Media streaming bins simply maintain getting higher and cheaper, however no one else has matched the “absolutely free” pricing of Comcast’s new Xfinity Flex. Exclusively out there to cord-cutters who pay Comcast for broadband however not TV, Xfinity Flex consists of a 4K-capable set-top field and a reliable, voice-activated, RF distant management to serve up subscription and ad-supported video and music programming.
Comcast is presently offering only one free Xfinity Flex per qualifying family (and the corporate is cagey about revealing simply what number of of its 26 million Xfinity web clients qualify), however you may hire second and third bins for extra TVs at a value of $5 per thirty days every.
But earlier than you get too excited, know there are some massive lacking hyperlinks in Comcast’s service choices. At current, Xfinity Flex doesn’t play in any respect with Hulu, ESPN linear channels, Disney-branded companies, CBS News 24×7, CBS All Access, nor with cultural exotica just like the English-language NHK World from Japan that’s close to and pricey to my coronary heart (and which is out there on rival platforms together with Apple TV, Fire TV and Roku).
Also lacking from Flex are such music titans as Spotify, the most well-liked of streaming music service; world web radio aggregator TuneIn, which is 10 instances higher than the iHeartRadio app that’s supported; and satellite tv for pc radio biggie Sirius/XM.
Smart dwelling options
Because it’s a secured element of your web service, Flex also can monitor and management points of your house community, though a few of these options require a paid subscription. With the Flex’s consumer interface displayed in your TV, for instance, you may monitor community purchasers and schedule after they have entry. This can be helpful for managing the display time of your little ones, so that they’re not spending hours at a time enjoying video video games or watching YouTube movies.
Sign up for Comcast’s Xfinity Home, which prices $40 to $50 per thirty days on high of your broadband entry, and Flex can incorporate smart-home options in your TV display, resembling streaming video out of your safety cameras, in addition to provide on-screen controls in your good lighting, thermostat, and different smart-home units.
Should you ever resolve to beat a retreat from cord-cutting, Flex is constructed on the identical X1 platform developed for Xfinity cable TV. As such, the field could be upgraded to ship a full panoply of conventional cable channels and companies, together with the enriched X1 on-screen program information and the power to retailer content material within the cloud for time-shifted viewing.
Shipped to your door, not introduced by a technician, a pre-programmed Xfinity Flex already is aware of your Comcast account particulars and can robotically sniff out and self-install in your Wi-Fi community. If you could have the infrastructure for it, you may alternatively hardwire the Flex to your router with an ethernet cable.
The Flex distant is likewise smarter than your common bear. When I plugged the Flex into my LG 65E6P OLED good TV utilizing the field’s solely useful HDMI port (which doesn’t help ARC, however is CEC pleasant), the Flex acknowledged the TV and robotically programmed the distant management so its energy and quantity buttons managed the TV. The similar distant buttons can do double responsibility to energy up a linked amplifier or A/V receiver, though that does require consumer intervention to supply the model and mannequin info.
I discovered the Flex’s image and sound high quality to be first charge watching HD and ultra-high definition content material, though you’ll need sturdy broadband service for the latter. It’s typically beneficial to have an web connection that delivers at the very least 25Mbps for 4K streaming—and also you’ll need greater than that if different folks within the dwelling shall be on-line on the similar time. To see how whip-fast content material can change on the field, click on on the music-video channel Xite. “Next track” supply takes barely a second.
4K content material on Netflix and Amazon typically regarded nearly too sharp and grain-free, underscoring the preponderance of films being shot at the very least partly on video. There’s help for HDR10 excessive dynamic vary, however you’ll want to attend for an replace to get Dolby Vision. On the audio facet, Flex will move Dolby Atmos to an A/V receiver linked through HDMI. Connect the field on to a TV after which faucet audio through the telly’s optical out, and also you’ll must accept a stereo sign that may then be subdivided by a receiver in a matrix encompass format like Dolby Pro Logic II.
The Xfinity Flex program information
The Flex’s on-screen information has a designed-by-committee really feel. Channel surfers can method and trip the waves in a mind-boggling number of methods, however there have been instances once I felt I used to be drowning within the hundreds of exhibits on provide—at the very least till I discovered my sea legs.
Pressing the Guide button on the distant brings up an unusually abbreviated grid that begins with 28 out there pay channels from HBO, Cinemax, Epix, and Showtime. It then lists a mere 11 free channels, main with Comcast’s newly acquired Sky News channel from the U.Okay.. It then froths it up with the likes of three buying channels, ESPN 3 (one in all simply two part-time ESPN choices), the foodie service Tastemade, and the stupid-human-and-pet-trick channels Fail Army and The Pet Collective. Comcast’s ad-supported Peacock service with programming from NBC shall be nesting right here, too, when it launches subsequent 12 months.
