a satellite dish hard to justify. Of course, that's true of DirecTV, as well.
The last option is being a cord-cutter, which more and more of our readers are opting for. Drop $80 once on a Roku Ultra and however much per month it takes to get you a decent (50 Mbps or better) internet connection, and you can use the $150 per month you'll save to spend like a drunken sailor on streaming purchases and subscriptions. This still isn't a great option for sports fans, but if you don't need all of the key packages, it is a viable way to get a lot of great-looking 4K content, more off-beat viewing options, and some of the best TV shows that you won't find on any TV network. Add an over-the-air antenna and you've got even more local and HD options in the cord-cutter world that cable companies have banking on you sticking around for.
I am not saying that you can't beat Spectrum's Internet service speed, but if the company is available in your area, and you're not in one of the lucky locals with Google Fiber or similar services, chances are good that Spectrum is amongst the best available to you in terms of ISPs. Should you opt for their cable product, too, though? That depends on you. I am glad that I have it now where I am living, but I would be miserable if I had to keep it long term. Politically, I could fight for a dish being installed on this 19-story building, but in a perfect world, I am out of here in a few months and back to living the Miller High Life in terms of AV.
It would be nice to have the Pac 12 Network no matter what. The fact that they don't sell their content via an app for say Roku or Apple TV is simply insane. If I have room in my rack and Spectrum is the best Internet option out there at my next home, I might consider a very stripped-down package but that will have me paying say $49 to $89 per month for four or five college football games in non 4K. That is a lot for college football, but this is USC we are talking about. I have considered asking my father to pay the school to offer Pac 12 content on DirecTV, but perhaps that wound it too new? Nevertheless, the cost of a cheap Spectrum system is likely much less than what I would pay for tickets, parking, and concessions if I wanted to see my Trojans in person. If you are traveling to see the games, add in even more expense. An Uber to a local sports bar is starting to look cheap when I am talking like this.
In the now, I am thankful for the upgrade over Frontier. It has made my life better and my work flow faster, albeit not perfect. The product, service, and customer service could be improved but for now it is the best solution for me.
• Goodbye to My Oppo UHD Disc Player, Hello to a Whole New System at HomeTheaterReview.com.
• Frontier/Arris IPC1100 FIOS DVR Reviewed at HomeTheaterReview.com.
• One Thing We Don't Talk About When We Talk About Cord-Cutting at HomeTheaterReview.com.