Three cheers for the Comcast talking TV guide DVR! They released this here in Pittsburgh on their X1 operating system in 2015. Really good stuff. Indeed, this audible guide and menu system, on Comcast set top boxes and digital video recorders (DVRs), grants near full usability to vision impaired and blind users. It’s like a screen reader for your cable TV service!
Plus, since Comcast is building this voice enabled television feature into their X1 Platform, blind subscribers can enjoy breezy access to upcoming X1 product offerings including various internet and cloud-based products. Comcast says that this is the first TV interface that is voice guided, and is being rolled out in our area (Pittsburgh, PA). We noticed that it works on our X1 DVR but its version means that the system is still in beta testing.
As of 2015-01-06, the talking guide beta has been released in the Pittsburgh market. We had to upgrade to the X1 platform DVR previously, so that we’d be ready for this feature, when released. We did the following.
- Set up program recording schedules.
- Played recordings.
- Fast-forwarded and rewound through them.
- Deleted them.
Blind users can do all of this without seeing the visual screen prompts.
Benefits, Features, Advantages, and Pros of the Comcast Talking TV Guide
Makes Digital Video Recorders blind Accessible
Enables sightless and low-sight users to hear and move about the Comcast Xfinity program guides that heretofore, only appeared visually on the TV screen. Comcast asked the American Council for the Blind (ACB) for input and feedback during product development.
First DVR with Voice Prompts
This was the first talking DVR system in the cable TV industry.
Extends DVR Setup and Programming to Blind Users
DVR scheduled recording listings, commands, and other settings can also be heard and changed now.
The Comcast Talking TV Guide Has an Easy to Understand Voice
Clear female voice reads the channel listings, on-demand movie listings, and info about programs. She gives descriptions, and program ratings from Rotten Tomatoes and Common Sense Media as well.
Design Based on Much Blind User Input
A blind viewer oversaw the development of this function was overseen by a blind viewer. He is quite familiar with how best to build accessibility features into these services.
Comcast Talking TV Guide is a Free Service
This is free to current X1 platform Xfinity DVR subscribers. But if you’re not currently an X1 user, you may have to pay some fees. Yo might have to pay an installation and a monthly set top box rental fee to get the X1 service. You need X1 for the talking guide.
The Comcast Talking TV Guide Offers On-Remote Access
The feature can be turned on simply by pressing the A button twice, on the X1 remote control.
Comcast Has an Accessibility Help Telephone Line
The number is 1-855-308-9989. They offer assistance here specifically to blind and vision impaired customers.
Stations and Options Easily Navigated
The system describes each station in the visual guide as you scroll through it. It speaks about each station as you move over it with the UP, DOWN, LEFT, and RIGHT arrow keys.
Remote Control is Accessible
You can work the system via the voice prompts from your easy chair. The voice comes from your TV, and program audio is reduced in volume (ducking) when the system makes an announcement.
Out of Home Viewing
Using the Xfinity Streaming app on your mobile device, you can watch recordings on your Comcast DVR from anywhere on the internet.
Disadvantages, Limitations, Problems, and Cons of the Comcast Talking TV Guide
No Audible Percent-Complete Meter
When fast forwarding or rewinding, the system does not speak how far your are into the program. But this would be a handy feature, to ease fast jumping around within recorded shows. It would also reduce frustrations when, upon releasing the control, you find that you way passed the spot you want.
Voice is Softer in Volume than Watched Program
We prefer the voice to be as loud as, or slightly louder than the TV program audio. As it is, we sometimes must raise the TV volume to hear the prompts. Then, we must lower it again when going back to program listening.
Also, the program audio COMPLETELY mutes while the DVR speaks. But hearing it a reduced volume during speaking would be useful.
Controlling ducking settings like…
- How loud the guide voice is.
- How loud the program audio is while the guide voice speaks.
This would allow blind users to set each of these levels for greatest ease of use for them.
Comcast Talking TV Guide Needs Improved Program Search
Currently, the search features in the on-screen program guide are not easily accessed via this audio television guide feature. The speech settings themselves are not yet fully accessible either. But future enhancements to this product promise to address this little shortcoming.
May Need Equipment Upgrades
Only available on Comcast set top boxes and DVRs running the X1 operating system. So you may have to upgrade your set top box if you got your current cable equipment prior to January, 2014. This is when Comcast began rolling out their X1 boxes. Plus, you’ll also have to learn how to use a new remote (the X1 remote).
Learning Curve for Cable Technicians
A cable guy came on 2014-11-20 to install the X1 DVR. The setup went well. But the technician did not know how to turn on the talking guide. So, he could not show us. He called his supervisor for help. But his boss knew little about it either. Still though, all folks were helpful, and eager to help us get the system up and running. These are symptoms of a very new product that has not yet been completely rolled out and taught to the techs. But this problem will fix itself as the service matures.
Some Menu Items Do Not Speak
This may fixed in later beta and production release versions of the X1 product.
Slow Speaking on the Comcast Talking TV Guide
We’ve noticed when scrolling through channel listings in the guide as well as configuration options, that the speech can lag what’s displayed on the screen by as much as ten to fifteen seconds. So rapid navigation relying only on the voice prompts, is not possible yet.
Comcast Talking TV Guide instructions Need Improvement
We found some intro videos that show how to use the talking TV guide. But blind users just starting out with the X1 DVR that we know, needed sighted help. They needed help for several days, until they learned the meanings of the voice prompts (or lack of them).
No Voice Prompt on Exit Key
The system speaks nothing when you press the exit key. We wish it would tell us though that we have in fact, exited a menu, recordings list, or the guide.
Our Rating on the Comcast Talking TV Guide
Some close blind friends signed up for this within minutes of first hearing about Comcast’s accessible DVR and television service. They like Comcast product managers and engineers, for completing this hard project. The service addresses the hardest accessibility DVR issues for the blind. Thus, it allows the blind, for the first time to manage their DVRs and set top boxes, without sighted help. This is a major advance in ease-of-use of DVRs. DVRs been commonplace in the average cable TV consumer’s home for well over a decade now. So it’s about time they become accessible to low vision users.
Very happy now that low vision users can now enjoy the best features of DVR recording and cable TV watching. We thus rate the talking TV guide at 95 out of 100. We hope that other cable products, like Verizon FiOS, Tivo, and Atlantic Broadband DVR service, will follow suit. Hoping that they offer this feature on their platforms as well. Thanks, Comcast! You set a new access standard with this feature.
We’ll add more to this piece as we learn more this service and Comcast rolls out future upgrades to it.
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References for this Comcast Talking TV Guide Review
- 2019-04-22: Added key word targeting. Removed ad code. Mentioned out-of-home streaming feature, available in 2018.
- 2015-12-16: Added more tags.
- 2015-10-06: Added tags.
- 2015-01-21: Suggested allowing users to set program and voice volume levels independently for better audio ducking.
- 2015-01-12: Updated content to reflect that the talking guide is beta in Pittsburgh. Details our first experiences with it now that it’s working.
- 2014-12-17: Tweaked content. Added white space for clarity.
- 2014-11-20: Added details of the X1 DVR installation.
- 2014-11-13: First published this piece.