Tapping the button labeled “Xfinity” on the distant opens the homepage and floodgates. Scroll down and you’ll reduce paths by way of the huge universe of streaming channels 9 other ways.
For starters, the highest line exhibits “recently watched” content material, useful for resuming similar. Next comes a string of sizzling buttons dedicated to Free to Me content material (besides when it prices), Live TV, New, Music (which incorporates podcasts), and Today—which gives native time and climate and the aforementioned home-network administration options.
Below that come extra properly illustrated banners dedicated to high streaming companies (Netflix, YouTube, HBO, Prime Video, Showtime), Popular Free Channels On Now, Top Genres, and Free Movies on Flex.
None of that’s to be confused with the following, smaller-type-faced line (six) of tap-on bugs, which open Movies and TV sequence culled by supply and style, Apps, Purchases, and Favorites. Are there no different descriptive phrases designers can use to outline and subdivide the wild west surroundings of streaming TV?
Another content material line billed “Set your Ambient Mood” serves music and imagery to attain your “Wake Up and Shine,” “Doing Chores,” “Brunch Pop,” and “Studying Beats.”
At the underside of the menu, but one other string of tap-on phrases open search, your account, settings, and assist. Incidentally, the assistance choice got here in notably helpful once I wanted to reset the field to remedy a mysterious purple-screen downside. I initially speculated the trigger was the High Speed HDMI cable that Comcast provided. 4K merchandise usually ship with—or at the very least suggest utilizing—higher-bandwidth Premium High Speed cables. But Comcast advised me it had remoted and glued the purple-screen bug with a software program replace and that the cable it provides is simply wonderful. Fingers crossed.
But wait, there are even extra methods to pores and skin this cat! For my wants, tapping the Live TV sizzling button atop the homepage labored finest, culling curated program picks in a dozen classes and a number of varieties, from information and sports activities to comedy and household content material.
Is your head spinning from all this? Mine was for a couple of week, till I discovered the place to look and who to belief. My confusion was amplified by the propensity of the Flex’s browser lists to alter as I added and subtracted companies. The considerably misleadingly billed “Free Movies” tab, for instance, contains the subscription-based Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and Showtime choices, alongside stuff from ad-supported channel aggregators Pluto, Xumo, and my new fave Tubi (cool classic content material, fewer commercials.)
Paid on-demand choices additionally pop up within the “free” zone. When final I shopped, Spider Man 3 was free with an Amazon Prime subscription, nevertheless it is also had on demand with Epix ($5.99 per thirty days) or Showtime ($12 per thirty days) subscriptions, as a $4.99 rental from Comcast’s Streampix service, or bought outright from Sony for $12.99.
Stuffing one million kilos of programming right into a ten-pound sack is usually greater than this nascent service can handle. While looking for the remastered Robert DeNiro/Jodi Foster basic Taxi Driver, after which the apropos-of-something The Whistle Blower, I discovered fewer choices on Flex than I did looking out for a similar motion pictures on a Roku streaming field—and the alternatives Flex did floor had been dearer. I’ve additionally been spoiled by the simple logic and ease of the Roku platform, which doesn’t make you dig deep right into a channel aggregator’s stockpile to ferret out a subscription-based Comedy Central, MLB.TV, or Broadway HD.
Searching for content material by voice request (naming a title, actor, director, or musical artist or music) is the best, quickest technique to discover content material on Flex. The search engine is constructing on the billions of voice requests already issued on X1 remotes by Comcast Xfinity cable TV clients. And the system is fairly good at discovering affinity programming—these watch-this-next solutions to maintain you within the neighborhood.
On the draw back, the AI in Flex is hardly infallible or full, veering principally to YouTube, Netflix, and Pandora content material. My spoken bid for the very first James Bond movie Dr. No led Flex on a fruitless quest for Doctor Know. My cost to seek out “the new Miles Davis album” introduced up (I child you not) The Three Stooges Family Album. (Davis’s posthumous launch is named Rubberband.)
Spoken music and artist requests addressed to iHeartRadio and Amazon Music principally got here to naught, with an on-screen apology and “try again later” message. And some loopy content-skipping/flipping/hiccuping stunts occurred once I tried to change between music and a video supply. The subsequent Flex software program improve will get rid of these kinks, I’ve been promised (right here’s hoping it received’t erase The Kinks as a facet impact. Ba-dum ching).
Comcast’s streaming-media rivals have had a decade or extra to shine their presentation, so for a field that launched in beta on the finish of 2018 and is barely now being rolled out nationwide, Xfinity Flex is already a comparatively muscular providing. Just be ready to cope with a couple of extra rising pains and maybe wait in your favourite companies in case you resolve to make the leap.